On a tour of the climate-controlled vaults of the Minnesota Historical Society — where the bulk of the institution’s 6,000 works of art are stored — Brian Szott pointed to a pastoral painting of a farmhouse blanketed in snow.
Like the vast majority of the pieces in the society’s collection, all of which are about Minnesota or created by Minnesotans, this painting, completed in 1910, was donated and is now in storage on the lowest level of the society’s six-story museum and library.
Mr. Szott, the society’s head of collections and curator of art, chuckled at the idyllic Minnesota winter scene. “We’re not getting much of this anymore,” he said of the artwork.
Instead, he pointed to an oddly familiar-looking piece of ceramic sculpture by the artist Judy Onofrio with the curves and fissure of a human buttock. “The Butt,” he said. “It’s actually untitled, but that’s what the staff here calls it.”
Donated art has trickled in steadily since the institution was founded in 1849. But the 1975 untitled sculpture is part of a striking surge in the number of works that have been donated to the society over the last five years, from 22 in fiscal 2012 to 77 in the fiscal year that ended in June.
Like “The Butt,” many of the recently donated works are lively and irreverent, characteristic of much art from the mid-1970s to the present. And unlike patrons of the past, many of whom posthumously bequeathed the art to the society, many of these donors are alive and well.
How to account for the increase? Mr. Szott says that works donated over the last five years have tended to come from older adults in the process of downsizing or decluttering. “It’s a huge shift in possession going on, and it’s going to affect the whole art world,” he said.