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Storefront vision: A tribute to Suzy Greenberg and SooVAC

Hand-drawn map of SOOVAC area
MinnPost illustration by Andy Sturdevant
SooVAC is located near 27th Street on Lyndale Avenue

Last week, the founder of Minneapolis gallery Soo Visual Arts Center, Suzy Greenberg, died at the age of 44. She’d founded SooVAC in 2001, and had served as artistic director since then. 

Nearly every artist I’ve talked to in the past week had a personal connection to Suzy, whether she’d shown their work, given them encouragement, worked with them at Soo or at Rosalux, the artist cooperative she’d also had a role in founding, or just been friends with them. I am choosing my words carefully here when I write “personal connection,” as opposed to “professional connection.” The artists who worked with Suzy – and there are so many of them – loved her, and she loved them back.

It’s amazing to consider the breadth of talent she nurtured in her role at SooVAC, the gallery she helped build. Looking back now on the website, at the archive of shows at the space in past 11 years, it’s a truly remarkable list of artists. SooVAC has been a place where people wanted to show work, not only because it was well-lighted and clean and professionally run, but because Suzy took such an interest in the work and in the artists. SooVAC will remain a place people want to see work, and want to show work. It’s perhaps the best legacy an artist can leave.

I didn’t know Suzy well. I always enjoyed talking to her when I’d see her at openings, and have always been struck by the way she really loved her work. It was through that work at SooVAC that I primarily knew her.

SOO VAC exterior
SooVAC is a classic storefront gallery; unlike art spaces located in reclaimed industrial spaces or behind marble-columned facades, you can walk past, see what’s going on inside through the glass, and walk in to have a look.

SooVAC is located near 27th Street on Lyndale Avenue, in one of those great one-story brick commercial buildings that sit in the Lowry Hill East (The Wedge) neighborhood just north of the Lyn-Lake area. It’s a classic storefront gallery; unlike art spaces located in reclaimed industrial spaces or behind marble-columned facades, you can walk past, see what’s going on inside through the glass, and walk in to have a look.

There are not a lot of storefront spaces in town at this moment, which is a real shame, and what makes Suzy’s vision for the gallery so important. It takes all kinds of spaces to make a healthy arts scene – cavernous warehouses and smaller ephemeral spaces, apartment galleries and large institutions. But as a good gallerist like Suzy knew, the storefront galleries play a key role in serving as places where an emerging artist can show work in an accessible environment, an established artist can show work on a manageable scale, and the two of them can show side-by-side. They put artists directly into conversation with the community around the gallery, on equal footing with the other merchants and small businesses in the neighborhood.

And SooVAC fits neatly into that nearby physical community. The area is in many respects the perfect spot for a storefront gallery like SooVAC. It’s located in a dense, lively neighborhood that, while it’s only a few blocks away, utterly lacks the absurd, overblown retail gigantism that often marks street life in Uptown. You won’t find an Apple Store or Urban Outfitters on Lyndale. Instead, there’s a Laundromat, a soccer supply store, and a place that repairs vacuum cleaners nearby, which gives you a clue about the neighborhood’s coziness and total lack of self-importance. You can easily walk, bike or drive to SooVAC. Once you get there, it’s an enjoyable place to hang out, which is why on an opening night, the crowds spill out onto the sidewalks, even in the most miserable stretches of winter.

suzy greenberg
The artists who worked with Suzy Greenberg,
second from left, loved her, and she loved
them back.

These shows are not Suzy’s vision alone – any gallery’s success is the result of the work of many people. But Suzy was the driving force behind the gallery, and the list of shows is a testament to that vision.

Some of the most memorable shows I’ve seen in the past few years have been at SooVAC. A few days ago, I was talking to a friend who had shown a few times in the space about “Wish Come True,” a truly bonkers 2007 exhibition by a Miami-based duo called FRIENDS WITH YOU. “Did you go in the back room?” he asked. The back room was filled with these enormous anime-influenced inflatable heads, and people were packed in there, jumping around over, on and past them. I could have lied and said, “I sure did!” But instead I told him the truth, which was that I’d only poked my head in, and was so overwhelmed by the giddy sense of chaos inside that I turned immediately and fled back into the relative safety of the front space. People were literally swinging off the rafters back there. It’s hard to think of another space in Minneapolis where such an exuberant, pop-fueled explosion of joyousness would have worked as well as it did in there. 

And there’s so much more, including one of the first major solo shows by Alex Kuno, whose delicate funny/scary paintings of terrified, wide-eyed children have long been a favorite locally. There were Samantha French’s gorgeous paintings of swimmers, and Jaron Child’s paintings of people crying, sourced from Google Image Search. Judith G. Levy’s “Girls Brigade,” whose Philip Guston-by-way-of-Marcel Dzama paintings and drawings I remember being particularly delighted by in 2008. Eric Carlson’s “Resist Pop Fantasy II: Liquids Words,” a deadpan collection of objects and artworks straddling the line between low-concept graphic design and high-concept installation art. David Sollie’s “Everybody Wins” from last year, an archive of artifacts from the maybe-real-maybe-not Shackaway Corporation, one of the strangest, wittiest shows I’d seen for a while. And more, more, more: Jennifer Davis, Amy Rice, Ben Garthus, Andrea Carlson. Shows I don’t even remember seeing and wish now I had. Lydia Lunch in 2007! How did I miss that one?

This partial list only hints at how inclusive SooVAC’s vision has been. This is to say nothing of the performances, group exhibitions and other shows SooVAC has fostered over the years. There’s been MCAD MFA thesis shows, as well as juried shows of work by teenagers. There have been exhibitions by artists from Spectrum ArtWorks and the Kulture Klub.

It’s hard to overstate what a contribution she made to the Twin Cities art community over the past decade. But this is only a small part of a vibrant life. If you know a few artists, you will very likely know someone touched by Suzy’s vision. Those who were lucky enough to know her will have a story to share. Seek them out, and consider how the right person, being in the right place, can make such an enormous impact in the community where she lives and works. SooVAC was the right place, and Suzy was the right person.

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