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The Year in MN Art: mnartists.org Staffers Weigh in on the Highlights of 2012

At this, the annual juncture of new and old, our small-but-mighty crew at mnartists.org is taking stock of the year just passed and peering ahead with our wishes for 2013.  All this week, look for idiosyncratic, entirely subjective and by-no-means-exhaustive lists from each of us, with our favorite moments from 2012 – things we saw […]

At this, the annual juncture of new and old, our small-but-mighty crew at mnartists.org is taking stock of the year just passed and peering ahead with our wishes for 2013.  All this week, look for idiosyncratic, entirely subjective and by-no-means-exhaustive lists from each of us, with our favorite moments from 2012 – things we saw and loved, and that gave us heart for what’s in store for the year to come.

Without further ado, here’s what most delighted me in 2012:

John Hodgman, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett at the Varsity: Late last March, in honor of the publication of That Is All, the final installment in Hodgman’s fabulously absurd Complete World Knowledge trilogy, the “deranged millionaire” and humorist, joined by MST3K veterans Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett, regaled an enthusiastically nerdy crowd at Minneapolis’ Varsity Theater with off-the-cuff stories and made-up facts, covering everything from George R. R. Martin, hobos and Ragnarok to behind-the-scenes dish from Hodgman’s small-screen career as a “Famous Minor Television Personality.”

Little Brown Mushroom’s House of Coates: Writer Brad Zellar and photographer Alec Soth teamed up for a series of well-received road-trip story-and-picture dispatches last year, but my favorite of these is the first, House of Coates, a beautiful limited-edition book published by Little Brown Mushroom, inspired by the “edges of everything” exploits of one Lester B. Morrison: rangy philosopher, drifter, and quintessential loner.

Photograph from "House of Coates" published in a limited edition series by Little Brown Mushroom in 2012.

Photograph from “House of Coates” published in a limited edition series by Little Brown Mushroom in 2012.

Artists took the reins of opportunity, making this a remarkable year for independent art start-ups. Some standouts: Nate Young and Caroline Kent’s studio-turned-gallery space, The Bindery Projects; Art-Of-This founder David Petersen’s new commercial gallery space in Minneapolis; and Rural America Contemporary Art (RACA, for short), brainchild of Mankato-based painter Brian Frink, which grew from a popular Facebook group to a web hub and biannual online magazine for serious-minded artists off the usually urban art grid.

The City of Saint Paul expanded its team of City Artists in Residence to three: the city’s original such artist, Marcus Young, was recently joined by Amanda Lovelee and Sarah West. The team of artists-in-residence is embedded “upstream”, immersed in the development and execution of a variety of city projects, working side by side with administrators, urban planners and public works staff to integrate the arts into everyday civic life and planning.

Everyday Poems for City Sidewalk, conceived by City Artist in Residence. Photo courtesy of Public Art St. Paul.

Everyday Poems for City Sidewalk, conceived by City Artist in Residence. Photo courtesy of Public Art St. Paul.

The flourishing of Lowertown: St. Paul stalwarts like Zeitgeist’s Studio Z, the Artists’ Quarter, Black Dog Coffee and Wine Bar have long brought a variety of new music and jazz to the area; Big Table Studio and Amsterdam Bar and Hall pair nicely to anchor the neighborhood’s burgeoning design and indie music scenes; Minnesota Museum of American Art announced a new brick-and-mortar Project Space in the old Pioneer Press building; Bedlam Theatre just opened a St. Paul outpost, promising a welcome counterpoint to the area’s large-venue performance offerings. With light rail soon to come, there’s so much promise on the horizon for the arts and artists in this up-and-coming St. Paul neighborhood.

MMAA Exec. Dir. Kristen Makholm in front of the museum's new Project Space. Photo by Paul Shambroom.

MMAA Exec. Dir. Kristen Makholm in front of the museum’s new Project Space. Photo by Paul Shambroom.

Blank Slate Theatre’s Spring Awakening: In what was a very good year for theater, small companies in particular, Twin Cities audiences had a number of opportunities to see this Tony Award-winning musical – Theatre Latte Da’s staging, in particular, was polished and deeply entertaining and is deservedly appearing on a number of “best of the year” lists around town. But, for me, a quieter iteration gets the nod: I was just gobsmacked by Blank Slate Theatre’s gutsy all-youth production, held in the basement of St. Paul’s First Baptist Church: emotionally fearless, intimate and beautifully executed by the cast, the show was pitch perfect in its fidelity to the shaggy ardors of real-life adolescence.

Labor-of-love lit mags made a splash: We’ve been hearing about the decline of print for years now, but that hasn’t stopped intrepid newcomers, like the folks behind Thirty Two, Revolver and Paper Darts, from continuing to dive into publishing headfirst, taking a shot at shaking up the old business model with some new flair. All have a smart online presence and lean overhead, consistently trenchant and engaging editorial content and painstaking attention to artful design, fueled issue after issue by sheer audacity, grit and hustle.

Thirty-Two_Issue-2stroke-248x330oblivions

Dioramas: Air Sweet Air’s Just Like Honey show, an irresistible and varied exhibition of artist-made dioramas, was such a surprise: the creations on view had all the nostalgic allure of childhood games of make-believe, but animated by undercurrents of subtle, grown-up insight and witty commentary about the contemporary flux of human-made sprawl and manufactured landscapes in context of the natural environments in and around them.

