Footprints mark the light brown sand and dirt of a giant crater that has landed in southeast Minneapolis. Seven ultrabright parking-lot lights illuminate the rocky depression, backlit by the glow of floor-to-ceiling windows in a new apartment complex across the street.
On a recent warm Friday night, groups of people gathered in the 15-foot-deep hole at 445 Malcolm Av. SE. while others walked the edge, carving a trail around it.
This is “Stadium” by Los Angeles artist/musician Jasper Marsalis — the fifth project in Midway Contemporary Art’s series of off-site programs aimed at outdoor or large indoor spaces where it’s easy to social-distance.
“It’s a new way of thinking about getting artists’ voices out into the public,” said Midway director John Rasmussen, who started organizing the series in April as pandemic reality set in. “With what’s going on in our country and our state, it’s important that artists’ voices be heard.”
Midway Off-Site was launched Oct. 7 in an empty warehouse in north Minneapolis with Nicole Miller’s “To the Stars,” an hourlong documentary-ish film featuring a poetic interspersing of stories of hope, pain and memories as told by kids, dancers, an astronaut and other everyday and extraordinary people of color. Screenings wrap up Thursday through Saturday, limited to 20 people.
“There’s something about the way this project is getting people out,” said Gabriel Ritter, a curator at the Minneapolis Institute of Art. “It doesn’t attempt to say that there is some normalcy to any of this” — pandemic life, that is.
Midway Contemporary Art, a nonprofit visual-arts organization in the Marcy Holmes neighborhood since 2001, is known for its sleek white-cube gallery and library of art books. But with the gallery closed since March (the library remains open for loans), Rasmussen and his wife, associate director Megan McCready, decided to shift to an experimental, site-specific model.
There are several exhibitions on view. An old Ax-Man Surplus Store in St. Louis Park is host to St. Paul artist Bruce Tapola’s “Major Bummer,” a series of paintings and sculpture made during the pandemic.
The HmongTown Marketplace hosts four lightbox-illuminated photos by Pao Houa Her, shot in Northern California, Minnesota and Laos, and Tetsuya Yamada’s public installation “Waiting,” which employs a covered bench used in a Japanese tea ceremony; the artist is posting drawings there over the course of 11 weeks.
Midway has another half-dozen projects in the works through the end of 2021. Rasmussen is currently looking for a storefront space that artists Jonathan Rosemond and Wyatt Lasky can use as a set for a podcast.
Midway is also considering taking projects to rural Minnesota. “We are just going where we can,” said Rasmussen.
“Stadium” is the most ambitious piece so far, located at Malcolm Yards, a 21-acre industrial site being developed by the Wall Companies near Surly Brewing in southeast Minneapolis.
To help with the project, the developers agreed to demolish some buildings a few months sooner than planned to accommodate the project by Marsalis (son of jazz great Wynton Marsalis). He joined Rasmussen and his son James, driving Bobcats through the dirt for two days to dig a hole that’s just a bit bigger than a baseball infield, 145 by 120 feet.
Part of this project is to not explain what it is. Marsalis didn’t want it to become “too sci-fi or fantasy, like: ‘Where is the asteroid?’ ... I felt way more drawn to these experiences that are harder to capture.”
One inspiration came from a music festival he went to in L.A.
“I was able to go backstage and see Dodgers Stadium with all the lights off,” Marsalis said. “It was the most surreal, but most boring, experience because nothing is happening — you’re waiting for potential. But it presents some type of reflection.”