What would you do with $25,000? That’s how much each recipient of the McKnight Visual Artists Fellowship gets—unrestricted. The goal of the McKnight Artist Fellowships for Visual Artists program, administered by Minneapolis College of Art Design, “is to identify talented Minnesota visual artists whose work is of exceptional artistic merit and who are at a career stage that is beyond emerging.”
In addition to the cash award, the fellows have their work published. This year, McKnight funded a downloadable e-book and pdf of interviews with Brooklyn Rail’s Phong Bui. Location Books, a project of Scott Nedrelow and one of the current fellows, Ruben Nusz, is also publishing the 2012/13 Visual Artists fellows work later this year.
The most public and evaluative aspect of the fellowship is the group exhibition at the MCAD Gallery, which opened last Friday evening for this year’s group: Nusz, Natasha Pestich, Jim Denomie and Chris Larson. It’s an unspoken, or spoken in hushed tones, assumption that we attend this opening to see what they’ve been doing with their windfall.
Larson’s real display occurred the weekend before, during Northern Spark, when he now-infamously constructed, then set fire to, a replica of the St. Paul house architect Marcel Breuer designed for liturgical consultant Frank Kacmarcik. Breuer and Kacmarcik collaborated on the celebrated Abbey Church and concrete bell banner at St. John’s University. In the MCAD exhibition, like afterimages of the cardboard replica just prior to burning, are Larson’s black-and-white photos of its interior: shadowy, mysterious, almost visually impenetrable pictures of the unfurnished rooms’ stark angles and forbidding empty spaces.
Pestich’s conceptual project—a fictional archive of a make-believe art-school incident—combined humor and institutional critique in a collection of images, posters (each one with clearly articulated and different style of graphic design) and artifacts. The narrative behind the conceit? A group of students had built themselves into their site-specific installation, with no opening for escape. Unlike Poe’s victim in The Cask of Amontillado, they were rescued—and a portion of the cement-block wall is exhibited as “proof” of their escapade.
With all of the exhibitions—past and present—investigating artists’ concepts and examinations of “the real” (i.e., Lifelike at Walker Art Center, More Real? at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and Reviewing the Real at Weisman Art Museum) comparison is unavoidable. While Pestich exhibits one “chapter” of a larger project at MCAD, that slice doesn’t hint at the depth, relevance, imagination and interconnections present in a work like Zoe Beloff’s Dreamland: The Coney Island Psychoanalytic Society and Its Circle at the MIA.
Denomie surpasses his previous masterwork of social satire and cultural complexity, “Attack on Fort Snelling Bar and Grill,” with his fantastical The Creative Oven. The enormous work—in scale, imagery and social relevance—contains a Who’s Who of art historical figures (from Botticelli’s Venus to Picasso and Dali to Minneapolis’ own Scott Seekins), pop culture references (Mad Magazine’s Alfred E. Neuman), and Native American iconography with a twist (a warrior on horseback atop a butte-like nipple, a reclining Adam-like antelope with an impressive six-pack receiving God’s finger a la Michelangelo).
His work is always fascinating, funny, revelatory, and politically relevant: The new NRA: See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil is a triptych rendered in Denomie’s signature hallucinatory colors, and wild brisk and flat brushstrokes. But as a colleague pointed out, “You always know what you’re going to get with Jim.”
Nusz, on the other hand, is always immersed in a new intellectual undertaking. His “indirect abstractions,” a series of paintings called Like a sword that cuts, but cannot cut itself; like an eye that sees but cannot see itself, were the freshest, if most oblique, works in the show. Using photographic color correction cards to investigate intuition and algorithms, and figure/ground relationships, he positioned his canvases—which resembled a children’s color-block game on an iPad—on yellow, orange, red and kelly green painted walls.
And that, in part, is what $100,000 in fellowships produces this time around.
Related exhibition details:
2012/13 McKnight Visual Artists Fellowship exhibition is on view at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design gallery from June 14 through July 14. Featured artists: Ruben Nusz, Chris Larson, Natasha Pestich, Jim Denomie. (Illustrations above by Phong Bui, pictured L to R: Chris Larson, Jim Denomie, Natasha Pestich, Ruben Nusz)
Camille LeFevre is a Twin Cities arts journalist and dance critic.
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