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‘Theaster Gates: Assembly Hall’ at the Walker; ‘Intention’ at Circa Gallery

Also: Katha Dance Theatre at the Southern; 2020 Film Independent Spirit Awards coming up; and more.

“Theaster Gates: Assembly Hall”
“Theaster Gates: Assembly Hall” is an eclectic and provocative look at reclaiming, collecting, conserving and sharing what others have cast aside.
Photo by Bobby Rogers/Courtesy of the Walker Art Center

We looked back at 2019. Some looked forward into 2020. But today, on the second day of the new year and the new decade, we’re ready to be in the present. Because January, traditionally Minnesota’s coldest, snowiest month, is also one of the busiest and richest in the arts. What’s happening tonight, this week, this month?

For starters, the Walker’s January calendar is jammed. Six exhibitions are on concurrently. If you can only see one between now and Jan. 12, make it “Theaster Gates: Assembly Hall,” an eclectic and provocative look at reclaiming, collecting, conserving and sharing what others have cast aside.

Gates is an artist with whom the Walker is building a relationship. His first permanent outdoor commission, “Black Vessel for a Saint,” is in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, and “Assembly Hall” is his first major U.S. exhibition. Working with curator Victoria Sung, Gates turned four rooms into four distinct but related experiences.

One features projections of glass slides formerly used to teach art and architectural history at the University of Chicago, interspersed with photographs of black Chicagoans. A second is a reading room created from furnishings and other artifacts from the Johnson Publishing Company, once publishers of Ebony and Jet. A third – and most disturbing – includes glass vitrines filled with racist and dehumanizing consumer items that were once widely sold. A fourth is a display of Gates’ own studio pottery: plates, bowls, vases, cups and pitchers. Useful everyday objects made by hand.

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The rooms are glimpses into Gates’ vast collections. The University of Chicago slides number 60,000. The Johnson Publishing Archives & Collections comprise 15,000 objects; the Edward J. Williams Collection of “Negrobilia,” 4,000. Everything in the show is on loan for the first time outside Chicago, where Gates lives and works (and salvages whole buildings on the South Side). “Assembly Hall” closes on Jan. 12.

On four weekends in January, the Walker’s Out There festival, its annual dive into experimental performance alternatives, will make it worth braving the weather to experience … who knows what? Out There shows are unpredictable, push-the-envelope events. Two this year are Walker commissions, so we’ll all be seeing those for the first time. Some may enlighten and/or transform you. Others may leave you wondering what just happened. If you resolved this year to try new things, it doesn’t get much newer.

Ligia Lewis, Water Will (In Melody)
Photo by Maria Baranova
Ligia Lewis, Water Will (In Melody)
Out There 2020 starts Jan. 9-11 with “Is This a Room: Reality Winner Verbatim Transcription” by Tina Satter and Half Straddle Theater Company, a staging of the FBI interrogation of 25-year-old former Air Force linguist Reality Winner, a former whistleblower now serving a five-year prison sentence. On Jan. 16-18, Latinx movement artist Miguel Gutierrez will premiere his second Walker commission, “This Bridge Called My Ass,” based in part on the 1981 feminist anthology “This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color.”

Jan. 23-25 will bring the premiere of Berlin-based choreographer Ligia Lewis’ Walker commission “Water Will (In Melody),” a dark meditation on show business, the surreal, sensuality and the end of times. And on Jan. 30-Feb. 1, Out There will close with the return of Back to Back Theatre, Australia’s leading independent theater company, and “The Shadow Whose Prey the Hunter Becomes.” Back to Back was previously here in 2013 with “Ganesh Versus the Third Reich” and in 2008 with “Food Court.”

FMI and tickets ($26, $20.80 Walker members). All but “Is This a Room” are mature content/subject matter.

Tuesday, Jan. 14, kicks off the 2020 Film Independent Spirit Awards, three weeks of acclaimed indie films, free to Walker members at any level. If you’re a Walker Film Club, FilmNorth or Film Independent member, you can reserve tickets in advance. Otherwise, free tickets are available first-come, first-served (again, to Walker members) an hour before the first screening. Two films will screen each day.

The 16 films on this year’s schedule include “Honeyland,” “Booksmart,” “Apollo 11,” “A Hidden Life,” “The Last Black Man in San Francisco,” “For Sama,” “Marriage Story” and “Island of Hungry Ghosts.” FMI. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays through Jan. 29.

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The picks

Josh Meillier, Untitled 07
Courtesy of the Circa Gallery
Josh Meillier, Untitled 07
Now at Circa Gallery: “Intention” small works show. Can art help you set your intentions and resolutions for the coming year? It can’t hurt. This show of small works by CIRCA artists includes bright multimedia paintings by Josh Meillier, kiln-formed glass by Carmen Vetter, minimalist paintings by Brad Durham and kinetic acrylic wall sculpture by Timothy Schmitz, to name a few. Gallery hours 1-6 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturdays. Closes Jan. 9.

Tonight (Thursday, Jan. 2) at North Community High: First Thursday Films: “Love Them First: Lessons from Lucy Laney Elementary.” Directors Lindsey Seavert and Ben Garvin will be present to talk about their highly praised documentary, which follows a charismatic principal who’s determined to change a north Minneapolis elementary school and the lives of its students. Co-presented with MSP Film Society and the Minnesota Historical Society, this film was a double 2019 MSPIFF winner. 7 p.m. FMI including trailer and tickets ($5).

Friday at Crooners: Jon Weber’s “History of the Piano from Joplin to Jarrett.” Weber is a gifted pianist and former host of NPR’s “Piano Jazz” (after Marian McPartland). He has a mind like a steel trap; he knows everybody’s birthday and can play any song in any key. And he’s totally charming. On Friday, from the Dunsmore Room’s nine-foot Steinway, he’ll take you on a merry ride through a century-plus of jazz in words and music. 6 p.m. FMI and tickets ($20). Later that night, Weber will return to the Dunsmore with vocalists Connie Evingson and Andrew Walesch for songs by Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee, Dave Frishberg and more. You might want to stay for that, too. 7:30 p.m. FMI and tickets ($15-25).

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Sunday at a movie bigaplex near you: “Doctor Who” Live Q&A and Screening. You know the 13th Doctor is a woman? Jodie Whittaker (“Broadchurch”) first appeared as the ancient Time Lord in the 2017 Christmas special. This event will include the Season 12 premiere, the new season’s second episode and a live Q&A with Whittaker, Tosin Cole and Mandip Gill. 1 p.m. FMI and tickets; enter your ZIP to find the nearest theater.

Sunday at the Southern: Katha Dance Theatre Presents “Shaamya – Of Equality.” Inspired by the poetry of Bengali “rebel poet” Kazi Nazrul Islam (1899-1976), Rita Mustaphi’s new creation draws parallels between oppressed communities then and now. Set to original music by J.D. Steele, it also includes poetry by Ifrah Mansour. This will be a work-in-progress performance of a production set to debut at Park Square Theatre in October. Patrick Scully will moderate a post-show Q&A. 2 p.m. FMI and tickets ($10 to $5). Pay-what-you-can option at the door.