Monday, November 2, 2020

Foot In The Door 5 at MIA - AKA My Mom's Museum Debut!

I could not be more thrilled to announce the opening of my Mom's first museum showing in the Foot In The Door 5 exhibit held every ten years at the Minneapolis Institute of Art! The idea is that once a decade, MIA opens its doors to artists from the area, with the only criteria being that their work must fit within one square foot. This year's extravaganza of paintings, photography, drawings, prints, mixed media, sculpture, and textiles has to be held virtually due to Covid, which is a big drag, but super cool nonetheless that my Mom is in her first museum show at age 80! 

To know Marilyn Gronner is to love her, and no one knows her or loves her better than me. This is because yes, she's my Mom, but also because I have seen her work so hard and sacrifice her entire life - always with grace, always with an eye toward helping others, and always with a smile on her face. She was a music and art double major at Augsburg College (our whole family's alma mater), and was (is!) a beautiful painter and musician (trumpet, piano, and pipe organ!). She met my Dad, got married, had three kids, and figured she'd raise us and work on her art and that would be her perfectly happy life. 

The world doesn't always work out for you like you think it's going to, sadly. My Dad died of cancer at 33, and left Mom alone with three kids to raise. Painting and music were pushed to the back burners, as Mom focused her full attention on us, doing any and all creative jobs she could to keep us fed, clothed in what all the other kids were wearing, and with a happy enough childhood to not really notice it was different from most of our friends' families. But best believe that our graceful swan of a Mother was scrambling her legs hard and fast under the surface to make sure we all stayed afloat. And we always have.

Years passed, I moved away, always encouraging Mom to pick up her paints again, but never really seeing it happen. Last year I came back home to help Mom after she tragically lost one of her scrambling legs due to a vicious infection. She moved into an assisted living facility, where we thought she could finally return to her passion for painting. That didn't happen, because their big activities were like Bingo and junk like that, and Mom was miserable in there. That was not going to be the rest of her life on my watch. 

We got Mom out of the awful home just in time, about a month before the world began to lock down for Covid, and we would not have even been able to visit her! Once home, I was going to make sure that Mom's life was happy and creative again, and we went out and got her some tiny canvases to get to work on, thinking that the smaller sizes would be less intimidating for her to complete. I had never even heard of the Foot In The Door exhibits at MIA in the past, and then I saw an announcement for it in City Pages one day (RIP, City Pages!). The art had to be fit within one square foot, and here Mom was working in exactly that size and smaller!

I secretly submitted my favorite of Mom's new pieces, Peace of Wood Lake, because Wood Lake means so much to me, she had painted it as as gift to me for springing her from the dreadful prison of a nursing home, and because I thought it was the best of her recent work. I waited about a month, and then received the happy news that Mom's work had been accepted, and she would be in her first museum show at 80 years old! I literally jumped up and down all over the house when I heard, and Mom just laughed at me, not really getting the big deal of it, but happy to see me so happy for her. 

I could not be prouder of this lady, truly. Her attitude on life has always been so positive ... but this is the woman who told the doctors that she'd like to walk into her surgery to remove her leg on her own two feet one last time - and she did. The strength that took (and the pain she must have felt!) has been an inspiration not just to her kids, who adore her unconditionally, but to people the world over. This is the woman who did not want to spend the rest of her life in a wheelchair watching daytime t.v. - she wanted to return to her creative life, and be better than she ever had been before. She has a new enthusiasm for her work, which had been dormant for decades, and this has been rewarded by having her first new piece of art accepted into a show at an internationally renowned museum, that also happens to be one of my favorites anywhere (especially this last year with their groundbreaking show like Hearts Of Our People and When Home Won't Let You Stay, plus Ai Wei Wei's awesome installation last winter!). My Mom is in MIA!!! How extra cool is that?!?!

Please attend Foot In The Door 5 online, and don't forget to click on the little heart next to my Mom's work as one that you love, as we continue to encourage her to keep it all up! I wish we could really see it on the walls of the actual museum ... but we're going to aim for Foot In The Door 6 for that! Thank you to all involved for giving my Mom the recognition and encouragement she has earned through her lifetime, and for giving her the opportunity to show her work. This proves that you are never too old to be doing something you love, and that doors will always open to you when you follow your heart and your deepest passions. She would also like you to know that she's accepting commissions! That's right.