Alyssa Baguss, “Home on the Range,” UTO (Unidentified Technological Device), mixed media, 2012. Photo by Cheryl Wilgren Clyne, courtesy of Air Sweet Air

Alyssa Baguss, “Home on the Range,” UTO (Unidentified Technological Device), mixed media, 2012. Photo by Cheryl Wilgren Clyne, courtesy of Air Sweet Air

Spoken word and slam poetry went viral. There were some terrific poetry collections released this year – Heid Erdrich’s Cell Traffic; Odessa by Patricia Kirkpatrick; Sun Yung Shin’s Rough, and Savage; and Pitch by Todd Boss immediately come to mind. But the most memorable poems I encountered this year, I first ran into online, shared among friends and colleagues via Twitter and Facebook. (You can listen to three of my favorites below.)

 

And the big news in our house: Baby takes her first steps and the Tooth Fairy pays our first-grader a visit.

The Boy loses his first tooth

The Boy loses his first tooth. Photo courtesy of the author.

And for 2013: I think we’re all waiting with bated breath for the brand spanking new mnartists.org website, and so eager to show you all the bells and whistles we have in the works.

The Work of Minnesota Funk

Minnesota Funk at the Katherine E. Nash Gallery functions like a show within a show.  The perimeter of the gallery is filled with a mix of work by Minnesota artists that range widely in form and material—painting on canvas, ceramics, lithographs, cartoony maps, mixed media on paper, video, steel and found material/altered sculpture. These pieces […]

Minnesota Funk is on view in the Nash Gallery through January 12.

Minnesota Funk is on view in the Nash Gallery through January 12.

Minnesota Funk at the Katherine E. Nash Gallery functions like a show within a show.  The perimeter of the gallery is filled with a mix of work by Minnesota artists that range widely in form and material—painting on canvas, ceramics, lithographs, cartoony maps, mixed media on paper, video, steel and found material/altered sculpture. These pieces also vary in their interpretations of “funk.” Some employ bright colors and playful imagery, while others display their attitude in the form of humor or absurdity.

Jim Dryden. Courtesy of the Nash Gallery.

Jim Dryden. Courtesy of the Nash Gallery.

In the center of all this is a mini-exhibition by Chris Larson with yet another, distinctly different sensibility. Larson’s room contains three works: sturdy wooden beams whose center sections have been burned and polished to reveal sculptural knots and curves lean against the walls; a large wooden panel covered with a grid of black and white photographs which display a pinhole camera image of an artist’s workspace; and a wall-sized video projection.

Jenny Schmid. Courtesy of the Nash Gallery.

Jenny Schmid. Courtesy of the Nash Gallery.

The latter is the centerpiece of the whole show, though not necessarily because it is the funkiest piece in the lot. What begins as a seemingly simple recording of the artist working in his studio becomes a fascinating set of events that, all together, upturn the viewer’s perception of the very reality created by the frame of the camera and the walls of the studio. The raw sound of Larson’s video pervades the entire exhibition — in effect, a soundtrack featuring the rather un-funky noise of the human work that accompanies the making of all things.

Still from Chris Larson's video, on view in Minnesota Funk at the Katherine E. Nash Gallery through January 13.

Still from Chris Larson’s video, on view in Minnesota Funk at the Katherine E. Nash Gallery through January 13.

Related exhibition details:

Minnesota Funk is on view at the Katherine E. Nash Gallery in the Regis Center for Art, University of Minnesota through January 12, 2013.

___________________________

Sarah Peters is a Twin Cities-based artist, writer and arts programmer who is interested in public engagement with the arts and critical issues of our time.

Viewfinder posts are your opportunity to “show & tell” about the everyday arts happenings, interesting sights and sounds made or as seen by Minnesota artists, because art is where you find it. Submit your own informal, first-person responses to the art around you to editor(at)mnartists.org, and we may well publish your piece here on the blog. (Guidelines: 300 words or less, not about your own event/work, and please include an image, media, video, or audio file, and one sentence about yourself.)

Framing Time: It Is What It Is!

Todd Balthazor is a satirical, often anthropomorphic illustrator, fine artist, muralist and children’s art instructor from St.Paul, MN, with a BFA in illustration from the College of Visual Arts (CVA).  He has done artist residencies at Jackson Elementary and the St. Paul University Club, and his work has been displayed in venues both locally and abroad, […]

Framing-Time

Todd Balthazor is a satirical, often anthropomorphic illustrator, fine artist, muralist and children’s art instructor from St.Paul, MN, with a BFA in illustration from the College of Visual Arts (CVA).  He has done artist residencies at Jackson Elementary and the St. Paul University Club, and his work has been displayed in venues both locally and abroad, including: illustrations in the Altered Esthetics Gallery (Minneapolis), the Walker Art Center blog, and multiple Red Leaf Press publications (St. Paul); visual narratives at the Adugyama Art Exhibition (Ghana, Africa) and the Save the Children Nepal Project (Nepal, India); and murals at an orphanage in Jaurez, Mexico.  Samples of his work can be found at toddbalthazor.com and toddbalthazor.blogspot.com.

