Picturing the good life at Minnesota State Fair art show

  • Article by: MARY ABBE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 22, 2014 - 9:38 AM

Life in Minnesota is passive, pleasant and unprovocative, at least as depicted in the State Fair's art show.

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Minnesota talents are on display again in the State Fair’s Fine Arts Center, where 325 paintings, photos, sculpture, textiles, ceramics and other creative effusions suggest what’s on our minds and in our hearts and hands.

Art imitates life, the saying goes. If that’s true, life here in the North Star state is tranquil, introspective and preoccupied with observing the passing scene, watching the seasons change, admiring our precocious kids and aging gracefully. Aside from some photographic souvenirs of foreign travel, the Big Picture isn’t much in evidence. There aren’t any wars, ethnic squabbles, territorial disputes, racial taunts, religious rants, undocumented immigrants or delinquent teens. No politicians are elbowing for office, the unemployed are offstage, the environment is not degraded, and even the animals are mostly free-range.

For 12 days in August, this above-average amnesia is arguably OK. After all, the fair’s 1.7 million visitors come for fun, not intellectual challenge or a reminder that life is often nasty, brutish and short. And issue art is all too often superficial, irksome and aesthetically subpar. Who needs that?

Even so, in a state that boasts some 6,000 artists, it should be possible to have more wit, innovation and yeasty, even provocative content at the fair. Eight excellent judges screened 2,107 entries in eight categories and, based on the show’s sample of the judges’ own fine work, they have world-class standards. They can only choose from what’s entered in the competition, however, and that apparently skewed heavily toward well-made, keenly observed and conceptually flaccid scenes of domesticity. (So all you provocateurs, get working for 2015.)

Still, there are highlights. Among them:

Bill Klaila’s “Mirror,” an interactive video. This amusing little installation employs motion sensors and video-game technology to playful effect. Kids will love this one, so look for it right behind the welcome desk.

Pam Glass Harris’ “Retired,” an energetic charcoal sketch of a bearded, balding gent dozing in a chair. Scribbled strokes and varied textures animate the drawing, which exudes some of the brio of Jim Dine’s images without his anger or angst.

Cynthia Waltho’s “Jar of Pimento-Stuffed Olives,” a pop-style painting of savory morsels whose ruby throats bleed and yellow-green flesh throbs as light bends around the word “Pearls” embossed on their glass jar. Painting illusions of light, liquid, paper, glass and food may look simple, but don’t be deceived.

Thayer John Swanson’s “Fix Yourself,” a painting of a thin, bruised, scarecrow-woman sprawled outside a barn. Maybe she is just a roughed-up garden ornament, but perhaps the almost hidden needle she clutches is a metaphor for the drug scourge that’s ravaged so many rural communities.

Caroline Keefe’s “Tidal,” a sculpture in which clusters of little white-knit bowls cling like barnacles in the curve of a blown-out tire whose splayed black hulk floats like driftwood or a decaying gondola. Imaginative and memorable.

Faye Passow’s lithograph “Modernists Go Mobile,” in which she cleverly recasts famous modern buildings, including Australia’s Sydney Opera House and Oregon’s Portlandia government center, as mobile homes crunched into a trailer-park grid.

Catherine Hearding’s “Of Angels and Ornamentals,” a watercolor of garden ornaments, including a bronze urn and plaster angel whose lilac shadows are so delicate he almost breathes.

Peter Zarnoti’s photo of a modern “Aphrodite,” a zaftig love goddess whose fuchsia hair and nose ring artfully mock her classical-sculpture pose.

Caretaker of the Earth,” Marjorie Elaine Pitz’s beautifully glazed stoneware sculpture, which effectively depicts a kneeling farmer/gardener digging a ball of soil.

Deborah Foutch’s “Soil Horizon,” an elegant abstraction made of machine-stitched and hand-embroidered fabric that suggests a slice of earth from grasses and topsoil through deep roots stretching to bedrock.

As always, photography drew the largest number of entrants: 727, of which 122 were accepted. Many are noteworthy, including Becqi Sherman’s “Alone at Night in Barcelona,” an intriguing glimpse from a hotel window of a yellow-lit street occupied by midnight-motorcycle riders, and Lauren B. Gagner’s “A Farmer’s Farewell,” a close-up of a polished wood coffin suspended above an open grave at the edge of a snowy field overlooked by a farmstead on a pine-clad hill. So simple and yet so intimate a goodbye.

 

Mary.Abbe@startribune.com • 612-673-4431



 

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  • “Paper Airplanes Can Dream” by Danny Saathoff was judged top sculpture.

  • ⊳ Peter Zarnoti’s photo of a modern “Aphrodite.”

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