The Lyrical Artwork—and Legacy—of Jim Denomie

Jim Denomie in 2020
photo by Rhett Arens

The Lyrical Artwork of Jim Denomie, the recently opened Minneapolis Institute of Art exhibition, offers an unprecedented view of the late Ojibwe artist’s career. But it’s only one part of an enduring legacy. In reviewing the Mia show, Minnesota Public Radio’s Alex V. Cipolle connects with curator Nicole Soukup, who notes that Denomie’s “legacy is going to be a lot of things, and things that we won’t even know about, because we’re only 16 months after his passing.”

“But hand in hand with all of it is mentorship and care for community, friends, family,” she adds. “The amount of people who have stories, the amount of people who Jim gave undivided attention to, is profound.”

While his fierce artistic vision is on full view in this expansive exhibition, these people, from his wife, author Diane Wilson, to artists like Andrea Carlson and Maggie Thompson, speak to Denomie’s many other roles: truth-teller, mentor, friend.

“I hope that he continues to inspire artists to do work that also speaks to what’s going on in the world—artists as truth-tellers,” Wilson tells Cipolle. “That’s a lot of what Jim was doing—speaking truth, both historically and in the present, about what has happened to and within Native communities, and that I hope will continue. I hope that’s his legacy.” To that end, Wilson, along with All My Relations Arts and Bockley galleries, has established a scholarship for Native artists who embody his values; the second recipient, just announced, is multimedia artist Thompson.

A Beautiful Hero Woody Keeble, 2009
collection the Tweed Art Museum

Both Thompson and Carlson remember fondly Denomie’s support, noting his presence at so many openings. “I think because of his position in the art world, it was just like really cool to see him show up regardless of who or where,” says Thompson. Carlson, who considered Denomie her “art dad,” took his encouragement to heart. Well before she and Denomie were paired in a 2007 Mia show, the elder artist visited her in her studio and showed her an example of support she’s carrying forward today.

“I didn’t know what I was doing, but he was like, ‘Keep doing it,’” says Carlson. “I feel like I need to do that for other artists now, kind of take the Jim Denomie mandate, and apply it to other artists that are just starting out, because I needed that.”

Read “How to build a legacy: The late artist Jim Denomie at Mia and beyond