Before taking on the Amsterdam Bar and Hall in St. Paul, the 331 Club and Sheridan Room in Northeast, and (briefly) Como Dockside, Jon Oulman, restaurateur, was Jon Oulman, gallery owner. The first Jon Oulman Gallery opened in 1983 on 7th Street in downtown Minneapolis. In 1986, he moved to the Wyman Building and stayed into 1999, a period that spanned the glory days of Warehouse District galleries. From 2003 to 2008, he had a gallery in the Keg House on 13th Avenue.
Starting in 1983 with an exhibition of photographs by his friend Erik Hanson, Oulman expanded into painting, sculpture, works on paper, music and performance. When he no longer had a gallery, he hung John Bowman’s “Crossings” on a wall at the 331 Club and left it there. Writer Andy Sturdevant calls it the city’s “most beloved artwork.” Oulman also hung art in the Sheridan, the Amsterdam and the Dockside.
And now he’s back in the gallery business. On Thursday, Nov. 21, the Jon Oulman Gallery at 1106 Payne Ave. in St. Paul will hold an opening reception for its inaugural exhibition. In a bit of symmetry, it’s a return to photography.
Presented with Citizen Parlor, “Patrick Sansone: 100 Polaroids” will feature about two dozen enlarged C-prints of Polaroids by the Wilco multi-instrumentalist, singer and songwriter. Sansone will be there. This will be the night before Wilco starts its three-day stay at the Palace, part of the band’s “Ode to Joy” tour.
We had a few questions for Oulman.
MinnPost: It’s been several years since you’ve had a gallery. What drew you back in?
Jon Oulman: I had an opportunity to go into this new neighborhood. I love the east side of St. Paul, especially Payne Avenue. Chris [Larson] and his wife [Kriss Zulkosky] bought a building a half-block north of where I am, and I knew I had to hurry.
I’ve been looking for something to do. I’ve been bored. My son [Jarret] pretty much runs the restaurants. I wanted to do something creative.
MP: Why Payne Avenue?
JO: I had this feeling of being in a new city – what northeast Minneapolis used to be. And West Seventh, but considerably more diverse. There are old Italians there from between the wars. Somalis, African-Americans, people from Mexico and Central America. Karen people from Burma. There’s a cool little record store and coffee shop, and a good restaurant. All kinds of people are in business up and down the avenue. There’s great housing stock. It’s an opportunity for people who don’t have lots of money to go in and take a risk.
MP: Why a gallery, specifically?
JO: I can go back to what I was doing before – showing painting, photography, sculpture. I’ve become interested in ceramics. And contemporary music as performance. [Note: Oulman has been involved with the SPCO’s Liquid Music.] A gallery will give me a lot more freedom of expression.
MP: Why Patrick Sansone?
JO: I met him two years ago, when Greg Fox was here with Liquid Music. I hosted an event at my house. I didn’t know Patrick was a visual artist. I found out he did personal work, expressive photography, really interesting stuff. He shoots like William Eggleston – little details, Americana, places that are fading.
MP: Your building on Payne Ave. will also include a restaurant, Café Lilla, which is still a work in progress. What shape is the gallery in?
JO: It’s not finished. This will be a preview. Patrick will be in town, we’ll be presentable, there will be lights and heat and water.
And, of course, photography. Sansone has called his work with Polaroids “pure accidental inspiration.” Taken on tours with Wilco and The Autumn Defense in the first decade of the 2000s, published in the limited-edition book “100 Polaroids” and eventually enlarged into C-prints and exhibited throughout the United States, the images we’ll see at the Oulman Gallery are up-close, filled with stillness and often nostalgic. They have been described as “an album of a road trip we might never have taken.”
Polaroid stopped making its instant film in 2009, so today Sansone’s work is even more of a time capsule. In a podcast, Sansone described what the process meant to him.
“It’s instant film, but not as instant as an iPhone. With an SX-70 [camera] and 600 film, there are five minutes of mystery, five minutes of waiting to see what would appear. I think there’s something valuable in just that little window of time, of anticipation and meditation. An involvement that allows you a certain amount of participation in the event of the photograph, waiting to see what’s coming back.”
Sometimes what comes back is a gallery. The opening reception will take place Thursday, Nov. 21, from 7-9 p.m. FMI and registration. The show will stay up through Jan. 4, but you’ll need to check on the hours.
Theater Latté Da’s “All Is Calm” to be filmed for broadcast
When does a new musical make it big? When it’s declared a “Christmas classic” and returns every holiday season for a dozen years? When it’s broadcast on five continents, wins several awards, tours more than 50 U.S. cities, and plays the Kennedy Center and the Metropolitan Museum of Art?
When it’s performed in 30 different states, Canada and Australia? When its off-Broadway run gets a New York Drama Desk Award? Or when the president and CEO of the Corporation Public Broadcasting attends one of those off-Broadway shows and thinks, “Everyone should be able to see this on TV”?
All those things are true for what is surely Theater Latté Da’s greatest hit. Created by the founding artistic director Peter Rothstein, who came up with the idea, spent two years researching it, and asked Erick Lichte and Timothy C. Takach to do the musical and vocal arrangements, “All Is Calm” premiered on Dec. 21, 2007, broadcast live over MPR.
The true story of the Christmas Truce of 1914, when Allied and German troops met in No Man’s Land, laid down their arms, and celebrated the holiday together, never grows old. Rothstein wanted to tell it in the words of the men who lived it. “I created the drama by stringing together letters, war documents, autobiographies, World War I poetry. Gravestone inscriptions, even an old radio broadcast,” he said in a release.
Said Patricia Harrison of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, “ ‘All Is Calm’ reminds us … that when all is chaotic … it is still possible to find a connection to our shared humanity.”
“All Is Calm” returns to the Ritz this year, opening next Wednesday, Nov. 27, and running through Sunday, Dec. 29. Over three days in December, four more performances will take place for invited audiences. These will be filmed by a crew from New York Public Media (WNET) and edited into a version for national broadcast during the 2020 holiday season. A grant awarded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting will fund the production.
U of M cancels Bloomberg lecture
The Distinguished Carlson Lecture featuring Michael Bloomberg, originally scheduled for Thursday, Dec. 5, has been canceled.
An explanatory email went out to ticketholders on Friday morning. An excerpt:
When we announced this event in October, we were excited to provide a forum for a national policy leader to engage with the University community. In recent days, however, the increased likelihood that Michael Bloomberg will formally enter the presidential race has required us to reassess the possibility of hosting this event.
University policy and federal laws prohibit any arm of a public university from engaging in any activity that may support a current presidential candidate. This includes hosting and/or funding an event with a candidate on a public university campus, even if the event was scheduled prior to a campaign announcement and is not a campaign event.
For this reason, the Humphrey School has decided not to move forward with this event.
The 2020 speaker will be announced in January.