The days have been warm recently. The last heat of summer is slowly entering the trees. The nights are growing longer, and when the wind is suddenly filled with the smell of decomposing leaves, I feel the call to be outside, to experience the changes and vibrancy of this time of year. I want to say, “Come out from indoors. Come out to experience the real world around us.”
I went to the 2012/2013 Jerome Emerging Artist Fellowship Exhibition over the weekend, and I felt the same way. The Jerome Foundation Fellowships have supported emerging artists since 1981. The fellowship comes with $10,000, studio visits from professional critics, technical assistance, and a culminating exhibition. It is one of the premier individual artist awards in Minnesota. The opening was full of people wanting to see that work, to support that legacy of emerging artists, to see who the Jerome Foundation had selected as the artists to continue watching, but I wanted to say, “Come out from the gallery. Come out to experience the real world around us. The work in the exhibition is good and interesting within the gallery, but it has truly come to life as I have lived with it outside, in the real world.”
The installation of One Another, Michael Hoyt‘s bicycle drawn mobile drawing table and drawings of community members he asks to sit with him in parks, playgrounds, and public spaces, is a small distillation of a project that can only exist outside the gallery. The drawings point to longer interactions and conversations that cannot exist in the static space of the exhibition. The questions of what those conversations were and why the participants did not draw have lingered. I have lived with the multitude of imagined portraits of Hoyt all week.
Amanda Hankerson‘s The Hankersons pulls me similarly into the lives of the many Hankerson families she has photographed. The physical presence of the large portraits reinforces the fact that the work is more than a tumblr of related images. Beyond the gallery, I can see into the lives of the other Hankerson families across the country, as they seem to contemplate the trajectory of their own lives more within the collective life of a group of strangers with the same name.
Melissa Loop pushes me away from the internet similarly. Her move away from her former landscapes inspired by endless internet images to the acid skies and dripping, decrepit buildings within the landscapes of the exhibition has inflected my own looking at the buildings we live in, the landscapes that decay around us. Her landscapes feel lived in, repopulated from the emptiness of place online with a flatness that I recall when I see the flickering blue of a television in a curtained room, a depth of life beneath the veneer of exterior walls.
Susannah Bielak’s ongoing project Vientos investigates the wind, “a force made visible by its impact on other things.” The video and static work she presents explore the visible impacts of wind, power, ideals of perfection, but they exist in an environment devoid of any atmospheric turbulence. The impacts of wind, the implications of its layered associations are mediated, but the associations have returned again and again as the wind rushes around me, as I hear wind chimes out my windows, as the piles of leaves change overnight. The ghostly hands of the wind are inescapable. We may grow inured to the way it shapes our lives, but I have started feeling its presence again in the way we talk, the way we interact.
The figures in Lauren Roche‘s paintings partially emerge from darkness, faces, hands, mouths, animals suffused with a palpable energy that is exponentially multiplied by the number of works in the exhibition. The figures are grounded in another reality that continues to speak to me beyond the gallery. I do not speak their language, but they tell me that their transformation from notebook page to finished painting is full of the answers to questions I do not know how to ask.
I often prefer work that forces me to spend time with it, durational works, books, music, film. My understanding of those works changes throughout my experience of them. One of the pleasures of visual art is its immediacy, its more instantaneous consumption. The deeper pleasure is in works that linger, that seed my mind with thoughts, explorations, and revelations that slowly unfold. As I put on sweaters and put up storm windows, I will rest assured that the outside world continues to exist within the indoors we are preparing.
Guest post by Eric Asboe
As a curatorial department of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (MIA), the Minnesota Artist Exhibition Program (MAEP) is “dedicated to exhibiting and supporting artists living and working in the state of Minnesota.” Begun in 1975, the MAEP is a creative partnership with the MIA, “founded by a group of regional artists interested in creating an innovative exhibition and programming space. What began as a year-long agreement has been extended into an ongoing relationship between the Minnesota artist community and the MIA.” An elected artist panel representing the Minnesota arts communities selects artists from open calls who exhibit within the MIA. The MAEP is an integral part of the MIA’s broader efforts to “enrich the community through art,” expanding beyond its galleries, engaging audiences in ways that effectively utilize the assets and strengths of its collection, while continuing to question how that collection can continue to enrich Minnesota artists and visitors in new ways.
The current MAEP exhibitions embody and transform the MIA. In Posture is Everything, Kristina Estell gathers sheets of molded silicone across a series of armatures. The armatures seem to have caught the simultaneously flowing and visibly weighted silicone, interrupting the gravity we suddenly notice more intensely. On closer inspection, the silicone has been carefully layered, applied, and manipulated by hand. The manipulations of the silicone and the human presence they reveal disguise the fact that the area of the silicone sheets is exactly the area of the MAEP gallery floor. Estell subtly lures the visitor into examining the materiality of the museum, inviting visitors to question what they see and the environment in which they stand.
