Remember when live music was a normal thing? When people attended concerts, had band practice without social distancing, and danced at bars maskless?
In the exhibition "Music Box," Weinstein Hammons Gallery takes a look at the visual aesthetic experience of music through more than 50 works of art, mostly photography.
The exhibit was meant to open last spring, but got pushed back because of the pandemic. Intended as a 25th anniversary celebration for the gallery, it now reads as nostalgic, almost bittersweet.
The show is a graceful mix of vintage and contemporary work, by artists both well known and obscure. Given the theme, some feel obvious. People dancing and listening to music; musicians performing; portraits of music icons; marching bands; musical instruments; even a historical photograph of Woodstock. And it wouldn't be a Minneapolis exhibition without images of Prince and First Avenue.
Despite some clusters of visually similar photographs — concerts, record covers, significant musicians — the arrangement is more like a treasure hunt. Expect some surprising finds.
Although Robert Mapplethorpe was known for his photos of nude men, his expressive black-and-white portraits of Iggy Pop, Patti Smith and Yoko Ono demonstrate what he could do with less access to the physical form.
Martin Schoeller's creepy close-up portraits make familiar icons look grotesque. The one of Prince reveals just how much gold foundation he wore. A portrait of Dolly Parton takes on new meaning in this cultural moment, with her transformation of her 1970s tune "Jolene" into "Vaccine," a message of pandemic encouragement.
A cluster of vintage photographs focusing on significant Black musicians includes Wallace Seawell's 1967 photo of "Diana Ross & the Supremes" and Bob Willouhgby's sly 1950 photo of a smiling, white tuxedo-clad Louis Armstrong reflected in a mirror hanging on the wall. Ted Russell's undated photo captures band members riding the train home after a gig. A giant horn stands upright, nearly blocking the aisle.
The more fascinating photos gently hint at music, rather than didactically expressing it.
Dawoud Bey's "A Young Boy From the Marching Band, Harlem, NY" (1977) captures the kid outside on the street, lost in thought.
Spanish artist Chema Madoz's "Untitled, 2001" puts a disco ball in place of a globe. German photographer August Sander's incredible black-and-white picture "Circus Artists" (1926-1932) documents seven motley people, some in circus uniforms with dangling gold chains and one woman wearing a long dangly pearl necklace. At the center is a record player, its needle inching toward the middle of a disc.
Gail Albert Halaban's 2012 photo "Rue du Faubourg-du-Temple, Paris-11e" captures two girls and one woman posing in the windows of an apartment. They are either embracing, or playing the harp or clarinet. Although music is a part of this photo (which was shot consensually), it's not the obvious centerpiece.
To assemble the show, gallery director Leslie Hammons reached out to other galleries, asking about music-related pieces they would be open to lending, then picking and choosing from what she found. Except for two still-life paintings with musical instruments by Italian artist Paolo Ventura, the show feels like a peek into a world full of human contact that will hopefully return.
The looseness of curation leaves something to be desired, but like wandering through a record store with cash to spend, you're bound to find something good.
@AliciaEler • 612-673-4437
Where: Weinstein Hammons Gallery, 908 W. 46th St., Mpls.
When: By appointment noon-5 p.m. Tue.-Sat. through April 10.
Info: 612-822-1722 or weinsteinhammons.com.