The year in MN Art - staffers pick their "best of" 2011
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The year in MN Art - staffers pick their "best of" 2011

As is traditional at this annual juncture, we recently posted an idiosyncratic assortment of last year’s notable moments in the state’s arts scene, as selected by some of our favorite regular contributors to If you missed it, you can find those observations here. And, as promised, we proud, few staffers of offer our own “best of” picks below.



Northern Spark Festival: Developed by Northern Lights (Steve Deitz), the first Northern Spark festival animated the city from dusk to dawn with artist projects, activities and sleepy throngs of people traveling through the city streets between Minneapolis and St. Paul.  There was something magical about 10K+ people packed along the Stone Arch Bridge colliding with the Chris Kallmyer directed community band to kick off the evening, the lines outside Foshay Tower to hear a sound installation on the observation deck, and small groups of writers huddled around a picnic table at 4am telling bedtime stories.

Sticks/Stones: New Paintings by Ruben Nusz at Thomas Barry fine arts: This is an amazing painting exhibition, and it does for me what the best exhibitions always do — as a painter myself, it makes me mad that the work’s just so good, and then itchy to get to work in the studio.  Inspirational.

Carolyn Swiszcz, Binocular City at Bethel College, Mall Map Project at MIA and Miyako Yoshinaga Art Prospects:  This was an excellent year of projects by one of my favorite local artists.

P.O.S. at SXSW: The Doomtree Blowout in December was a key moment, for both the collective and the local music scenes, but the memory that will stay with me, personally, is P.O.S. and Paper Tiger playing the SXSW conference to a room of, maybe, 20 people.  They delivered a playful, professional performance to our small group, like they were playing to an audience of 2000. It was a privilege to be one of those present.

Rural America Contemporary Art (RACA) group formed by Brian Frink and others has infused an energy, voice and organization to the strong contemporary art scene in outstate Minnesota.  It will be very interesting to see where they go from here.

My wishes for the new year:

  • The continuation of projects that engage the community in subtle and unexpected ways such as the Little Free Library Project and Reading Room.
  • That more people will find time to travel to sites and events outside the metro area to support programs happening throughout the state.
  • My personally selfish one…. that will have a very productive and invigorating year redesigning the new website.



SPCO & Cantus premiere of Nico Muhly’s Luminous Body: the music was spectacular, and I’m just so proud that we have two internationally acclaimed classical groups who use their success not only to play, but to commission new work from exciting young composers.

Most entirely fabulous theatrical experience: Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutte by Minnesota Opera, directed by Theater Latte Da’s Peter Rothstein was gorgeous in every way, from the sumptuous costumes and ingenious, spare set design to the ensemble’s soaring vocal performances.

Nautilus Music-Theater’s Joan of Arc, an intimate production featuring the hugely talented Jennifer Baldwin Peden, is wise and moving and beautifully performed from beginning to end; one of the most memorable shows I’ve seen all year — and that’s no small praise, as I’m a hard sell for musical theater.

Merce Cunningham Dance Company’s swan song at the Walker, a greatest-hits assortment from the storied company’s repertoire, was strange and lovely and witty, and still fresh even after all these years.

The opening of Air Sweet Air in Lowertown: with so many independent, owner-operated galleries scaling back and closing down since the economic downturn, Cheryl Wilgren Clyne’s new venture in Lowertown St. Paul deserves a shout-out both for bold entrepreneurial vision and dogged optimism.

The most ambitious, instantly beloved community art project last year was, without question, Northern Spark’s Nuit Blanche

My wishes for the New Year:

  • That any artist wanting to make work should have the tools, time, space, resources and sheer determination to do so, and then, upon completion, that they may find the right audience to appreciate what they’ve made.
  • For myself, my hope is that my kids are able to do something with their hands every day, and that I remember to have the patience to let them make messes in the doing; that we all see at least one thing daily that surprises and delights us.



I always have trouble looking back and recalling superlative moments throughout each passing year. It’s not that nothing notable happened in 2011  – quite the opposite!  It’s just that information arrives and departs so quickly, it’s easy to make note of what’s happening right now, but maybe not so easy to take stock of what’s already happened (thanks, Twitter!).

Best exhibition I didn’t see: Tony Tasset: Life During Wartime The worst part about living in such a vibrant arts community is you just can’t get to it all.  This means I missed a gigantic show – one of the artist’s largest exhibitions to date and featuring a range of work including sculpture, photography, video, installation.  Tony Tasset’s work is, while conceptually founded, very approachable, fun, and often cynical. Picture a giant rainbow monster in the same room as a hyper-realistic skeletal chandelier. Or take a peak for yourself:

Most fun I’ve had at an art opening: hot 3-way action – This may be an insular selection, but one of my favorite gallery moments of the year was at the opening and closing receptions for Scott Stulen, Bruce Tapola, and Erik Ullanderson’s three-person show at Soo Visual Art Center.  With hair-metal blasting, PBR-laden sculpture, rock-god portraits and underwear hanging from the ceiling, SOO’s white walls transformed into a neon tour bus, vandalized by angsty teenagers with art-theoretical backgrounds.  No back-stage passes required.

Show(s) that blew me away: Doomtree/MarijuanaDeathsquads – 2011 was the year of Doomtree!  New CD. First Ave takeover.  All over the place! Love it!  I was fortunate enough to see our local heroes tear it up at the Mohawk during SXSW along with Marijuana Deathsquads, who can blow minds in Austin, along the river, or in the lobby of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.

Art space I wish I could always hang out at: Faux Poco – Hats off to Luci Kandler and Miles Mendenhall for the launching Faux Poco, a collective artists’ space with ample screenprinting facilities and a wood shop located in St. Paul. Affordable membership to access facilities meant that I was able to roll up my sleeves and tackle a screenprinting project that I otherwise wouldn’t have been able to produce on my own.  Thanks, guys – I will be back!

My wishes for the new year:

I hope that 2012 is a year with less complaining, hesitancy, and moustaches, and is a year with more gratitude, moxie, and painting shows.  My favorite piece of advice to artists in the coming year could be summed up in an Anthony Burrill poster: ‘Work hard and be nice to people.’  But that should go without saying, because it’s Minnesota.



My (obviously biased) 5 “Bests” of 2011:

Best Overall Arts Event: Field Trip, duh. I mean, have you been to Silverwood Park? It’s unreal on it’s own, but add in a day of family friendly fun-arts-nature programming and you’ve got pure gold. Runner-up: Monster Drawing Rally

Best Non-Walker Museum Exhibition: Wide-Eyed: Panoramic Photographs at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. Did you know panoramic photos can, by definition, be vertical?! This is one of my favorite shows of all time at the MIA, and what a lovely last hurrah for Photography and New Media Curator Christian Peterson.

Most Impressive and Satisfying Architecture/Design Feat: Frank Gehry’s Winton Guest House opens to the public after its 110-mile move from Lake Minnetonka to Owatonna. Yes, I worked on the exhibition about the house that is now up inside, but I still think it’s a pretty big deal in general:

Best/Quirkiest Fashion Event: RetroRama at the Minnesota History Center.  This year’s fashion show featured local designs inspired by the history of underwear – it doesn’t get much more exciting than that, especially for a historical society!

Most Magical/Appealing Public Art Installation: Scattered Light.

My (equally biased) wishes for 2012:

  • That the Walker Art Center/Open Field will support and host the “YouTube Cat Video Film Festival” that I’m currently curating in my free time.


We’ve shown you ours, now show us yours. Share your own high points from 2011 in Minnesota arts and culture in the comments.

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