“What if I did this just for me? Would the audience still get something out of it?”
Tricia Heuring doesn’t come off as the self-help type. But the way she talks about “Selected Works” — a shotgun exhibition, one she pulled together in a mere seven days, crashing studios, ambushing artists, asking, “What are you making right now?” and “Can I put it in a show … next week?” — she sounds like a woman at the end of a cleanse. There is a sense of doubt unearthed, of hard looks in the mirror, of an ego laid bare by some serious self-interrogation.
Hours before the show opened, Heuring, 37, sat in Public Functionary, the northeast Minneapolis gallery she has run for the past 4 ½ years, and explained why she put herself through the ordeal. It amounted to a very art-centric flavor of Impostor Syndrome: She wasn’t sure she still trusted her eye.
“There’s a lot of self-doubt in this room,” she said. “This is me getting clear on my role as a curator, on my role in the art world in general.”
Around her, mixing as tentatively as divorcees at a singles event, were the 22 pieces of “Selected Works.” It is Public Functionary’s first-ever group show. It is also, in a way, Heuring’s most concentrated stab at curatorship. She’s kicked around the art scene for more than a decade and served as curator at the defunct XY&Z Gallery. But “Selected Works” is her first chance in years to break from administrative duties as PF’s director to drill more deeply into her aesthetic practice.
The art on the floor seemed to absorb the insecurity of the woman who selected it. Typically, a group show is like an essay written in the curator’s head. There’s a theme, a statement, a thesis about trend or zeitgeist or politics. The works on the wall often feel like endnotes, supports for an argument already made.
“Selected Works” is not that. Instead, it is a crucible of instinct and urgency. Stripped of any organizing principle, a group show becomes a simple record of taste, a judgment made under a time constraint: a bunch of “selected works,” in other words, chosen on impulse.
In this way, Heuring’s group show is a gut check. We’re getting her professional chops — or at least her self-assessment of them — naked and on display. It’s a painful way to curate. And it’s a confessional swerve for a gallery that’s spent years holding a slickly branded, social media-optimized pose.
But then, “confession” seems to be a trending phenomenon in Minneapolis art circles. There is a renewed interest in … tentativeness. From apartment gallery Yeah Maybe’s probing of post-BFA limbo to photographer Sean Smuda’s incorporation of improvisational dance into a recent opening, folks are showing the poured concrete before it’s dry. The same night of Public Functionary’s opening, a few blocks away, Rosalux Gallery’s excellent “Open Door” show, juried by Andrea Carlson, featured highly personal works from artists whose statements talked about recovery or time spent in jail.
Things are evolving for Heuring, too. This year she changed her name as she formalized her divorce from the Berlin-label techno DJ Zak Khutoretsky. She has also just returned from a three-week residency in the Colorado mountains — a “curatorial meditation,” she calls it — where she ruminated over a private collection of works on paper. It’s a reflective time.
So what does the audience get from such therapy exercises?
“Selected Works” is a wobbly show, but the shakiness is exciting. Ideas are being worked out before your eyes. There is a clear obsession with medium and material. We get sculpture and photography, fabrics and iPhone footage, gouache and graphite dust. “Nightingale and Rose,” a lineup of rotisserie chickens, each cast in porcelain by Katayoun Amjadi, used actual birds for its forms.
But there’s also an insinuation that medium is a mirage, a red herring that distracts and distorts.
Torey Erin’s diptych “Left Side, Right Side” presents identical Masonite squares, one drenched in black lacquer, the other drenched in the same black lacquer and then violently stripped: a painting and an un-painting. Nearby, Katelyn Rose White gives us an illusionistic trompe l’oeil: a sheet of graph paper, a portion peeled away to reveal a Chroma key green screen underneath. The title? “Baby, I’m Not Lying to You.” Time and again, artists call our attention to the surface, only to show us that the surface is a sham.
The most effective, and simplest, example of this is Essma Imady’s photo-that-isn’t, “Receiving Blanket.” Imady takes a digital snapshot of a bombed building in Syria and prints it huge on a fluffy blanket, the kind used to swaddle babies after birth. Hung loosely on the wall, the blanket sags in the middle, and this sag — a soft cratering that mimics rubble, echoes heartbreak and offers a therapeutic cradle for someone fleeing a bombing — is the brilliant touch. Form meets content, gravity meets tragedy. I overhead several people on opening night say it was their favorite piece.
At the show’s spiritual center is another bit of trickery. Against one wall of the gallery, Lindsay Splichal has leaned a screen used in screen-printing. Coated in yellow paint and featuring two black bars, it apes an abstract geometric painting. But then across the gallery, hung on the other wall, is a digital photograph of the same screen/painting, printed on thin canvas. If you’re keeping score, that’s a screen masquerading as a painting that is then returned to painting status via the process of digital photography. Medium and materials, iterated to absurdity.
Heuring may be similarly poking at process. Or at the very least, she’s asking what it’s for, if it can be given up. Next year will be one “of pivotal decisions” for Public Functionary, she says. For one thing, the gallery’s lease in its building will be up. For another, Heuring says she wants to turn inward and further feel out her command of curating.
Why not, then, end 2016 on a vulnerable note? For a gallery that spent its early life playing it cool, the cloak may be about to drop.
When: Noon-7 p.m. Fri. & Tue.-Wed., noon-5 p.m. Sat. Ends Dec. 30.
Where: Public Functionary, 1400 12th Av. NE., Mpls. (entrance on Buchanan St.)
Gregory Scott is a Twin Cities art critic.