Guest Post by Eric Asboe
I once heard Mike Haeg, the mayor of Minnesota’s smallest town, Mount Holly, current population 4, describe Minnesota seasons in a lovely way. He said that winters get so cold and snowy Minnesotans just want to stay inside and work on their own projects and ideas, but, once spring and summer start thawing the snow, those same people, who really want to be outdoors, spending time with other people, come back outside into the world, ready to share everything they have been working on during the indoor, winter months.
With rain, sleet, and accumulating snow in the forecast, there are not many tulips peeking out their heads yet. Nevertheless, warmer temperatures have started freeing people from winter routines, and recent print exhibitions have already started pointing me toward spring.
The Andy Warhol in Minneapolis exhibition, a stop of Andy Warhol at Christie’s, was at Aria for one week in March. It featured some of the works Warhol created for his last exhibition in Minneapolis in 1974. The connections he made with local cultural and philanthropic leaders of that time were in full view, with large prints of Gardner Cowles, George Shea, and Gordon Locksley looking over the remaining paintings, prints, drawings, and polaroids. Visitors streamed past the first pieces in the show towards Warhol’s more recognizable works scattered throughout the large space. Who doesn’t want to see Wayne Gretzky’s mullet transform from polaroid angelic halo to screenprinted neon coif? I lingered at the first two prints, both from his Sunset series. The series was inspired by Warhol’s stay at the Marquette Hotel in downtown Minneapolis, and each of the hotel’s rooms still holds one of the prints. The bright reds and oranges of one print and the cooler aquas of the other print brought home the then recent daylight savings time and the warming days of the exhibition.
In less than fifteen years, Highpoint Center for Printmaking has become a major resource for printmaking, printmakers, and the spread of print culture throughout the Midwest. They host classes, public programs, visiting artists, a gorgeous studio space, and compelling prints in their gallery. They partner with the Jerome Foundation to provide residencies and exhibitions for emerging printmakers, and they generally foster and advance the art of printmaking to the local community and throughout the region. Their show Print Profs: Recent Work by MN Faculty, which just ended, featured work by college faculty throughout Minnesota. Covering a wide range of print processes, the artists push and bend traditional print processes to suit their own needs. Justin Quinn’s explorations of the letter E and Moby Dick bloom quietly from his winter hued, architectural prints. Lynn Bollman’s conceptually driven text piece HAZ MAT was bathed in afternoon sunlight when I visited. Rick Love and Heather Nameth Bren’s two rainbows are some of the simplest, yet most moving pieces in the show. Their call to the outdoors was a reminder of Highpoint’s explicit seasonal transition, Free Ink Day, from a few weeks ago, which was advertised with: “Help us celebrate the legacy of long Minnesota winters and the anticipation of springtime follies with an afternoon of inky fun.”
Although Highpoint notes that “printmaking is a cost-prohibitive endeavor to take on alone,” Print Profs was structured around the idea that the network of printmakers and access to presses and other resources at colleges is a part of the continued excellence of printmaking. The current exhibition at the Minnesota Museum of American Art‘s (MMAA) Project Space, D.I.Y Printing: Presses Not Required, starts with the same belief that printmaking can be “cost-prohibitive,” but the artists and collectives there prove that the resources and processes of printmaking can be much more accessible: “Many print-makers, especially young artists who are just starting out, do not have the luxury of access to well-equipped facilities. Rather than experiencing this as a constraint, D.I.Y. (do-it-yourself) printers see it as an opportunity for out-of-the-box thinking to creatively and collaboratively problem-solve.” D.I.Y. Printing balances the lively work of eight local print collectives, twelve individual artists, and representatives from the MMAA’s permanent collection. The presence of the artists at the MMAA’s Project Space and the time and care spent on the largely site-specific and new work of the artists is clear. Their work is alive with the opportunities they create to adapt printmaking to their immediate situation, finding ways to make prints relevant and integral to what they are doing and interested in, even if they have to make, invent, or share the tools they need.
More importantly, the print collectives in D.I.Y. Printing are rethinking the very world that finds value in prints. Big Table Studio shows the possibilities of working with local residents, including the poster they helped visitors to the then newly opened MMAA Project Space create in the fall. Recess Press and Leg Up Studio both have community printshops for sharing their resources and knowledge. Screen Printing on the Cheap goes even further, pushing printing onto the streets, into bedrooms, into anywhere and everywhere they can. They write, “As educated artists, we have been conditioned to rely on making art in facilities we simply cannot afford. Screen Printing on the Cheap demonstrates a ‘new school’ of screen printing and makes the process more accessible to the community.” Their recently published book and public programming help realize that more populist oriented practice. All of the print collectives’ work in the show engages with more than a reinvigorated d.i.y. mentality. They utilize printmaking to question the boundaries that separate artists from artists, artists from makers, artists from everyone else, studios from the real world, the world indoors from the world outside. They are calls to re-engage with communities outside of the places that hold and celebrate all of these prints, to re-imagine the world in which we view and make what we live with. Screen Printing on the Cheap’s mobile printing unit on display at the MMAA is a direct call to be more outside by literally bringing printmaking to the streets. I am ready to learn from all of the artists at the MMAA who have been busy printing in whatever ways they can this winter; I am ready to follow them out into the spring, come snow and rain and prints.
If all of these calls to be outside to find the ease and accessibility of springtime were not enough, the annual poster and bicycle celebration ARTCRANK Minneapolis was last weekend. Hundreds of people drank beer, bought posters, and celebrated bikes. The energy and readiness for bike riding and the outdoor time the posters showed and called for was palpable, rippling through the lines for artworks, food trucks, and bicycle valets. We are all anxious to leave that winter gear behind, to pack it away behind the new things and ideas we have worked on all winter. The Minneapolis born idea has since moved on to many more cities. Get out to the first ever ARTCRANK Chicago on May 17th at the Co-Prosperity Sphere – beer, bikes, and posters.
At the very least, keep in mind the words of wisdom from Mount Holly. As spring holds out a few more days, gather what you did and made and learned this winter. Bring it back into the world to share with the rest of us; we are ready and waiting to share our own excitements too.
Eric Asboe is an artist, writer, and cultural worker. As Art Director of Public Space One gallery and performance space in Iowa City, Iowa, Asboe helped shape its nationally engaged exhibitions and programming, including the microgranting meal SOUP and the award-winning Free @rt School. Asboe’s creative works prioritize process over product and explore the boundary between practice as improvement and practice as way of life. Forthcoming projects include ubuwebtopten.com. He currently lives and works in Minneapolis.