Blogs mnartists.blog Camille LeFevre

Camille LeFevre is an arts journalist and critic, strategic communicator and college professor. She practices what she teaches, including iPad app concepting, arts criticism and strategic communications for nonprofit organizations (at the U of M and St. Mary's University). She's also a sci-fi geek, and still loves books.

Cheatsheet to Northrop’s “Solid but Safe” 2014-2015 Season

Now that Northrop is ensconced in its shiny new home and is no longer just a dance series and house-for-hire (the jazz season is no more and the newly renovated building is also home to several university programs as a center for interdisciplinary study and collaboration), they recently announced the next performance season. Since joining […]

Martha Graham Dance Company, Errand Into the Maze. Photo: John Deane

Martha Graham Dance Company, Errand Into the Maze. Photo: John Deane

Now that Northrop is ensconced in its shiny new home and is no longer just a dance series and house-for-hire (the jazz season is no more and the newly renovated building is also home to several university programs as a center for interdisciplinary study and collaboration), they recently announced the next performance season. Since joining Northrop in August 2012, Christine Tschida, Northrop’s director, has been working in part with selections confirmed by her predecessor, Ben Johnson. He always scheduled at least one or two internationally renowned dance companies with highly intellectual content, innovative choreography and flawless presentation that, whether you’d seen them before or not, were palpably anticipated by audiences.

The 2014/15 season, “curated by Northrop Presents” as the website states, has a strong international lineup, some with marked cross-cultural influences. There’s a lot of ballet—to appeal to the core subscriber audience—a Canadian jazz-fusion company, and two heritage American modern dance companies. The verdict? Solid and safe.

Photo: Michel Cavalca

Centre Chorégraphique National de Créteil et du Val-de-Marne/Compagnie Käfig. Photo: Michel Cavalca

The international companies include Centre Chorégraphique National de Créteil et du Val-de-Marne/Compagnie Käfig. Created by Mourad Merzouki in 1996 in Créteil, France, the troupe is trained in a choreographic style that blends Merzouki’s training in circus skills, martial arts and hip hop (which is huge in France) with such street dance forms as capoeira. The all-male company, which includes Brazilian dancers with roots in the favelas, also looks to incorporate a strong visual element. The works on the program are Correria, Portuguese for “running,” and Agwa (“water”). Expect high-intensity physicality.

Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker. Photo: Herman Sorgeloos

Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker/Rosas. Photo: Herman Sorgeloos

Also crossing the seas from Brussels, for a program co-presented by the Walker Art Center, is the dance-theater company Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker/Rosas presenting the work that made De Keersmaeker infamous 30 years ago, Rosas Danst Rosas. The piece, with its much-imitated minimalist choreography, has become so much a part of popular culture even Beyonce was inspired by its costumes, set and movement; you can see the influence in her video for “Countdown.” Submit your own version here.

Eifman Ballet, Rodin. Photo: Nikolay Krusser

Eifman Ballet, Rodin. Photo: Nikolay Krusser

The highly theatrical Eifman Ballet, based in St. Petersburg, is known for its dramatic storytelling and has performed Red Giselle, Russian Hamlet, Anna Karenina and Eugene Onegin on Northrop seasons previously. More recently choreographer and artist director Boris Eifman has gotten his head out of the books and looked toward art for inspiration. The Guardian called his new work, Rodin, inspired by the life of the French sculptor, “visceral and extreme” for movement that tends to “bend and contort [the] dancers like choreographic Plasticine.” Rodin’s love affair with Camille Claudel is at the center of the ballet; so is his work as the piece includes Rodin in his studio “wrenching and pummelling a heap of nearly naked dancers into sculptural forms.” That’ll be something to see.

Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal. Photo: Gregory Batardon

Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal. Photo: Gregory Batardon

Hong Kong Ballet, on its first visit here, performs a Turandot by Australian choreographer Natalie Weir. Perhaps better known as an opera, this ballet version is indeed accompanied by Puccini’s original music. Les Ballets Jazz de Montréal, often referred to as the “feel-good company,” makes its Minneapolis debut with three works that showcase the troupe’s fusion of dance styles and choreographic variety, including the duet Closer by Benjamin Millepied. The classicism continues with Suzanne Farrell Ballet, which showcases Balanchine repertoire. Dance Theatre of Harlem also returns with a ballet program. And then there’s the return of two modern-dance warhorses.

Paul Taylor Dance Company. Photo: Paul B. Goode

Paul Taylor Dance Company. Photo: Paul B. Goode

Paul Taylor Dance Company “sings the body electric” with Beloved Renegade, inspired by the life of Walt Whitman and set against Francis Poulenc’s “Gloria.” The New York Times called the work “one of the great achievements of Mr. Taylor’s long career and one of the most eloquently textured feats of his singular imagination.” That’s saying something, considering the other work on the program, Piazzola Caldera (which will include live music) is also considered a classic Taylor work for exploring the public and private domains (see Taylor’s autobiography) of the tango with “sensual, electric couplings.” A must-see.

In his early days as a dancer, Taylor was part of the Martha Graham Dance Company, making the two companies’ presence in the season an intriguing coupling. Northrop has scheduled two evenings of Graham’s works, which may sound like a dance-history lesson in the works. But viewing Graham is never old hat: Her work continues to be shocking, awe-inspiring and revealing as it was when first performed. Her 1935 social-protest work Panorama will include 24 University of Minnesota dance students. Classics works of mythological intensity, including Lamentation Variations, Maple Leaf Rag and Errand into the Maze will also be performed.

McKnight Dance Fellows. Photo: Tim Rummelhoff

McKnight Dance Fellows. Photo: Tim Rummelhoff

The season also goes local with an evening of six world-premieres by the winners of 2012 and 2013 McKnight Dancer Fellowships, performing works made for them by a choreographer of their choice:  Taryn Griggs, Stephen Schroeder, Ashwini Ramaswamy, Kari Mosel, Tamara Ober and Greg Waletski.

