Sometimes art takes us on a journey. Not because we expect it to, but because it’s located in hard-to-find places.
A third-floor gallery in a university library. A hallway on the top floor of Northrop auditorium. An old commercial building near the railroad tracks in northeast Minneapolis. Two of these shows are timed to Black History Month, while the third focuses on form and technique.
‘In the Company of Others’
Den-Zill Gilliard’s graceful, gentle photo exhibition is located in the Gordon Parks Gallery at Metropolitan State University in St. Paul. It is fitting that this solo show is here, in a gallery named for a self-taught photographer, writer, composer and filmmaker who took pains to help others understand the black experience in the United States.
Organized into three themes, each on its own wall — “Sunday Best,” “Self-Portraits,” “Odyssey of the Black Boy” — Gilliard’s photography is both autobiographical and sociological, an examination of self in relation to community. It’s not surprising that Gilliard’s work has a street-style/documentary approach to it, and he’s been mentored by McKnight-winning Twin Cities photographers Wing Young Huie and Inna Valin.
Gilliard revisits the culture of the church that he grew up in, documenting several black churches in south Minneapolis. A woman dressed in a blue satin dress holds a mic to her lips, while the band behind her plays. Three dapper-looking men wearing suits and ties pose together in a church, the sign “Watch God Do It!” and a cross behind them lighting up the scene.
In his statement about the show, guest curator John Schuerman notes that Gilliard didn’t feel a sense of connection to the church as a kid, but wound up renewing some friendships, leaving the door open to the future.
Gilliard’s contemplative nature is apparent in his self-portraits, with the artist thoughtfully sitting at a typewriter in front of a window, smoking a cigar, or sitting on the banks of the Mississippi River, his back turned to the camera.
The last set of images captures kids doing kid things, like jumping railway cars, on train tracks, behind fences, some with a certain solemnness or shyness, others deep in the act of playground- hanging-out.
(11 a.m.-7 p.m. Mon.-Thu. through Feb. 21. Metro State University Library and Learning Center, 645 E. 7th St., St. Paul. metrostate.edu/arts or 651-793-1631)
‘Takeover: Morrill Hall, 1969’
On Jan. 14-15, 1969, 70 black students at the University of Minnesota occupied the school’s administrative building with demands that resulted in the beginning of the African-American Studies Department, and curriculum responding to the social movements of the time.
The show is like a neatly organized tour through the U’s social justice archives. Historical photos and old news clippings document the history of racism on campus, protests and counterprotests surrounding the Morrill Hall action, and a 1967 visit by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to the university’s St. Paul campus.
Curators Elisabeth DeGrenier, Greg Donofrio and Kevin P. Murphy do a nice job of livening up this somewhat dry yet inspiring subject matter through brightly painted orange walls and an old typewriter that visitors can use to share their feedback with present-day university officials.
(7 a.m.-10 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Sat. through December. Northrop Gallery, fourth floor, 84 SE. Church St., Mpls. Free. Northrop.umn.edu or 612-642-2345)
People are always intrigued by pictures of others, but sometimes all that face time is overrated. Eric Young, a longtime filmmaker and TV commercial director/cinematographer, inaugurates the Mpls Photo Center’s new location in northeast Minneapolis — far from its previous, more industrial space on the North Side — with peopleless photos.
While the photo center has a basement darkroom and old-school tools galore, Young uses just his handy iPhone to snap black-and-white photos that look nothing like the filters found on Instagram. “Still Moving” is a play on itself. He hitched an iPhone to a speeding car, and remotely snapped photos at crazy-high shutter speeds.
The resulting images look like stills, but many of them capture pure form. In one image, an entirely black background is broken up only by two white stems, which look like tiny sprouting plant nubs.
These photos piqued my interest. Other images, like the more obvious pictures of elevated highways, felt banal. The photographic magic happens when form itself separates from function, and in that way the technology of the camera becomes much less important.
(10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tues.-Sun. through March 30. 1828 NE. Jefferson St., Mpls. Free. 612-643-3511 or mplsphotocenter. com)