Noah Maurer was in his early teens when his father, former Minneapolis Institute of Art director Evan Maurer, brought the popular traveling exhibition "Star Wars: The Magic of Myth," to Minneapolis. Some questioned whether this type of show was meant for a museum, to which then-curator Lotus Stack replied that the movie was "an important artistic statement."
From a kid's perspective, the show was a dream come true.
"It was pretty spectacular," Noah Maurer said. "They had a gala dinner and a big opening, and I got to attend the dinner with my dad and meet some of the people that worked on the original 'Star Wars' movie. It was just a really amazing, magical time for me, but also something that could never have been possible had my dad not been in the museum world."
After 16 years at the helm, Maurer retired in 2005 for health reasons. He was remembered as the director who made Mia free at the beginning of his tenure, and by the time he stepped down, he was the state's highest-paid arts and culture director.
Maurer, a visionary who radically expanded Native and African art at Mia, led the $30 million Target Wing expansion and a $50 million expansion and renovation project. He died Nov. 2 in Los Angeles at age 79.
Maurer came to Mia in 1988 and opened the African art gallery that year, a dream for him after many years of scholarship. The gallery housed 300 pieces, including African sculpture, royal regalia, ceremonial weapons, textiles and housewares.
He also gave then-aspiring curator Joe Horse Capture an internship at the museum in 1990 and later hired him as an assistant curator. There had never been a curator of Native art at the museum.
Horse Capture, who called Maurer his "uncle, teacher, mentor and best friend," spent time with Maurer during his last years when he moved to L.A. to become vice president of Native collections and curator of Native American history and culture at the Autry Museum of the American West in March 2020.
"He was probably one of the most intelligent people I've ever known," Horse Capture said. "He had a phenomenal memory. Oftentimes with art historians, they know facts and stuff, but he could apply those facts and make them usable, almost in the sense of making connections and theory."
Maurer came to Mia in 1988 from the Art Institute of Chicago. While there, he worked on the pivotal exhibition "The Native American Heritage: A Survey of North American Indian Art." He was close with Native artists such as George Morrison and Truman Lowe, and with George Horse Capture, Joe's father, he worked on the exhibition "Visions of the People: A Pictorial History of Plains Indian Life."
"Evan understood his responsibilities to the cultures he worked with," Joe Horse Capture wrote in a Facebook tribute. "For the catalog 'Visions of the People,' he sent out copies of the catalog to high school libraries on or near reservations across the Plains."
Evan Maurer was also a passionate collector of antique guns, rare African headrests, collectibles and more.
"If you collect anything, you know that every object you collect has its own story, the story of how it entered your life," Maurer told the Star Tribune in 1998.
A civic leader, he believed that the arts could strengthen the city, and should be a part of school curriculum.
During his tenure at Mia, Maurer hired Matthew Welch as the curator of Japanese and Korean art, another first for the museum. Welch, who is now the deputy director and chief curator, admired Maurer.
"He was this sports guy who turned to art and got a Ph.D.," Welch said. "He really was an advocate for the visitor, trying to make labels more friendly, the gallery experience more friendly, and so on. He made the museum free, which now seems like a no-brainer but at the time it was incredibly progressive. … I think he wanted more people to discover art, as he had."
Longtime friend and photographer Stuart Klipper recalled Maurer's sensitivities.
"He understood what an art form was about," he said. "He was an incredibly warm-hearted, generous and open man. I cannot pass by a little kid or a baby without stopping by and talking. I think I picked that up from Evan."
An artist in his own right, Maurer was part of the exhibition "The More You Look, the More You See" of his works on paper, alongside artist Lhamo Yue Liu, at Yiwei Gallery in Venice, Calif., this past summer.
Although he was originally from Newark, N.J., Maurer's storied museum career spanned the Midwest. He was assistant director at Mia (1971-1973), then curator at the Art Institute of Chicago and director of the University of Michigan's Museum of Art before coming to Mia in 1988. He retired in 2005 at age 60, and also held the title of director emeritus. After retirement he continued researching 20th century European and American art, Surrealism, Native American art and African art. His Ph.D. work was on surrealist artist Max Ernst. He also holds three honorary Ph.D.s and became a chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters in France.
Along with his son Noah, survivors include his son Aaron and two grandchildren..