The Walker Art Center’s lineup for the 2014-2015 season is more super-charged and risky, especially with the return of Faustin Linyekula, Ralph Lemon, Tere O’Connor, and a Steve Paxton fest. Relative to that, Northrop has put together a conservative lineup befitting its new home, but it’s a season with plenty of opportunities for interdisciplinary interaction.

Camille LeFevre is a long-time dance writer in the Twin Cities and the editor of The Line, an online publication about the creative economy of the Twin Cities..

TU at 10

Wow: All this for a local dance company. As we gazed, wide-eyed and stunned, at the nearly full house for TU Dance’s 10th anniversary concert in the Ordway Center last Saturday night, I asked my companions: Why, really, do you think TU Dance is so popular? Accessibility, openness, technique, humanity, authenticity were among the reasons. […]

Alanna Morris-Van Tassel in Hikari. Photo: Brandon Stengel

Alanna Morris-Van Tassel in Hikari. Photo: Brandon Stengel

Wow: All this for a local dance company. As we gazed, wide-eyed and stunned, at the nearly full house for TU Dance’s 10th anniversary concert in the Ordway Center last Saturday night, I asked my companions: Why, really, do you think TU Dance is so popular?

Accessibility, openness, technique, humanity, authenticity were among the reasons. The Knight Foundation has noticed, to the tune of $500,000, “to support the diversification of the dance community in St. Paul by expanding TU Dance’s capacity to cultivate donors and increase programming.”

We also agreed: It really does start at the top. Co-founders and co-artistic directors Toni Pierce-Sands and Uri Sands are beloved for legitimate reasons, among them the above-mentioned list of descriptors. After this weekend’s anniversary concert, a performance unlike any the company has previously put forth (and that alone says a lot of this tremendously accomplished group), let’s add one more. TU Dance is also aspirational, a rare quality; what’s more, the company is realizing its aspirations.

Meaning: the summer dance project Sands and Pierce-Sands started in 2003-2004 at the University of Minnesota—Space-TU-Embrace—has in one fast-paced decade grown to include a thriving dance school in St. Paul next to the Central Corridor’s soon-to-open Green Line light rail, in addition to a company that can fill nearly 1,900 seats with appreciative fans of smart, approachable dance. Simply put, those accomplishments are thrilling.

In a nod to their origin story, Pierce-Sands and Sands (former dancers with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater) opened the 10th anniversary show with the balletic “Twin Cities” duet from Alvin Ailey’s 1970 work The River. Performed by Sands and guest artist Laurel Keen, the piece overflowed with grace and was greeted, at its conclusion, with a roar from the audience.

The program also included the ever-popular Lady. Choreographed by Sands, the work was performed with impeccable technique and narrative nuance. With its delightful storytelling, rich depths of rhythm, (once again) tremendous sense of authenticity, and a Toni-Uri duet that plumbed the nuances of a relationship with real feeling, the work felt as fresh and relevant as it did during its 2003 debut.

One, which Sands originally created for Common Thread Contemporary Dance Company in honor of Henrietta Lacks and the HeLa cell, was a tantalizing mystery. (Lacks was an African-American tobacco farmer whose cancerous cells were taken without her permission in 1951 and used for such groundbreaking medical advancements as the polio vaccine and in-vitro fertilization.) Wearing gray dresses reminiscent of Martha Graham’s shrouds, the eight women dancers pulsated with robotic movements, opened their hips against the floor in Graham-like poses and, while painfully stooped over, extended quaking arms and tremulous hands. They could have been clones, or hard-working cells clustering and separating, or supplicants gesturing and genuflecting to the powers that be, until basking in a shower of silver confetti.

With the world premiere of Sands’ new work, Hikari, the company and its choreographer entered new artistic territory. Commissioned by the Ordway, the bold, breathtaking work was inspired by Hawaiian wood-block artist Hiroki Morinoue, whom Sands visited as he was creating the choreography.

The set consists of 14 of Morinoue’s gorgeous, floor-to-flyspace, semi-sheer, black-and-white fabric panels. Together, they establish an environment of biomorphic forms, grids and patterns that could be a forest, a solar system, or a painter’s canvas on which the company plays out the choreography’s abstract narrative. Wearing snappy white jackets and pants, and black socks, the dancers careen about the stage as if insects, or dabs and slashes of paint, or regiments of corporate drones. Alanna Morris-Van Tassel is the most fantastical of these creatures, writhing and beckoning from behind the scrims. At times, the dancers shed their jackets, now clad in crop tops or t-shirts that free their torsos and limbs. Enacting an embedded drama only they’re privy to and fascinating to observe, the performers of TU Dance animate Sands’ vision in a work that would be at home on any major stage in the world. Hikari catapults the choreographer and the company into a brave new world of dance and art making at once aspirational and achieved.

Camille LeFevre is a dance critic, arts journalist, and the editor of The Line, an online publication about the creative economy of the Twin Cities. 

The Dark Power of a Crowd Dancing as One

What ends do the repetition, unison and gestures performed by the almost 200 dancers, vocalists and community members in Vanessa Voskuil’s new work, The Student, serve? There were gorgeous, often-disturbing stage pictures, to be sure, during Thursday night’s performance at O’Shaughnessy. Floor-bound dancers wriggled themselves right off the stage like lemmings tumbling over a cliff. […]

The Student was presented as part of the Women of Substance Series by The O'Shaughnessy and Vanessa Voskuil Performance.

The Student was presented as part of the Women of Substance Series by The O’Shaughnessy and Vanessa Voskuil Performance April 3 and 4, 2014.

