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

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

The Minnesota State Fair Fine Arts Exhibition - Art Imitating Life Imitating Art

Pretty much everything has been canceled this weird year, and the Minnesota State Fair was no different. There were still two ways to get in though, through a food parade for cars, and a Fine Arts exhibition - and both sold out immediately (I'm showing off a bunch of works because most likely you didn't get to see them - and there was a WHOLE bunch more - these were just our faves). The highlight of the fair every year for my Mom and I (after the fair food and people watching, of course), is the Fine Arts Exhibition, so we were stoked to get our tickets for last Saturday. (This first piece depicting the Fair was called The Great Microdoodle Get-Together by Jeffery Gauss of St. Louis Park. The images are made up of words, in a feat you'll see the detail of below. It got 2nd place in Drawing!)

It was super extra strange to 1) be able to drive directly into the Fairgrounds, and 2) have absolutely no one on the Fair streets. Bizarre! We drove past the Culligan free water booth (empty) and parked right next to the Fine Arts building. They had timed entrances, so there were never that many people in there. Masks were required and hand sanitizer was available, so it all felt pretty safe to take Mom along with me - as she is the real artist in the family. It's always jam-packed in there during the normal Fair, so it was really nice to get right up close to all the pieces, without anyone in our way (especially with a wheelchair!).

There was a ton of art to see in our allotted 90 minute time-slot, and we saw every piece. I was thinking of the classic Bertolt Brecht quote all through the exhibition ... "Art is not a mirror to reflect reality, but a hammer with which to shape it." This was clear in so many of the works, with several works depicting George Floyd and the Summer of Uprising that began in Minneapolis this past May with Floyd's murder by the MPD. There were also many pieces reflecting on the pandemic that we're all still very much in the middle of. Those issues and the classic works depicting Minnesota life were the vast majority of the show, and I found myself once again both proud and impressed that so much intelligent talent comes from here. The first piece depicting George Floyd (and all the chaos we're still dealing with to demand social justice and racial equality) was by Andrea Canter of Minneapolis, and was simply titled, George.


I feel heartened by the fact that there were so many works about this subject, which means it's still on peoples' minds, which means maybe this time really will be different. I know that I'm very determined personally that it WILL be different. It HAS to be. David P. Biljan of St. Paul showed his photograph Building Will Fall - Lake Street 5/31/20, and it took me right back to being there that day. Heavy.

George Floyd Memorial by Jerry R. Wiese of Stillwater offered his take on the George Floyd momentf, and it was no less powerful.


The emotion of Floyd's family visiting that memorial was captured in a photograph by Craig Lassig of Minneapolis. Keep My Brother's Name Ringing (2nd Place, Photography) showed Floyd's brother in prayer, with the plea that we will all make sure is fulfilled. Say his name! GEORGE FLOYD!!! (Seriously. Right now. Please stop and yell his name!)

And while you're at it ... say ALL of their names - as there are many. This is why we march. This is why we create. This is why we must put an end to systemic racism ... because it keeps happening! And we can't let it anymore. We just can't. So Say Their Names too - as Jill Whitney-Birk of Minneapolis asks on her mixed media piece of embroidered paper on wood panel. 

None of us will ever forget George Floyd saying "I Can't Breathe!" and Eduardo A. Colon of Minneapolis gave us this reminder with his photograph, Stand

The aftermath of the Uprising this Summer left a lot of people and their businesses in upheaval, but every story I've heard has the shop owners understanding the WHY that it all happened and is happening. If only some of our white citizens could find such clarity in their own hearts. devastation and determination by Chad Niemeyer of Oak Grove gave us a glimpse into this special kind of dignity. 

My Guernica by Laura Hanson of Anoka reminds us that we all live in a melting pot of immigrants, and that this land is for ALL of us. Protesting in the streets for a better America is about as patriotic as you can get, no matter what our delusional President and his minions might think. 

The Breaching Of The Third Precinct by James Murray Casserly of Minneapolis already has an iconic air about it ... just as that historical moment in time did. Never before has a police department just abandoned their station and let protestors take over, and they must have realized that they had lost this night ... and if we do something right, they will lose their sense of being above their own laws, if not abolished completely, as they are clearly unable to be reformed. I hope this image haunts all of the MPD for the rest of their brutal lives. As it will haunt all of ours. 

After the fires came the clean-up, and the beautiful memorials. The sense of community in the days that followed was simply beautiful, and again made me proud of the fine people that came together to try to help make things better - for everyone. And still are. And will continue to until there is a tangible, noticeable, ACTUAL change in place. Systemically. No Justice by Robin C. Lietz of Minneapolis illustrates that fact - that if there is No Justice, there can be no Peace. Period. So get with the times.

There is a concern that people will just move on, and forget all of this past Summer's movement for a better world ... but I think that's impossible. To hear George Floyd's last words as he died under the knee of a man paid to protect and serve him ... is to never forget. We all watched for 8 Minutes 46 Seconds that are permanently etched into our minds. David Smith of Eden Prairie captured them for us just in case you ever get amnesia. 

Not exactly on topic, but certainly part of the problem is shown in Incarceration Inc. by Sasha M. Rayl of Hopkins (Honorable Mention). The inequity of People of Color behind bars must also change, which goes along with the police treatment of them. It must change. It WILL change. 