Balthazor also works as a guard at the Walker Art Center, and draws on his experiences behind the scenes at the museum in his weekly comic strip for mnartists.org, It Is What It Is!.

On Wryness and Precision: A Conversation with Artist Steven Lang

Minneapolis-based artist Steven Lang’s idiosyncratic and hard-to-pin-down artistic practice ranges from collage and photography to social media and performance. The artist is comfortable with his own quirks – like an inside joke he shares with himself – and slyly indulges his deadpan humor, multiple personae and obsessive perfectionism in each project. In this conversation with […]

Steven Lang, photo: Jesse Martin, 2012

Steven Lang, photo: Jesse Martin, 2012

Minneapolis-based artist Steven Lang’s idiosyncratic and hard-to-pin-down artistic practice ranges from collage and photography to social media and performance. The artist is comfortable with his own quirks – like an inside joke he shares with himself – and slyly indulges his deadpan humor, multiple personae and obsessive perfectionism in each project. In this conversation with the artist, Steven Lang lets us in on the joke and the content behind his array of projects.

Jehra Patrick

Steven, you self-identify as a perfectionist; as an artist, is perfection related to adhering to a certain level of skill or craftsmanship in your work, or is more about personal satisfaction?

Steven Lang

I am usually kidding when I self-identify as anything. But yes, I’ve struggled with perfectionism in my work. It helps and it hurts. A balance needs to be struck. If I can’t let things go, I try to stop and look at the work of other artists who know how shake themselves loose when needed. Artists who can get into a new groove and let it ride for a bit. (I’m thinking someone like Mike Kelley vs. someone like Richard Artswager.) Then I go back and see where perfectionism has helped me and where it has hurt me.

Jehra Patrick

Your predisposition and eye for details is clear from earlier collage projects, including optical compositions of pop culture references like Mickey Mouse and Paul Bunyan. Your meticulous approach to these subjects seems contrary to their iconic nature…. Tell me more about these subjects and your pursuit of challenging art forms like micro-collage.

Steven Lang

Well, I actually see icons as an ideal form, a perfect manifestation of type. So, when I approach them as subject matter, the details matter. Not that the figures can’t morph into something else, but something of that ideal has to remain. That’s where being meticulous seems to help. I can’t imagine a sloppy rendition of Mickey Mouse (who is actually a rat if you look closely).

Steven Lang, Double Aught, #1, M.A.G.S. series, digital photograph

Jehra Patrick

The M.A.G.S. series is a nice bridge between your collage work and photographic work, where you make use of a Richard Prince-esque approach to re-photography while including found objects in your compositions. Can you talk about this process?

Steven Lang

I wanted something to do when I was too tired to move, something I could literally set up on my nightstand. That’s where I did a lot of the M.A.G.S. series, all of which I did with my phone camera. Images of the body are compelling, and I like studying the minutiae of printing techniques of any kind. Photographing magazines really reveals the way they are printed (usually four-color halftone). You also pick up on things like fingerprints, gloss and reflection, staples, folds. I love the tactile quality of magazines often more than the content. In terms of found objects, it was something that came from my collage work — incorporating material and letting the layering of information lead to (hopefully) interesting connections.

Steven Lang,Teppanyaki Grill and Supreme Buffet (To Go), $4.99/lb,  pigmented inkjet, 2011

Steven Lang,Teppanyaki Grill and Supreme Buffet (To Go), $4.99/lb, pigmented inkjet, 2011

Jehra Patrick

Comedy also plays an important role in your practice. As with the exaggerated chest hair in the M.A.G.S. series, or the S.C.A.N.S. series, where we see you making art jokes – like a parody Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty – and, at other moments, contemplating the value of technology by dropping entire meals on a scanner bed. How direct is humor in your work? Is it a conceptual interest, or do you feel like comedy is embedded – is it for you, or your audience?

Steven Lang

Q: What did the Fluxus artist say to the critic who was late? A: It’s about time.

Jehra Patrick

Hah! Okay, that was a very appropriate answer.

In addition to humor, I can sense an interest in systems and human behavior in your work. We see this take an autobiographical turn when you include your own behavior in your work, like your affinity for Diet Coke in the C.S.A. project. Talk a bit about your comfort level with revealing personal obsession in My Lonely Condition.

Steven Lang

My Diet Coke addiction was a running joke on Facebook for a long time, and I really wanted to use it as a point of departure in a piece. I had initially thought of saving all the bottles, cans, boxes, and receipts (a la David Hamlow) but decided against that since I work from home and don’t have enough space. Instead, I took the show on the road, so to speak. My Lonely Condition is a fairly light-hearted look at addiction, which of course has a darker side too. In this case, it was also about creating a travel-based photography project in addition to delivering a tangible product for the C.S.A. program.

 

2. Royal Tesoro, Royalton, MN, My Lonely Condition, 2012

2. Royal Tesoro, Royalton, MN, My Lonely Condition, 2012

 

Jehra Patrick

Other times you distance yourself from your work and introduce alter egos and characters, like Sue Earl Lang and Set Van Glen. Do you consider performance through social media to be an extension of your artistic practice?

