Jennifer Armetta left Minneapolis in the late 1980s, but she's always remained committed to the Twin Cities. For 30 years, she's worked in Chicago and Los Angeles as an art dealer and owner of Jennifer Armetta Fine Art.
In November she returned to Minnesota through art when she became gallery director of Chicago's Aspect/Ratio Projects. Her vision? To introduce Minnesota artists to Chicago audiences.
That vision includes a roster of around 20 artists, and Armetta anticipates that around 40% of these artists will be Minnesota-based.
"I'm a Midwest girl," she said. "I just connect to Minneapolis. People don't really know these amazing artists that are tucked up in Minneapolis."
The gallery's current exhibition "Fever Dream," a reflection on the confusion and heartbreak that was 2020, features Minnesota artists Alec Soth, Jovan Speller and Cameron Gainer. A 3-D tour of the show can be viewed at AspectRatioProjects.com; it runs through Jan. 23 in person.
"These two places, Minneapolis and Chicago, are really disconnected even though we are so close," she said. "I don't know if people don't really reach out. … Like Alec Soth — there he is, the nicest guy on the planet, just hunkered down in St. Paul."
Miami-born, Chicago-based video art curator/architect Jefferson Godard founded Aspect/Ratio Projects in 2012 as a commercial gallery focused on emerging video artists. Godard will still be part-owner of the gallery, but in more of a background role as Armetta shifts the gallery's focus to interdisciplinary artists while honoring its new-media roots.
Armetta visits Minneapolis three or four times per year. When she returned this past fall, Gainer suggested she check out Speller's work; at that time, it was part of the NewStudio Gallery exhibition "At This Point … Three Spaces for Contemplation."
Armetta was struck by Speller's installation "Sounds for Survival," which used sound, photography, earth elements and black reflective material to meditate on the land where her ancestors were slaves, and to create work that centers Blackness. Their meeting was meant to be a quick meet-and-greet, but the conversation went on until the gallery closed.
Armetta invited Speller to participate in "Fever Dream," and offered to represent her.
The exhibit includes two photographs by Speller, "Behold the Land Before Me" and "Housed in the Body," shot on land in Windsor, N.C., where her father's family was enslaved.
In the former, a skeleton of a house stands in an overgrown cotton field; in the latter, a single-story house appears to be almost floating in or on top of a river.
Speller wanted to see if she could regain ownership to parts of the property after discovering that some of her ancestors were buried in the woods. To start, she began interviewing family members about the land. Family secrets quickly started spilling out, like how her great-grandfather's friends fatally poisoned him because they were jealous of what Speller called "the white man's trust" in him.
She shot photos in color for the project, titled "Relics From Home," to make them feel more immediately real, a departure from her nostalgic black-and-white series "Black Quiet," which she worked on through a Jerome Foundation grant.
The project became more important to her after she became a mother nearly three years ago. She and husband Yunior Rebollar Carbonell now have two sons, Silas Grey and Felix Elias, who was born in June.
Speller longed for a solid sense of home with her new family. From the age of 5 onward, she and her mother moved every year.
"I never felt very rooted other than with my mom, and it created generational trauma," she said. "I didn't want that for my kids."
Armetta hopes that she'll be able to expose Chicago audiences to more Twin Cities artists like Speller. Despite the cities' geographical distance, Armetta does notice similarities in the way people treat one another.
"Chicago is like Minneapolis. It's a tight-knit community and collectors want to be handheld a bit," she said. "Not in a negative way, they just want the whole experience. They want to do a studio visit and learn about the artist's background, whereas my collectors in New York and L.A. would buy art based on a JPEG."