Brant Kingman, painter, sculptor, "experience designer," is a northeast Minneapolis artist whose ability to put on magical "art events" in his wonderland warehouse has fans comparing him to Andy Warhol. He has orchestrated festivities that included aerial artists, DJs, belly dancers and fire eaters, who perform for guests that include paupers and Wayzata billionaires.
"It just so happens my medium is people," Kingman said the other day while his newest artwork played on a computer -- a video of naked people dancing while he "painted" them with colored lasers. "I try to bring people out of themselves."
Kingman's website says he is "dedicated to creating an iconography for the mythology of our present moment."
The city of Minneapolis, which touts itself as a mecca for creative types, also has a philosophy. It's called code 276.1110, which Kingman can almost cite verbatim:
"Entertainment includes shows, plays, skits, musical revues, children's theater, dance productions, public dance, musical concerts, opera and the production or provision of sights or sounds or visual or auditory sensations which are designed to or may divert, entertain or otherwise appeal to members of the public who are admitted to a place of entertainment ..." and so on.
Doesn't exactly elicit the creative juices, but officials say it gets the job done. In this case, that means shutting down Kingman Studios and the party that would never end, but did.
Two worlds have collided over city regulations, and where one creative soul sees "art event," bureaucrats see par-tay!
Kingman and his lawyers, and the city and its lawyers, have squabbled over his monthly events for five years. He's been fined, cited and infiltrated by the undercover Buzzkill Police. Kingman says he's spent thousands of dollars trying to comply with city codes that govern occasional events. He even hires off-duty police officers to do security, and maintains a strict guest list, which he says makes his events private, and thus not beholden to city law.
Muhannah S. Kakish has been to many of Kingman's events. "The city is making a big mistake," Kakish said. "He makes you feel wanted. Artists, lawyers, doctors and regular people get to experience a part of his soul."
But the city that has hung banners for blocks around Kingman's neighborhood proclaiming it an art-friendly district says the soul experience is over.
Kingman's studio is a jumbled fantasy-scape of sculptures, lumber, junk and contraptions made from garbage. A large board studded with plastic water bottles stuffed with colored lights flashes near a large image of Superman made from crushed Coke and Miller Lite cans. Several sitting areas are scattered around the warehouse, including one with an Alice in Wonderland theme. There is a giant Jesse Ventura bobblehead. Outside, a bronze sculpture of a reclining man with a flower growing out of him is also a fire pit, so that when lit, it appears the man is burning.
"There is just something about the human figure on fire," Kingman said.
Ricardo Cervantes, deputy director of licenses for the city, certainly agrees with that. He said Kingman's working studio is simply not safe for large gatherings as it contains flammable materials and welding tanks.
It would be tempting to paint Cervantes as the leader of the devious Fun Police, but he quickly volunteered that "I'm an art lover. It's one of the areas in school that I kind of excelled at," he said. "I know about throwing a pot and painting."
But Cervantes is also pragmatic. On vacations, he said, the first thing he does is check the doors and staircases of his hotel. "When you can meld art and entertainment safely, wonderful," he said.
While Cervantes takes his vision from the rules, Kingman's came to him in a Mexican dream, now becoming unfulfilled, that he had while in Chichen Itza. Kingman dreamed a cabin boy whispered in his ear, telling him how to push his work to a "higher power" by changing his focus from the individual to "community."
"This vision is very important in my work now," said Kingman.
Sometimes when Kingman talks like this, he can sound a little like a pretentious culture monger, and I can see where inspector types would shake their heads. In person, however, he strikes me more as a thoughtful dude - your typical artist guy who likes to make really cool sculptures with saws and blowtorches, and who is just eager to make a compromise and get the city to support community art like it promises.
I told Kingman that maybe if he shared his artist dream with city inspectors, the one about the cabin boy and higher powers, perhaps they would reconsider.
Kingman laughed a long time.
"Ahhh. I don't think that would go over too well," he said.
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