Steven Lang

Everyone’s online presence is an alter-ego of sorts. But I consider myself an internet-based artist (as opposed to a gallery artist, street artist, book artist, etc.), particularly when it comes to photography.

Jehra Patrick

Your most recent work has taken a shift to photography, in the traditional sense. You are working with multiple camera formats and processes, and it seems like this heavily process-oriented art form would be a good fit for your detail-minded nature. Process aside, talk about your interest in shooting: You are out often, shooting in your own neighborhood and traveling – what are your interests in subject and composition?

Steven Lang

I worked my way into photography in a completely backwards manner. I had ruined my back from so many years of detailed collage work, so I decided to get a camera thinking it would be easy on my body. With very limited experience, I started looking for photographers to emulate, and for ways of looking through a camera at the world. I became attached to the process, and it helped to round out my repertoire of image making. But it also gave me a respect for photography that I didn’t have before. It’s an entire world in itself. It can be as simple or as complicated as you want it to be, but because of the nature of the medium, there are bounds: it’s either a physical/mechanical image capture of some sort, or it isn’t. The capture was either happening at a certain time, or it wasn’t. I like that. And I like the triangulation of the photographer, the camera, and the image. The presence of a camera changes the relationship so significantly it’s hard to think outside that triangle the way you can with drawing or collage.

Best Steak House, St. Paul, 2012

Jehra Patrick

You recently participated in a residency at Elsewhere from which you created a photographic project. How did your experience there inform how you continue to shoot?

Steven Lang

My experience at Elsewhere gave me the time, space, and creative license to combine all of the ways I’d been working into a single project, which ultimately became a photo book called A is for Elsewhere. The book is a diary, a typeface, a photo series, and a story all at the same time. I think of storytelling as the primary purpose of art (in its non-ironic mode), so I was glad to be able to bring that into this project too. There are lots of stories at Elsewhere, and a few dozen of them, including my own, ended up in the book. I think if I do more photography and more books, my story will be in each of them in some way. So, as much as I love detail, I’m not a photographer who is necessarily looking to be objective.

 More on Steven Lang:

Steven Lang is currently featured in the Artists in Storefronts project at Frenz Brakes on 28th and Nicollet, has work featured in Someplace Else at Friedman Iverson, and Lang has work featured in the December 18, Family Issue, of MPLSzine. Steven Lang will be the first guest on Salon Saloon’s, “The 2012 Show”, the late show, on Friday, December 28 of this year.

For the banner art of each issue of our twice-monthly newsletter, mnartists.org features a different Minnesota artist who is then profiled here, on the blog. Our Zoom In profiles offer a friendly introduction to Minnesota’s diverse arts community, a peek into the rich variety of work, across disciplines, made by creative individuals living in every corner of the state, one artist at a time.

Jeanine Durning: What Are Words For?

Jeanine Durning’s inging is the cri de coeur of a dancer, choreographer and actor struggling, with every cell of her being, to smash any distinctions between those three identities while, more importantly, refuting any notions that body and mind, spirit and sensation, voice and physicality, emotion and intellect are separate. During most of the hour-long […]

Jeanine Durning. Photo Courtesy Deborah Hay Dance Company.

Jeanine Durning. Photo Courtesy Deborah Hay Dance Company.

Jeanine Durning’s inging is the cri de coeur of a dancer, choreographer and actor struggling, with every cell of her being, to smash any distinctions between those three identities while, more importantly, refuting any notions that body and mind, spirit and sensation, voice and physicality, emotion and intellect are separate.

During most of the hour-long work — presented twice on December 11 at Soo Visual Arts Center in Minneapolis — Durning talks. Rapidly. Nonstop. Compellingly. And in a “proprioceptive cascade” (as the press material brilliantly puts it) through which she investigates, implores, humors and agonizes over such separations, from the pronouncements of Descartes on.

Her body, in its entirety, is present throughout, and whole; this, despite Durning’s lamentations that she’s been split in two, halved. She provides her audience — seated on metal chairs and two wood benches she’s methodically scattered throughout the gallery — with physical, as well as verbal, demonstrations of her bifurcation. She leans over the table at which she sits, its horizontality splitting her into upper and lower. She slides her foot beneath a door, while wishing the opening were larger, to accommodate a larger portion of her body. Back at her table is a black Mac laptop, from which three prerecorded videos of her talking are projected on the gallery wall. On top of a stack of books (by Jung, Keats, Beckett, and there’s one on performance)—a Tower of Babel—a camera records her.

The tiny camera screen, too, faces the audience, so we see her performance documented as she’s performing. She is, no question, split—her selves in array throughout the room. Holding it all, and her selves, together is her Babel, her single voice in which she’s embedded a profusion of story, cliché, history, adage, politics, quote, reference and autobiography that seamlessly morphs in an Escher-esque flow of argument, refutation, revelation.

Durning in "inging," courtesy of Soo VAC.

Durning in “inging,” courtesy of Soo VAC.

“It’s good to come to a point,” she says midway through. “This is not the time.” She slips through streams of thought, time and space; segues through facile wordplay; repeats “I do, I do, I do” until she’s in tears; sings; cajoles; entertains; brings others to tears; stutters; and scratches through phrasing like a DJ working vinyl. Her face twists, sneers, crumples, opens, invites, dismays.