These pieces were all spread out in the exhibition, so it wasn't totally heavy throughout, but I thought it best to put them together here to feel the weight of it. And how much it really does weigh on all of our minds. The pandemic pieces made me feel much worse, for some reason. The isolation, the fear, the solitude, the death ... it doesn't have the same hope that the fight for social justice has. Quarantined Again was a sculpture in walnut by George G. I. Moore that kind of summed it all up for me - and Mom. 

I loved the piece You by Rebecca Pavlenko of St. Paul (Not for sale!) in colored pencils and micro-pens, because it made me think of all that makes up an individual, and their place in the cosmos. Remarkable what a simple three letter word can conjure up - as all of the best art does. Did I mention how GOOD it felt to be back at a public art show again!!! Ahhhh ...

 If things got to feel too weighty for you at this show, all was well, because there was plenty of plain beauty as well. Mom and I both loved this gorgeous autumn day (though we're not ready for the actual autumn that roared in on Labor Day like it knew!) depicted in oil by Leanne Hanson of Crystal in her Blazing Fall Sunset. Wow. 

If you're from Minnesota, you love a loon (the state bird). Emily Donovan of St. Paul showed some cool ones in her Chasing Loons, done in natural dyes and pigments on paper with beeswax. Neato!

A deer is just about as iconic as a loon in Minnesota, and one of my very favorite pieces in the show was Buck Wild In The Woods With Friends by Kristi Abbott of Minneapolis. How beautiful and creative and woodsy and excellent. Look at the other animal faces in the trees! It needs to be over a Minnesota mantel. 

There's a reason the Minnesota basketball team is called the Timberwolves ... as wolves are also an iconic Minnesota sight. 

The one by Erik J. Fremstad of Victoria called Canis Lupus was like the State Fair doodle one ... all made up  of words! It must have taken him forever, but the effect must also be totally worth it. We remain wowed. And so was everyone else, because this piece won Fremstad the Peoples' Choice Award!

Surprisingly, there was no work this year featuring the icon I think we're most proud of, Prince, but there was a depiction of Bob Dylan by Jeff Rodenberg of Shoreview that filled the musical Minnesota void, in a very cool, geometric way. 

Betsy Bowen of Grand Marais has long been one of my favorite artists in Minnesota, with her very Minnesota woodcutting pieces.  Her Birches would be perfect in any Minnesota home ... and if I was at all sure as to where I belong at the moment (REALLY missing Venice, CA ... but Mom), it would be at my own pad, trust that.

Another highlight of the Fair each year for us is the farming stuff (I LOVE a Farmer. I was a Farmer's Daughter - until he moved to the city and then died, a story for another day). The baby animal barn, the food, the blue ribbon pies ... all that Harvest-time, wholesome goodness. The Melon Farmer (First place!) was especially cool as he was done by Nifty Nikki (!) of Mizpah in paper quilling! That had to have taken forever, but it sure turned out great.

Pentimento by Preston B. Lawing of Winona was cool ... and had a little AC unit attached right on to it (earning him an Honorable Mention).

Erik Jon Olson of Plymouth must be pretty cool, because his art sure was - and thoughtful. She Wore Green Velvet: Portrait Of The Mississippi Watershed was a mermaid type of gal made entirely of quilted plastic waste, earning Olson First Place in the Textiles class, as well as the Textile Center Award for Excellence and Innovation. Well done!

World Of Haute Couture by Janine Olmscheid of Shoreview had a similar vibe, as it was made from paper folding and hand stitching, and you know I love me some fashion. And maps. Very cool.

Another one made from fabric that I loved was Morning Fog At Blue Mounds by Nancy Birger of Roseville. I was just in Blue Mounds State Park the week before, and her work beautifully captures the sense of peace that overtakes you in that prairie vista. Lovely. 


It amazed me what one can do with colored pencils, and the beauty of Barn Owl With Io Moths by Julie Greenwood of Burnsville fully dazzled me. Like my adult coloring book is no match fot what this lady can do. So beautfiul. 

We also loved the stained glass mosaic work of Mimi T. Leminh of Chaska in her piece called Homeward. It calmed me down, and took me somewhere tropical ... and simpler. Thanks, Mimi! 

Sharing that tropical vibe was another one of my very favorites, She Makes Rain by Chholing Taha of Anoka. Oil, acrylic, mixed media, gorgeousness. Loved it so much. (And it definitely brought the rain).

Oil painters that are so realistic that they can make things look like photographs are so impressive to me, and Cynthia L. Higgins' portrait of Undredal Norway brought us right into the Scandinavian fishing village ... via paint. Amazing!

Equally impressive was the oil painting of Downtown Minneapolis by Leila Rastegar called Sunset Over The Bridge. This beauty touches my heart, because this is the city that I'm from, this is the city where I'm so hopeful that real, systemic change that will make the whole world better began this Summer of 2020, and this is the city that I love.

We made it through the show with just a few minutes left in our time slot to spare. There is SO much that I didn't put here (or I'd get carpal tunnel), that you should really see, and you still can look at the show's catalog, where I believe some pieces are still for sale. Artists need our support more than ever now, so if you see something you like, reach out to them to see how you can give a home to some of their work. Because, don't forget, art can be the hammer that shapes our world. Here is a photo of two happy ladies who finally got to see art in person again (and not just on plywood covering up windows, though all of that work was great too!). Art saves.

Love to everyone from your art lovers in Minnesota!