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Shifts, transformation and fun: Reflecting on the year in Minnesota art

I don’t think anyone could say the pandemic is over, but there certainly seemed to be a thaw from the worst of the COVID winter in 2022. The arts community in the Twin Cities and beyond have been reflecting on all that has happened in the last nearly three years, at times making both subtle and bold shifts in leadership, direction and vision.

A show not to miss — and still on view until Dec. 29 — is a survey of Piotr Szyhalski’s career, “We are Working all the Time,” at the Weisman Art Museum.
A show not to miss — and still on view until Dec. 29 — is a survey of Piotr Szyhalski’s career, “We are Working all the Time,” at the Weisman Art Museum.
MinnPost photo by Sheila Regan

I don’t think anyone could say the pandemic is over, but there certainly seemed to be a thaw from the worst of the COVID winter in 2022. The arts community in the Twin Cities and beyond have been reflecting on all that has happened in the last nearly three years, at times making both subtle and bold shifts in leadership, direction and vision. 

Mark Valdez
Courtesy of Mixed Blood Theater
Mark Valdez
On the bolder end of the spectrum, Penumbra has taken big strides toward its transformation into a center for racial healing, with a new leadership model that prioritizes racial justice and wellness. Lots of other organizations have seen changes as well. Mixed Blood bid adieu to its founding artistic director Jack Reuler, handing the reigns to Mark Valdez. Other notable changes included Jehra Patrick becoming Highpoint Center for Printmaking’s new executive director, and the History Theatre naming Richard D. Thompson as its new Artistic Director. Meanwhile, Vincenzo de Bellis departed from the Walker Art Center, moving to a new gig with Art Basel, and Ginger Shulick Porcella is leaving Franconia to become the executive director of Creative Growth in Oakland. 

I was pretty disappointed about that last one, because I’ve been watching Franconia’s new initiatives with interest, especially the first 4Ground Festival of public art that took place all over the region. Another development that caught my eye was The Minnesota Children’s Museum’s accessibility efforts.

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There were fantastic exhibitions, performances, and more in the arts this year. Some, I wrote about just briefly here at MinnPost, like Harriet Bart’s luminous exhibition at NewStudio Gallery, “Reckoning.” The centerpiece of the exhibition was a stunning sculptural installation “Harrowed Objects.” Bart has a knack for imbuing deep meaning into carefully chosen materials (seeds, stone, steel, etc.) and creating works that emanate with a sense of reverence. 

“Iphigenia at Aulis,” presented by Ten Thousand Things Theater
MinnPost photo by Sheila Regan
“Iphigenia at Aulis,” presented by Ten Thousand Things Theater
A memorable theater piece in 2022 was “Iphigenia at Aulis,” presented by Ten Thousand Things Theater. I watched a performance outdoors near the Mississippi River, and talked about how much I liked the musical component, thanks to the talent of JD Steele, who composed the music, and live keyboards by Billy Steele, plus a terrific chorus.

“पौर्णिमा: Gazing Into The Full Moon Night”
MinnPost photo by Sheila Regan
“पौर्णिमा: Gazing Into The Full Moon Night”
A few other highlights in the arts were Roshan Ganu’s “पौर्णिमा: Gazing Into The Full Moon Night,” presented at Soo Visual Art, and Sonja Peterson’s “What the Trade Winds Brought” at the Minnesota Marine Art Museum. Another show not to miss— and still on view until Dec. 29 — is a survey of Piotr Szyhalski’s career, “We are Working all the Time,” at the Weisman Art Museum. Each of those three exhibitions were challenging in their content and created immersive, stunning imagery in the artists’ respective mediums. 

Often, for a one-off performance or event, I can only offer my educated guess about whether it will be worth your time. I had written a preview of Junauda Petrus-Nasah’s “The Impact Theory of Mass Extinction,” and attended the work after my preview came out. It was one of the most joyful things I saw all year.

“KLII”
Courtesy of the Walker Art Center
“KLII”
I also absolutely loved Kaneza Schaal’s “KLII,” the postponed production at the Walker that was part of the “Out There” series. The work, made in collaboration with Christopher Myers, was a riveting investigation of Leopold II’s brutality in the Belgian Congo. Kaneza Schaal has immense power as a performer. One scene, where she eats a large serving of meat for an extended period of time while seated on a towering throne, was sinister to the extreme. 

I had so much fun at the XV Latvian Song and Dance Festival, when I got to see “Enchanted by the Sea,” performed the Saulkrasti Mixed Choir ANIMA at the Ordway. I also loved Interpol at the Palace Theater, Spektral Quartet at the Bell Museum, “Living Traditions,” featuring “Incident at Wounded Knee” by Louis W. Ballard, commissioned by the SPCO at the Ordway Concert Hall, and a staged reading of “Death of a Salesman,” with Asian actors playing the Loman family members, at the Conn Theater.

Ta-coumba T. Aiken is one of two Minnesotans to receive the award and the only Minnesota artist.
Tom Dunn Photography
Ta-coumba T. Aiken
One of my favorite things to do as an arts journalist is write about artists I admire, especially when they’ve recently been honored with an award. This year, I profiled Ta-Coumba Aiken after he was named a 2022 Guggenheim Fellow, Douglas Ewart when he became the 2022 McKnight Distinguished Artist, and Ifrah Mansour and Saymoukda Duangphouxay Vongsay when they became Bush Fellows. I also had the chance to interview Ellen Hart, who got the lifetime achievement award for this year’s World Mystery Convention. 

2023 is loaded with promise of good things to come. I was lucky to see a one of the first offerings by Pillsbury House + Theater featuring the work of Sharon Bridgeforth, “The bull-jean Experience” part of a series of programming that dives into Bridgforth’s writings at the theater. I’m also looking forward to Pramila Vasudevan’s project with Public Art St. Paul, “Prairie/Concrete.” Vasudevan in the past year has shared very personal work that has explored her own experiences living with serious illness and traumatic medical procedures/medicines. Both an exhibition at Hair + Nails Gallery (in conjunction with Rachel Jendrzejewski) and a performance at the Red Eye Theater offered a window into that exploration, filled with vivid imagery and chilling metaphor. I’m very much looking forward to the next piece, which continues Vasudevan’s interest in the natural world. 

Will the COVID-19 pandemic impact the arts landscape in 2023? Probably in some ways, though we may not fully understand its full impact for years to come. Meanwhile, I’ll be watching for ways that world events, conversations about race, equity, the environment, and evolving conceptions of acknowledging land, healing and justice play out in the work artists are making. I’ll also feature what I deem new and “shiny,” a word the late Pamela Espeland used to describe her driving force of coverage when she wrote for this column. And all along, I’ll be sharing my thoughts here in the column pages and in the Artscape newsletter. 

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story contained an incorrect reference to Cornell Alston. The story has been updated.