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!

1 comment: