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State Fair fine arts 2020: immediate, urgent, of-the-moment

ALSO: Author/historian Jon Meacham in Conversation With Wes Moore; a Flint Hills Virtual Family Festival; and more.

The 2020 Fine Arts Exhibition runs through Labor Day, Monday, Sept. 7.
The 2020 Fine Arts Exhibition runs through Labor Day, Monday, Sept. 7.
MinnPost photo by John Whiting

Never has a Minnesota State Fair Fine Arts Exhibition felt so of-the-moment, so immediate and urgent. The 2020 show – held on an otherwise closed fairgrounds, except for the slow crawl of the sold-out Food Parade – is definitely one to see. If you don’t already have a ticket, you might want to stop reading, go get one and come back.

The deadline for submitting work for consideration to this juried show was Monday, July 27. That was two months after George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police. On the streets and in their studios, artists turned their attention to Floyd’s death and its aftermath, and the deaths that came before. We counted more than a dozen directly related works, making this the overarching theme of this year’s exhibition.

Tony Purdy’s large-scale photograph “Aftermath” shows the burned-out shell of Minnehaha Liquors. J. Dane E. Maruska’s “Tipping Points (Out of Circulation)” is a tall stack of more than 80 books, painted black, their spines bearing now familiar names: George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Trayvon Martin, Emmett Till. James Murray’s fiery digital print captures “The Breaching of the Third Precinct.” Jill Whitney-Birk’s “Say their Names” groups a dozen haloed Black men, their names stitched below – George, Tamir, Eric, Freddie, Philando – and the dates of their deaths stamped on. In Andrea Canter’s mixed media “George,” Floyd’s face emerges from a chaos of textures and colors.

Angie Renee made her own quiet comment in her small oil pastel “There’s Something Happening Here,” where an armed soldier in a gas mask strides through tear gas past an American flag.

Robin C. Leitz, “No Justice,” digital print on plywood under glass
MinnPost photo by John Whiting
Robin C. Leitz, “No Justice,” digital print on plywood under glass
Not surprisingly, another theme emerged: COVID-19 and quarantine. In Betsy Preston’s witty series of a dozen small photographs, an angry little virus knitted from yarn is shown in various situations, teaching important lessons like “Wear cloth face covering in public” and “Avoid social gatherings.” In Cat Burbank’s devastating black-and-white photo “Social Distancing Becomes Isolation,” a person crouches before a window, utterly alone. George G.I. Moore’s “Quarantined Again” is a hunched and hopeless figure carved from walnut. “Quarantine Saint,” winner of the Great State of Minnesota Award from Minnesota Citizens for the Arts, is a tall, narrow triptych of a man with a face mask, sanitizer and two cats.

Other notable works in the show: Arden Harrison-Bushnell’s “Hopeful & Unbroken,” a large storytelling piece in natural fabrics, beadwork, and embroidery, winner of the Minnesota State Fair Foundation Art Award. Leslie Ellen Barlow’s magnificent drawing/painting “Grandmother and Child.” Rowan Pope’s photorealistic “Waterfront,” a blazing sky over sand and sea, exquisitely detailed, done in pencil on board.

If you’ve ever been to the Ordway, you’ll stop before Robin Blochinger’s “Quintessential, Extraordinaire, Renowned, Adored, Beloved,” an oil-on-canvas portrait of the theater’s top-hat wearing, elegantly mannered doorman. In a sense, this, too, is a COVID piece, a reminder of how our lives have changed and the experiences we have lost. When will we see him again?

Of the 1,718 works submitted to the show, just 346 were accepted. Stakes are high. Photographer R.J. Kern, who was chosen to create last year’s Minnesota State Fair commemorative art, has gotten in every time he submitted, and he doesn’t take that for granted. His entry this year: “Holy Cow (Quarantined greater than 14 Days).” You’ll know it when you see it.

Of the 1,718 works submitted to the show, just 346 were accepted.
MinnPost photo by John Whiting
Of the 1,718 works submitted to the show, just 346 were accepted.
Kern reminded us to check out the free video recording tour. Especially if you can’t see the show in person, or you’re not yet ready to go into a public space, be sure to click the link. Also available: a free virtual catalog, almost 200 pages long, that includes color images for all the art, plus descriptions, artist information, and where to find the artists on the web. The virtual tour and the catalog give the show a global reach.

We had hoped to have a few words with Jim Clark, the fair’s fine arts superintendent and the driving force behind the exhibition, but he was on vacation with his family. Samantha Gilbertson let us know that Clark, with help from assistant superintendents C.J. Renner  and Marlena Bromschwig, decides where every work in the show will hang. Pieces are not simply stuck on a wall in the order they are received or juried in. The sense of balance and flow, of relationships between shapes and colors, media and subject matter, is a big part of what makes this show such a pleasure, and why you don’t want to leave without seeing everything.

The 2020 Fine Arts Exhibition runs through Labor Day, Monday, Sept. 7. Tickets are timed. Wear a mask.

Catching up with Sheila Smith

We usually talk with Sheila Smith when she’s wearing her executive director of Minnesota Citizens for the Arts hat. This week we talked with Sheila Smith in another role, as one of three newly named co-directors of Arts for Biden Harris Minnesota.

