Jim Denomie, a member of the Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Ojibwe, has been named the 2019 McKnight Distinguished Artist. He is the first Native American artist to be chosen for the award since it began in 1998.
The McKnight is a special designation for many reasons. Given each year by the arts-supporting, Minneapolis-based McKnight Foundation, it is Minnesota’s highest cultural honor. Winners receive an unrestricted $50,000 cash prize, no small thing for most artists. The awards always and only go to Minnesota artists, people who have chosen to make their lives here and enrich our communities with their art. They join a diverse and exceptional group.
Denomie was born in 1955 on the Lac Courte Oreilles Reservation near Hayward, Wisconsin. He grew up in Chicago and south Minneapolis, experiencing firsthand the effects of government relocation programs and assimilation policies while maintaining a strong connection to his reservation.
Recognized early as a gifted young artist, Denomie was told by a high school guidance counselor that there was no future in art. He dropped out of high school and spent two decades working in construction. Then he went back to school at the University of Minnesota, where he was required to take a studio arts course. He graduated in 1995 with a bachelor of fine arts degree and started exhibiting his paintings soon after.
Today Denomie is an award-winning artist whose work is found at Mia, the Walker, the Weisman and the M, the Denver Art Museum, the Heard Museum in Phoenix, and Eiteljorg Museum in Indianapolis, among many others. It has been shown extensively in the United States and will travel this year to New Zealand and São Paolo.
Locally, Denomie is represented by the Bockley Gallery, which earlier this year held an exhibition of his “Standing Rock” paintings. These are large, highly detailed narrative works in oil on canvas. In each one, there’s a lot going on. You can look at any one of them for hours, wishing you had Denomie beside you to explain what every figure, action, object and gesture means, because they all mean something.
Denomie’s narrative works are his own contemporary extension of Ojibwe storytelling, filled with recognizable characters, archetypes, pop culture allusions and even humor. His portraits are just as potent, overflowing with vivid colors and emotional brushwork.
He has said that early on, he felt that people expected him to do “Indian art.” But “growing up in south Minneapolis, there weren’t a lot of eagles and buffalos and teepees.” So he found his own voice and went his own way.
In a statement, McKnight Foundation president Kate Wolford said, “Minnesota is Jim Denomie’s home, and its history has inspired many of his most powerful paintings … We’re thrilled to recognize an artist who is rooted in the Anishinaabe tradition of storytelling art and so deeply engaged in documenting the present day.”
Said Lori Lea Pourier, president/CEO of First Peoples Fund and a member of the selection committee, “I see [Denomie] as a modern day warrior documentarian, capturing and saving stories for the next 100 years in a contemporary voice.”
Tonight (Thursday, Aug. 29) at the Amsterdam: RISK! Live. If you don’t know “RISK!,” it’s a live show and a popular podcast (1.5 million downloads each month) where people tell true stories they never thought they would dare to share in public. We all have a few of those, don’t we? If you do know “RISK!,” you might already have tickets to this rare flyover-land performance; the show usully takes place in New York and Los Angeles, where people like Janeane Garofalo, Trevor Noah, Samantha Bee and Dan Savage hold forth. Show host Kevin Allison (MTV’s “The State”) will emcee a cast of local performers including Amy Salloway, Tyson Purcell, Gregory Pickett and Ernest Anfin. Bring empathy – this isn’t easy. 18+. Doors at 7, show at 8. FMI and tickets ($22). P.S. This month marks the show’s 10th anniversary.
Tonight through Saturday at the Dakota: Latin Jazz Series. What a fine way to approach summer’s end: with sequential nights of hot Latin jazz. Tonight, Nachito Herrera, one of the great Cuban pianists, will perform with a 13-member ensemble of players and singers borrowed from Buena Vista Social Club, Afro-Cuban All-Stars, Cubanismo, Los Van Van and other major bands. On Friday, Cuban pianist and Montreux Jazz Festival Solo Piano Competition winner Marialy Pacheco will play with her trio, with Yunior Terry on bass and Francisco Mela on drums. And on Saturday, Latin jazz giant Eddie Palmieri will make his Dakota debut. FMI including times and links to tickets ($25-50).
Friday at the Film Society’s St. Anthony Main Theatre 3: “Luce.” Based on a play by J.C. Lee, directed by Julius Onah (who co-wrote the screenplay with Lee), this psychological thriller explores race and identity in today’s America. Adopted as a young boy from war-torn Eritrea, Luce (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) is a star student and a poster boy for the new American Dream – until his teacher (Octavia Spencer) makes a shocking discovery in his locker. Naomi Watts and Tim Roth are Luce’s parents. There’s been some discussion about whether the film is too play-like; the New York Times wrote, “To say that it unfolds like a play is both accurate and undersells how gorgeously it has been rendered for the screen.” FMI including trailer, times and tickets.
Friday and Saturday at the Cedar: Mother Goose’s Bedtime Stories 2-Year Anniversary Show. An eclectic cabaret of music, words, and dance; a celebration and intersection of black, brown, indigenous, queer, gay, lesbian, intersex, transgender, non-binary, pansexual and bisexual people and womxn. Curated by Xochi de la Luna, produced by Uproar Performing Arts in collaboration with Pangea World Theater, it will be part showcase, part variety show and part theatrical production, with multidisciplinary performers and a house band. 7 p.m. doors, 8 p.m. show. FMI and tickets ($10-5 sliding scale).