Allen Brewer‘s exhibition Verbatim begins with the MIA collection. MIA visitors were asked to describe any piece they liked in any way they chose. From those descriptions, Brewer created new works, continuing to solicit and create work throughout the exhibition. The conceptual framework leaves Brewer a lot of room, but, in the exhibition brochure, Brewer explains he preferred to work with “objective definitions, like ’round’ or ‘black.’ Words such as ‘beautiful’ are unusable to me.” Brewer playfully uses the objective words of the descriptions to create his works (e.g. the colorfield of “Lucretia” described by Sandra, the rigid shapes of “Linear Still Life” described by Katie Van Zante). The new works are diverse, and they show Brewer’s close attention to the nuances of language and the difficulties of defining aesthetic experiences.
With the MAEP, the MIA asks and lives through difficult questions about the role of artists and arts institutions in the future of the arts. How can contemporary artists work within encyclopedic art museums? Through nearly forty years and over 180 MAEP exhibitions, the MIA has been dedicated to exploring the role it can play in enabling contemporary art, and it continues to be a unique model to other institutions. With free admission year round and a broad appeal through its collection and programming, the MIA exposes its many visitors of all ages and locations to vital contemporary Minnesota artists.
What role can local artists play in a global museum? MAEP exhibitions are far more than an experiment in thinking locally. The exhibitions are dynamic; the artwork is excellent. More importantly, by supporting an artistic peer selection process, the MIA helps build a community of artists, specifically in and with the resources of a major art institution. Alan Brewer’s exhibition pushes the question further. When I met with him in his MAEP exhibition, he stopped to talk to a visitor, an older man who had written a description. They discussed his description and possibilities for recreations. The transformative power of that individual conversation and the way Brewer has empowered all visitors to the MIA to engage in completely new ways with its collection demonstrates to me the MIA is not just asking how local artists can shape a global museum, but, more importantly, how we can all shape the museums of the future.
Last weekend, Northern Spark, the all-night arts festival of the Twin Cities, a project of Northern Lights.mn, happened for the third time, 8:58pm Saturday to 5:26am Sunday. It is impossible to capture a festival with over 75 projects, multiple sites, and tens of thousands of visitors in words that do all of it justice. Those visitors, however, were the key to and strength of the festival as a whole. The visitors were the focus of many of the projects, whether learning (screen printing, letter press, cyanotype), watching performances (music, dance), or engaging on an individual level (soundscapes, sunrise boat cruises). Inside and around the Saint Paul Union Depot, the projects called for more than passing engagement. Hundreds of people joined in Christian Jankowski’s Rooftop Routine, twirling hula-hoops. I saw multiple families camped at astronaut spirit academy, with children asking to return late into the night. The air in the Union Depot Carriage Way, under the main plaza, was thick with spray paint from hundreds of taggers participating in Underpass of the Eyes of Freedom. Piotr Szyhalski’s sprawling, riveting performance, Permanent Labor, invited visitors to celebrate “the round of production and consumption, of making and using.” The layered movements and labors of the performance, washed by waves of drumming and singing, were a stark contrast to the people waiting in the long lines for the nearby beer tent and food trucks for a different type of labor.
In a very different context than the MAEP, Northern Spark asks difficult questions about the place of arts festivals in the landscape of contemporary art. How can an arts festival shape our vision of a city? Northern Spark was focused in the Lowertown area of downtown Saint Paul, an arts and cultural district with artist live/work spaces, Saint Paul’s only art museum, and the Mississippi River hidden on its border. The creation of a new light rail line through the middle of Lowertown, increased focus on creative placemaking, and the expectations of what an influx of the creative class might do are shining a bright light on Lowertown and downtown Saint Paul generally. Northern Spark’s presence in Lowertown this year, the number of people who attended, and the economic impact of those visitors will continue to play a part in the area’s ongoing development.
Can an arts festival attract more than artists, and can an all-night festival move past spectacle to real engagement? In the largest single event of the festival, thousands of people stood in the rain to watch Chris Larson’s Celebration/Love/Loss, a full-size replica of a Saint Paul home designed by Marcel Breuer burned to the ground. The house was simple and beautiful, and the burn was awe-inspiring. (This video shows the house before burning, but this video shows how massive the flames really were.) Some of the quieter, less explosive projects, however, truly showed the possibilities of engagement. The all-night Singing From the Sacred Harp, organized by the Minnesota State Sacred Harp Singing Convention, brought home for me just how the conversations, techniques, and tools of an all-night festival can last far beyond that night. Sacred Harp Singing encourages people of all experience levels to sit together in an inward facing square to sing four part hymns and anthems without practice. During my first Sacred Harp experience, I was told that the most important part of singing is how loudly you sing. Since that time, I have rarely experienced anything as moving as a room full of strangers singing together perfectly, and the power of Singing From the Sacred Harp at Northern Spark was similarly palpable. The square of chairs was tucked away at the top of a little used stairway; all of the passers-by stopped in rapt attention at the beautiful music, the wide smiles, and the astonished laughter of the singers, even though it was well past 3am.
Eric Asboe is an artist, writer, and cultural worker. 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.
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.