Rather than give you one long review, I've doubled the fun this week, with shows from each of the Twin Cities.
The subject matter of these two exhibitions seems to be disparate, but in fact they're strangely intertwined. It's all about the American landscape — both literally and metaphorically speaking.
The suburbs — it's where, they say, culture goes to die and people have kids and raise them. That may be true, but ask artist Carolyn Swiszcz, whose exhibit debuted last weekend at Highpoint Center for Printmaking in Minneapolis, and you'll discover a whole other weird world, with an uncanny quality that's more David Lynch than Thomas Kinkade, yet without any actual human beings.
Working with the motto of finding beauty anywhere, even at a strip mall or a rundown pizza parlor, Swiszcz uses an unusual watercolor monoprint technique that gives even the bleakest imagery a dazzling, shimmery brightness. The facade of Savoy Inn, a red brick building with one of those shingle-y wooden roofs, and neon signage in the window, feels like it could've been a sketch on an episode of "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood."
Swiszcz is very into facades of pizza parlors, which naturally made me want to go find a slice of delicious cheese-covered dough. No actual pizza is depicted in Swiszcz's watercolor monoprints, however. Her nighttime painting of a $5 pizza parlor, with bright lights on inside yet no cars parked outside, reminded me a bit of Mike Lynch's nocturnal Minnesota scenes. Except where Lynch is outside at odd hours and using oil paints, Swiszcz is inside, among printmaking machines under bright lights.
In truth, the subject matter is pretty bland, but her brightening techniques and fascination with the subject matter do make it light up in an oddly mundane yet dazzling Minnesota kind of way.
(Through March 24 at Highpoint Center for Printmaking, 912 W. Lake St., Mpls. 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon.-Fri., noon-4 p.m. Sat. 612-871-1326 or highpointprintmaking.org.)
There's nothing mysterious about the over-the-top depictions of our present-day political circus in this exhibition by Macalester College art professor Ruthann Godollei, which plays off a medieval motif "depicting the damned and the unrepentant swallowed by the gaping jaws of a demonic beast."
A beast-like image of President Donald Trump with flames engulfing his mouth is affixed to the side of a horse carriage filled with tiki torches — a reference to the hate march by neo-Nazis last year in Charlottesville, Va. — and pulled by outlines of elephants big and small (suggesting the Republican Party's symbol). Above the carriage, pendants hang in rows with phrases like "Welcome to Our Town: We Hid the Homeless for the Super Bowl."
An interesting tidbit: Godollei went to the Circus World Museum in Baraboo, Wis., to look more closely at antique circus imagery, which she uses elsewhere in the show. On a shelf across from the Hellmouth carriage, we see a variety of figurines, from a miniature version of the carriage to a wooden cross made of a spoon and rod, with Vice President Mike Pence's face inside the spoon. There's also a creepy Steve Bannon face on the character of Puss in Boots.
There's something a bit trite about these deranged toys. In this mess of a political moment, it's easy to blame the characters in power rather than looking at the bigger picture of how we ended up here. This exhibition sets the whole thing into flames.
(Through March 4 at Macalester's Law Warschaw Gallery, 1600 Grand Av., St. Paul. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Mon.-Wed. & Fri., 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Thu., noon-4 p.m. Sat.-Sun. 651-696-6416 or macalester.edu/gallery)