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mnartists.org staff and writers weigh in on the year that was

You know what season we’re in? Right after the big holidays but before Valentine’s Day – comes like clockwork every winter. It’s “Year in Review”  lists season! I know, I know – everyone does them, take them too seriously and they’re reductive, they inevitably leave too much good stuff out… C’mon! Year-end features are a […]

You know what season we’re in? Right after the big holidays but before Valentine’s Day – comes like clockwork every winter. It’s “Year in Review”  lists season! I know, I know – everyone does them, take them too seriously and they’re reductive, they inevitably leave too much good stuff out…

C’mon! Year-end features are a trifle, sure, but they’re really fun to write and read – no harm to anyone, and an interesting lens through which to take stock of all the arts you seen, heard, and been part of in the last year. Besides, no one here’s suggesting a few little lists amount to the last word on anything. Just consider this our contribution to your light weekend reading.

We’ll give our year-in-review staff picks in a blog post next week. But for this one, we asked some of our regular contributors to give us their picks for the best arts happenings of 2011 – any field, any discipline, it just has to have a local angle of some kind.  And if you have a favorite from 2011’s cultural shindigs, exhibitions, performances, festivals, or art fairs, add your own in the comments below — the more the merrier!

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MIRANDA TRIMMIER, ARTIST & VISUAL ARTS WRITER

Jennifer Anable’s MFA thesis show at the University of Minnesota: Meticulously executed sculpture that manages to be sad, smart, funny, unassuming all at once

Jeff Millikan’s Preserving / Memory at the Bell Museum: Strange, subtle use of Bell Museum archival objects & poetic didactics that imagine the personal histories behind natural history collections

Conversations in the wake of Nathalie Djurberg’s The Parade & its opening night at the Walker Art Center: I think people really connected to this show…because I had so many animated conversations. The work’s not local, but there’s something about the word-of-mouth ripple effect of good art that is…

Conversations about potentially faster-than-light neutrinos: Some of the most creatively & intellectually stimulating conversations i had this year weren’t about art at all…every time i talked to people about this bit of science news (that some neutrinos had been measured moving faster than the speed of light…implying that the theory of relativity is wrong…or that multiple universe theories are correct…or something very weird is going on), the discussion went somewhere odd and inspiring.
the waters will not prevail/ non-public salons and performance nights: Some of my best experiences with art this year weren’t public. In particular, I loved this night of art & performances, put together as a ritual to ward off rising Mississippi waters that threatened to flood a friend’s cabin. Some of it was great, some not at all, but there’s something wonderful about people putting time into making art that’s not meant to win grants, get press, or position a career…it can feel like a reparative counterweight to all that hustling.

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ANDY STURDEVANT, BON VIVANT, ARTIST & VISUAL ARTS WRITER

  1. The Opening Act: A Survey of Jan Xylander Exhibition Posters, Natasha Pestich at the Minnesota Artists Exhibition Program, MIA: A touching, brilliant look at a fictional artist’s career, in poster form.
  2. A Public Thing, Works Progress and Red76, November 2011: A perfect union of topicality, live event, archival publication, public conversation and artistic collaboration.
  3. Everybody Wins, David Sollie at Soo Visual Art Center: Another inventive, strangely poignant blurring of fact and fiction.
  4. Conductors of the Moving World, Brad Zellar, published by Little Brown Mushroom Books: A strange, affecting look 1970s America through the eyes of a visiting Japanese traffic cop.
  5. Pocket Lab Reading Series, Rogue Buddha, organized by MC Hyland: A consistently great monthly gathering of poets, writers and readers
  6. Northern Spark Festival, June 2011: Up all night, with almost everyone!
  7. Dark Dark Dark and the Modern Times Spychestra, Spies, Walker Art Center, August 2011: A live scoring of an almost-forgotten Fritz Lang silent film, complete with a stage full of stompers, masterminded by the best band in Minnesota.
  8. World on a Wire, directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder, at the Trylon Microcinema, August 2011: Another almost-forgotten German film classic, presaging the last thirty years of science fiction.

Crap From the Past, hosted by Ron “Boogiemonster” Gerber, KFAI: The only guy in town who could play a suite of 1980s-era Ronald Reagan novelty hip-hop records. And he’s been at it for twenty years!

The Walker Art Center’s new website: Does everything a contemporary art center’s website ought to do (and quite a bit more).

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LIGHTSEY DARST, POET & DANCE CRITIC

2011 feels like the year I missed. I choose the most inopportune moments to go out of town, get sick, and get in a car accident. So, with apologies to everything I missed, here’s who and what caught my attention this year:

  1. Merce Cunningham Dance Company: The world’s premiere modern dance company is sure to top everyone’s list in its final year. I put it here not for the weight of history, though, but because November’s performance at the Walker really was transformative and exhilarating. Plus, Cunningham’s influence shows up everywhere these days: I’d guess he’s at least one of the forces behind the resurgence of dance movement in avant-garde work both locally and nationally. Look for this influence to grow as former Cunningham dancers spread across the dance landscape.
  2. Chris Schlichting: His show at the Ivy Studios was a must-see—strange, sexy, mesmerizing, pleasure for the eyes as well as the mind.
  3. The Southern/the Cowles: What can I say that hasn’t been said? Dance space in Minneapolis is in crisis. I say, the heck with it, let’s just decide that everywhere is dance space. Get to your feet, people.
  4. Raina Gilliland: Her name means Queen, she’s extravagantly tall and exotically gorgeous, and she’s third-generation MN dance royalty (of the Loyce and Lise Houlton line)—Raina Gilliland was never going to blend in. She could either stand out or disappoint, and for her first couple of years here, I thought it might be the latter. But last year her confidence blossomed. The Nutcracker is the best case in point: where in 2009 she trembled on the few steps Coffee takes alone, in 2010 she ruled the ballerina role of Rose (the leader of the Waltz of the Flowers). This year, she takes on the Sugarplum.
  5. The Next Big Thing: I won’t leave you wondering: I can’t name it. But I saw a lot of loose energy out there this year—the kind that suggests next year might be critical. What new direction will our dance go?

