Biennial exhibitions, which are theoretically open to myriad applicants, have a nasty way of spiraling out of control and including way too much. Not so the biennial now on view at the Minnetonka Center for the Arts. Superbly focused and elegantly installed, the show redefines what a biennial can be. Instead of a sprawling sampler, the Minnetonka model offers several pieces each by nine artists working in different media, subjects and styles.

While all the artists are professionals, including college art professors, their work is not especially avant-garde or experimental. Instead, each effectively represents a well-crafted version of a traditional subject or style ranging from impressionistic still lifes to landscapes both realistic and abstract.

"We wanted visitors to see a concentration, a deliberate process or an attack on an idea," said Bob Boman, the center's exhibition director, who chose the artists. "Plus it was nice to include art in media that are also being taught here."

Washed by morning sun

Korean-born Joonja Lee Mornes, for example, produces serene abstractions inspired by long grasses observed in varied light and different seasons. Her "Quietly Frost Arrived" is a meditation in taupe and blue with a welter of slender lines suggesting dried grasses tinged with early morning frost. In another painting, wavelike ribbons of pale green and gold provide a rhythmic undercurrent for the wind-rippled grasses of summer. Sun-washed morning light and blue-green evening shadows define other pieces.

Notebook-size still lifes by Kristin Grevich of Medina provide a neat contrast to Mornes' 6-foot-wide canvases. While her official subjects are oranges cuddling up to brass and copper pots, Grevich is really dealing with light, shadow and form in the manner of Old Master painters. She brings a lively brush to the task, shaping her fruits with a few deft strokes of tangerine and highlighting her gleaming kettles with flecks of ivory and yellow. There's a whiff of Cézanne in her faceted fruit, but more of Carolus Duran or Joaquin Sorolla in her deep, luscious shadows.

Mary Lingen of Backus, Minn., applies a designer's eye to landscapes of forest and prairie. Several of her paintings are composed as if they were designs for quilts or stained-glass windows, with linear trunks and branches silhouetted against multihued skies divided into irregular geometric forms. Bands of lavender shadow undulate through a stylized birch grove in "Winter 15," while the pink-toned meadow in "Prairie 3" is composed of quilt-like blocks of color.


The waxen encaustic surfaces of Silvana LaCreta Ravena's paintings dance with myriad warm tones. The Brazilian-born artist's work seems abstract but bears traces of its origins in landscape or figure studies. "The Ball," for instance, is a Kandinsky-like study of figures on a ball court, whereas the fish in two paintings almost disappear in a welter of color. Her "Rocky Mountains" landscape is an explosion of tropical colors hinting at the scene that inspired them.

Printmaker Jeremy Lund of Minneapolis used a silkscreen to produce his handsome eight-piece "Cloudwater Series." With stippled patterns of blue-black, gray and white he deftly suggests dappled water rippled by breezes, splashing waves and the reflection of passing clouds. Though grounded in observations of nature, such imagery is utterly abstract and impossible to reproduce effectively in a newspaper, but exquisite nonetheless. Dave Tilton of Madison, Wis., also creates painterly abstractions inspired by nature. Starting with photos of minimalist landscapes -- marsh and sky, water and sky -- he divides his canvases into bands of color loosely reminiscent of Mark Rothko's abstractions. Mark Pederson's little pastels of wooded bluffs and nocturnal vistas of southern Minnesota's Zumbro River essentially abandon nature for scumbled color.

Architecture figures in the work of two artists. Robert Bonawitz's plein air landscapes often incorporate an old house, industrial building or railroad track to introduce a melancholy note or nostalgic tone. His well-honed eye for the play of light is especially evident in his beautiful "This Old House," in which the purple shadows of pine trees play across the red-brick facade of a sunlit house.

Mary Griep, an art professor at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn., has devised an extraordinarily complex way of evoking the scale and nuance of ancient religious buildings, including a Norwegian stav church, a temple in Myanmar and a Turkish mosque. Her multi-panel drawings include collages, color-pencil sketches, bits of gold leaf, writing and ribbons of colored paper. She renders floor tiles and wall carvings, dragon ornamentation and fluttering flags, arches, towers, domes and doorways. Each building has been restored, modified and repurposed over the centuries, making it a palimpsest of faith and history. With their mural scale and obsessive details, Griep's vast images reimagine these extraordinary structures in modern terms.

Mary Abbe • 612-673-4431