Despair is at the core of the work, its only resolution silence. The hope, happiness and transcendence of which she speaks remain elusive; or do they? As Durning slowly turns off all of her selves, each person in the room is left with themselves in a quiet booming with resonance — which reverberates still.

Noted performance information:

New York performer Jeanine Durning, the daughter of actor Charles Durning, first presented inging in Amsterdam, Leuven, Belgium and Chambersburg, PA. She presented the work twice here in the Twin Cities, at Soo Visual Arts Center in Minneapolis, on December 11. In January, she’ll perform inging at American Realness in New York. She recently collaborated with Deborah Hay in works presented at the Walker Art Center, has danced with David Dorfman among many others, and has created choreography for Zenon Dance Company and dancer Leslie O’Neill.

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Camille LeFevre is a Twin Cities arts journalist and dance critic. 

Viewfinder posts are your opportunity to “show & tell” about the everyday arts happenings, interesting sights and sounds made or as seen by Minnesota artists, because art is where you find it. Submit your own informal, first-person responses to the art around you to editor(at)mnartists.org, and we may well publish your piece here on the blog. (Guidelines: 300 words or less, not about your own event/work, and please include an image, media, video, or audio file, and one sentence about yourself.)

What Makes a Healthy Art Community?

Lately I have been thinking a lot about what local artists need. Over the last year we  on the mnartists.org team have been diligently planning for the new mnartists.org website.  During the discovery phase of the site rebuild, we often returned to the question that launched the mnartists project in the first place, back in […]

ecp2012of_lunalux_008

Lately I have been thinking a lot about what local artists need. Over the last year we  on the mnartists.org team have been diligently planning for the new mnartists.org website.  During the discovery phase of the site rebuild, we often returned to the question that launched the mnartists project in the first place, back in 1999: What do artists need to survive and prosper in our community?

This week an article by l’étoile arts columnist Nathaniel Smith (reprinted today on mnartists.org) raised similar questions about what is needed to sustain a healthy cultural community and, specifically, which of those things truly sustain artists.  Smith quotes  The Cool School, a film about LA’s influential Ferus Gallery, and the five things founder Walter Hopps cites as necessary ingredients for a healthy art city:

1: Artists to make the work
2: Galleries to support it
3: Critics to celebrate it
4:  Museums to establish it
5: and collectors to buy it

Smith points out in his piece that Minnesota is blessed to have the requisite artists and museums in abundance.  Certainly, the nearly 20,000 members of mnartists.org provide compelling evidence of the volume, diversity and passion of the artists in Minnesota. I am not going to reiterate all of Smith’s  assessments as to the needs of the community. You should read the full piece yourself: his essay raises several direct points of critique and debate related to the list above in relation to aspects of the current local arts support structure.

But what about a creative community’s other needs?  What do you see that is missing from Hopps’s admittedly visual arts-slanted list?  Or, perhaps this list is a completely outdated model? If so, what elements for a healthy arts community would you substitute instead?

Midwesterners are quick to praise and support Minnesota’s arts scene, which can be a strength, but knee-jerk self-congratulations lead to complacency and unrealized potential. We don’t want to live in a good art community, we want to have a hand in making an exceptional art community. We want an art community with strong local support and lively dialog that is not provincial but instead nationally, even internationally relevant.

So, let’s continue this conversation and separate needs from desires. Let’s have open discussion about what is working and what isn’t.  There are the obvious things that would sure help: like more financial support for individual artists, cultivating actively engaged patrons of the arts and involved audiences; cheap space and informed, lively critical response for artists. What’s important to you? What are some more specific, feasible things that we are overlooking as we think about the vitality of our state’s arts and cultural scenes?

Now, its your turn.  What do you think?

Indoor Forest Therapy Courtesy of There’s Only One by Richard Barlow

Wedged between the student mailboxes and Einstein Bagels inside the student center at Augsburg College is a sliver of a gallery that Richard Barlow has transformed into a forest. Or, more accurately, he’s made a subtle, delicate, and stunning representation of a forest rendered in white chalk on blackboard-painted wall: There’s Only One. The shape […]

Richard Barlow, "There's Only One," 11' x 50', chalk on blackboard paint, 2012.

Richard Barlow, “There’s Only One,” 11′ x 50′, chalk on blackboard paint, 2012.

Wedged between the student mailboxes and Einstein Bagels inside the student center at Augsburg College is a sliver of a gallery that Richard Barlow has transformed into a forest. Or, more accurately, he’s made a subtle, delicate, and stunning representation of a forest rendered in white chalk on blackboard-painted wall: There’s Only One.

The shape of the gallery makes it difficult to see the temporary wall drawing as a whole; reflections on the glass walls that encase the space obscure the view from afar, but if you stand in the door jam, you can take in the fullness of what is a masterfully executed 500-square-foot-plus piece.  Efficient chalk lines and smudges outline tree trunks that grow up out of a forest floor dappled with light. Up close the work looks abstract, but seeing the piece from a distance (such as the small space allows, anyway) places the viewer intimately inside an old growth forest.