What ends do the repetition, unison and gestures performed by the almost 200 dancers, vocalists and community members in Vanessa Voskuil’s new work, The Student, serve? There were gorgeous, often-disturbing stage pictures, to be sure, during Thursday night’s performance at O’Shaughnessy. Floor-bound dancers wriggled themselves right off the stage like lemmings tumbling over a cliff. Two men—one extruding himself through painful contortions, another all extension and flow—bookended the masses. The ensemble sat in neat rows, each performer making frantic scribbling gestures, then scattering as a woman dove through them with a noose around her neck.

A German dance artist, Rudolf Laban, created the notion of “movement choirs” in the early 1900s. Using amateur and professional dancers, he choreographed these large masses of people sometimes as a form of personal or spiritual expression—until his work was co-opted by the Third Reich. I mention this because, only then, does that noose, the shifting swarming tableaux of hangings, the marching and the firing squad (with repeated gestures, en masse, of marching, cocking and shooting a rifle, with accompanying sound effects by artist/producer Jesse Whitney of A. Wolf & Her Claws) begin to make some sort of sense.

Or maybe not.

According to the program notes, the piece is ostensibly about learning, about the repetition that makes learning possible. Instead, the work gives rise to questions about the purposes of rote repetition, in unison, in large groups. Those purposes, historically, are usually to value and reinforce conformity over individuality, toward a single unified purpose, to forge a groupthink of totalitarian or otherwise dystopian varieties. There’s no denying a great deal of power can be found in hundreds of people moving simultaneously, but a dark underside seems at work here as well.

At the same time, a lot of verbal cogitation—thinking out loud about how, what and why you’re thinking—occurs in the work. With tremendous stamina and exactitude Paul Herwig and Chris Conry performed rapid-fire, repeating inquiries on: seeing, knowing and not knowing; the occurrence of now in space and time; whether the piece is ending or continuing. The effect is like drowning in the details of someone else’s obsessive-compulsive disorder or psychosis.

Other components of the piece included various choirs (Perpich Center for Arts Education Choral Ensemble, Hamline University Women’s Chorale, St. Catherine’s University Women’s Choir), which beautifully performed Janika Vandervelde’s religious choral music (with accompanying sonic booms and earthquake-aftershock rumblings). The performers, seemingly age 6 to 60, wore shirts, pants, skirts and tights in various neutrals, while Voskuil wore white. Was she the student or the teacher?

Amid the disparate parts—which also included church bells, Voskuil on camera as part of the audience–there was order: the quiet walking of performers backward down the aisles to the stage, later filing back out and forming a circle; lines of performers sinuously gliding across the stage. As a ritual of sorts, in which a teacher guides her willing acolytes, the work could be experienced as a meditation or endurance trial, in which many unknowns are threaded through.

From Vice to Africa to Duluth, the Places of Photographer Brad Ogbonna

When Brad Ogbonna was a student at Roseville Area High School in a first-ring suburb of St. Paul, he wasn’t much interested in art or photography. “I played varsity basketball in high school,” he says. It’s when he jumped the state border to attend University of Wisconsin-River Falls, where he earned his Bachelor of Science […]

All photos by Brad Ogbonna, from "Places" and the Studio Africa Project with Diesel+Edun. Courtesy of the artist.

All photos by Brad Ogbonna, from “Places” and the Studio Africa Project with Diesel+Edun. Courtesy of the artist.

When Brad Ogbonna was a student at Roseville Area High School in a first-ring suburb of St. Paul, he wasn’t much interested in art or photography. “I played varsity basketball in high school,” he says. It’s when he jumped the state border to attend University of Wisconsin-River Falls, where he earned his Bachelor of Science in International/Global Studies, that he started “following the blogs that were popping up.”

“I didn’t want to be in Wisconsin,” he says. “I went on blogs to see what people my age were up to, where they were going, what stories their photos were telling. It was a way to escape Wisconsin.” While living in Minneapolis one summer, he read Susan Sontag’s On Photography, which inspired him to start taking snapshots of his friends with a simple point-and-shoot camera, pictures that he’d post on his website.

"Places" - Kenya

“Places” – Kenya

After an exchange year — spent partially in Europe, and then at Queens College in Flushing, NY, where had an internship at Spin — Ogbonna returned to River Falls to finish his degree. Then, he says, things started to pop. Through a friend, Diet Coke offered him a photography project, shooting New York Fashion Week in 2011. “It was a massive first job,” he says. “Seeing my photographs posted in Times Square, I decided to make photography my career.”

Today, Ogbonna’s client list includes Top Shop, DIESEL + EDUN, VICE, Myspace, Radio City Rockettes, Maison Kitsuné, Zaarly, Facebook, The Participation Agency, BULLETT Magazine, Carmichael Lynch, and OWA Market. Locally, he’s shot for the former METRO Magazine and City Pages.

"Places" - South Africa

“Places” – South Africa

“I’m always inspired by what’s going on in Minneapolis,” says Ogbonna, who now lives in New York City. “I try to make it back every couple of months, and I’m constantly paying attention to what’s going on there. I feel like I’m part of the community, although I make my money in New York.”

The project that connected him with his Nigerian roots and led him to work with DIESEL + EDUN, and then to create “Places,” was a book about his father, George Ogbonna Sr.  Brad Obgonna’s father grew up in the village of Nkwerre, in Nigeria. During high school, his father received a list of top US colleges from an uncle. Winona State University was on the list. He’d never heard of Winona, or Minnesota, but he decided to enroll. Soon after arriving in Winona, George’s wife, who was from the same village, followed. George eventually transferred to Augsburg College. He eventually became an administrator at the University of Minnesota. She became a nurse. Their son, Brad, grew up a thoroughly American kid, despite his strict Nigerian parents.

"Places" - Kenya

“Places” – Kenya

Shortly after Brad graduated from college and moved to New York, George told his son he had cancer. He passed quickly. According to village tradition, you are buried where you grew up. So, Brad accompanied his father’s body back to Nkwerre, hung out with his Nigerian relatives, and started taking pictures. He returned a year later, as is customary to conclude the mourning period for a father, and he took more pictures—in Nkwerre but also Lagos, Port Harcourt, and Abonnema.

The result became a book, Jisike, which Obgonna self-published and quickly sold out. Images from the book were also exhibited at Oberlin College last February. “I wanted to create a tribute to my father, but also create something tangible to show my family and others in the village,” he says. The photos were really about “people’s interactions with me,” he says. “In Nkwerre, everyone knew why I was there. My Dad was very popular in the village. And the photos show how the people I met were reacting to me.”

"Places" - South Africa

“Places” – South Africa

Seeing where his parents grew up, their middle and high schools, was “a humbling experience,” Ogbonna says. “The way the kids looked at me—I was the personification of the Nigerian dream. The prospects of people making it outside of Nigeria are limited. For them to see someone whose father came from the village and did well in the U.S., and that the son comes back and forth — people are very proud of that.”

The book prepared him for his next big project, shooting for DIESEL + EDUN’s “Studio Africa,” by “building my confidence in shooting people I didn’t know and getting a feel for places.” His assignment had three components. As others shot music videos of the three innovative musical talents—Spoek, Faarrow and Olugbenga—in Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa, Obgonna shot behind-the-scenes footage.

He also shot the clothing for ads and in-house marketing efforts. And he photographed the scenery “to capture the aesthetics of the places we traveled to.” As to why they chose Ogbonna, he says, “I think I probably gave them street cred, because I’m an American-Nigerian artist who doesn’t shoot poverty porn. I shoot pictures that are a true slice of life of what’s going on in Africa.”

His ongoing project, “Places,” is a collection of images he’s shot around the world, from Duluth to Africa. “People are starting to pay attention to Africa in a different way,” he says. “It’s not the little brother of the world that needs taking care of, but a place where a lot of cool things are happening, with a lot of potential.” Ogbonna’s images—direct, engaging and authentic—attest to that change, and to how a Minnesota-born photographer of Nigerian heritage sees the world today.

"Places" - Kenya

“Places” – Kenya

An Engaging, Irony-Free Foray into the Making of Performance

Laurie Van Wieren has done something wonderful and original with her newest curatorial project, Monday Live Arts: She’s made the making of performance fun, enlightening, and participatory for viewers. “It’s real,” she enthused after the show on August 5. “I tell them, ‘Keep it real.’ And the configuration [she gestures, marking out the short rows […]

Carl Atiya Swanson (Savage Umbrella) will perform a rock n' roll conversation, part of a larger work in progress, tentatively titled Akhenaten, NV. Collaborators: Carl Atiya Swanson, Mason Mahoney, Hannah Holman, Tree Blood (Colin Wilkinson & Simon Brooks). Photo courtesy of the artist.

Carl Atiya Swanson (Savage Umbrella) will host a rock n’ roll conversation at the Oct 7 Monday Live Arts, part of a larger work in progress, tentatively titled Akhenaten, NV. Collaborators/performers: Carl Atiya Swanson, Mason Mahoney, Hannah Holman, Tree Blood (Colin Wilkinson & Simon Brooks). Photo courtesy of the artist.

Laurie Van Wieren has done something wonderful and original with her newest curatorial project, Monday Live Arts: She’s made the making of performance fun, enlightening, and participatory for viewers. “It’s real,” she enthused after the show on August 5. “I tell them, ‘Keep it real.’ And the configuration [she gestures, marking out the short rows that form a box around the center of the studio where most of the action happens] encourages that, don’t you think?”

“Them” are the four performers or groups she selects for each show, presented on the first Monday of each month in the studio at the Ritz Theater. According to Van Wieren, the series includes “time-based visual and performing arts, events that include a human presence and that question traditional views of the arts using dance, music, performance art, vocals, text, installations, science experiments, and more.”

Megan Mayer's show, You're Soaking In It, premieres at Bryant-Lake Bowl Theater November 2, 9 and 16, 2013. Performers: Megan Mayer, Greg Waletski with additional sound design by Matthew Regan. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Megan Mayer will offer a dance work at the next Monday Live Arts event. Her show, You’re Soaking In It, premieres at Bryant-Lake Bowl Theater November 2, 9 and 16, 2013. Performers: Megan Mayer, Greg Waletski with additional sound design by Matthew Regan. Photo courtesy of the artist.

August’s show kicked off with a delightful venture into the structure and essential nature of the pelvis by BodyCartography Project. Olive Bieringa, a practitioner of Body-Mind Centering®, walked within the center of the space, pointing out the various components of the pelvis on an anatomy model and her own body, encouraging us to feel these bones, joints and movements on our own bodies too—to the ribald laughter of some, squeamish discomfort of others. As she did so, Otto Ramstad moved around the outside perimeter of and through the space. Amusement turned to wonder as Bieringa’s engaging explanations found purchase in Ramstad’s body, twisting, flinging, arching, undulating and turning behind and in front of us.

Yes, do try all of this at home.

Musician David Means will perform Griffin’s Ghost / Spiral Rose, one of the six Prague Spirals, a work dedicated to Johnny Rodriguez.

At the October Monday Live Arts show, musician David Means will perform Griffin’s Ghost / Spiral Rose, one of the six Prague Spirals, a work dedicated to Johnny Rodriguez. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Next up was composer Mike Hallenbeck, who played, on his laptop, a new composition of sounds he recorded throughout Ritz Theater: a refrigerator grumbling, lights humming — ambient all the way. Hallenbeck’s sound score was akin to trance music, and ushered me into a reverie about a project I’ve long considered undertaking. Lulled into something like Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s flow, my mind opened to ideas taking shape and gelling around the core of an idea with real possibilities. The feeling, when the lights went back up: inspired and refreshed.

Inspired is how the performers—volunteers from the audience—did their parts in Charles Campbell’s riveting bit of improvisational theater. Did they know what they were getting into, these volunteers: Matt Spector, Megan Meyer and Ben Kreilkamp? (Van Wieren says no.) As Campbell positioned them at, on or around a table, gave them instructions, and asked them to read off slips of paper, the lights went off and he snapped on a light he carried from one participant to the other, spotlighting the immediacy of their performances. The entire process—watching Campbell work, witnessing the results—offered fantastic insights into his aesthetic and approach to creating theater.

Leralee Whittle / F o r c e s has been presented across the US and in Spain. This year Displacement Activity premiered at T C / Montreal Choreographic Exchange. We Just Stopped Pretending, a video with international dancers will take Whittle to Europe this Fall where she'll also craft and perform We Are the Weather. Performers: Leralee Whittle and Paul Sprawl.

Another October performer, Leralee Whittle / F o r c e s, has been presented across the US and in Spain. We Just Stopped
Pretending, a video with international dancers will take Whittle to Europe this fall where she’ll also craft and
perform We Are the Weather. Performers: Leralee Whittle and Paul Sprawl.

Jes Nelson’s offering left some of us wide-eyed and slack-jawed—in a good way. A door opened and out tapped five little girls outfitted in tiny white competition-style dresses, lots of bling and tons of eye makeup. As they recited, from memory, instructions for a dance routine, their eyes self-consciously roamed from the floor, to people in the audience, and around the room. The piece, a brilliantly subversive work of performance art, left the audience chattering in dismay.

As she’s done with her long-running curatorial project, 9x22 at Bryant Lake Bowl, Van Wieren demonstrates—once again, with Nelson—that she certainly knows how to find and present emerging artists. She’s also, clearly, capable of cajoling established artists into revealing usually unavailable (or hidden) aspects of their work process to audiences. Most of all, though, Monday Live Arts is free of archness, irony and cynicism, and instead loaded with adventure and revelation. Get it on your calendar.

Related event information:

Upcoming Monday Live Arts events will take place October 7, November 4, December 2, January 6 at the Ritz Theater Dance Studio in Minneapolis. The October 7 show will feature theater work by Carl Atiya Swanson, dance by Megan Mayer, music by David Means, and dance/performance by Leralee Whittle. The event begins at 8:00 pm (doors at 7:30 pm
). Tickets $5-15; there’s beer and wine in the studio lounge. Cash only. Free parking.

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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.)

Paintings Dense with Mystery and Material Passion Plus a New Minneapolis Gallery to Watch

Earlier this month, the law firm Friedman Iverson—which serves, in part, arts and entertainment professionals—moved to new digs above the Red Stag Supperclub. The firm’s grand opening included an exhibition of paintings by Minneapolis-artist Michael Thomsen, some of them brand new. Perhaps best known, and championed by a devoted following, for his large-scale, sculptural assemblages, […]

Michael Thomsen, Firegarden. Courtesy of the artist and Friedman Iverson.

Michael Thomsen, Firegarden. Courtesy of the artist and Friedman Iverson.

Earlier this month, the law firm Friedman Iverson—which serves, in part, arts and entertainment professionals—moved to new digs above the Red Stag Supperclub. The firm’s grand opening included an exhibition of paintings by Minneapolis-artist Michael Thomsen, some of them brand new. Perhaps best known, and championed by a devoted following, for his large-scale, sculptural assemblages, Thomsen focused on abstract paintings of tremendous depth, mystery, and complexity in construction for this show.

The result, Nebular Hypothesis, is an excursion into a fascinating mind that’s curious and willing to experiment, to an extent that often seems extreme. His is an aesthetic that engages—no, it grips, grabs—viewers into the work, layer by layer, with a materiality so rich with possibility the result is whole worlds, a vision of terrain that speaks both to the past and a worrisome future.

Here’s are some words typed into my phone at the opening:

Topographical
Iceland
Bubbles. Bursting, Craters…filled in
Dystopia
Sawdust, Caulk
Some forms pressed in, butterfly, seashell
Whispers narrative realism
Underneath
Mounds
Cracks
Debris
Latex, etc.
Pearlescent
Objects pottery marbles letters

We talked about his process for a few moments: How each work requires time, and more time, as paint is applied, scraped off, allowed to bake and burst or crack in the sun. How any material can be useful to insinuate or ascribe memory, build additional layers of medium, add textures that escalate the conundrum — what, where and how?

Thomsen’s paintings aren’t abstruse in their abstraction and materiality. Rather, looking at them feels a bit like a treasure hunt. You may find in them what you bring to them, of course, but you’ll also detect recognizable objects buried beneath the surface debris. And then there are those earlier works in which “whispers of narrative realism” do add complications. This is work to be seen, studied, and seen again.

Throughout the year, Friedman Iverson will present several exhibitions in its office gallery space. Curator Christopher James, with input on this show from Kate Iverson (a long-time advocate of Thomsen, from whom her firm, Permanent Art & Design Group, has commissioned work), has made an auspicious start with Nebular Hypothesis. This office art gallery is one to watch.

Michael Thomsen, Asimov. Courtesy of Friedman Iverson and the artist.

Michael Thomsen, Asimov. Courtesy of Friedman Iverson and the artist.

Related information:

Nebular Hypothesis, paintings by Michael Thomsen is on view through November 8 during business hours in the offices of Friedman Iverson, 509 First Avenue NE, #2, Minneapolis.

___________________________

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.)

