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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.

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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.