The Studio Sessions
Textile artist Harriet Bart. Photo by Vic Bloomfield.
Did you hear the one about the biochemistry professor who walked into an artist’s studio? It’s no joke! In the early 1970s, Vic Bloomfield turned his lens on dozens of local artists who were part of what would turn out to be a defining moment in the Minnesota arts scene.These portraits are the subject of The Studio Sessions: Minnesota Artists in the 1970s, an exhibition opening August 15 at the Minnesota Museum of American Art that includes 34 photographs by Bloomfield and 30 works of art from Minnesota artists. Bloomfield retired in 2011 after 40 years at the University of Minnesota.
What inspired you to photograph the Twin Cities art scene when you did?
In the early 1970s I became friends with two prominent Twin Cities artists George Morrison and his wife Hazel Belvo. I did some family photos of them, and was struck by the liveliness and functional messiness of their working environments. At about that time I became aware of a book by Ugo Mulas, "New York, the New Art Scene," in which he photographed artists in their studios. I thought it would be interesting to attempt a similar project of environmental portraits in the Twin Cities.
How did you gain such incredible access?
I met a number of artists through Morrison and Belvo and their friends, especially at their famous parties. That was my main contact with artists on the faculties of the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota College of Art and Design. I met others at the Suzanne Kohn Gallery on Grand Avenue in St. Paul. Suzy held a Saturday afternoon salon, at which many artists teaching at St. Paul colleges (Macalester, Hamline, St. Catherine's, etc.) would stop by for conversation and a glass of wine. I met potters through Fran Sontag's pottery gallery, also in St. Paul. After I had photographed an artist, I would ask them who else I should approach. As word of my project spread, it was not hard to convince artists to let me photograph them for the series, especially when I told them that I wanted to photograph "prominent Twin Cities artists." Who would turn down an opportunity to be included in that list? But I did try to photograph some students and younger up-and-coming artists as well.
How have your artistic endeavors intersected with your life in science?
My interest in photography and other arts is quite orthogonal to my interest in science. I have never been interested in the "science of art" (photographic chemistry, color theory, etc.). To oversimplify somewhat, the arts engage the right side of my brain, while science engages the left side. About the only time the two intersected was in 1979, when I was chosen as head of the St. Paul Biochemistry Department. I knew that I would no longer have much time for photography, but I decided on a final project: to photograph all the biochemistry faculty (both St. Paul and Minneapolis) in their labs or offices. The photos were used in a brochure advertising the biochemistry graduate program at the University of Minnesota.
Do you have a particularly enduring memory around any of the images?
As I revisit the images after 35+ years, they bring back many good memories of time spent in artists' studios, trying to capture the "feel" of the environments and the intense absorption of the artists in their work. Studios are different from laboratories, and artists tend to have different personalities than scientists. I feel privileged to have been a part of both worlds.
"As I revisit the images after 35+ years, they bring back many good memories of time spent in artists' studios trying to capture the 'feel' of the environments and the intense absorption of the artists in their work."
WHEN Opens August 15 with a reception from 7-8:30 p.m. (Bloomfield will give an introduction to the exhibition at 7:15 p.m.)
WHERE Minnesota Museum of American Art Project Space | 332 N. Robert St. | St. Paul