Okay. This is Minnesota - and, we're supposed to be "Minnesota Nice" all the time, but darn, I'm just not feeling that nice about attending the 2010 Northeast Minneapolis Artist's show over at the old brewery, last Friday night. Let me explain. The brewery (Grain Belt) is a huge old rambling, historically significant monster in the old working class section of the city. Perfect for artists, right? I guess so, because much of the complex has been cleaned up and rented to lots of artists as studio space. It seems to work fine for the artists, so that's okay. In the center of the giant bottling house there is a humongous open space where artistic kinds of activities take place. This annual exhibition is one of those activities.
I should point out that the artist members in this organization number in the hundreds (if not thousands). They make up a big contingent of citizens in what folks like to call the "Arts District" of the city. So far, so good. The mind races with the possibilities, right?
I live about two blocks away from this big heap of historically significant bricks and while I'm not a member of the Northeast Minneapolis Artists - you'll see why in a minute, I thought it would be fun to wander over there and look at the show. Schmooze around a little. See and be seen.
Now, I should make it clear that the artists can't help it that they have their studios in a place that looks frighteningly like a prison. They have to take what they can get, and these days, the getting is pretty thin - and pricey. Be that as it may, I'm always kind of creeped out when I enter that big central event space that swear-to-god, looks like a movie set for a horrendous prison riot.
That's the first impression. The next thing one notices of course, is that in this giant creepy space, all the art - and there must have been at least a couple of hundred items - looks eensey-weensey. I mean, jeez, hanging an 18" X 24" painting in a place like this pretty much guarantees it will become a postage stamp. Add to that a zero based (I guess) budget for exhibition furniture, temporary walls, lighting etc. and you have a really dismal setting for this big deal art show.
All this is bad enough, and I guess one could just write it off as a bunch of artists doing the best they can with what they have, but the story doesn't stop there. The acoustics are, as one might imagine, horrendous. Carrying on a conversation - even in the thinly populated audience in attendance, was next to impossible, what with echoes bouncing off the concrete floor and surrounding walls - but so what? There were so few artists present - not to mention general public, that conversation was hardly a consideration. And those artists who were there, pretty much kept to themselves, peering at visitors rather like prisoners on an exercise break outside their cells. i had to hang next to one of the "lifers" with whom I've had slight acquaintance over the years, waiting to schmooze, until he decided to finally say hello, and toss a few scraps of idle chatter in my direction. Pathetic! I didn't feel too bad though, because in looking around, I could see other "art visitors, standing around wondering why they had decided to spend a perfectly good Friday evening by visiting an art prison.
Perhaps I should be more forgiving to my industry, the arts. But gosh, the final insult is this: Except for a tiny handful of pieces shown, the great majority of the art on exhibit was awful - by anyone's standards. Excuse me! The king has no cloths. No wonder nobody showed up. Speaking in a shout - so I could be heard above the echoes, I talked briefly with one artist who admitted that she had "just painted over one of her old paintings - last minute, so she'd have something to exhibit." Hmmm. By the look of things, she wasn't alone.
Perhaps, to be Minnesota nice, I should put all this in the context of our times. It's been said that art is a reflection of the society within which it is created - and that might be true. If it is, one can see why the art in this show was such crap. I mean, everywhere one looks in our society, there's a load of crap going on. The economy is a mess. The job market is a mess. The housing market is a mess. The education system is a super mess. The government is a laugh riot of incompetence - so why should one expect more from the arts? HANG ON, NOW! In every above mentioned endeavor there does exist a smidge of excellence - and I guess we should just thank our lucky stars for that. Sorry. Guess again.
As usual, this blog was meant to stir conversation and perhaps even generate some controversy. So far it has done neither, but that's okay. I'll keep writing.