Minnesota artists not so Wobegon

  • Article by: MARY ABBE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 13, 2012 - 4:42 PM

Thirteen Minnesota artists show the state's funky side at Katherine E. Nash Gallery.

The droll depressives of Lake Wobegon may define Minnesota's character on the national stage, but theirs is not the whole truth.

Far from it.

Their bipolar opposites are the 13 upbeat crazies whose art, gathered under the title "Minnesota Funk," now fills Katherine E. Nash Gallery at the University of Minnesota's Regis Center for Art.

They are a pretty amusing bunch. Anyone who can get through "Funk" without chuckling aloud must be from some humorless place, like Iowa.

An eccentric assortment of paintings, collages, prints, drawings, sculpture and video -- plus some sofa pillows and a vintage motor scooter -- "Funk" is a tribute to the notion that there is something inherently funny, twisted or psychologically warped about this place.

The artists were gathered by Nash curator Howard Oransky, who, after moving to Minnesota from New York many years ago, noticed "things that are a bit off-kilter."

"I'd heard about this thing called 'Minnesota Nice,'" he said recently. "But over time I realized that there is this underground Minnesota aesthetic that has sly humor and an interesting, hip sensibility."

Retro glamour

For arty hipsters, Kent Aldrich's "C-foam" would be the vehicle of choice, a mint-green Stella scooter tricked out with more than 40 mirrors and wheels ornamented with little green dice. Nice. It is hard to finger just what makes the scooter "art" other than its classy color, retro-funk design and hipster glamour, but those are probably enough to hold Aldrich's spot in the show.

Especially since Tom Garrett's insect gals are hanging nearby. Their generic, stereotypical "Asian" features (slant eyes and narrow cherry-red lips) are screened onto paper (and pillows) amid clouds of bees, bugs, butterflies and bristly screws that coalesce around them where hair or shoulders might otherwise be. The resulting "Bee Woman," "Bug Woman" and so on are cheerfully surrealistic female avatars fresh from video games or fashion magazines.

They're the kind of gals who might appeal to the lusty, wild-eyed salesman who recurs in Lamar Peterson's collages. In one clever design, he collages cutouts of hair and shoulders to paper, leaving a void where facial features would appear. In the face-space he then tosses a cascade of colorful confetti that explodes from almost hidden eyes and mouth, a propulsive metaphor for an obnoxious, out-of-control personality type.

Across the gallery hangs Jim Dryden's "The Object of His Desire," three large collage-paintings featuring images of Michelangelo's "David" as the gay-guy ideal, surrounded by excerpts from personal ads and homoerotic memorabilia.

Lithographs by Jenny Schmid cleverly record the recreational obsessions of modern youth (and yetis) who tube and sunbathe while reading, eating, caffeinating and listening (with boomboxes, iPods, record players, headphones, etc.).

Perci Chester's sassy Pop-style sculptures stand as 3-D extensions of hipster style. From flat sheets of steel, she has sliced continuous ribbons of metal that pull out like Slinky toys colored with rainbow-bright automotive paint. Vaguely human forms seem to dance in the ribbon-like designs of her "Slinky Chick Rocks," and "Slinkyman."

Fans of Faye Passow will be delighted, as always, by her hilariously cranky silkscreened maps and diagrams of cartoonish worlds defined by candy, miasmal swamps, commuter hazards and weird Minnesota landmarks. Her Minnesota map highlights include turtle races, disasters and bachelor hangouts, while "Back Roads Bingo" cards give points for spying snow fences, A-frames and shot-up stop signs.

Critter corner

Strangeness really blossoms among Kelly Connole's white rabbits, life-sized porcelain critters with human hands instead of paws. Warily crouched in apparent fear, they scan the sky with humanoid blue eyes and long, expressively cocked ears. Other rabbits, with paws and doglike torsos, sprawl on old library-card catalogs while ratty creatures mass nearby. Their artful blend of animal physiognomy and human expressions is brilliantly rendered and more than a little spooky.

Around the corner, huge bugs and crustaceans crawl through a young woman's hair and mouth in creepy videos by Kate Casanova.

By contrast, the nicely designed geometric paintings of Sanford Resig scream "normal," and Chris Larson seems to be documenting his own manic energy in a huge installation of studio photos, half-burned beams and video of random, art-like activity. Cartoonish drawings by Mary Esch and projected images from Frank Gaard's idiosyncratic sketchbooks round out the show.

As an alternative to Minnesota's tradition of keenly observed landscapes, "Funk" plumbs quirky psychic byways.

mabbe@startribune.com • 612-673-4431

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  • MINNESOTA FUNK

    When: 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Tue.-Sat. through Dec. 22., 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tue.-Sat. through Jan. 12. Closed Dec. 25 & Jan. 1.

    Where: Katherine E. Nash Gallery, Regis Center for Art, University of Minnesota, 405 21st Av. S., Mpls.

    Admission: Free.

    Info: 612-624-7530 or www.art.umn.edu

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