Artists of the Year

12 Rods, Jon Stewart, Howard Stern, Quentin Tarantino, Garrison Keillor, MF Doom, Lawrence Lessig, Randi Rhodes...

Rumor has it that 2004 was the Year of the Angry Critic at City Pages. Okay, so our review of The Passion of the Christ kinda hinted that the mere existence of this Jew-hating, bodily-fluid-spewing, Bible-exploiting bomb is proof that God is dead. And in our feature about America's Sweetheart, we may have suggested that the next time Courtney Love warrants anyone's ink will be when the coroners fill out their autopsy reports over her fat, pharmaceutical-stuffed corpse. Still, I don't think it's fair for readers to say that we're a bunch of black-hearted scribes who spill bile all over our pages and then donate our entire salaries to the National Fund for Destroying Artists' Lives. I mean, this year, we only gave them 50 bucks.

Besides, over the past 12 months, I overheard every one of our writers rhapsodizing about the various filmmakers, musicians, stage actors, photographers, and novelists whose masterpieces have shaken them to their very souls--their words. This, from a group of people who some may have assumed either a) didn't believe in the soul or b) might sell theirs for an extended deadline and a Kit-Kat bar. So in the spirit of rave reviews everywhere, we present our annual Artist of the Year issue, in which we come together to admire--wholeheartedly, and without irony--the various right-brained geniuses who made the biggest impact on us in 2004. Beginning with the locals, we've devoted the bulk of this issue to gushing about our artistic heroes. Yes, that's what we said: heroes. We cynics are praising in earnest. You can't deny the transformative power of art.

--Melissa Maerz

Don Holzschuh
by Jim Walsh

I need to see my city as it was, but also as it could be, and as anything other than what it is in the middle of February. Don Holzschuh's paintings do that. They recast Minneapolis as someplace fantastical, a land straight out of C.S. Lewis Carroll, where candy-coated cobblestones and yellow brick roads lead to the Mississippi River as Paris-on-the-Seine and Nicollet Avenue as mobster-era Chicago. But for all their wanderlust and trippy beauty, Don the Baptist's benedictions are wholly and instantly recognizable--White Castle, Shinders, Uptown, downtown--and populated by ordinary people turned extraordinary by the ferocity of one man's quiet adoration.

For 25 years, Holzschuh has been putting his brush to his beloved city, but you don't need me or a thesaurus to come up with "beloved": For a few weeks at the end of 2003 and the beginning of 2004, Holzschuh's work hung at Flanders Contemporary Art in downtown Minneapolis. Strolling through the exhibit was like walking hand in hand with an old friend you've never met before, but who obviously shares a passion for the nooks and crannies and secret hideouts of this uptight bohemia burg we call home.

A friend of mine's living room is ordained with a Holzschuh painting of the hardware store on the corner of 26th Street and Lyndale Avenue South. It is done from the vantage point of the storied apartment above Oarfolkjokeopus (now Treehouse) Records. Every time I see it, I imagine Holszchuh sitting on a window sill on a hot summer night, struck by the simplicity of that historic intersection's muted magic and burning to capture it, to throw color down on canvas, and make the rest of us behold what he beholds.

Jim Walsh is a staff writer at City Pages.


Skewed Visions
by Quinton Skinner

Claiming entire swaths of Minneapolis as their stage, Skewed Visions put together astonishingly vivid site-specific works this year with an artistic impact inversely proportional to the necessarily limited size of their audiences. Company members Charles Campbell, Gulgun Kayim, and Sean Kelley-Pegg assembled a triad of works and tagged it The City Itself. The result was a genre-busting meditation on alienation and intimacy, memory and pain. While assaying heavy material, the shows also exhibited a distinctive brand of outright weirdness that charged their performances with a streak of hardy fun winding through harrowing and off-kilter intensity.

In The Car, a remount of a 2000 Fringe Festival favorite, audience members rode in the backseat of three different autos with the action taking place in the front. The production was as mesmerizing as it was discomfiting, a night out with psychos, a hooker and john, and a psychotically depressed taxi driver. The actors thrived in such an unorthodox setting, with Sherri Macht's regretful lover and Xavier Rice's tittering drag queen etching themselves into the audience's memory.

For The House, the company rented a two-story home in south Minneapolis and converted it into an ornate set in which small crowds were led from room to room. The place was populated by a barking mad cast of four spectral crazies; in The Car, audiences felt like ghostly voyeurs looking through a window into the lives of others, but in this latter show it was the actors who seemed like yearning, disembodied spirits. Nathan Christopher's performance as a man slowly fading from life on a lonely mattress invoked a powerful sense of existential dread to match a monologue by Vera Mariner about wallpaper and the madness domestic space can inspire.

One had to love The City Itself for its relentless creativity, staunch standard of quality, and deranged ambition in the service of necessarily single-digit audiences (the third work in the triad, Side Walk, was a sound installation leading pedestrians through the Lyn-Lake neighborhood). The eponymous house set, for instance, was so rich in detail that transitions to the next space were accompanied by a sense of panic that one hadn't sufficiently examined the room one was leaving, and that near-infinite details had yet to emerge. Crucially, Skewed Visions located the precise line between thrilling an adventuresome audience and gratuitously rattling or titillating it. Space, the final frontier, belonged to them.

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