You Can Blame All These “Art of the Real” Shows on Duchamp

Blame it on Duchamp. If he hadn’t cracked open the art world—and aesthetic, critical and cultural notions about what art is—with his readymades (specifically, Fountain) we probably wouldn’t have had the Walker Art Center’s Lifelike, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts’ More Real? Art in the Age of Truthiness and, currently, the Weisman Art Museum’s Reviewing […]

Keith Haring, "Inflatable Baby," 1985, printed plastic. Gift of Carl and Patricia Sheppard. Photo courtesy of the Weisman Art Museum.

Keith Haring, Inflatable Baby, 1985, printed plastic. Gift of Carl and Patricia Sheppard. Photo courtesy of the Weisman Art Museum.

Blame it on Duchamp. If he hadn’t cracked open the art world—and aesthetic, critical and cultural notions about what art is—with his readymades (specifically, Fountain) we probably wouldn’t have had the Walker Art Center’s Lifelike, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts’ More Real? Art in the Age of Truthiness and, currently, the Weisman Art Museum’s Reviewing the Real.

The obsession with what constitutes “art” is ever shifting, with criteria and context often productively clashing (or intersecting) with what we know (or suppose) to be true here and now. The same holds for what we consider “real.” Put those two elusive concepts together as guest curator Christina Chang (curator of engagement at the Minnesota Museum of American Art) has, drawing exclusively from WAM’s collection, and the result is a rigorous, expansive, immersive exhibition — one that also reveals just how deep and broad WAM’s collection truly is.

Marilyn Levine, "School Bag," 1979, earthenware with slips, engobes, and glaze. The Reuben and Eva Brown Ceramics Fund and the Nancy and Warren MacKenzie Fund. Photo courtesy of the Weisman Art Museum.

Marilyn Levine, School Bag, 1979, earthenware with slips, engobes, and glaze. The Reuben and Eva Brown Ceramics Fund and the Nancy and Warren MacKenzie Fund. Photo courtesy of the Weisman Art Museum.

Chang assembled the works by 64 artists into a show consisting of six sections. In “Documentary,” there’s Duchamp with La Boîte-en-Valise (The Box in a Valise), a resume of sorts he assembled out of 68 reproductions of his works. Breathtakingly detailed, the box presents even Large Glass in evocative miniature. There’s a “real” valise in the section “The Thing Itself”: Marilyn Levine’s School Bag of crafted earthenware. And throughout “Pictures of Pictures,” “Traces,” “Uncut” and “Utopia/Dystopia” the work ranges from Richard Hamilton’s prescient screenprint of Mick Jagger and his art dealer shielding their faces to Mason Williams’ Actual Size Photograph of an Actual Bus stretching along the length of one wall; from Duane Hanson’s “hyperreal” sculpture of Mary Weisman (now across the gallery from her husband, who resides in the permanent collection) to Keith Haring’s Inflatable Baby.

More indelible, however, is Julio de Diego’s painting Meeting in the Unknown, in which a tribe situated in a murky, liminal reality — between earth and sky, heaven and hell — confronts intruders: they may be from outer space, or figures from the depths of some collective nightmare. Haunting in an altogether different manner is Simon Norfolk’s inkjet print of war-ravaged Afghanistan, Teahouse, in which the skeletal remains of a former place of refreshment and respite are juxtaposed with a man selling balloons—an item banned during Taliban rule. In his conceptual piece Kiss Off, Vito Acconci “preserves” the ephemeral nature of performance with a print work that documents a series of actions.

Dave Heath, "Untitled (Old Woman at Mirror)," 1965, gelatin silver print . Museum purchase. Courtesy of the Weisman Art Museum.

Dave Heath, Untitled (Old Woman at Mirror), 1965, gelatin silver print . Museum purchase. Courtesy of the Weisman Art Museum.

What one finds of the real in any of these works can be at once obvious and extremely, elusively subjective. The back story a viewer brings to the act of seeing is colored by their knowledge of, experience with and immersion in art and other simulated worlds, screens and projections — including, well, most of 21st century online life. That the Twin Cities’ three major museums have recently mounted shows examining “the real” speaks to American culture’s psychological state: a zeitgeist of anxiety and excitement about what lies ahead. Or, as this description of Reviewing the Real in the WAM newsletter puts it, “The contemporary hunger for reality—or perhaps a grasp on reality—in the public sphere is a telling yet somewhat enigmatic sign of our times.”

Julio de Diego, "Meeting in the Unknown," 1944, oil on Masonite. Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Malcolm McCannel. Courtesy of the Weisman Art Museum.

Julio de Diego, Meeting in the Unknown, 1944, oil on Masonite. Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Malcolm McCannel. Courtesy of the Weisman Art Museum.

Related information:

Reviewing the Real will be on view through September 8 at the Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum, Minneapolis. Find more information online at http://wam.umn.edu.

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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.)

The Stories Behind What’s Printed on the Fabric of Your Life

Anything that prompts me to see the everyday world in a new way, I love. Usually, photographs that capture the unexpected beauty in the mundane are an immediate draw: the fresh lime-green vine tendril twisting around a fence; a building abstraction in which line, plane and color are juxtaposed anew; piles of detritus that take […]

Print courtesy of the Goldstein Museum of Design.

Print courtesy of the Goldstein Museum of Design.

Anything that prompts me to see the everyday world in a new way, I love. Usually, photographs that capture the unexpected beauty in the mundane are an immediate draw: the fresh lime-green vine tendril twisting around a fence; a building abstraction in which line, plane and color are juxtaposed anew; piles of detritus that take on a pattern or jumbled color palette on closer inspection.