The other co-directors are Faye M. Price, co-artistic director of Pillsbury House Theatre, and Ben Vanderkooi Jr., former board chair of Minnesota Citizens for the Arts.

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According to an email that went out last week, Arts for Biden Harris is “a coalition of arts advocates who are determined to harness the power of the arts in this upcoming election, and return Joe Biden to the White House. There is a stark difference between the Presidential candidates in so many critical ways, but especially in the realm of arts and culture, the stakes have never been higher … A Biden presidency would restore arts funding and re-prioritize key issues for the artistic community.”

Sheila Smith
Photo by Adam Kissick
Sheila Smith
Smith explained by phone earlier this week, “It’s basically trying to make sure that arts people know the difference in policy between the current Trump administration [and a Biden administration]. That President Trump has proposed deleting all arts and culture funding from the federal budget with every budget proposal.

“Especially right now, when the arts and culture sector is in such massive crisis because of COVID restrictions, an awareness of how the arts and culture contribute to our state’s economy and quality of life is very important to us. And so we just want to spread the word.”

An expansive arts and culture policy is currently in the works in the Biden campaign. As soon as that becomes available, Arts for Biden Harris Minnesota will share.

Meanwhile, if you’re interested, you can like/follow the Facebook page. If you want to get more involved, you can sign up here for notifications and news of virtual events. Be prepared to choose at least one way you would like to participate.

The picks

V is for virtual, L is for live and in person.

L Now under way in Burnsville: The Relief Sessions Summer Concert Series. This would normally be State Fair time, meaning fall is around the corner and then, well, you know. So maybe we should squeeze in as many outdoor events as we can. Musician and impresario Mick Sterling has pulled together an ambitious and varied series of 48 concerts over 7 days, starting at noon and ending at 8:45 p.m. Most shows before 5 p.m. are free. All are drive-in; no tables are available. Vehicles are separated by empty parking spaces. There’s a lot of crossover with Crooners in Fridley, including Sterling himself, but that’s north of the cities and this is south. Here’s the schedule, with links to ticketing. 51 Civic Center Parkway in Burnsville.

V Today (Friday, Aug. 28) at 5 p.m. CST from the 92nd Street Y: “Jon Meacham in Conversation with Wes Moore: A Great Thinkers Master Class on John Lewis.” Meacham is the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “His Truth Is Marching On: John Lewis and the Power of Hope.” Moore is the CEO of the antipoverty nonprofit Robin Hood and a best-selling author; his latest, “Five Days,” chronicles the aftermath in Baltimore of Freddie Gray’s death. Today is the 57th anniversary of the March on Washington, where Lewis famously spoke. Meacham was here in 2018, when he gave the Distinguished Carlson Lecture at Northrop. FMI and tickets ($20).

Mr. Soul
Courtesy of the MSP Film Society
A scene from "Mr. Soul."
V Available starting today (Friday, Aug. 28) at MSP Film Society’s Virtual Cinema: “Mr. Soul.” From 1968-73, Ellis Haizlip’s TV variety show celebrated Black literature, poetry, music and politics. Directed by his daughter, Melissa Haizlip, this award-winning documentary is part of MSP Film Society’s “We the People: Required Watching” series. A free community conversation will follow on Monday, Aug. 31, at 7 p.m. FMI and tickets ($12). Also at the virtual cinema: “Martin Margiela: In His Own Words” (about the “Banksy of the Fashion World”) and “House of Cardin.”

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    V Tonight and tomorrow (Friday and Saturday, Aug. 28 and 29): Kurt Elling Livestreams from the Green Mill. The preeminent male jazz singer of his generation (and a Gustavus Adolphus grad), endlessly interesting and daring, Elling recently moved back to Chicago after several years in New York City. He also returned to the club he considers his Chicago home. With his band, including Clark Sommers on bass, the Grammy winner will play two live sets at the Mill, both at 8 p.m., with no audience in the venue, which is how things are done these days. FMI and tickets ($15). Can’t catch it live? Both sets will be available for rebroadcast for 72 hours.

L Saturday (Aug. 29) at the Electric Fetus, Know Name, Roadrunner, Hymie’s, Down in the Valley and more: Record Store Day. To borrow language (including full caps) from Down in the Valley: “This ISN’T A NORMAL RECORD STORE DAY. We cannot have huge crowds in the store, big lines, food and drink, or band performances.” But there will still be exclusive RSD titles. Wear a mask and tough it out. Check individual stores’ websites to see how they want you to behave. Note: Instead of one big Record Store Day event, there are now three smaller ones. This is the first. The second will take place Sept. 26, the third Oct. 24. FMI on RSD.

Los Alegres Bailadores, a Mexican folkloric dance group, will be performing during the Flint Hills Virtual Family Festival.
Courtesy of the artists
Los Alegres Bailadores, a Mexican folkloric dance group, will be performing during the Flint Hills Virtual Family Festival.
V Saturday (Aug. 29): Flint Hills Virtual Family Festival. A day of performances and activities created by artists from their homes. Performers include Sons of Mystro (protégés of Black Violin), Grammy award-winning children’s performer Dan Zanes and Haitian-American music therapist/vocalist Claudia Zanes, Native Pride Arts with dances and regalia, and Los Alegres Bailadores, a Mexican folkloric dance group. Everything will go live on the website starting at 1 a.m. Saturday and remain accessible through Labor Day, Sept. 7.