Local artist Aldo Moroni is known for his enormous, world-building projects.
M.EX. – Mesoamerican Experience was intended to be the latest in a long line of ambitious pieces he has created over the course of his five-decade career in the Twin Cities. The multi-year project would involve creating massive clay civilizations. It would be similar to his Babylon series, where he created and destroyed elements on repeat, building on ruins each time to create a tower over the course of five years.
Moroni had planned to chronicle the history of Mesoamerica, including Olmec, Maya, Toltec, Mixtec, and Aztec societies, as well as Spanish Imperialism, the Republic, and contemporary Mexico. The project was set to include a series of books documenting the process.
But as Moroni was researching and preparing his designs for the show, he began to feel sick. Doctors didn’t know what was wrong with him, so he continued his work. About six months later, Moroni received bad news: He has Stage 4 terminal pancreatic cancer.
“I just go… wow. That’s weird,” Moroni recalls reacting to his diagnosis. “What can you say? That’s a twist. I wasn’t planning on that.”
Moroni was sitting in his newly rented studio in the California Building when he got the news. He’s been a tenant there for around 20 years, but had just moved into a larger space to work on the M.EX. project. “All of a sudden everything changed,” he says.
Moroni got his big break as an artist in 1977. Fresh from graduating from MCAD, he caught the eye of Martin Friedman, former director at the Walker Art Center, who invited him to be part of a group show at the museum. For the exhibition, the Walker commissioned a wax piece, Pentalandia, which was purchased for the permanent collection and was later shown as a solo piece. His work is also in the permanent collections of the Minneapolis Institute of Art, the Weisman Museum, the Tweed Museum, and the Minnesota Museum of American Art.
Throughout his career, Moroni has also created many public art pieces. There’s Life of Our State State of Our Lives at the State Capitol, and This River This Place, commissioned for the Federal Reserve Building, features a 3-D map of the upper Midwest.
Fellow artist Remo Campopiano has known Moroni since the early 1980s, when the two did a big show together that involved a giant globe. Later, Moroni joined the artist advisory board for the ArtPaper, a publication Campopiano founded. “He’s my best friend. He always has my ear,” Campopiano says.
Campopiano notes that being a part of the social aspects of the art scene is an important part of who Moroni is. “He’s always been a social being,” he says. “He has a network of friends that’s larger than any other artist that I know.”
Many of those friends are now helping put together what is turning out to be a farewell party this weekend.
“I suspect there are going to be hundreds of people there,” says Campopiano. “He’s a beloved person, you know? I’ve known him all my life. I don’t think we’ve ever had any cross words. I’ve been all over the world. When I come back, the first person I talk to is Aldo.”
This weekend, the Legacy Makers Place will open in the California Building. It features several of the big pieces Moroni has created over the years, including wax sculptures from the ’70s, transitional/ epic works like the Babylon project, photographs, broadsides, and the release of his limited-edition art book, The Synoptic Codex of Mesoamerica.
You can also see the M.EX. piece, which is still in progress. Built on a 16' by 11' oval, it has a styrofoam mountain range in place, ready for houses to be built on top. There will be workshops throughout this weekend where participants can help with its creation.
“Unfortunately, he’s not going to be able to finish it,” Campopiano says of Moroni’s final project. “It’s a two- or three-year piece.”
That’s why Moroni has enlisted others to help him continue the work. “You set things in motion and things happen,” Campopiano says. “That’s what we are doing here. We are trying to push an idea and see where it goes.”
“His attitude on all of this is really remarkable to me,” says photographer Lisa Roy, Moroni’s neighbor at the A-Mill Artist Lofts, where he currently lives. “I'm so thankful to be on his team. The fact that he is going through all this, but still fighting for the northeast Minneapolis art scene speaks to his character in so many ways.”
Roy says that Moroni wants the Legacy Makers Place to be a space for artists to hold classes, make work, and host exhibitions for years to come. “The upcoming shows will fund that space,” she says.
Jennifer Young, co-owner of the California Building, got to know Moroni when he first rented a studio in the building in the early 2000s. “He’s been a significant artist in the community,” she says. “He’s just such a generous person—with his time, his thinking, his art process. He involves the community in his work.”
Young says the process of helping put the show together has been painful. “I love him even more for doing it,” she says. “He’s brave. I respect him so much. My respect is growing for him as each day goes on.”
Young says that the arts community has stepped up to help. “I see us circling around him and supporting him so he can give us what he wants to give us for as long as he can,” she says. “If he’s diving in, I’m diving in.”
As for Moroni, he's taking it day by day, continuing to work and care for his two adult sons who live with autism. "I think the only way I can cope is that I work my way through it," he says. "The day will come, but it’s not today."
IF YOU GO:
The Legacy Makers Place
5-10 p.m. Friday; noon to 8 p.m. Saturday; noon to 5 p.m. Sunday
The California Building
2205 St. NE, Studio #113, Minneapolis
The unveiling of M.EX. will take place from noon to midnight on Friday, November 8. RSVP here.