Artists of the Year

Having failed to assassinate Henry Clay Frick with two gunshots and a makeshift dagger, anarchist Alexander Berkman took his fight to the tycoon's legacy. "Henry Clay Frick was a man of the passing hour," Berkman's companion Emma Goldman said, having learned of Frick's natural death on the eve of their deportation. "Neither in life nor in death would he have been remembered long. It was Alexander Berkman who made him known, and Frick will live only in connection with Berkman's name. His entire fortune could pay not for such glory."

Hey, some people don't just forgive and forget. Berkman's curse aside, the steel magnate had an awful lot of fortune. He devoted a goodly chunk of it to a peerless collection of masterpieces by the likes of Titian, El Greco, Rembrandt, Vermeer. In 1912, Frick built a gilded Fifth Avenue mansion to house it all. The museum, which bears Frick's name, remains one of New York's great cultural attractions, drawing a quarter of a million visitors each year. Surely, almost no one gazing at the placid sailing scenes of Aelbert Cuyp is thinking of the barges Frick hired on the Ohio River to deliver 300 Pinkertons to the city of Pittsburgh. There, in 1892, the rifle-bearing strikebreakers confronted a crowd of protesting Homestead steel workers, killing 10 of them. Some 8,000 state militia would be needed to still the violence.

Not a pretty picture, this.

Gary Taxali

One of Minnesota's modern-day moguls found his name on the front pages this year, and not to his pleasure. Dr. William McGuire left his megalithic HMO, UnitedHealth, after the outbreak of a stock-option scandal. The man who Forbes identified in 2005 as the third best-paid executive in America stands accused of having fudged a few dates to augment the value of his holdings.

McGuire's pillorying by the press is no match for Berkman's point-blank fusillade—although it's worth noting that Frick returned to his desk within a week and McGuire seems unlikely ever to return. (On a real tangent: A former UnitedHealth janitor once claimed to City Pages that McGuire kept a Kevlar-lined bathroom at corporate headquarters, lest the spirit of Berkman seize an enraged employee. Crazy enough to be true?) Though the executive has forfeited some $200 million in stock options, more than a $1 billion more remains in dispute. And McGuire could still face criminal charges. With an estimated net worth of $1.2 billion, he should be able to scrape up a decent attorney.

In time, of course, these front-page stories will sink into the musty recesses of the business section. And then they'll disappear altogether. But McGuire, like Frick, won't be forgotten. There's a new 385-seat theater with his name on it in Walker Art Center and a $2 million commissioning fund for groundbreaking new performance pieces. Those whose dramatic tastes run toward the traditional can see the classics on the McGuire Proscenium Stage in the new Guthrie Theater. Groundlings and other plebes will be able to linger outside the riverfront building in the newly developed McGuire Park.

As the epigram goes, life is short; art is long. What it doesn't say: Endowed real estate is forever.

No one will win immortality by being named an artist of the year in these pages. Most of these creative souls, for all their bohemian ways, would probably take the stock options over one of our valentines. But it beats obscurity, or so we tell ourselves—especially for the local musician, writer, artist, dancer, and filmmaker who kick off our annual issue.


Agnes Smuda


I'm 46 and in the midst of a garden variety midlife, um....readjustment. Call it a meet-and-greet with mortality. So far, I'm not terribly proud of how I'm handling it. I tend to cover my ears and look the other way when the C-word is mentioned. A certain epidemiologist's gleefully dire warnings about tomorrow's pandemic make me nauseous with fear. I don't listen to KQ anymore. You never know when "Dust in the Wind" might take its turn in the rotation.

On one level, it's ridiculous, given all I've been blessed with. And yet, at this stage, I can feel the full existential weight of Peggy Lee's "Is That All There Is" bearing down. It might be some kind of genetic inheritance. For a brief period in the late '60s, that song was a radio staple. We'd be driving back from my grandparents' at night and I couldn't tell whether it was my mom, Mary Lee, or Ms. Lee chatting nonchalantly about the emptiness of life. The chorus would start, and the two would croon in unison. I was startled to hear Mary Lee and Peggy Lee deliver a song of deep resignation with such conviction.

They're topics to explore in a journal—the personal melodrama lingering in a '70s prog-rock band; and the instant when it seemed like my mother and Peggy Lee were interchangeable—but, alas, I don't keep one. Yet in Agnes Smuda's writing circle, I might have the makings of an audio autobiography.

Smuda is a 64-year-old singer, composer, and writer from Maplewood. She and her artistic cohorts, 78-year-old Joan Calof and Nancy Cox, who's 68, released a CD this year that demonstrates how our lives are stitched together by songs.

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