Today is the six-month anniversary of this column. For the past 26 Wednesdays since late January, I have taken you around the neighborhoods of Minneapolis, St. Paul, and a few suburbs to see art, architecture, design, and assorted features of the physical landscape.
We’ve seen oversexed mannequins, Emma Goldman, and art deco armies on the march. We’ve seen seven-string guitarists, metal wizards, and Martin Luther’s tongue rotting in his mouth. We’ve seen iconography both scientific and Communist. We’ve seen cobblestone alleys and vacant storefronts. We’ve seen sandstone beards and electronic billboards. We’ve seen Jorge Luis Borges. We’ve seen the North End of St. Paul and the southside of St. Louis. We’ve seen broken hearts, flour bombs, futuristic birdhouses, and a Chinese junk. We’ve seen train graffiti and we’ve seen Norwegian-language Bibles.
I hope it all adds up to a snapshot of the visual aesthetic of our cities at this point in time, aspects of an aesthetic that are both new and accumulated over decades. Of course, the cities are always changing. I was embarrassed to review some of my columns and realize I used the word “flux” an inordinate number of times. But it’s an accurate word. Cities are always in flux, and so are the visual elements that exist within them. Murals, buildings, posters, sculptures and ephemera I mention here could be gone in a matter of years, or months, or weeks. Many I’ve written about are already gone from view – Candy Chang’s billboards, for example, or the work featured in Whittier’s Artists in Storefronts (though a second iteration began earlier this week).
Additionally, I am really lucky to have a highly engaged audience of smart, passionate readers who email, leave comments, and otherwise get in touch to correct me, ask questions, offer their own opinions and expertise, and share their experiences related to the places and things I write about.
So six months seems like a good time to make some updates, print some letters from readers, and generally take inventory. Thanks to all of you who’ve written in with suggestions for future columns, and for reading every week.
A few weeks after my piece on the flags of downtown Minneapolis, the U.N. flag (which I briefly noted on the map) was removed from the plaza outside the government center. Hennepin County is finally safe from the black helicopters … for now.
To the list of flags flying in downtown St. Paul, we can add the Dutch tricolor and the distinctive red and black flag of the city of Amsterdam. As of this spring, these are now flapping in the breeze outside Amsterdam, Jon Oulman’s bar and music hall at 6th and Wabasha. In that column, I also put out a challenge to readers to send evidence of the log-cabin-adorned flag of the city of St. Paul, captured flying somewhere in town. Sure enough, I received a delightful email from reader Tom Barrett with a photo of the flag – not in St. Paul, but all the way in Quebec.
Tom was with a local group representing St. Paul at the Winter Festival in Quebec. “Each year the festival organizers select one city in the world to come to the festival and showcase their hometown,” he writes. “St. Paul was the lucky one back in 2007. Our group included representatives from the St. Paul Chamber and Tourist Bureau, Winter Carnival royalty (King Boreas and Vulcanus Rex); University of Minnesota student pep band; snow carvers; and a couple of chefs from some of St. Paul’s finest restaurants …”
There’s the flag below, in all its red and yellow glory.
Many people wrote me about the vacant storefronts of East Lake. Though none of the storefronts I mentioned in the column has been formally occupied yet (that I know of, anyway), there has been some activity in the area. This spring, Forage Modern Workshop opened at 4023 East Lake Street. I’ve heard of other artists poking around some of the stores, negotiating with landlords, and working out details behind the scenes. We’ll see what pans out. I have more optimism about that part of town than just about any other.
One more important note on East Lake’s abandoned storefronts: After the piece was published, reader Andrew Caddock sent a photo he’d taken of the inside of the Riverside Clubhouse, and it’s as amazing as you’d expect. (See it on his Flickr stream here.) Someone please, please buy it so I can drink scotch there.
Since February’s two-part overview of the wastelands around the Metrodome, there are now definitive plans in place for a shiny, expensive new Vikings stadium on the site of old Hump. This development surely spells doom for the statue of the seven-string guitarist profiled in the earlier piece, who stands now where the complex’s tailgating plaza will be located. Most likely he will be carted off to a junkyard somewhere in Anoka County and melted down into scrap metal in the next two or three years. Let his silent, finger-tapping prog-metal guitar solo echo forever as an anthem of defiance in the hearts of the Minneapolis residents and hardcore gambling addicts footing the majority of the stadium’s cost. Shred, shred, shred!
In the column on the arts luminaries’ opinions of the governors’ portraits, I’d also wanted St. Paul painter and public artist Ta-Coumba Aiken to chime in. Some technical trouble delayed the process a bit, but I’m happy now to reveal his picks.
Unsurprisingly, they align closely with the selections of his peers. Like the others, he’s a fan of Wendell Anderson and Arne Carlson’s portraits, making those two the undisputed favorites in my survey. Of Carlson, he says: “It is also a story-telling portrait with a huge spoonful of Minnesota pride. ‘Go Gophers,’ you know. This has a sense of humor, and yet he stands there relaxed and solid. I think this was a cool collaboration between the governor and artist Stephen Gjertson.”
Aiken also writes: “I really enjoy the approach Theodore Sohner took in painting Govenor Thye’s portraint. The techniques are exact and very finely executed, but what make this my favorite is how he incorporates a visual history of the governor’s life and aspirations. I don’t know about the events that went on during his term (or life, for that matter) but I feel through the painting that it was a full life. It portrays a journey from rural life to the Capitol. Even the sky represents optimism, the coming of a break in the clouds.” He also singled out the portraits of Karl F. Rolvaag (“Frances Cranmer Greenman’s painting is fresh, classy and joyful”) and Al Quie (“He is even holding his Stetson in his hand, surveying the land and the beautiful sky and meandering clouds. … It makes Quie seem alive, approachable and hopeful.”).
I was hoping one of MinnPost’s really insider-y readers would leak me information about who is on Gov. Mark Dayton’s short list for his official portraitist. No such luck, so I’ll take the opportunity to suggest St. Paul artist Allen Brewer. His great-grandfather, grandfather, and great-aunt have already painted five governors between them, and he’s a much-honored contemporary artist in his own right. For continuity, it’s unbeatable!