There’s Only One is part of a series, Welcome to the Open, for which Barlow appropriates the imagery of nature used in SUV ads for Hummer and Jeep. His co-co-opting of the very scenes used to sell us an experience of the natural world – access the sublime through better auto travel! — adds a provocative conceptual dimension to the work’s already impressive form.  And that source material makes the fragility of Barlow’s work all the more poignant, for unlike the enduring environmental effects of driving a Hummer, Barlow’s photographic drawing is here today and gone tomorrow – quite literally. His intricate chalk drawing will simply be wiped away at the close of the exhibition this weekend.

Barlow’s work here has the effect of a well-executed sleight of hand – immersed in his painstakingly rendered forest-of-chalk the viewer is genuinely transported, if only temporarily. If a walk at Afton State Park isn’t in your pre-holiday schedule, I highly recommend stopping by for a dose of forest therapy in the heated comfort of the Augsburg commons this week.

Exhibition postcard courtesy of Augsburg College.

Exhibition postcard courtesy of Augsburg College.

Related exhibition details:

Richard Barlow: There’s Only One — a site-specific, 50-foot chalk-drawing from his series Welcome to the Open – is on view at Christensen Center Art Gallery at Augsburg College in Minneapolis through December 19.

___________________________

Sarah Peters is a Twin Cities-based artist, writer and arts programmer who is interested in public engagement with the arts and critical issues of our time.

Viewfinder posts are your opportunity to “show & tell” about the everyday arts happenings, interesting sights and sounds made or as seen by Minnesota artists, because art is where you find it. Submit your own informal, first-person responses to the art around you to editor(at)mnartists.org, and we may well publish your piece here on the blog. (Guidelines: 300 words or less, not about your own event/work, and please include an image, media, video, or audio file, and one sentence about yourself.)

Circumstantial Evidence of Balthazar Korab’s ‘la dolce vita’

With its sensuous curves, arcs, and swoops, mid-century modern architecture can have a dizzying effect (martini not required)—and never more so than when captured in the iconic images of architectural photographer Balthazar Korab. So it’s no surprise that, in the 1960s, when presented with an opportunity to climb atop and photograph from the private rooftops […]

TWA Terminal, New York International (now John F. Kennedy International) Airport, New York, c. 1962. Photo: Balthazar Korab. © Balthazar Korab Ltd.

With its sensuous curves, arcs, and swoops, mid-century modern architecture can have a dizzying effect (martini not required)—and never more so than when captured in the iconic images of architectural photographer Balthazar Korab. So it’s no surprise that, in the 1960s, when presented with an opportunity to climb atop and photograph from the private rooftops of Rome, Korab did so. The result was 3,200 photos, some of which made it into a portfolio titled “The Rooftops of Rome.” In turn, images from that portfolio are included in the exhibition, Circumstantial Evidence—Italy Through the Lens of Balthazar Korab, on view in the HGA Gallery in the University of Minnesota’s Rapson Hall.

From “The Rooftops of Rome” series published in 1970 by Balthazar Korab. © Balthazar Korab Ltd.

Texture, line, and shape abound in these black-and-white photographs, which to a 21st-century eye are imbued with a nostalgic desire for “la dolce vita.” Korab shot the images while living with his family in Florence; he’d just won the AIA Gold Medal for Excellence in Photography in 1964, and after living in the US for nine years (and operating a photography studio for five), he was ready for some time abroad. Looking at Korab’s pictures, a viewer can imagine a young Sophia Loren or Marcello Mastroianni cavorting just out of view, between takes of the latest film by Fellini, Visconti or de Sica.

Eero Saarinen-designed architecture, photograph by Balthazar Korab. © Balthazar Korab Ltd.

The sweet life, indeed: Made sweeter by the fresh energy and new kinetic modernism coursing through post-war Europe. Korab no doubt felt that burgeoning sense of promise acutely. As John Comazzi writes in his new book, Balthazar Korab: Architect of Photography, the Hungarian-born photographer fled Budapest while an architecture student, and he was familiar with war-torn cityscapes. Korab went on to study architecture at École des Beaux-Arts in Paris before immigrating to the US where he became Eero Saarinen’s staff photographer.

Comazzi, a faculty member in the University of Minnesota’s School of Architecture, offers a mesmerizing look into Korab’s oeuvre—particularly his mid-century modern work. Comazzi’s book is the first such retrospective on Korab’s life and career, and it includes more than 100 images, as well as fascinating case studies on two of the photographer’s most notable subjects: the TWA Flight Center and the Miller House.

Korab once said, “I am an architect with a passion for nature’s lessons and man’s interventions. My images are born out of a deep emotional investment in their subject. Their content is never sacrificed for mere visual effects, nor is a polemic activism intended to prevail over an aesthetic balance.” Korab’s well-conceived balance of spirit and intellect, reverence and curiosity, nature and the built environment is clear in every one of his images, to which Comazzi’s book and the architecture school’s exhibition both bring fresh attention.

Related links and exhibition details:

Circumstantial Evidence—Italy Through the Lens of Balthazar Korabis on view in the HGA Gallery in Rapson Hall at the University of Minnesota for one more week, through Saturday, December 15.

University of Minnesota School of Architecture professor John Comazzi’s book, Balthazar Korab: Architect of Photography, was recently published by Princeton Architectural Press and is available in bookstores everywhere.