Lately, a textile exhibition at the Goldstein Museum of Design has opened my eyes: Printed Textiles, Pattern Stories. In this show, curated by Jean McElvain and Kathleen Campbell, fashion, storytelling and cloth meet to shed new light on what we wear and why. Most of us aren’t prone to donning pattern or prints, am I right? When in doubt, wear black. Or white. The Seekins method. The more adventurous do go in for stripes, plaids, paisleys—sometimes all at once. (Bravo!)

Those bold souls aside, I’ll bet most of our wardrobes are print and pattern deficient. Moreover, when we do find something we like, and will wear, or will put on the wall or on top of the bed, who knows who actually designed it? We’re all familiar with William Morris and Marimekko. But in most cases, the print designer, and the methods by which the print was produced, are left to obscurity.

Printed Textiles, Pattern Stories aims to enlighten. The exhibition is divided into sections that succinctly explain such techniques as block printing, etching, roller printing, screen printing and digital printing. Custom and hand-crafted work vs. industrial mass production is discussed. In the show, the use of printed textiles goes beyond couture and everyday dresses to include such archival items as commemorative tea towels (the Brits love this stuff), handkerchiefs portraying historical events, and a hilarious kitchen cloth printed with the nine-day diet (every day begins with grapefruit and black coffee).

Want to know when the plain white t-shirt gave way to printed slogans? What a repeat is? What the Works Progress Administration has to do with textile production? Printed Textiles, Pattern Stories will show you. Just as each length of printed fabric or “yardage” hanging on the wall has stories to tell about its design, production and use, so do these textiles inspire the viewer to notice pattern and prints—whether worn by passersby, or in rugs, upholstery, art or nature—with a fresh perspective.

Printed Textiles, Pattern Stories is on view at the Goldstein Museum of Design on the University of Minnesota’s St. Paul campus through August 25. For more: http://goldstein.design.umn.edu/exhibitions/.

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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.)

The Built/Natural Flux of the Urban/Environment Seen Through Stephanie Rogers’ Lens

During a recent event at The Third Place Gallery, photographer Stephanie L. Rogers was asked why she needed two hours to take a picture, shooting with film no less. “Because I spend two hours walking around trying to find something interesting,” she said with a laugh. What she found interesting and has displayed in the […]

Stephanie L. Rogers, Ragweed. From the Urban/Environment installation, part of Arts on Chicago. Courtesy of the artist.

Stephanie L. Rogers, Ragweed. From the Urban/Environment installation, part of Arts on Chicago. Courtesy of the artist.

During a recent event at The Third Place Gallery, photographer Stephanie L. Rogers was asked why she needed two hours to take a picture, shooting with film no less. “Because I spend two hours walking around trying to find something interesting,” she said with a laugh. What she found interesting and has displayed in the gallery, and put on poles or placards installed along Chicago Avenue and adjacent side streets between 32nd and 42nd, are photos of a duck eating a Cheeto in a parking lot, a vine twisted around a wire, a half-eaten melon propped up against a fence, a weed growing from a crack in the sidewalk.

Photo courtesy of Stephanie Rogers and Urban/Environment

Finished sign at 4052 Park Avenue installed in a front lawn as part of Stephanie L. Rogers’ Urban/Environment project. Installation photo by Ben Hovland.

Titled Urban/Environment, a project of Arts on Chicago, Rogers’ photography “explores urban ecology along Chicago Avenue, focusing on natural beauty in unexpected places, the fragility of life, and the tension between man-made structures and living organisms,” as the website explains. What she’s accomplished—as a young photographer whose aesthetic infuses her work with freshness, detail, wonder and a charming naivete—is inspiring viewers to pay close, or at least closer, attention to how nature asserts itself in some of the most inhospitable places of the city.

Zucchini with chicken wire. Photo courtesy of Stephanie Rogers.

Zucchini with chicken wire. Photo courtesy of Stephanie Rogers.

Rogers selected 37 photos (two additional images were taken by students at the Urban Arts Academy) for the project. The images are displayed on signs that can be found in storefront windows, on metal posts in private yards, or zip-tied to fences. On each sign, along with the image, is didactic information that contextualizes simply, and sometimes with humor, the effects of pictured juxtaposition of nature and the human-made. The duck image, for instance, offered Jacob Richards and Megan Buchanan, the bio-geographers who worked with Rogers on the text, the opportunity to explain how animals adapt to our trash and why that’s not a good thing.

Courtesy of Stephanie Rogers.

Duck sign courtesy of Stephanie Rogers.

The descriptive text purposely mimics interpretive state park signage. And, like the placards along self-guided nature trails, Urban/Environment seeks to educate and enlighten—and from time to time, cajole. So, while the project entices even the jaded eye, photographic and otherwise, to pay renewed attention to the subtlest of the natural world’s forceful instincts—a sorrel plant whose blooms grows against a window to draw in the most plentiful light; tiny new buds growing through the leafy detritus of the past year—I’m reminded of books by Gary Nabhan and Stephen Trimble decrying the lack of nature, and natural play, in children’s lives.

Melon and Virginia Creeper. Photo courtesy of Stephanie Rogers.

Melon and Virginia Creeper. Photo courtesy of Stephanie Rogers.

Perhaps the greatest gift Urban/Environment gives to city dwellers, especially children and families living near and along Chicago Avenue, is the opportunity to walk through the neighborhood with fresh eyes, an open heart and a hungry intellect. Because the text is in English, Spanish and Somali, because the images often capture nature at the micro scale, and because together text and photo interpret the intersection of science, city and the natural world, the project has the potential to change young lives.

“[W]ildness—even in its simplest forms—can nourish a lasting attachment to the earth, and, in turn, nurture self-esteem,” writes Nabhan in The Geography of Childhood: Why Children Need Wild Places.

Or, as Walt Whitman wrote:

There was a child went forth every day.

And the first object he looked upon, that object he became,

And that object became part of him for the day or a certain part of the day,

Or for many years or stretching cycles of years.