Congratulations on your Museum debut, dear Mom! Wow. 

Foot In The Door 5 is virtually on display now through January 10, 2021 HERE! 


Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Designs For Different Futures at The Walker Art Center - Anything Is Possible

My two favorite social distancing activities are nature and art, and luckily, there are ample opportunities to partake in both here in The Twin Cities, where I have been riding out the pandemic. The Walker Art Center has put up a new exhibition called Designs For Different Futures, that is an especially great show for these times, as we have to figure out new solutions for going forward in this world. Have. To.

The artists at The Walker are full of good design ideas, so many that I dared to start having a little bit of hope for the future again. There was a disembodied female voice from future narrating things in the background, lending it all a bit of a 2001: A Space Odyssey vibe. In fact, the first piece we saw even looked like a little spaceship (there were little projections inside).

In these Covid times, it makes a lot of sense to have a graphic on the floor instructing one how to assess the risk of a handshake. Comical, but also deadly serious - especially when there's a jackass president who lies about the risks. K, moving on ... 

I was very excited to see the Svalbard Global Seed Vault model on display, as I've been following this project since its inception in 2008. Designed by Architect, Peter W. Soderman, the Svalbard Seed Vault houses seeds from around the world deep in a massive, futuristic space deep within a fjord. 

The vault is like a giant seed library, with countries sending inn their native seeds in the event that a natural or man-made disaster would render a crop extinct ... they've now got backup here in Norway. (Of course, they thought it was invincible, but the vault has already been breached due to the ongoing Climage Crisis. Please CARE!!!) It's all pretty smart. Pretty cool.

One of the things I LOVED, but that you can't really see is the Future Library, 2014-2114 by Katie Paterson. Norway has a lot of cool things going on, because Paterson's library is there too. She planted 1,000 spruce saplings outside of Oslo. In 100 years, they will be felled to make paper to print books that are being written for the library, one per year by 100 different authors ... and most of us will not be around to read them (Frankly, I'll be surprised if anyone is around due to the Climate Crisis that we're really doing nothing of consequence about, very sadly). The first new book is by Margaret Atwood, of The Handmaid's Tale fame, sending her manuscript off into the future. I'm madly in love with this idea ... and trying to figure out how to read any of them!


Perspire, 2018 by Alice Potts shows ballet slippers soaked in human sweat that has crystallized and been dyed with red cabbage. Crazy. This is an attempt to show how in the future our accessories and clothing will be highly personalized ... or something like that. It looked cool. 

Looking even cooler was my favorite part of this exhibit, which was a series of dresses made from either 3D Printing or seaweed ... all materials that will definitely be in play going forward in our world, as our current fashion practices are simply not sustainable. My very favorite piece in the entire show (that opens this story above) was the show-stopping Syntopia Finale Dress, 2018 by Iris van Herpen. Vogue described van Herpen as "Fashion's chief scientist and perhaps also its leading futurist," and that surely shows in this jaw-dropping creation. It says that she based the pattern for the laser-cute stainless steel and black silk dress on the soundwaves of birds in flight, and that's all I had to hear. LOVE IT WITH MY WHOLE HEART. And want to wear it so bad. To something. Anything. Cheers to you, Iris van Herpen! 

Also spectacular, though much more earthy, is the Kombukamui Dress, 2018 by Julie Lohmann - made from seaweed and rattan! She liked how seaweed gets big and leathery when wet, and a totally different character when it dries ... and sees seaweed as a ton of design possibilities for the future. 

There was a really cool piece called In Plain Sight, 2018 that tracked the use of electricity around the world ... and how inequality around the globe affects peoples' access to it. The number one thing people need more of today is empathy. All the bad things happening now would be so much better if people could only find their empathy. This screen really drove that home to me yet again. 

There was an enormous bulbous sphere in that same room called Another Generosity, 2018 that changed colors and kind of seemed to breathe. It's filled with water and air (the main - highly endangered - elements of life on Earth, that reacts to tiny changes in its environment - much like our real Earth does, and why we need to be so  much more gentle with it. Please. 

