It's that time of year again, when people flood the Minnesota State Fairgrounds in search of fun, food and air-conditioned spaces because of record-breaking heat.

At the fair's annual art exhibition, expect to see a little of everything. A painting of someone's beloved cow, a paper quilling of a woman walking alongside a lion, and a bulldog sculpture made entirely of screws, hooks and nails are just some of the works you'll find.

This year the art show received 2,650 submissions, about 100 fewer than the record-breaking submission numbers in 2019.

Photographer Nathan Viste-Ross, who won a blue ribbon for his work at the 2010 show, has been visiting the State Fair's Fine Arts Exhibition since 1985. For him, the fair art show is different from the other art openings he goes to because everyone has work up, from famous professionals to hobbyists.

"Our jobs are why we live or how we live, but art is why we live," he said. "I've talked with farmers [at the fair] who said, 'This is what's really important in life.'

"There's an extraordinary range of them — the most surprising thing is how good the work of people who are just doing it because they love it [is]," he added.

As usual, photography submissions came in at the highest volume, with 951 entries and only 109 accepted. Photography judge Kristine Heykants, a digital media artist, said she was interested in work that "presents a unique perspective on life in Minnesota. The State Fair is also unique because it's just one picture. It's different than other shows where you're perhaps looking at a body of work from a particular photographer, or an artist and one or two pieces. … The image needs to stand on its own."

Here's our roundup of the top 10 artworks to see at the Minnesota State Fair art exhibition.

"Mad Scientist Nightlight" by Blair Harrington (Rochester)

Mysterious green liquid, clear tubes and rugged worn pipes make up this contraption that looks like it came right out of Frankenstein's lab. Imagine if this were your only light at night when you had to go to the bathroom at 4 a.m.

"The Soul Sees" by Nikki Besser (Mitpah)

Self-taught artist Besser's highly skilled paper quill artwork of an elderly woman walking with a stick, two flying doves and a loyal lion looks like a painting from afar, but get closer and you'll see that everything is made of tiny strips of paper.

"Laura" by Howard Bolter (Edina)

Hyper-realistic attention to detail makes Bolter's drawing of a woman stand out among the others.

"Weston" by Tim Gruber (Minneapolis)

There's a spiritual essence to this photograph of a boy in a full black wetsuit, standing on the shore of a snowy lake, holding a paddleboard. Did he try to go boarding and fall in the water? Or is he just posing for this off-season picture? He looks out into the distance while thick flakes fall. Stare at the picture and keep on wondering what really happened.

"Bulldog" by Brian Berle (Shakopee)

A sculpture made entirely out of welded metal parts looks like a bulldog, which is what it claims to be. Woah.

"Covenant" by Sarah Sampedro (Minneapolis)

From afar this looks like a stack of office paper, but it's actually a pillar-like pile made entirely of racially restrictive real estate contracts, a deeper look into Minnesota's history of redlining.

"Purr-fect Pitch" by Lauren Gagner (Minneapolis)

Cat lovers, rejoice! Gagner captured a cat standing on its hind legs in a weirdly anthropomorphic fashion, lecturing to other kitties.

"Eastside Market" by Chholing Taha (Anoka)

Taha's highly detailed, graphic novel-esque print of the Eastside Market transports visitors to it, from jagged signage letters to the leaf-bare branches in the background.

"100 Star Wars Action Figures," by Geoff Haas (St. Paul)

This obsessive, geeky painting falls somewhere between fandom and fine art, because each figure is painted ever so finely. Find R2-D2 if you can!

"The Medium Is the Message" by Brighton McCormick (Minneapolis)

Taking inspiration from Canadian theorist Marshall McLuhan's phrase, which suggests that the medium in which the message is transmitted determines how the message is perceived, this cast bronze and forged copper rotary phone reminds people of how much technology has changed us.


Minnesota State Fair Fine Arts Center

Where: 1265 N. Snelling Av., Falcon Heights.

Hours: 9 a.m.-9 p.m., 9 a.m.-8 p.m. on Sept. 4.

Ends: Sept. 4.

Cost: $16-$18, kids under 4 admitted free. Art show free with fair admission.