The Object

The Object

The Object podcast from the Minneapolis Institute of Art
Nov 30, 2020 27 min

Monsters and Marvels, Part III: The Mermaid's Tale

Mermaids had been surfacing in art for thousands of years when, in the 1880s, Edward Burne-Jones began painting them as avatars of a radical new female identity in the corseted Victorian era. A story of desire and danger as legendary as the creatures themselves. You can see one of Burne-Jones' early mermaid paintings, "A Sea-Nymph," at the Minneapolis Institute of Art: His best-known mermaid work, "The Depths of the Sea," is at the Fogg Museum at Harvard University: Special thanks to Grace Nuth and Sarah Peverley for sharing their expertise on this episode. Grace Nuth is a writer, artist, and fine-art model living in central Ohio. She is the senior editor of Enchanted Living magazine and the co-author of The Faerie Handbook. She regularly writes on a variety of topics at her blog at Sarah Peverley is a professor of English at the University of Liverpool and a BBC New Generation Thinker. She is writing a cultural history of mermaids, and is the author of several radio programmes, media features, and podcasts about merfolk. You can follow her work at her website (, on Twitter at, and on Instagram at
Oct 26, 2020 27 min

Monsters and Marvels Part II: Finding Unicorns

Artists have captured unicorns for thousands of years, and for most of that time people thought they were both magical and real. What can an imaginary creature tell us about ourselves? What did we lose when we stopped believing? And why do we still love them anyway? You can see unicorns in art through the ages in the collection of the Minneapolis Institute of Art, including this tapestry from the late Middle Ages: Thanks to Natalie Lawrence and Marguerite Ragnow for sharing their expertise on this episode. Lawrence is a freelance writer with a PhD from the University of Cambridge on exotic monsters in early modern Europe. She is currently writing a book on the history of monsters. Find her work on her blog ( and her website ( Ragnow is a historian and curator of the James Ford Bell Library ( at the University of Minnesota, a collection about trade and exploration, featuring rare books, maps, and manuscripts. She is working on a book about unicorns.
Sep 21, 2020 20 min

Monsters and Marvels Part I: The Magic Shell

From narwhals to nautilus shells, dragon eggs to mermaid hands, the obsession with oddities in the Age of Discovery may seem, well, odd. But did the study of outliers, in the early version of museums, help make us the rational creatures we are today? See the nautilus shell cup from this episode here:
Aug 17, 2020 18 min

The Animalier: Rosa Bonheur's Wild Kingdom

The animalier artists love lions and tigers and bears — anything with teeth and no business being in Paris in the 1800s. No one more than Rosa Bonheur, the smoking, joking, pants-wearing painter who becomes a celebrity, the most famous female artist of her time, by embracing the very things men fear most. You can see one of her lion prints here: And her painter's palette, charmingly adorned with a deer:
Jul 20, 2020 20 min

Romancing the Stone: The Secret of the Chac Mool

A mysterious stone sculpture, supposedly found in Mexico, is hailed as a Chac Mool, the iconic Mayan vessel of human sacrifice. It tours Europe as a masterpiece of ancient Mesoamerican art. It's featured in magazines and books. But a surprising discovery suddenly begs the question: What is it really? See the Chac Mool for yourself here:
Jun 15, 2020 25 min

Unspeakable Love: The Rebel Who Went Too Far

Simeon Solomon is a young gay art star in the Victorian era. But when scandal threatens his career, offering a cautionary tale to men like Oscar Wilde, he must choose between his livelihood and his identity. Incredibly, Mia has two works by Solomon in its collection, acquired in the 1960s when Solomon had been all but erased from art history. You can see them here:
May 11, 2020 16 min

Bohemian Rhapsody: The Myth of the Starving Artist

Long before Vincent van Gogh died young, poor, and under-appreciated, artists had gotten the message: you have to suffer for your art. But where did this template of the starving artist come from? And is there any truth to it or is it a myth, a romantic misreading of how great art is made? Here's Vincent van Gogh's "Olive Trees," from 1889, a year before his death, when he was in treatment in St-Rémy in southern France:
Apr 13, 2020 17 min

Spirited Away: The Incredible Ghosts of Yoshitoshi

Yoshitoshi is poised to be the greatest artist of the Floating World, the semi-fictional universe of sex and style in old Japan. But when Japan opens to the West, in the 1850s, Yoshitoshi struggles to adapt. And the ghosts he conjures become colorful symbols of a vanishing way of life. If you're an anime enthusiast, a fan of old Japan, or just into beguiling beauty wherever you find it, you're going to love Yoshitoshi. Find him here:
Mar 16, 2020 16 min

Young, Gifted, and Gone: The Woman Who Never Came Back

Elizabeth Catlett, the granddaughter of enslaved African-Americans, is a struggling artist at the height of Jim Crow. But when she moves to Mexico City in 1946, she finds love, inspiration, and eventually fame. There's just one catch: she can't come home. Check out her work in the collection of the Minneapolis Institute of Art:
Feb 17, 2020 18 min

Miracles in Stone: The Curious Celebrity of God's Sculptor

William Edmondson is a middle-aged laborer in Nashville, Tennessee, at the height of the Great Depression, when God tells him to carve a tombstone. Soon, he's the first African-American artist to have a solo show at the Museum of Modern Art. But his short-lived celebrity reveals the art world's problematic relationship with race. You can see one of his many sculptures of a ram, of the Dorset sheep variety local to Tennessee, in the collection of the Minneapolis Institute of Art: