Artists of the Year

Joe Scrimshaw offered a production of his own for the Fringe, titled The Worst Show at the Fringe. Far from being the worst, it was an unusually sharp-tongued meditation on the relationship between critic and actor. The only dimwitted aspect of Joe's show was the author himself, appearing as a cloddish repo man. It was this character who offered the cruelest commentary on theater, suggesting that it is an insular world that only interests other theater people. Theater people, yes, but, as the brothers have demonstrated, also Klingons.

Max Sparber is a playwright and freelance writer who lives in Omaha, Nebraska.


Scott Wright

Wynn Fricke

Many performing artists are like bad poker players, so eager to impress that they betray their cards too soon. The purpose for their work is revealed in the first five minutes and the remaining time is devoted to expanding on a known, and ultimately tired, theme. Wynn Fricke, by contrast, possesses the sort of ineffable, unpredictable quality that card sharks have nightmares about. It has nothing to do with mystery or deceit.

Rather, Fricke allows the intentions behind her choreography to reveal themselves ever so slowly and often in surprising ways. Watching her work, you become acutely aware of both breath and body--your own and the dancers'. It's through these portals that the subtle brilliance of Fricke's work slides into consciousness and settles down for a while. The experience might not be felt fully until much later, but it leaves a mark on the inner eye.

Take "Voices from a Painted Cave," Fricke's most recent commission by Zenon Dance Company. Inspired by ancient images, the work is a solemn journey into prehistory, a time when communication relied more on the physical than the philosophical. The marvelous performers, many of whom also dance in Fricke's own Borrowed Bones Dance Theatre, allowed themselves to shed their modern identities for a less refined yet still highly evolved style. Even as they moved with urgency, the atmosphere in the theater remained strangely still, like the undisturbed air of a tomb. Later, as the lights faded for the last time, it felt as if spirits were rushing out of the room, back to the place Fricke had summoned them from.

Fricke also presented a new work this summer called "The Hungry Ghost," with original music by frequent collaborator Carl Witt. Inspired by the realms of human suffering depicted in a Buddhist mandala, the piece tells the story of a character who is never satisfied. Such complexity--created through movement, space, and time--is achieved against long odds. But one senses that Fricke, who continues to evolve as an artist, has only begun to up the ante.

Caroline Palmer is City Pages' dance critic and an attorney with the Minnesota AIDS Project.


Carolyn Swiszcz

Year after year, Carolyn Swiszcz's artwork continues to have bite. This is because she is preoccupied with certain, unchanging, bleak places--the landscape of the fringes, the panorama of urban decay. Who isn't grossed out, yet fascinated, by the parkinglotization of our local vistas? Who isn't struck dumb by all the bright plastic signage that fills our lines of vision?

Swiszcz is Minnesota's own contemporary, one-woman Ashcan school. Her work is a running commentary on the vacuum that fills the cities and the souls around us today. Her paintings (in acrylic) are dry tone poems about alienation, stagnation, nullity. They are quickly rendered things, toss-offs on paper tacked to the wall, or sketchbook pages stuck together with masking tape. They are bedecked with banal found scraps, with snippets of meaningless text, with empty swaths of color broken only by the occasional rendering of a bleak Dairy Queen or a lonely phone booth or a still-life Dixie Cup. As with most soothsayers, Swiszcz doesn't have to elaborate too much--though in these increasingly unappetizing times she has seemed particularly inspired, exhibiting an ever-expanding repertoire of imagery that reminds us of the places that surround us.

Since 2000, she has displayed work in major shows at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D.C., the Plains Art Museum in Fargo, and the New York Drawing Center. Next year she mounts further offensives: at galleries in New Bedford, Massachusetts; Madison, Wisconsin; Miami, Florida; East Islip, New York; and at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. Maybe, thanks to Swiszcz, the right people will take notice of what's gone wrong in America. Then again, maybe they won't.

Michael Fallon is City Pages' art critic.


Ivan Brunetti

Every so often, and i do mean "often," an artist has a bad year. Not bad in terms of his art, with which he continues to bravely wrangle, but bad in terms of his life. He has a bad day job, he has bad luck, he meets a bad person. 2002 was a bad year for Ivan Brunetti, the Chicago cartoonist and self-proclaimed "Funniest Living American." So was 2001, as well as every year prior to that, but you already know this if you've read Brunetti's autobiographical comic book, Schizo.

Brunetti, who says his last name is Italian for "shit-brown little man," sat for more than 2,000 hours at his desk job, bathed in the radiation emitted by his computer. At night he soldiered home on the el back to his dim walk-up, where he ingested a low-cal potpie and jerked off "2.5 times exactly" before facing the drawing board. It was there, alone, that he made his mark as an artist. He put the final touches on his lengthy appreciation of the New Yorker's blind cartoonist, James Thurber--a project four years in the doing--just as the L.A. magazine that had commissioned the strip folded quietly. He drew a strip for Schizo entitled "How to Draw a Comic Strip" and generously allowed a startup art-and-design magazine to print it, free of charge. After the editors published the strip, they called Brunetti and told him that he should no longer plan on running it in Schizo or anywhere else; as a matter of policy, they had decided, all their content had to be "exclusive." An East Coast publisher came to Brunetti's rescue and purchased the electronic rights to six of his full-page, full-color strips--each of which had taken him a month of evenings and weekends to complete--for $25 apiece. The check for $150 arrived last week, just in time for Christmas. It bounced.

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