Every State Fair art show offers quirky little byways and novel treatments of familiar subjects. Skulls are the quirky topic this year, while several artists take a fresh look at what might very loosely be dubbed “family values.”
Continuing a trend of recent seasons, landscapes, urban scenes and portraits thrive, while barnyard animals are in short supply and even pets are surprisingly scarce. Abstractions and images with a more conceptual vibe are nicely represented, but fine crafts — glass, ceramics, textiles — are shockingly underrepresented (just 23 of the 340 pieces here) in a state that abounds with such artisans.
Still, the show is a serious, highly polished sample of available talent picked from 1,885 entries in a statewide competition.
Skulls are inevitably psychological heavyweights and Brent Brager of Bethel doesn’t shirk their gravitas. His “Appointment” is a column of oak into which he has deftly carved, perhaps with a chain saw, skeletons and skulls watched over by a crouching vulture. A memento mori suffused with regret and second thoughts, it’s a bit hectoring and ghoulish, but nicely complements “Modern Hamlet,” by Jon Burns of Cottage Grove, a somewhat ponderous painting of a bearded youth studying a skull, and “Seven in One Blow,” Minneapolis artist Thomas Reif’s sculpture of seven resin-cast skulls in a glass case.
David Lane of Minneapolis offers a somber counterpart to the skulls in “Slaughterhouse Five War Chest: A Tribute to Vonnegut,” an antiwar sculpture consisting of a desolate, miniature urbanscape shattered by warfare in a large wooden case atop a drawer containing a tiny cemetery of pristine graves.
Suburbia is family turf in America, and Tim Bicknell of Minneapolis gives that sunny spot a strangely ambiguous look in “Catherine,” his photo of a girl, back to camera, gazing across a broad, perfectly manicured lawn at a tidy, terraced ranch house on a hill. With her face concealed, viewers are left to invent a narrative for a familiar scene that in Bicknell’s hands may simmer with resentment, alienation, nostalgia, envy, longing or even love.
In his black-and-white photo “Friends,” Larry Risser of Minneapolis gets 15 young people and a dog to appear spontaneously happy and relaxed while posing on a beach. How hard was that? The elderly have a tender moment in “Stan and Geegee,” a portrait of a handsome older couple holding a picture of their youthful selves running on a beach, by Deborah Rose of Shoreview.
And then there’s zesty looking “Mom,” a loving picture by Kyle Krohn of Minnetonka, of a white-haired dame in silver boots and bare legs waving cheerfully from the edge of a bitterly frozen lake. Things get a bit more droll and kinky in “Rebirth of Venus,” a photo montage in which James Cleary of Minneapolis bids adieu to Miss America amid coy diagrams involving reproductive organs, sex-change operations, environmentalism and beaver jokes.
For sheer exuberance, “Fabric of Life!” by Arden Harrison-Bushnell of Shorewood deserves special mention. At least 7 feet tall and perhaps 5 feet wide, “Life!” is a vividly beaded and embroidered wall hanging garnished with appliquéd dancers, critters (fish, elephant, polar bears, penguins, peacock) and people representing myriad ethnicities and locales (Eskimo, Indian, Asian).
Fine Arts Superintendent Jim Clark and his crew deftly punctuated the installation with large-scale paintings and drawings that appropriately capture attention. Notable among them are Tom Maakestad’s landscape of rolling hills; Larry Hofmann’s tonalist painting of trees in a meadow; Ilya Kravchik’s drawing of “Valentina,” a sorrowful peasant dreaming of lost times, and Richard Valentine’s sensitive allegory of a black boxer selling his youth and strength in a brutal sport. David Raven arrestingly paints an expressionistic robin’s nest next to a gleaming metal egg beater, while Jeanne Obermeier arranges geometric forms into an elegant abstraction.
Were there a satire prize, it would go to Lester Hoikka of Annandale, Minn., for his “One Percenter Savings Bank,” a painted sheet-metal sculpture of a cartoonish bull in a pinstriped suit wielding a bullwhip and screaming for “More Moola.” In the pop-up amphitheater at his feet, ordinary folks cower before his mesmerizing greed.