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Camille LeFevre is a Twin Cities architecture writer and the author of Charles R. Stinson Architects: Compositions in Nature.

Viewfinder posts are your opportunity to “show & tell” about the everyday arts happenings, interesting sights and sounds made or as seen by Minnesota artists, because art is where you find it. Submit your own informal, first-person responses to the art around you to editor(at)mnartists.org, and we may well publish your piece here on the blog. (Guidelines: 300 words or less, not about your own event/work, and please include an image, media, video, or audio file, and one sentence about yourself.)

Getting Lost in A Sense of Place in Artist Books

On the second floor of Rapson Hall on the University of Minnesota campus sits a quiet haven of bookish delight. It is the Architecture and Landscape Architecture departments’ library, so its stacks are filled with beautiful books and the furniture is designer-made and lovely. More urgently, for the next week (my apologies for the late […]

Installation view of “A Sense of Place in Artist Books”. Photo courtesy of the author.

On the second floor of Rapson Hall on the University of Minnesota campus sits a quiet haven of bookish delight. It is the Architecture and Landscape Architecture departments’ library, so its stacks are filled with beautiful books and the furniture is designer-made and lovely. More urgently, for the next week (my apologies for the late notice) the library is also chock full of a curious assortment of artist books that take up architecture’s familiar preoccupation with place.

A Sense of Place in Artist Books is one of a series of collaborative efforts among university departments this fall; the sprawling table-top exhibition contains nearly 100 literary portals to elsewhere. The concept of “place” at play in all these artist books is only minimally defined in the exhibition description, and the territories covered in the material on view are as varied as the book forms themselves: tiny and coffee table-sized, photocopied and letterpress-printed, flat and sculptural, handmade and machine bound.

“A History of the Airfields of Lincolnshire II” (2000) Simon Cutts. Photo courtesy of the author.

Not surprisingly, many of the places these books ponder are natural sites. Flipping through page after page, I find myself immersed in islets in the River Thames, the bends of the River Axe, the forested Rookeries, hillsides in Croatia or Norway; there are several meditations on the sky. These landscapes are rendered in drawings, photographs and text.

A particularly poignant text-based work is a small, purple cloth covered book, simply titled One Hundred Scottish Places, with a list of place names translated from Scots and Gaelic into English: e.g., Field of Driving Rain, The Little Loch of the Trout. Each page contains just the one phrase, cumulatively making a composite portrait of place that reads like something out of a fairy tale.

“SEAL Medium: Japanese Esoteric Buddhist Text” (2012) Ryuta Nakajima. Photo courtesy of the author.

On a table nearby another small volume claims to enlighten the reader on A History of the Airfields of Lincolnshire II, but instead contains a ribbon of letterpress-printed green text running atop each page comprised only of the word “flax” and the letters “f” and “x.” I learn nothing about Lincolnshire II nor its airfields, but am pleasantly surprised by the artist’s typographic horizon line.

An emphasis on travel permeates the show. Some epic journeys are documented in text and image (e.g., a 121-day bike ride to and from Iceland, a American cross-country road trip) ; other travelogues are more fictional than documentary. My favorite of these is a book by Gracia Haby of altered, fantastical postcards, and letters from an unknown traveler that become more surreal as the journey wanders on:

You never came, but in your place, a moose, an elk on a ramshackle bicycle, a wolverine and a pair of lynx from Gästrikland. They spoke to me of the weather, their plans, their likes and their loves.

Of course, a “sense of place” is not only about romantic engagements with the sublime in nature, or escapist dreams of world travel. A smaller number of books on display investigate “place” as a locus of labor, the mundane: domestic interiors, neighborhood streets, hotel rooms. Of these, my eye is drawn to Paulette Myers-Rich’s  urban industrial landscapes, elegantly printed images of abandoned buildings in St. Paul and Minneapolis where she and members of her family once worked.

“Good Evening” (2008) Gracia Haby. Fictional travelogue with text and altered postcards. Photo courtesy of the author.

After spending the better part of an afternoon reading these books, I realize that any of the volumes, individually, might well have been enough to pull me from my bearings; but altogether, they caused a total (if temporary) loss of any sense of my own time and place.

I look up at the clock to find it has sped farther ahead than I anticipated. Where am I again? My surroundings reemerge. I am in a quiet library on a gray day in an Eames chair paging through a portal to elsewhere.

“The Physical Boundaries of an Island” (2004) Imi Maufe. Photo courtesy of the author.

Exhibition details:

A Sense of Place in Artist Books is on view through December 12 at the Architecture & Landscape Architecture Library, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis campus. Find a symposium about the exhibition and its topic online here.

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Sarah Peters is a Twin Cities-based artist, writer and arts programmer who is interested in public engagement with the arts and critical issues of our time.

Viewfinder posts are your opportunity to “show & tell” about the everyday arts happenings, interesting sights and sounds made or as seen by Minnesota artists, because art is where you find it. Submit your own informal, first-person responses to the art around you to editor(at)mnartists.org, and we may well publish your piece here on the blog. (Guidelines: 300 words or less, not about your own event/work, and please include an image, media, video, or audio file, and one sentence about yourself.)

