[Editor's note: A correction ran concerning this story; see end of article.]
The middle-aged women are in something of a frenzy. There are three of them here at Intermedia Arts, and they're clustered in front of a painting from the "Minneapolis 55408" show, a free-for-all celebration of pieces created within the local postal code. Granted, the walls of the three galleries are so packed with loud art and the rooms so laden with visual stimuli that it is easy to understand how someone could become overexcited. In fact, the women ejaculate with such abandon over what they see that I can't help but listen to them. "There are so many talented people in this city," one of the women shouts. "I just can't get over it." And as I watch--what else can I do?--the woman is drawn forward, her arm outstretched zombielike, and she is compelled to pet and stroke a painting on the wall as her friends gape.
Perhaps she is right, I think, that there is a lot of artistic talent in the area around Lake Street and Lyndale Avenue in Minneapolis where Intermedia Arts is situated. Though I would add you have to sift through a lot of dross to find it in this orgy of art. The decisions of curators John Marshall and Michael Hoyt seem akin to the modern theories of public-school education. That is, you must include everyone; everyone is worthy; no one stands out above the rest; everyone passes. Because of the inclusive bent of the show, the curators have proven themselves unwilling, or unable, to separate the wheat from the chaff here, as hundreds of artworks, many not very distinguished, fill three rather tiny galleries. There are more than 90 local people represented--painters, sculptors, video- and filmmakers, and craft artists--and their work is hung in a kind of übersalon style wherein almost no white surface in the galleries is allowed to remain uncovered. Which is all to say that "Minneapolis 55408" will take the breath away from some and horrify others.
After the women settled down to a low roar, I did eventually find several gems among the profusion of work. Todd Peterson's "After the Flood," for instance, is a collection of five framed pastel drawings that fan out across a cramped section of wall. Its imagery includes all manner of carefully represented flora and fauna--birds, tropical fish, roses, twisting vines--floating and swirling around the elusive figures of two young girls. These subjects seem from their dress to be copied from early-19th-century photographs. But it is Peterson's technique that makes these images compelling: He coaxes rich colors from the pastels and applies thick glazes of varnish and metallic pigment that give the images an unworldly and gorgeous sheen.
Tucked away amid the chaos of a nearby gallery, Heather Willems's "The Camera Adds Ten Pounds" is a fascinating spread comprising eight small photographs of a mirror hanging in a plain, white-walled room. In each image a young and beautiful model can be seen in the mirror alternately primping and fretting as she examines her body, and then bingeing on a bowl of salad with a look of distaste. While such gender and body issues are now reaching passé status in the art world, Willems's skill at telling a story while using only scant details allows her work to capture the viewer's attention and imagination. Both of these artists deserve much better: Sufficient wall space to frame their ideas would be a start. One hopes these two will soon be given solo shows.
Still, this exhibit perhaps should be given credit for its realistic portrayal of a changing neighborhood. Once a center of sorts for the hip and artistic, Lyn-Lake, Uptown, and their postal environs have rapidly become a bastion for upscale young professionals. Rents have skyrocketed, generic retail and lifestyle consumer stops have proliferated, and cars rush here and there at high speed through the traffic corridors. As in the show, there is too much going on and not enough space.
Of course, not everyone is happy about the gentrification and the high rents. Artists in particular seem upset: Much of "Minneapolis 55408" is given over to vitriolic and excessively strident political art. There is not much need to describe this work; it tends to be the same kind of high-volume clamor that was current 40 or 50 years ago: lots of electric yellow and acid blue and dripping red painting, lots of writhing and flat, cartoonlike bodies, lots of too-obvious titles ("Global Warning," "School Desegregation Mural"), and lots of juvenile and excessive imagery (sample: An African-American man is served up like a raw ham, while Uncle Sam, Colonel Sanders, and a Klansman smile out at us with blood running down their jowls). And though these folks may have a point, it's so badly stated it makes one pine that someone with just a touch of subtlety would move into the neighborhood.
The Circa Gallery is located just a few miles away (zip code 55403), but it might as well be another world for all the difference in its approach to art. Circa is that rarest of Twin Cities birds--an art gallery devoted to finding, promoting, and selling the work of (mostly) local artists. It does nothing else to make its money, and it has been successful in doing so for about ten years now. Part of the gallery's success lies in the clarity of its artistic vision--one knows a Circa Gallery artwork when one sees it. Consider the gallery's annual celebration of its stable of 15 or so artists, "Summer Salon," which features walls that are stocked with placid and tasteful art of the kind often found in high-end hotels and office buildings.