Related information:

Urban/Environment maps for self-guided tours are at The Third Place Gallery. Rogers herself will also lead walking tours on June 30, July 13 and July 27.

___________________________

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.)

A Look at the 2012/13 McKnight Visual Artists Fellowship Exhibition: Jim Denomie, Chris Larson, Ruben Nusz and Natasha Pestich

What would you do with $25,000? That’s how much each recipient of the McKnight Visual Artists Fellowship gets—unrestricted. The goal of the McKnight Artist Fellowships for Visual Artists program, administered by Minneapolis College of Art Design, “is to identify talented Minnesota visual artists whose work is of exceptional artistic merit and who are at a […]

Ruben Nusz, Like an eye that sees, but cannot see itself, 2013, Image courtesy Weinstein Gallery

Ruben Nusz, Like an eye that sees, but cannot see itself, 2013, Image courtesy Weinstein Gallery

What would you do with $25,000? That’s how much each recipient of the McKnight Visual Artists Fellowship gets—unrestricted. The goal of the McKnight Artist Fellowships for Visual Artists program, administered by Minneapolis College of Art Design, “is to identify talented Minnesota visual artists whose work is of exceptional artistic merit and who are at a career stage that is beyond emerging.”

In addition to the cash award, the fellows have their work published. This year, McKnight funded a downloadable e-book and pdf of interviews with Brooklyn Rail’s Phong Bui. Location Books, a project of Scott Nedrelow and one of the current fellows, Ruben Nusz, is also publishing the 2012/13 Visual Artists fellows work later this year.

Chris Larson, Insecure Architecture, Mixed Media, 2013

Chris Larson, Insecure Architecture, Mixed Media, 2013

The most public and evaluative aspect of the fellowship is the group exhibition at the MCAD Gallery, which opened last Friday evening for this year’s group: Nusz, Natasha Pestich, Jim Denomie and Chris Larson. It’s an unspoken, or spoken in hushed tones, assumption that we attend this opening to see what they’ve been doing with their windfall.

Larson’s real display occurred the weekend before, during Northern Spark, when he now-infamously constructed, then set fire to, a replica of the St. Paul house architect Marcel Breuer designed for liturgical consultant Frank Kacmarcik. Breuer and Kacmarcik collaborated on the celebrated Abbey Church and concrete bell banner at St. John’s University. In the MCAD exhibition, like afterimages of the cardboard replica just prior to burning, are Larson’s black-and-white photos of its interior: shadowy, mysterious, almost visually impenetrable pictures of the unfurnished rooms’ stark angles and forbidding empty spaces.

Jim Denomie, The Creative Oven, 2013, Image courtesy of the artist.

Jim Denomie, The Creative Oven, 2013, Image courtesy of the artist and MCAD.

Pestich’s conceptual project—a fictional archive of a make-believe art-school incident—combined humor and institutional critique in a collection of images, posters (each one with clearly articulated and different style of graphic design) and artifacts. The narrative behind the conceit? A group of students had built themselves into their site-specific installation, with no opening for escape. Unlike Poe’s victim in The Cask of Amontillado, they were rescued—and a portion of the cement-block wall is exhibited as “proof” of their escapade.

With all of the exhibitions—past and present—investigating artists’ concepts and examinations of “the real” (i.e., Lifelike at Walker Art Center, More Real? at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and Reviewing the Real at Weisman Art Museum) comparison is unavoidable. While Pestich exhibits one “chapter” of a larger project at MCAD, that slice doesn’t hint at the depth, relevance, imagination and interconnections present in a work like Zoe Beloff’s Dreamland: The Coney Island Psychoanalytic Society and Its Circle at the MIA.

Denomie surpasses his previous masterwork of social satire and cultural complexity, “Attack on Fort Snelling Bar and Grill,” with his fantastical The Creative Oven. The enormous work—in scale, imagery and social relevance—contains a Who’s Who of art historical figures (from Botticelli’s Venus to Picasso and Dali to Minneapolis’ own Scott Seekins), pop culture references (Mad Magazine’s Alfred E. Neuman), and Native American iconography with a twist (a warrior on horseback atop a butte-like nipple, a reclining Adam-like antelope with an impressive six-pack receiving God’s finger a la Michelangelo).

Natasha Pestich, Installation view of Fulfillment is Such a White-Collar Thing, 2012, Image courtesy of the artist

Natasha Pestich, Installation view of Fulfillment is Such a White-Collar Thing, 2012, Image courtesy of the artist

His work is always fascinating, funny, revelatory, and politically relevant: The new NRA: See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil is a triptych rendered in Denomie’s signature hallucinatory colors, and wild brisk and flat brushstrokes. But as a colleague pointed out, “You always know what you’re going to get with Jim.”

Nusz, on the other hand, is always immersed in a new intellectual undertaking. His “indirect abstractions,” a series of paintings called Like a sword that cuts, but cannot cut itself; like an eye that sees but cannot see itself, were the freshest, if most oblique, works in the show. Using photographic color correction cards to investigate intuition and algorithms, and figure/ground relationships, he positioned his canvases—which resembled a children’s color-block game on an iPad—on yellow, orange, red and kelly green painted walls.

And that, in part, is what $100,000 in fellowships produces this time around.

chris_larson_portrait.jpg.crop_display jim_denomie_portrait.jpg.crop_display natasha_pestich_portrait.jpg.crop_display ruben_nusz_portrait.jpg.crop_display

Related exhibition details:

2012/13 McKnight Visual Artists Fellowship exhibition is on view at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design gallery from June 14 through July 14. Featured artists: Ruben Nusz, Chris Larson, Natasha Pestich, Jim Denomie. (Illustrations above by Phong Bui, pictured L to R: Chris Larson, Jim Denomie, Natasha Pestich, Ruben Nusz)

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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.)

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