All businesses, even art galleries, need a periodic jump-start to get things hopping again. Enter the "Wintertide" biennial at Public Functionary gallery and the "Common Oasis" show at Gamut Gallery. What the shows and their young venues lack in polish, they make up for with moxie and winning charm.
"Wintertide" is bigger, more ambitious and stylishly presented in Public Functionary's handsome warehouse in northeast Minneapolis. It features just 32 pieces — paintings, photos, sculpture and mixed-media compositions — by 32 regional artists, most living in the surrounding neighborhood. They were selected from 479 pieces entered by 180 artists.
The biennial was initiated by the Cedarwoods Foundation, a Minnesota nonprofit, in collaboration with the Northeast Minneapolis Arts Association (NEMAA) and the gallery. The foundation also put up $10,500 in prize money to entice top-quality artists to compete.
The selection ranges from pure abstractions to photo-realist and slightly surrealistic paintings, from landscapes to documentary photos, and from free-form designs to obsessively detailed folk-style sculpture. It resembles a more rigorously edited mix of the best of the State Fair art show. In fact, keen observers will recognize several pieces from the fair and other metro area shows, notably Kyle Fokken's folksy "Airway to Heaven" sculpture, which adds airplane wings to a steepled church, and Dean Lucker's "Moon Hospital," an elaborate mechanical scene — complete with miniature lights and movable parts — in which three gloomy moons are being nursed and repaired in a field hospital.
The photos seem predictable and rather amateurish, considering the extraordinary strength of the Twin Cities photographic community. Even Keith Holmes' "Celebrate Northeast Parade," winner of the exhibit's $2,000 Best of Show prize, doesn't hold up well. A sallow black-and-white photo of a marching band, its most arresting feature is the bug-eyed expression of one musician among the otherwise deadpan bunch. Focusing on that figure was smart, but the print quality is indifferent.
The best is Steve Ozone's "Duck Paw," a bizarre close-up of a duck foot positioned like an albino dowager's wrinkled hand extended for a kiss. A show stopper at the State Fair, the "paw" retains its creepy sizzle. The surprise was Candy Kuehn's "Winter Wall, the Big Quiet," a romantically lit photo collage that seamlessly merges snow-shrouded streetscapes, fences, trees and night sky into an intimate scene.
The paintings are a strong mix of styles, formats and even sizes. Susan Wagner's abstraction "The Birds" is not more than 8 inches wide by 12 tall, and consists of a few black brush strokes, a slightly ragged horizontal line, and a stutter of black dots barely clearing the line. Modest in scale and minimal in means, it elegantly evokes a marsh and a distant line of birds.
Other noteworthy paintings include Brendan Kramp's "Northeast Spyhouse," a subtle perspective study of summer light shadowing a room so dark you barely notice five figures working on laptops. Lindsy Halleckson's "Silent Search, Santa Fe" captures a bower of Southwestern sunlight. And in "Sunday on the Porch" Francene Christianson deftly describes the limpid light and bonhomie among several men.
Several pieces mix media adroitly, most notably Natalia Berglund's nightmarish wall sculpture "Escape," in which 13 white 3-D hands thrust from a bristling field of gray pyramids and geometric blocks, and Mary Solberg, whose "Swim Girl" is a striking portrait of a dreamy-looking girl in a sparkly swim cap. Given the sensitivity of the drawing, the glitter seems gimmicky, but the composition is memorable.
Noon-6 p.m. Thu.-Sat. Ends Feb. 7 • Free • Public Functionary, 1400 12th Av. NE., Mpls. • 612-238-9523 •
Located across the street from the Hilton hotel in downtown Minneapolis, Gamut is a funky little space that doubles as a studio for the Slam Academy, an electronic arts "school" specializing in sound design and sonic media. The gallery is run by Jade Patrick and the academy by her husband, James Patrick, who are also parents of 2 ½-year-old twins.
Obviously a labor of love, the gallery has a coterie of eight to 10 people who help keep things running. "The lead installer is a construction worker all day and he works the drill really well," said Jade Patrick. Her background is in economics, "but my passion is film and video."
The current show, "Common Oasis," is a sweet display of little gouache paintings by Krista Braam and a shrine-like installation of yarn, candles, mirrors and Mason jars by Rachel Andrzejewski. Filled with flowers, trees, dancing sprites and a winsome lamb, Braam's paintings radiate beguiling innocence. Andrzejewski offers spiritual comfort in the form of prayer flags, little printed symbols (bunnies, roses, carp) and reassuring advice scrawled above impromptu shrines.
In a cynical age, their improbable oasis seems at once hapless and so sincerely optimistic that visiting it felt like a benediction.
2-6 p.m. Thu. & Sat. through Feb. 21 • Free • Gamut Gallery, 1006 Marquette Av., Mpls. • 612-293-6497 •
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