Two Minneapolis gallery shows surprise the eye with novel critters and colorful illusions.
That three-headed turkey with furry hindquarters? Duck feathers with logos? A pink polar bear?
Not quite right for Mother Nature’s main product line, but as art they’re really smart.
Under the clever title “God’s Sketchbook for Creation,” Instinct Art Gallery has gathered — through Jan. 11 —more than two dozen witty sculptures, paintings and prints by nine accomplished Twin Cities artists whose mutant critters have a surrealistic edge.
Instinct, which opened in September, is the first gallery in years to show contemporary Minnesota artists on Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis’ premier shopping street. Its prime location next door to Target is promising, and the white walls, polished wood floors and sunny interior avoid the pretentious hauteur that sometimes makes galleries intimidating. Plus, the cheerful greeting of director John Schuerman makes clear that “just looking” is perfectly OK.
An artist with a background in marketing, Schuerman has previously organized shows for art centers in Bloomington, Minnetonka and other suburban sites. When the opportunity arose to develop a Nicollet Mall venue, he jumped. While his previous exhibits have riffed on such topics as fathers and sons, money and overpopulation, “God’s Sketchbook” is a lighthearted romp filled with creatures that are “cute and creepy at the same time,” he said, adding, “This isn’t a serious issue, but it’s fun, and people are having a good time with it.”
Sarina Brewer’s “North Woods Chimera” alone is worth a trip. A charter member of Rogue Taxidermy — a bunch of artists who sculpt with critter parts — Brewer assembled the chimera from three wild turkey heads, a pheasant breast and a raccoon’s torso and tail. Bizarre, yes, but totally convincing, thanks to Brewer’s superb modeling skills and sensitivity to posture. The heads arch and twist in beaky curiosity above wrinkled necks sprouting from flared breast feathers.
Her “Turkelaeopteryx” is equally winning, its polished turkey feet supporting legs elegantly clad in squirrel-fur jodhpurs. Though nonexistent in nature, such cross-species “monsters” have entranced imaginations since fauns and centaurs were immortalized in Greek legends and Roman marble.
For years Rob McBroom has been painting wildlife — ducks, mostly — garnished with glitter, crystals and corporate logos. Last year he successfully navigated a round in the national duck stamp competition with a pair of such birds, much to the consternation of more traditional avian artists. That entry is featured along with a mallard stamped with myriad tiny images of Tim Taylor, McBroom’s most vociferous critic.
The bronze and stone sculptures of David Aschenbrener are fluid and enigmatic, with half-formed creatures emerging from eggs, their leaf-limbs waving. Al Wadzinski, the city’s best recycler of junk into art, produced an elegant wooden whale head with teeth cleverly made of old piano keys.
The feral creatures painted by D.C. Ice ooze the fierce charm of Maurice Sendak’s “Wild Things.” Foxy and flirtatious, they’re sexually ambiguous and half-human with their fangs, frilly skirts and mustaches. Nancy Robinson’s naughty dog, Aniela Sobieski’s fascinating “Pink Bear” and Tyler Green’s prints of a dissected “Walefish” flesh out a fascinating show.
‘Severed Hues’: Ruben Nusz
Given the 20th century, in which geometric painting was pretty much done to death, it takes chutzpah for a young Twin Cities artist to try to reinvent that (color) wheel. In his first solo show, Ruben Nusz, 35, succeeds with 18 highly polished new paintings in “Severed Hues” at Weinstein Gallery through Jan. 11.
Nusz posits an elaborate color theory based on photographic negatives rather than traditional color complements. Rigorously designed and executed, his canvases are precise arrangements of rectangles, squares, trapezoids, parallelograms, triangles and stripes in alternately bold hues (red, teal, lime and yellow) with subtle variations (olive, aqua, fuchsia, copper, lilac, orchid).
Nusz arranges the shapes and colors into trompe l’oeil “windows” that appear partly “curtained” by panels of bright color. Take “Severed Hue (Red),” for example. At first glance it looks like a big trapezoid of orangey-red that is masking another picture. The partly concealed painting — peeping from a triangular wedge at right — seems to consist of nested rectangles in teal, yellow, gray and so on, all illuminated by sun and lost in shadow. Other pictures with colorful corners appear to be covered by sheets of blue, black or aqua.
In fact, Nusz is playing optical tricks. What appear to be two-level paintings are in fact single planes on which geometric shapes visually advance and recede thanks to his clever designs and tonal shifts. Elsewhere he pairs colors to suggest that parts of the painting are wrapped in bands of gauze or shadow. It’s all just colors and forms, artfully manipulated in accordance with optical principles.
The heritage of Josef Albers’ squares, Mondrian’s geometrics and Charles Biederman’s wafers of dancing color is huge and intimidating. Nusz’s contributions to that daunting canon are authoritative and refreshingly novel. Most of all, they’re beautiful. If there’s justice in artland, this guy will be big.
Mary.Abbe@startribune.com • 612-673-4431