Truly crazy thrift shop. That's the first impression of the 5,000 or so artworks crowded into the Minneapolis Institute of Arts' new "Foot in the Door 4" show.
Behind vast platforms chock-a-block with mutant taxidermy, bronze nudes, feisty dragons, imperiled Barbie dolls and knitting projects run amok rise 16-feet-tall walls lined with paintings, drawings, and photos of anything and everything that might flit through the mind of a housebound Minnesotan in the dark of winter: images of banana cream pie, seasonal landscapes, the Dalai Lama, Jesus, rubber duckies, the Golden Gate Bridge, big-eyed girls, many-breasted monsters, anguished teens, snowmen, guitarists, dogs, cats, birds, fish.
A cornucopia of kitsch spiced with inspired moments of LOL satire, smarty-pants conceptualism and straight-up talent, "Foot" is a brilliant albeit daft snapshot of Minnesotans' artistic skills and preoccupations.
Masks. We may be emotionally uptight but at least we're hiding behind carnival colors, rainbow stripes and glitter.
Trans-species mutations. We've got them on our minds -- the zombie yeti, a deer with pig snout, a baby doll with chicken head, a fur ball with beady red eyes, Rodin's "Thinker" with an elephant head.
Recreation. We golf, fish through ice, paint outdoors, ride bikes, do needlework, carve stuff and do obsessive crafts like transforming an ostrich egg into a multicolored Ukrainian-style ornament, or sculpting crushed coal and glue into a camera-shaped whatnot, or stacking 216 eggshells into a 3D grid in an apparent homage to Belgian conceptualist Marcel Broodthaers.
Begun in 1980 as a résumé-boosting way for artists to literally get their "foot in the door" of the state's most prominent art museum, the "Foot" show has matured into a celebration of aesthetic democracy. Staged once every 10 years, it is put on by the artist-run Minnesota Artists Exhibition Program (MAEP) and open to all state residents. The only stipulations are that the art cannot include hazardous materials and must fit inside a cubic-foot box known as "the Curator." Labels were not yet attached during a preview look, so apologies to the talents who go unidentified here.
Given the sensory overload it is seductively fun to focus on the campy weirdness. A lipsticked Jesus smoking a cigarette. The purple bra cupping two gourds, one green, the other blue. A black soccer ball with fur insets. The cast-metal teddy bear with lace-patterned body. A big snake in a small glass house. A moonscape with battery-guy climbing over sparkly rocks.
Dioramas are big this year. Besides a plastic picnic scene with bobble-head trees, there is a 3D version of dogs playing poker, a cute plein-air scene of a geezer at his easel assisted by a shaggy, brush-wielding pooch, and an ambitious homage to Magritte consisting of a little man in undies atop a boulder jutting from a turbulent sea, facing a gate beyond which stand his business coat, hat and shoes.
Or course there are shoes: spattered à la Jackson Pollock, garnished with pink flamingoes and ball fringe, and even a lovely pair of gray felted slippers with sweet pink embroidery. Plus a miniature hooked rug featuring dancing pumps.
As in any smart thrift shop, there are authentic treasures sprinkled about: beautiful ceramic teapots, glass vases, handcrafted silver necklaces, an exquisite folk-art house painted in pointillist primary colors, a handwoven silk scarf, a lovely Maxfield Parrish-style painting of a boy on a bike.
Decoy enthusiasts will spy the "Blue-winged Teal" carved from tupelo wood with painted feathers so perfect a museum staffer assumed they were real. Seed-art fans will be rightly charmed by "Bad Seed," a seed portrait of a sullen, pancake-flat face with three fang-like teeth.
The humor prize goes to Robert Fogt (he signed) for his dead-on parody of the photography of international superstar and Minneapolis resident Alec Soth. A self-portrait of Fogt in his banal living room, its content is summed up in the Sothian title: "From the Series Men in Pajamas Playing the Accordion for Disinterested Cats."
My heart went out to the conceptualists: the guy who reserved a 1-foot square of blank wall; a tin envelope holding a mysterious letter on a little shelf; the painting emblazoned with the words "I'm with stupid" and arrows pointing to the adjacent art.
There are also four white boxes, each with a red button below a word: "Yes," "Maybe," "Probably," "No." Visitors are invited to push one of the buttons. Counters inside will keep track of the votes. At the end of the show, we'll have a tally of Minnesotans' attitudes about the unspoken questions that hover over all of our lives.
Given the knowns and the unknowns and all the muddle that's life as we bumble through it, I pushed the only answer that makes sense to me: "Yes."
Mary Abbe • 612-673-4431