An Ineffable, Emotional Place: The Landscapes of Tara Costello

Tara Costello’s richly painted panels have a sensibility of recollection — a feeling that you, the viewer, may have seen them somewhere before. You probably have seen her work before if you live in the Twin Cities; a seasoned member of Minneapolis longest-running collective, Rosalux, Tara has exhibited there since 2003.  Or perhaps you’ve been […]

Tara Costello, Span, Venetian Plaster on panel, 2012

Tara Costello, Span, Venetian plaster on panel, 2012

Tara Costello’s richly painted panels have a sensibility of recollection — a feeling that you, the viewer, may have seen them somewhere before. You probably have seen her work before if you live in the Twin Cities; a seasoned member of Minneapolis longest-running collective, Rosalux, Tara has exhibited there since 2003.  Or perhaps you’ve been to the place her landscapes point to, a nondescript someplace that locates the viewer in a feeling rather than a specific destination. Or perhaps you are familiar with the legacy of abstraction; you may recognize materials and surfaces that look like art objects, with a kind of family resemblance. Tara Costello’s work is produced with and recalls in layers.

Through varying compositional strategies, Tara’s paintings vacillate between familiar and unfamiliar territories, and they invite her viewers to both enter, and then distance themselves from the latitudes she creates. While she uses a painter’s vocabulary, Tara’s facility with the medium comes from an atypical background, in commercial interiors and printmaking, giving her handling of the paint a distinct physicality and awareness for her materials.

Historically, painters parted with painting-as-illusion by exposing the medium’s viscous and drippy nature, or by revealing the tools and process of painting through loose brushwork and exposed canvas. Costello is not working in brushes and canvas. Instead, she applies pigment in Venetian plaster, an interior technique that combines plaster and marble-dust, allowing for rich variances in texture, surface and finish, through application and finishing treatments. Costello uses a trowel to apply the plaster atop wood paneling, working on both constructed and found substrates. She mashes on thick, sludgy layers, then levels them, at times planning for taped off areas of color, other times improvising, allowing pigments and materials to blend in broad swipes, catching on each other, piling and separating, creating grained surfaces like Richter’s squeegeed abstract canvases.

After applying the plaster and working her surfaces, Costello approaches them with a burnishing tool as an oil painter might varnish their surface with a glossy topcoat. The burnishing tool smooths the rough surfaces of the gritty marble dust and creates a glassy, mirrored surface. Through selective burnishing, Costello’s contrasting matte and opalescent surfaces achieve a mirage of depth that can only be detected through a personal encounter, varying from lush, velvety, or shimmering, to organic, raw, muddy, and silt-y.

Heavy Metal, Venetian plaster on panel, 2012

Heavy Metal, Venetian plaster on panel, 2012

Beyond its surface attributes, working in plaster gives Costello a level of comfort and incautiousness in approaching her paintings — sometimes working subtractively, tearing back into the plaster with a trowel, perhaps a violent action but also a mark that resonates with the artist’s background as a printmaker. She can also work over these surfaces, repairing any damage, dents, or cuts with a smooth reapplication of plaster, like one might repair a wall with more efficient materials. The metaphors of building, repairing and covering in her work style point to the emotional range of material itself.

Regarding composition, we see Costello audition styles of mid-century American abstraction, discovering these forms and resolving modes of production on her own. The artist works free of historical association in favor of using these methods as a platform for working through emotion and the physical nature of plaster.

In form, Costello’s earlier work emerges from the tradition of abstract expressionism rooted in landscape. She works spontaneously in her handling and with compositional flexibility, producing mutated horizons, detectable pools of bodies of water, splashes of natural and reflected light, all through non-local color. She describes her work as hinting at the feel of the place – an ‘ineffable,’ emotional place – which for Tara is largely autobiographical. Sometimes she geolocates us to the Ballyvaughn’s rolling green hills and shimmering limestone coasts or other times we are third party to a romantic break-up.

Her work evolves into cropped portions, zoomed-in spaces in the landscape. Trees become geometry; lakes become swaths of color; rectangles are characters for barns, trees, amidst color fields. This level of reduction of her subject is akin to the  push-pull of first generation abstract expressionist Hans Hoffman, or aerial landscapes of second generation Ab-Exer Richard Diebenkorn.

Curve, Venetian plaster on panel, 2012

Curve, Venetian plaster on panel, 2012

Tara’s most recent work takes a more non-objective, but stylized turn. Her rich velvety black panels recall Harvey Quaytman’s geometric arrangements or the intense black on black of Ad Reinhardt’s black paintings. Little color is introduced — perhaps white, or a single shade of green. For Costello, these panels are also emotional, but a means of issuing controlled emotion, providing her with order during personal disorder or emotional challenges. She approaches these panels with a design strategy, but leaves elements of surface and handling to chance and reaction as she continues to work through the piece.

More on Tara Costello

Tara Costello currently has work on view through SOOlocal, a pop-up boutique gallery on Nicollet Avenue and will have an exhibition with Val Jenkins this February at Rosalux Gallery.

 

For the banner art of each issue of our twice-monthly newsletter, mnartists.org features a different Minnesota artist who is then profiled here, on the blog. Our Zoom In profiles offer a friendly introduction to Minnesota’s diverse arts community, a peek into the rich variety of work, across disciplines, made by creative individuals living in every corner of the state, one artist at a time.

 

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