I can't remember what this went with or who did it, but I agree with pretty much every statement within:


There was a Republic of Estonia e-Residency Kit, 2014 by the Republic of Estonia. In 2014, the little country introduced the concept of e-Residency, offering anyone the opportunity to be an e-resident. It doesn't grant tax residency or citizenship, but it does let you conduct business and use their public services, etc. Borders fall away (all man-made anyway, so I don't really believe in them), enabling a free flow of ideas and resources. Pretty cool. 

Similarly, Infinite Passports, 2014-2017 by Giuditta Vendrame and Fiona du Mesnildot proposes a system where members could exchange passports temporarily, as well as their geopolitical status. This would allow people to migrate about freely without permission from any government. I'm down with that.


The Handmaid's Tale red gown featured prominently in the middle of the gallery suggested an eerie future - especially if this joke of a Supreme Court nominee gets confirmed. It's about design for the future ... but I don't want any part of that kind of future - and it's up to all of us to prevent it. I feel sick just thinking about it  ... 

There was an area devoted to accessibility in the future, featuring the PhoeniX Exoskeleton, 2011-2017 by Homayoon Kazerooni. It's designed to give people with mobility disabilities and spinal cord injuries the ability to walk on their own. Activist Ace Ratcliff was quoted about it, saying, "A utopia is not a world where disability is a problem that's been solved; rather, it's an inevitable expression of genetic variance, and disabled humans are not just welcomed, but fully included." Now ... that's a great statement, but the irony was that my Mom and I got stuck in the tiny closet of a handicapped lift that brings you to this level, for like 15 long minutes, as the staff scrambled to get us out. It was broken, and we couldn't get out, so had to go back up to get out there (Thank God). Mom was therefore unable to access this level of the museum and was never able to see these works that were really interesting for her, having lost her leg and being disabled herself. I'm thinking the Walker should maybe invite her back for free now ... because she didn't get to see this cool prosthetic leg of the future! 

Stance, 2016 by Leslie Speer, Anthony Ta, Brendan Ngo, and Darren Manuel was made from saddle leather, fiberglass, skateboard deck (!), maple veneer, and silicon. It can be adapted to the growth of its user over time (COOL - because we just came from another leg fitting for Mom and it's a major hassle!). It uses regional materials, so its parts can be customized and assembled locally for less than $40! That would also be cool as Mom's new one will be upwards of $1,800 - that insurance will not pay. UNBELIEVABLE still how bad our country's healthcare system is, It really is, and must be reformed. Moving on ... 


... to Stranger Visions, 2012-2013 by Heather Dewey-Hagborg. This work addresses genetic surveillance and the ethics of accessing another person's genetic information without their knowledge. Dewey-Hagborg collected chewed up chewing gum from around New York City, and worked with a lab to extract the DNA. In a process called "Phenotyping", she took their genetic information to make portraits of what the person who chewed the gum most likely looked like. TRIPPY. It was very Game Of Thrones Man with No Face-y. 

There was so much to see, and you'll want to see it, as I've included very little of the entire show here. There are other great exhibits happening at The Walker now as well, like Don't Let This Be Easy, celebrating the work of women artists and feminism (The Walker does a great job of being socially timely). All of the works were great, but I was really struck by this file cabinet with shirts in it, saying things like, "One of the ways people hurt me is ...". Please just trust me that you want to see this whole room for yourself. 

You have to love the Selection from Don't Look Back, 1999 by Fiona Banner from the permanent collection. Banner has screenprinted transcripts from the classic Bob Dylan documentary, and it's great as a whole ... 

... and then fun to zoom in on to remember that part of the movie and how cool it was. Is. Again, there is SO much to see and our time was running out, so I urge you to go and explore for yourselves, as it's a really good social distancing activity, as we crossed paths with very few other people in the galleries. 

Racing by a few walls from the permanent collection, I was delighted to see a piece (I Got A Job To Do, 2003) from our Venice, California friend (and Cali Loco!) Llyn Foulkes! That made my heart happy, as I've been missing Venice SO much, and it's nice to see a little part of it even here in the North. 

