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Review: Thomas Barry Fine Arts' new show celebrates 25 years of cultivating artistic careers

Thomas Allen, "Tangle," chromogenic print, 20" x 24", 2008.
Courtesy of Thomas Barry Fine Arts
Thomas Allen, "Tangle," chromogenic print, 20" x 24", 2008.

Thomas Barry is, in many respects, a throwback. His commercial gallery, Thomas Barry Fine Arts, now 25 years old, is a genteel outpost of old-fashioned patronage in a world where fine art is too often treated like just another investment, something that adds a bit of cachet to one's portfolio.

For Barry, the business of art isn't about the volume of sales or chasing after the new new thing. For him, rather, the business is quite personal. He says, "I'm interested in cultivating relationships over time, in building careers."

At the moment, Barry's gallery only represents 10 artists, and that's about right for now, he says. "I know lots of galleries take on many more artists than I do, but I couldn't do it that way. For me, it's a triangular relationship: between the work, the artist, and my own investment in both. I only work with artists whose work I feel strongly about, and only then when I know I can give them my full commitment of time and energy."

Of Thomas Barry's 10 gallery artists, many have been with him from the time he opened the gallery in 1984. He's seen them develop over the years, emerging from their youthful, upstart beginnings to become seasoned, nationally (some internationally) acclaimed.

Right now, Thomas Barry Fine Arts is honoring its own with a group exhibition, "Gallery Artists - Celebrating 25 Years." As you make your way around the room, the eclecticism and sheer stylishness of Barry's assemblage of artists is impressive. While there's no easily discernible aesthetic thread connecting the work — the sampling is, in fact, quite diverse in both style and media — there is an elusive something, perhaps it's the curatorial eye, that ties the show coherently together.

Walk into the gallery and peek into the corner nook, and you see a striking photograph by Thomas Allen; this artist's cleverly executed vignettes, crafted from cut-up, midcentury pulp novels, seem to be turning up everywhere of late. But Barry was an early booster of Allen's ingenious photographs, long before they graced the glossy pages of national magazine spreads.

From Don Gahr's intricate, almost totemic carvings in wood to Glenn Grafelman's muscular abstracts, James Kielkopf's richly hued play with paper and form, and Judy Onofrio's wonderfully eccentric sculptural work — the pieces on view are all fully realized, all made by artists utterly confident in their vision, skills, and media.

As I look through the show, it hits me. More than anything else, Thomas Barry's 25th anniversary exhibition pays homage to taking the long view -- to careers forged in daily practice and hard-won skill, to relationships built over years, and to dedication in pursuit of perfecting one's craft.

"Gallery Artists - 25 Years" will be on view at Thomas Barry Fine Arts in Minneapolis through June 13.

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