Over the weekend, we visited two small Minneapolis galleries in person. Appointments were required for both, and we had them to ourselves. At Northern Clay Center, we saw the Mike Norman retrospective, “Hidari-uma: Riding the Horse Backwards, Embracing the Unknown.” At the Weinstein Hammons Gallery, the “Music Box” show. Both close later this month.
Curated by Amanda Dobbratz, a potter herself and Northern Clay’s digital and marketing manager, “Hidari-uma” gathers just under 140 functional pots (bowls, cups, plates, etc.) and clay sculptures made by Norman from the 1960s through the present day, including new work created for the retrospective. They are alive with animals (Norman calls animals his “defenders”), humans, names and words carved into their surfaces. They tell stories. Many of the sculptures are in the shapes of animals, most notably horses.
A Mike Norman horse is a complicated creature. It’s large, often more than a foot tall (depending on whether its head is up or down) and layered. Sandwiched between two rounded, dimensional outer halves are flat inner versions of the same horse, with slight differences. As you circle it, looking from all angles, you see one horse but four tails and eight ears. It’s no longer just a clay horse, but something else – a spirit animal? – and sometimes a canvas.
One of the horses made for this show is called “A Tribute to George Floyd.” On one side, Norman has written words including “Some Lives Don’t Matter,” “Murder,” “Homeless,” “Cages,” “Poor,” “Worthless,” “Hunger.” The illustrations are dark and disturbing. The other side shows an alternative. “All Lives Matter,” “Empathy,” “Kindness,” “Love” and “Respect” surround a peaceful scene of people and animals (including an elephant, another Norman favorite).
It’s magical to see so much work by one fine artist, spanning so many years, yet everything so clearly coming from the same voice, the same perspective, the same heart, if you will. Some of Norman’s work, especially his tall teacups (yunomi), are little soapboxes for his thoughts, or playgrounds for his characters. Their forms are always imperfect, and let’s just say he is not the best speller, and sometimes it seems you’re seeing the work of a child, but a very wise child. As an adult, you have to be very good at what you do to retain that sense of freedom and the willingness to express it.
Norman turned 82 on Saturday, and he celebrated by Zooming a live artist demonstration from his studio, showing us where and how he works, talking about his life and reciting his one and only haiku. You can watch the recording here. His retrospective will be on view through next Sunday, April 18. If you can’t see it in person, a virtual gallery tour is available.
Norman is usually part of the annual St. Croix Valley Pottery Tour, which happens this year on May 7-9, online only (for the second year in a row). This year, he’s not. Yet another reason to see his retrospective.
The last time we visited the Weinstein Hammons was probably March 19, 2019. That was the opening reception for photographer Alec Soth’s show, “I Know How Furiously Your Heart Is Beating.” There were so many people inside that the windows were steamed up. When the door opened, heat and crowd noise poured out.
On Saturday afternoon, we were the only ones there except for gallery director Leslie Hammons and an assistant, who were downstairs watching “The Sound of Music.” The songs floated up faintly into the main gallery but were mostly drowned out by the squeaking of the wood floors as we walked back and forth between the 50 works on display. It was the perfect accidental soundtrack to a show called “Music Box,” which is all about music in a time when live music has been mostly silenced.
“Music Box” isn’t a response to the pandemic. It was originally scheduled to open last spring as a celebration of the gallery’s 25th year, one in a series of historical group exhibitions that have explored different themes, like “The Fashion Show” in 2014. But the pandemic is here and adds another layer of meaning, if only by happenstance.
The 50 mostly photographs (two are paintings, and two are altered album covers) are about the makers of music, and responses to music, shown in the faces and bodies of people experiencing it.
Several of the former are mostly portraits. Martin Schoeller’s “Prince, Close-Up” (2004) is close enough to count his pores. Annie Lieibovitz’ “Bette Midler, New York City” (1979) shows the Divine Miss M in a bed of roses without a single thorn. Jerry Schatzberg’s “Smoke Bob Dylan” (1965) is Dylan covering his eyes but unmistakably Dylan (is it the hair?). Jean-Pierre Ducatez’s “Beatle Lips: John Lennon” (1966) zeroes in on Lennon’s lips and nostrils. Eric Madigan Heck’s “Roy Haynes” (2014 captures the great jazz drummer, then 89, playing hard before a zebra-print curtain.
The ones that aren’t portraits speak most loudly to the moment we’re in. The joyous crowd of Martin Schoeller’s “Lil Bow Wow Concert” (2001). Weegee’s image of a young woman lost in the moment of “Listening to Frank Sinatra, Palace Theater” (1944). Ed Van Der Elsken’s “Audience at the concert of Benny Goodman in the village Blokker” (May 15, 1958), back when big-band jazz could draw crowds. This is the shared ecstasy that has been absent from our lives.
Gail Albert Halaban’s “Rue du Faubourg-du-Temple, Paris 11e” (2012) may be the most mysterious. It’s the upper floor of an apartment, shot from the exterior. There are five windows in a row. In the far left window, a girl plays an oboe. In the window to her right, another plays what looks like a harp. In the next window over, a woman and a boy, both standing, face in the direction of the girl and the harp. It’s every time you’ve walked through a neighborhood and suddenly heard music coming from somewhere.
Twin Cities musician James Taylor has created a playlist for the exhibition. “Music Box” closes April 24.
V is for virtual, L is for live and in person.
V Tonight (Tuesday, April 13), 6:30 p.m.: Club Book: Abby Jimenez, hosted by Scott County Library: “Life’s Too Short.” A woman of many talents, Minnesota’s Jimenez is an award-winning pastry chef, owner of Nadia Cakes, a Food Network favorite and a bestselling romance novel writer. “Life’s Too Short,” her second, was published April 6. This will be a livestream, but you can catch the recording later on Club Book’s website. FMI.
L and V Tonight (Tuesday, April 13), 7:30 p.m.: Northrop: Paul Jacobs Organ Recital. The Grammy-winning organist will return to Northrop’s historic Aeolian-Skinner organ for a recital of music by Bach and Handel. This concert will be available in person, with COVID protocols in place, or as a livestream, with on-demand streaming through April 18. FMI and tickets (in-person $16-25, streaming $4-5).
V Wednesday, April 14, 7 p.m.: Frank Theatre: Frankly Speaking: Abuse of Power in the Theatre. The eighth installment in Frank’s monthly series explores how the abuse of power within the theater affects the lives of artists, and what we as a community can do to be part of changing things. Frank’s artistic director, Wendy Knox, will moderate a livestreamed panel with Molly Diers, Laura Stearns, Elena Giannetti and Pogi Sumangil. On Facebook.
V Thursday, April 15, 7:30 p.m.: Cowles Center: Minnesota Dance Theatre: “Exploring Enchantment.” MDT’s “The Enchantment” was originally scheduled for live performances at the Cowles in Spring 2020. COVID has pushed that to Spring 2022. Meanwhile, MDT’s artistic director Lisa Houlton has created a virtual program that explores the show’s themes and inspiration. It’s not the large-scale, in-person ballet fans are hungry for, but it’s time spent with the legendary Twin Cities dance company. An artist Q&A will follow. Free with registration.