There is also an exhibit of Jasper Johns prints from 1960-2018. Our favorite from An Art Of Changes was his Flags, 1965. It had one of those optical illusion games, where you stare at the white dot on the flag for 15 seconds and then look at the plain gray panel and you can still see the flag there in your tripping out retinas. 

That coolness was a great finale for our wonderful day at The Walker. It gave us a lot to think about as we go forward in this world, and it was a little reassuring that there are such smart, creative, talented people hard at work around the globe making designs for all of the different future possibilities we may face.

I've said it many times before, but art that makes you stop and think about ways to make our current world better is the very best kind. And this show is full of that. Please go, please think, and please enjoy! 

Walker Art Center 

Designs For Different Futures

September 12, 2020 - April 11, 2021 

Monday, September 28, 2020

The Grand Opening Of Franconia Commons at Franconia Sculpture Park - Hooray For Sculpture!

One of our favorite field trips last year was to visit the Franconia Sculpture Park near Taylor's Falls, Minnesota. It was a super cool day, full of discovery and awe. Franconia seems to have their mitts in a lot of things, because I saw installations by them at the Art Shanties on Lake Harriet this past winter, and just recently saw one of their sculptures by Lake Nokomis. I read that they were having a grand opening of their new "Commons" building this last Saturday, so off we went on our fall color drive. 

The scenery was spectacular on the drive up, with us oohing and ahhing the entire way at all of the red, orange, and gold leaves we were seeing. It was awesome. We took it slow, so we wound up getting to Franconia in the later afternoon, just in time for their ribbon-cutting and speeches for the new facility. 

Now, LAST year Franconia couldn't have been more accommodating with our party, which included my recently disabled Mom. They hooked us up with a golf cart, and we were able to speed Mom around and right up to all of the sculptures positioned around the vast acreage of the park. THIS year - and maybe it was because of the Commons hoopla, but still - not a single staff member or volunteer offered to help us, and really couldn't be bothered to care. They could all see me struggling to push Mom's wheelchair through the ankle-deep gravel that the trails are created from, and we were going nowhere fast. And I was getting mad, looking at all the empty golf carts. 

Mom saw me fuming, and told me to leave her and go off and look at things, because she's cool like that. But she shouldn't have to be. A lot of the work was the same as last year, so I darted around quickly to see anything that I thought looked new, so I could take a photo of it and go back and show Mom on my phone (lame). I saw the wooden woven basket one that we saw last year, but it looked so pretty with the autumn leaves that it gets to make another appearance. 

There was a kind of Mad Max looking monster out of metal nearby ... not my thing, but it looked cool and hard to make. 

The grounds are VAST (which is why there should be readily available and free golf carts for the disabled), and that's part of the coolness of it. You never know what will be around the next corner. Probably my favorite of the new work that I saw was The Compact, 2019 by Eliza Evans. It was three female forms made out of concrete, and meant to "examine the compression of individual agency over millenia and our more contemporary assent to the myriad ways we are surveilled, measured, and archived." O.K. It's rare that I see all of what a sculptor says is there or that I really get what they mean visually as compared to what they say it means ... but I'm always up for it. Women Power. 

What's Inside, 2019 by Gabrielle Raye Cordes was a blue blob (a body organ?) that "informs relationships between architecture and the body, and the similarities between the two." There are windows, but not doors, as you're not meant to enter. It would be like going up someone's nose. During a time when one's personal space is particularly important, this one's subject matter resonated a bit more clearly.

An outdoor basketball court on the grass was really Dirtball, 2019 by Kosmologym. As you dribble the ball, you break apart and release minerals into the ground, that helps the soil flourish.

As the soil gets richer, it's better able to pull carbon dioxide from the air and reduce global warming! We actually NEED this sculpture! Sculpture with a meaningful purpose is my favorite kind of sculpture. 

I love a bird house, and there was a Vegas hotel sized bird house there in the middle of the prairie, that looked to have very few vacancies - even during Covid.


Betsy Alwin of St. Paul, MN created the sculpture titled Vaticinium Ex Eventu which translates to "A prophecy for an event after the fact." The placard said that this concrete and rebar structure indicate the beauty and the chaos inherent in our human condition. I looked at it, and again said, "O.K.", shrugged, and moved along. It would be cool to tour Franconia with the artists sometime, because the explanations on the placards are always a little bit too precious for me, and I want to hear the real nitty-gritty of what they meant. I'll look into it. 

Pollinator Rhyton, Agave, and Bats, 2020 by Rachel Frank based on an ancient offering vessel, and like Dirtball, it points out the art's connection to the natural world. Its focus is on the relationship between the agave plant and its pollination by bats - and also its relationship within the park and all the wildflowers and grasses that surround it. Now, that is pretty easy to wrap my head around, and a welcome new addition to Franconia. 

Mark di  Suvero of NYC showed his Gorky's Pillow, 1987 - a creation of painted steel. di Suvero is a lifelong activist for peace and social justice, and created the Socrates Sculpture Park on a landfill in NY's East River ... but the placard offered no explanation for this particular piece of his. I just thought it looked cool - and if it has a hidden social justice meaning - even better. 

There was a newly constructed (I could smell the wood) little open shed to sit in and reflect that was lovely ... but I didn't want to live Mom sitting by herself for very long, so I just did the Griswold nod and  headed back to her. 

By now, Mom really needed to use the restroom. The only restrooms are inside the new Commons building, and they weren't letting anyone in until after 4:00 pm to give tours of the new space. There are zero other restroom options, not even PortaPotties anywhere. As it was just after 3:00, we were not waiting until after 4:00. Several people wearing laminates told us we'd have to wait - the same people who saw me struggling with the wheelchair in the gravel that told me I'd have to wait until after 4:00 to get a golf cart - as they sat there idle. Well, I absolutely wasn't having it, and pushed Mom right through the doors and straight to the bathroom. And guess what?! No one died from us going in! The tours went on! Whoever needed to still got to feel exclusive! It's really just a gift shop and a tiny gallery room, so I'm not sure why the tours were taking so long, but whatever. 

I LOVE Franconia's art ... but this experience left me feeling that the staff is a bit wanting. Like, would they rather clean up after someone's accident than let someone in to use the only bathroom? Like, would it have ruined anyone's day to let us use a golf cart that wasn't being used by anyone else? Was it fun to watch someone nearly horizontal from trying to push a heavy wheelchair through thick gravel up a hill and not offer any solution? Mom and I were both a bit aghast - she to the point of asking to skip Franconia next time and just go look at the surrounding nature, which she prefers anyway. I get that they had a lot going on that day, but to ignore and unapologetically deny a person with disabilities is not a good look. K, there. That's off my chest. 

*And Congratulations on your new Commons, Franconia! Just remember that there's some things that are still important during little ceremonies. Thanks.

I hope you will visit the magic of Franconia soon yourselves ... but maybe call ahead if you're bringing someone handicapped to make sure they'll accommodate you - because this was a total bust for my Mom. But "Start Seeing Sculpture!" for sure. 

Franconia Sculpture Park

29836 St. Croix Trail North

Shafer, MN 55074

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

The Labor We Wear And The Enduring Soul At MIA - Art To Make You Think

The Minneapolis Institute of Art was my last real outing before the Covid quarantine lockdown began last Spring, when I was super impressed with the immigration exhibit, When Home Won't Let You Stay. Well, MIA is back open, and back with another excellent, eye opening exhibit called The Labor We Wear, by artist Rachel Breen. 

The show serves to bring attention to the relationship between garment labor workers and the fashion that we wear - and very much take for granted. 

My Mom is both an artist and a seamstress (her day job most of her life), so this was a perfect show to bring her to, and the perfect situation to get her out of the house for. MIA is great for social distancing, we barely saw another soul the whole afternoon. You must have a reservation at a given time slot, you must wear a mask, and it all felt very safe - plus the art is great! 

The show is a couple of rooms, both festooned with large-scale installations of parts of clothing. You never think about button plackets, but you do when there's an entire wall of them.

Sleeves took up another whole wall, and were accompanied by stories of historical disasters in both Bangladesh and New York City that killed thousands of garment workers trapped by fire. 

It's awful to think about, especially when you realize that those workers were being paid pennies so that you could go get a cheap, disposable shirt - that in turn poisons the environment. 

