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A photographer captures goat losers at Minnesota county fairs

"Bryce with Freaky Freddy and Nathan with Skittles, Isanti County Fair" from the series "The Unchosen Ones" (all images used with permission from the artist)

A giant blue rooster isn’t the only farm animal around roaming the Twin Cities' art scene.

Photographer R.J. Kern’s project “The Unchosen Ones” features 60 posed portraits of kids with goats and sheep who lost competitions at 10 different county fairs last summer (they are, literally, the unchosen ones). Winners of such competitions go on to breed with other animals, while the “losers” go home or live out the remainder of their lives somewhere else, like on a hobby farm. 

The posed portraits appear somewhat off-kilter as well, exposing the stylized, hand-painted backdrops, which become part of the portrait. This makes the photographs look more process-oriented, as if these were borrowed from the set of a TV show, or perhaps a reality TV show like “Goats Gone Wild!” (Yes, I made that up. Lol.)  

The series is part of a five-year project for Kern, who has been investigating his ancestral roots in Norway, Iceland and Germany, and is inspired by the composition of light in European landscape paintings.

“I wondered how I could continue this project in my own home state?” says Kern, when we spoke by phone. “I moved around a lot growing up, which made me think of roaming animals and roots.”

The local tie-in, for Kern, happened when he encountered animals at county fairs. The showcasing of them also reminded him of the ways that humans shape animals’ evolution, making the competitions like animal-versions of beauty pageants.

The duality of winning and losing was also inspired by the 2006 Will Ferrell film "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby," about a high-ranking NASCAR driver who comes to question his dedication to winning at all costs. “If you ain’t first, you’re last,” says Bobby’s father, played by Gary Cole.

Funded through a Minnesota State Arts Board grant, Kern’s goats and sheep are also on view at Gallery 360 through May 28. More information here:

"Kenzi and Hootie, Anoka County Fair"

"Louis and Dumb, Freeborn County Fair"

"Tait and Evie, Anoka County Fair"

"Gus and Doolittle, Mahnomen County Fair"

"Kol and Annabell, Anoka County Fair"

Comic Sebastian Maniscalco has all the right moves in Minneapolis show

Photo by Todd Rosenberg

Sebastian Maniscalco could make a decent living telling jokes in traction, but he probably wouldn't elicit the kind of howls he earned Sunday night at the State Theatre in Minneapolis.

Maniscalco was named Just for Laughs' Comedian of the Year in 2016 and is the Showtime Channel's most popular stand-up, not so much for his material, but for his physical enthusiasm.

On Sunday, the Chicago-raised comic who talks like Andrew Dice Clay and thinks like a blue-collar Jerry Seinfeld, fidgeted through his 80-minute performance, all but ignoring the stool on the otherwise bare stage. He punctuates jokes with exaggerated flourishes that resemble John Daly after a tee stroke or a skater who just nailed a triple axel.

Many comedians use physical exertions to cover up shoddy material. That's not the case with Maniscalco. His bits, mostly about his Italian-American family and social ineptness, may not be original, but they're sharp. His closing routine on dating in a pre-Tinder age was downright touching.

Maniscalco stays away from political humor, but a joke in which he defends the security team that booted a doctor from a United Airlines flight seemed to register with those in the audience eager to defend law enforcement.

The response suggests that Maniscalco may have a future in politics -- if not "Dancing With the Stars."

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