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CONNIE WANEK, POET & ‘WHAT LIGHT’ WINNER

Right away in January 2011, Charles Baxter published his new and selected stories, a volume entitled Gryphon, and immediately I knew it would be a good year for literature.  This is a great collection.  Playful, intriguing, heartbreaking, unnerving–these stories are nothing short of astonishing.  I was pleased to see all the great reviews of the book (including Joyce Carol Oates’ take in the NYTBR).  Wow, and he’s a Minnesotan!

Three notable things happened this year that are interrelated, and all connected to Robert Bly:

  1. First, Robert Bly published Talking Into the Ear of a Donkey, a new book of quite wonderful poems.  I especially love a group of poems about his father and mother and early years–very powerful.  For example, despite a turbulent history with his father, Bly says, “The way I found/ Of opening a poem I took/ From the way he walked into a field.”  I love that.
  1. Bly was our first, and now we have a second Minnesota Poet Laureate, Joyce Sutphen. She is a perfect choice, and I don’t say that because I (very happily) call her my friend, but because she is the soul of generosity, and she is a brilliant writer and thinker. Governor Dayton could not have chosen a more ideal ambassador for poetry in the state.  Three cheers!
  1. I was happy for weeks after hearing that Tomas Transtromer was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.  The connection to Robert Bly is as follows: Bly introduced Transtromer to American audiences by translating many of his poems into English for the first time.  I understand that there is a volume of their correspondence over the years that has been published in Sweden (in Swedish), and I fervently hope someone publishes it in America.  Transtromer’s work has been deeply admired for many decades, and the Nobel Prize has never been more justly bestowed.

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SHEILA REGAN, ACTOR & ARTS WRITER

Best Dance Shows

Ananya Dance Theatre: Tushaanal: Fires of Dry Grass

Ragamala: Sacred Earth

Best Performance Art

Tim Carroll at the Soap Factory

Best Acting Performances

Barbara Berlovitz in Mother Courage

Anna Sundberg in After Miss Julie

Best Art Shows

Aerodynamic Karoake at Bockley Gallery

Jennifer West at Franklin Art Works

Three Artists: Guo Gai, Meng Tang, Slinko at Soap Factory

Finally, We are all Young Again by Adam Caillier and Michael Mott at the MAEP Galleries at the Minneapolis Institute of Art

Angela Strassheim’s Evidence at Minneapolis Institute of Art

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JOHN JODZIO, FICTION WRITER & miniSTORIES FINALIST

  1. So Many Great Readings at Magers & Quinn: From Greil Marcus to Tea Obrecht to John Sayles to countless other literary and cultural heavyweights, M&Q had a incredible year booking events.  Sometimes when you go, they even have a table with some free wine or a cooler of beer set up, so you can watch someone incredible and then do a bunch of drunk book shopping.
  2. Any Place Where Shane Hawley Is Is Way Better Than Where Shane Hawley Isn’t: Every time I see Shane Hawley in action, I love him a little more. Some people call him a poet and some people call him a comedian, but all I know is that he has taught me that my heart is an open chalice that can be filled again and again with his hilarity and angst.
  3. Brian Beatty and Andy Sturdevant’s Epic Beard Battle: Two of the town’s most recognizable beardo artists sit down outside a Punch Pizza and beard battle to the death. Luckily it was caught on video for everyone to enjoy

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And speaking of BRIAN BEATTY, WRITER, COMEDIAN & HOST OF YOU ARE HEAR

  1. 2011 Minnesota Fringe Festival: Making it to Edinburgh in time to catch the last few days of Scotland’s original Fringe made me realize how lucky we are to have such a great festival right here at home.
  2. Will Eno’s Oh the Humanity and Other Good Intentions at Intermedia Arts: I chatted up this evening of shorts for Minnesota Public Radio’s Art Hounds, but the performances of Matt Sciple, Mo Perry and Christopher Kehoe were even better than I was able to articulate on the radio.
  1. Loren Niemi at Hot Dish storytelling event at the Trylon Microcinema: Loren was called up from the audience to share a story on stage at this second Hot Dish event. His short three-minute story was perfectly constructed and expertly told.
  2. John Jodzio + Paper Darts = Get In If You Want To Live: Finally, a Jodzio story collection with pictures, because I’m tired of reading his hilarious flash fictions. Words? Urgh.
  3. HUGE Theater: I’m on record comparing politicians obviously awful at making it up as they go along with comedy improvisers, only more meaningless, but the local improv scene deserved another venue besides The Brave New Workshop, Comedy Sportz and Stevie Ray’s. And the folks behind HUGE are among the funniest in the metro area.