We've sure got a lot of work to do in this world to make it better for everyone ...

The toll that the garment industry takes on both humans and the environment is something that we really have to figure out. I LOVE clothes, and I definitely share in the blame of participating in throw-away fashion, and am actively trying to be better about my shopping choices. Thrifting, upcycling, clothing swaps, donating, and investing in pieces that can stand the test of time are a few of the ways we can do better by our global citizens and planet. We can always be better. 

MIA has a massive collection of art, and there is a lot to cover. We had also booked a time slot at the Walker Art Center on this Art Day, so we couldn't fully dig into all that MIA has to offer, but we did get to check out another great show currently on display at MIA - The Enduring Soul. This exhibit by African and African American artists shows the relationship between ancestors and the living, and between the seen and the unseen.

With all that has been going on in Minneapolis this year in the name of racial equality and social justice, this show also couldn't be better suited or timed for the moment. MIA impressing yet again. Carrying on with the fabric theme, The Enduring Soul opens with a huge piece called Carousel Merge, 1971 by Sam Gilliam. Its drapes and flexibility suggests the improvisation of jazz, a major influence on African American artists of the time. Hep! 

We loved Soundsuit, 2010 by Nick Cave (not the musician). The soundsuit is meant to create a protective layer for the wearer, to protect them from prejudice. Though they look like a lot of fun, with jack-in-the-boxes and other kid noisemakers, the intent behind it is actually quite dark - and shows yet another example of how we all can and must do better for our fellow world citizens.

Thank You Jesus for Paul Robeson (and for Nicholas Murray's Photograph - 1926, 1995 by Emma Amos examines the Black body as a source of power and beauty. A gorgeous piece, that draws inspiration from the Civil Rights struggle that we are still very much actively fighting. 

Kevin Beasley's Queen of the Night, 2018 was a multi-media sculpture of the sort I love - the description said, "Housedresses, kaftans, do-rags, Tshirts, CDs, hair rollers, clothespins, hair extensions (tumble weave), fake gold dookie chain, resin" - all serving to conjure up images of the strong Black females in the artist's life. It also references the "Burney Relief", a clay relief from ancient Babylonia - only that nude, winged goddess did not get to have a halo made out of cds. 

Kwame Brathwaite showed his awesome Untitled (Black Is Beautiful Poster from 1970), 1970 (printed 2018), and the photos backed up the statement they created. Beautifully.

An Egungun ceremonial outfit, 1930-1950 by a Yoruba artist hung from the ceiling, with its multiple strands of fibers symbolizing strands of DNA as it serves as a manifestation to their ancestors. Cool.

African Americans have been through so much in this country - and it continues to this hour. There is nothing we can do to make it up to them, not even reparations would make a dent in the collective trauma inflicted on this entire race of people for the entirety of this nation's history. But we can start trying. We can celebrate their art, their traditions, and their very lives - because they MATTER. SO MUCH. It's heartbreaking to think that we are still having to take to the streets to demand racial equality at this stage of our history - but here we are. And we won't stop. Crossroads Marker with Little Hand, Reaching, 2015 by Renée Stout reminds us of the slave passage, and the voyages to this country that began in chains. Watching the nightly news reminds us that these chains are still unbroken - and it's up to all of us to destroy them together. Heavy ... but necessary to confront. NOW.

Mom is a fan of the classics, and we had about 20 minutes to run upstairs and see some of her old favorites, like Olive Trees, 1889 by Vincent van Gogh ...

... and a beautiful Tahitian Landscape, 1891 by Paul Gaugin.

There was so much more to see, and I made a solemn promise to Mom that we would return on a gloomy day to take it all in, but we had to get to the Walker for our next art time slot! Art Day! I love MIA, and I love that they have been bringing such great, thought provoking art to the People - for free - and doing such a great job of having IMPORTANT shows, not just fluff for the masses. I truly appreciate it, and I know I'm not alone. And I can't wait to see what you'll do next! Thanks, MIA!

The Labor We Wear -  July 18, 2020 - November 1, 2020 MIA

The Enduring Soul - October 26, 2019 - April 4, 2021 MIA