The late Hüsker Dü drummer Grant Hart was a fan of three-word titles, starting with his band’s 1982 debut, “Land Speed Record.” Now he has a new posthumous work called “Times, Places, Situations,” a triptych of collages by Hart that his friend and collaborator Chris Larson has transformed into a three-dimensional work.
Within the next two weeks, these mural-like, 16-foot-wide sculptural reliefs will adorn the Palace Theatre in downtown St. Paul.
“I see the project as a collaboration between Grant and I,” said Larson. “I am appropriating his work to make this work.”
The mural/sculptures have a messiness much like the punk rock aesthetic Hart pioneered. A car rolls down the side of a building. Earth is in orbit. Santa Claus’ face is collaged into a vintage camera.
With a title lifted from the lyrics to a Hart song — “Flexible Flyer,” from Hüsker Dü’s 1985 album “Flip Your Wig” — the triptych is based on work Hart made by slicing together images found in vintage magazines. SignMinds, a Minneapolis company run by artist Ben Janssens, translated them into 3-D through a complex layering technique that combines laser-cut aluminum with acrylic decals.
The three pieces will be installed on a blank wall of the theater facing St. Peter Street.
Joe Spencer, president of the St. Paul Downtown Alliance, gave the green light on the project. He had been trying to figure out how public art might become a part of the city-owned Palace, which was reopened after an extensive renovation in 2017.
It all clicked shortly after Hart’s passing that year when Spencer had a conversation with Nate Kranz, general manager of First Avenue, which manages the Palace. Spencer watched the 2014 documentary “Every Everything: The Music, Life and Times of Grant Hart,” which discusses the musician’s artwork, and realized that Hart was friends with Larson, a noted artist and professor at the University of Minnesota.
“This project was my baby,” said Spencer. “I thought about it morning, noon and night.”
A master collage artist
Hart was just a teenager when he started designing concert fliers.
He typically made the cover art for records by his bands, including Hüsker Dü’s (three-word-titled) 1986 album “Candy Apple Grey,” featuring a full moon in one corner and a smattering of blue, pink, yellow and maroon galaxy-like sparkles covering the middle.
When he wasn’t writing or playing music, Hart usually could be found making art.
“We’d be watching TV, and Grant would be sitting on the floor at the coffee table, just taking a piece of paper and cutting slits into it,” said his friend James Lindbloom, a former housemate of Hart’s who runs the Minneapolis-based record label Roaratorio.
Enamored of history, technology, outer space and geography, Hart often visited Midway Books in St. Paul to buy old copies of Life magazine, National Geographic and Popular Mechanics.
“He definitely was not interested in collages where the juxtaposition of elements was intending to tell a story or deliver a message necessarily,” Lindbloom said. “He really wanted to find these accidental images or juxtapositions through his cut-up method.”
Before Hart passed away, he and Larson looked through his collection of over 400 collage works. Although he constantly worked on them, he never intended to sell them.
He had several exhibitions, and his work was published in the French contemporary journal of Dada writing and art, “Maintenant” (“Now”).
Collage has popped up often in 20th-century art history, most famously by the Dada and Surrealist artists after World War I. Often, artists will turn to collage when they’re transitioning from one medium to another, or working out a visual idea. But other artists, such as L.A.-based Kiki Collagist, whose work is sold at Curiosity in northeast Minneapolis, work exclusively in collage, cutting out and combining images from vintage magazines.
“We see collage resurfacing throughout art history, usually during times of turbulence,” said Larson. “We had collage come into the contemporary art world in the early ’90s. It comes and goes.”
Not their first collaboration
Larson and Hart are no strangers to collaboration. Hart appeared in a video that Larson shot for “Crush Collision,” a 2006 installation at the Minneapolis Institute of Art.
A 2011 fire that damaged Hart’s home in South St. Paul brought them even closer together. Larson stored some of the goods from Hart’s house in his enormous warehouse/studio on St. Paul’s East Side.
That led to a 2016 exhibition at Walker Art Center: “Land Speed Record,” named for the Hüsker Dü record. What wasn’t totally ruined in the fire — from musical gear to a lawn mower — Larson turned into art through a video of all the stuff arrayed in his studio.
Larson, who won a Guggenheim fellowship last year, is known for appropriating places or locations and then transforming them into artwork, like his 2013 performance at Northern Spark where he built a replica of Marcel Breuer’s St. Paul house and then burned it down.
Likewise, collage involves the appropriation of existing images. It’s something that Hart, aside from his music, is remembered for.
“He was not just a novice dabbling in making art,” said Larson. “This is someone who was very committed to the practice.”