Above: David Wyrick's "Arboreal Cube No. 1" and "Arboreal Cube No. 2" on view at NE Sculpture Gallery and Factory. Below: Curator Nathanael Flink. All photos by Alicia Eler for the Star Tribune.

High contrast is in. Opposites attract. Together a natural material and a synthetic one together make contrasting bedfellows. These differences inspired artist Nathanael Flink, curator of “Material Dichotomy,” a group exhibition that opened on Friday, Feb. 28 at NE Sculpture Gallery and Factory, a gallery and artist residency program run by former Franconia CEO John Hock.

Flink is interested in artists that incorporate two-dimensional flat elements into their three-dimensional work. In Sarah Kusa’s “Seep/Touch and Go,” the artist organizes a variety of plaster-dipped branches and other found objects across a corner of the room. David Wyrick’s “Arboreal Cube No. 1” and “Arboreal Cube No. 2” are branches sticking out of the wall, with man-made wooden cubes hanging from them. Sam Peck played the Surrealist “exquisite corpse” game, in which each collaborator adds an image to a folded paper passed around, but his was done through text message rather than by hand. The result was an image he turned into a relief print entitled “If I Had The Chance I’d Ask the World to Dance.” He used that to make the bizarre woodblock “Dancing With Myself,” a three-foot tall distorted clown-like character with one head popping out of its belly and a left leg made out of drawn intestines. Shana Kaplow's work questions the ways we interact with mass-produced objects, and Lee Noble's combine unlikely objects, such as rolls of bubble wrap and distorted cement masks to create new man-made mythologies. 

“The idea was about trying to create as many contrasts as possible,” Flink said on opening night. He expands on this in the essay he wrote for the show. “There exists a palpable aesthetic tension between varying ideas, i.e., presence and absence, heavy and light, muted and bright, old and new, gestural and geometric, organic and manufactured, grotesque and ordinary, the world of humanity in contrast to the world of nature,” he wrote.

It’s a charming show, and the seventh one at NE Sculpture Gallery and Factory, an artist residency program and exhibition space opened last spring 2019.

In August 2018, Hock left Franconia, the 43-acre sculpture park he co-founded in 1996 near Taylors Falls. The board terminated his contract because of "inappropriate conduct" toward a young female. In the wake of his departure, Hock cited the “more than 50 letters of support for me, with 90 percent of those letters from women, written to the board of directors.” 

Located on the ground-level of the Casket Arts Building in northeast Minneapolis, NE Sculpture Gallery and Factory retains some of the "big" aesthetic from Hock's Franconia. For one, a slew of larger-than-life metal sculptures, familiar to visitors from the park, lead visitors to the gallery entrance. But whereas Franconia was a wide-open park filled with life-affirming nature about an hour’s drive northeast of the Twin Cities, this one is in a former coffin-making facility turned artist studio space. There’s another dichotomy here, albeit an unintentional one.

“Material Dichotomy” closes March 14 at NE Sculpture Gallery and Factory, Casket Arts Building, 1720 NE Madison St. #14, Mpls. Free. Gallery hours Thurs., Fri., and Sat. from 12-5 p.m. ne-sculpture.org

Above: Sam Peck's "If I Had the Chance I'd Ask the World to Dance," soy-based ink relief print, and "Dancing With Myself," MDF woodblock