Minnesota artists put their stamp on sculptures in a stellar show at the U’s Nash Gallery.
And this month’s Truth-in-Titling award goes to “Made in Minnesota,” the Regis Center for Art’s straightforward label for its fine new show of sculpture by 22 Minnesota artists.
They’re a remarkably diverse bunch and the stuff they make is so distinctive — maquettes for big steel sculptures, mechanical toys, Japanese-flavored benches, carved-wood caricatures, political commentary, conceptual kayaks, jewelry — that superficially they have nothing in common. But at heart they are all makers. Each is a superb artisan able to pluck an idea out of the mind and shape it into something to be seen and touched, walked around or under, perhaps sat upon, or even pinned to a lapel.
Kudos to the curators, sculptor Wayne E. Potratz and gallery director Howard Oransky, for showcasing such stellar talent. Elegantly installed in the Regis Center’s spacious Katherine E. Nash Gallery, the show runs through Feb. 15.
Lisa Elias’ pretty, art-nouveau-style entrance arch signals the emphasis on handicraft. The steel spines of “Ornamental Path” bend, curl and then soar like a graceful wave or an untethered vine. Steeped in history, her work effectively counterpoints Eileen Cohen’s novel ceramic sculptures sprayed with flocking, that fuzzy material used on wallpaper. In red, gold, turquoise and maroon, it makes a bizarre covering for sleek ceramic forms that suggest cartoon-mouse ears or abstracted interpretations of squirrels, bedposts and other oddities.
Wood and bones
Judy Onofrio turns animal bones — ribs, spines, leg parts — into graceful, basket-like vessels and sculpture. Bleached and perhaps painted a creamy ivory, they seem woven together as if made of supple twigs. Their stark beauty is mesmerizing and inevitably metaphoric, whispering of life-and-death moments that nag the soul.
Across the way, the late George Morrison echoes Onofrio’s assemblage techniques in a 20-foot-long collage of beautifully polished chunks of wood assembled into a puzzle-like landscape. Nearby are Kinji Akagawa’s maquettes for wood-and-stone benches and Zoran Mojsilov’s “Battering Ram,” a whale-like critter chiseled from raw, cracked wood.
Fans of woodcarver Fred Cogelow will be delighted to find several of his splendid caricatures. Always a hit at the State Fair, Cogelow can dish corn pone worthy of a chain-saw maestro, but on a good day he could go mano-a-mano with German Gothic master Tilman Riemenschneider, whose exquisitely filigreed altars still draw pilgrims. A storyteller in wood, Cogelow delivers a fantasy nude with her howling admirers, a wry three-fingered diner and other rollicking types whose gnarled features are marvels of the medium.
Past and present
John Ilg, another State Fair favorite, assays socio-political-economic commentary using toy soldiers, dollar bills, a Rubik’s cube and even old-fashioned mousetraps configured as a U.S. flag.
Although only tabletop-sized, the late Michael Bigger’s maquettes for monumental metal and glass sculptures are similarly stunning, their folded planes, bold lines and handsome geometric forms perfectly poised and balanced. Nearby, Kim Matthews combines canvas and concrete in wall-hung constructions that meld painting and sculpture into geometric honeycombs. And Jay H. Isenberg wittily accentuates the sculptural potential of “Lil Smoker” barbecue grills by reglazing them in rainbow hues.
Winding across two walls, Aldo Moroni’s huge ceramic plaques illustrate an urban, industrialized Mississippi River that the “Mark Twain” of the title would never recognize. In a nod to 19th-century mechanical toys, Dean Lucker creates electrified tableaux in which, at the touch of a button, toy figures move: A cat paints a picture, men hammer and repair a broken moon. Ann Wood turns out charming boxed scenes in which doll-sized figures enact haunting domestic dramas about planting, birding, love and loyalty.
Wanbli Koyake, formerly known as Francis J. Yellow, references his American Indian heritage in a small bronze figure perched on a fragment of pipestone, stylized horse heads carved from butternut wood, and a ceremonial “Giant Killer” club.
Big and small
In a culture that usually touts bigger as better, it’s refreshing to find a respectful display of small things: intricate jewelry by <URL destination="http://www.gallenbenson.com/">Gallen <PARAGRAPH style="Text_Body">Bensen
Around the corner, Cameron Zebrun’s large wall sculptures use kayak shapes to poetically evoke wilderness voyages of the spirit, while John Marshall garnishes an old dresser with snapshots, postcards and other memorabilia in a woodsy installation. And don’t miss Mayumi Amada’s cut-paper light show behind the velvet curtain or Rollin Marquette’s mysterious gelatin concoction.
A strong narrative line and a subliminal urge to be useful runs through much of this sculpture. If it can’t be worn, sat upon, strolled under or eaten from, it wants to tell a story, trigger a memory or carry you into a wilderness of memory or the North Woods. So Minnesotan.
Mary.Abbe@startribune.com • 612-673-4431