It would be a gross understatement to say that 2007 was a busy year for Minneapolis-based visual artist Ernest A. Bryant III. He opened his first solo outing at Franklin Art Works in September, followed almost immediately by a group show at the MCAD Gallery. Now he's gearing up for another solo exhibit at Midway Contemporary Art in early 2008.
In a town blessed with so many contemporary art spaces that have ambitiously expanded their national and international programs in recent years, Bryant's ubiquity—I'm tempted to call it a conquest—is remarkable. His string of public sorties seems to be matching an important turning point in the artist's work. His earlier 2-D mélanges of photorealist renditions, clipped cartoon images, and gestural aerosol tags have evolved to more layered (literally and figuratively) collages that add found textiles and occasional loaded objects like a knee-high boot and military medals. The sensuous collages at Franklin were richly poignant, impudent, and funny, but the artist is clearly packing a few more punches to deploy.
For instance, he staged a public event in his own neighborhood—what he calls a "BBQ potlatch"—in which he served people cooked chickens and collected leftover bones that he fashioned into a suit. The traditional Native American potlatch—a ceremonial feast that earns great prestige for the giver even at the risk of destroying his accumulated wealth—seems incomprehensible to us in our capitalist economy, and it is also a comment from Bryant about today's fatally interconnected global market.
Overall, Bryant is energetically building a body of work that reminds viewers of the almost fetishistic power of images and objects in a world characterized by unbridgeable chasms, unexpected linkages, and chaotic collisions of systems of meaning. With all of his recent success, there is such a thing as overexposure, but Bryant may be acutely aware of that, too. After his Midway exhibition, the young artist will embark on a yearlong journey to West Africa, Germany, and China for a series of apprenticeships and sojourns. We will have to wait and see what he brings back to the American heartland.