Alec Soth, Kevin Kramp, Robyn, and more: Artists of the year

Influential artists of 2010

His first book, The Room Where I Was Born, is a spectacular debut, and though traditional in form, it's a complex and innovative text. Teare's Sight Map (University of California Press, 2009) is one of the best poetry books I've read in many years. This volume leaves you breathless with its force of method and style—a ravishing field guide that takes the love poem to entirely new terrain. Pleasure (Ahsahata, published this year) is equally good. Technically Teare's second book (though published third), Pleasure is centered on the death of a lover to AIDS and the "God-haunted afterworld of grief." This book is not an easy read, but perhaps a necessary one, particularly in the current political (and environmental) climate.

As a poet, Teare doesn't protect us from pain, rather he seems interested in pulling us through it. On the other side, there's joy. And in the wake is stunning music.

Juliet Patterson is a poet and writer who lives in Minneapolis near the east bank of the Mississippi River. For more information, visit www.julietpatterson.com

Liu Wei

By TD Mischke

His toes move across the keys like stubby crab legs. His upper limbs are gone, have been for years. The sound from the baby grand is meditative and mournful. The audience is rapt. A new, angelic template of human art forms before their eyes.

When Liu Wei was 10 years old, his arms were amputated after he was electrocuted while playing hide and seek with friends. In his teens he taught himself to play piano using just his toes.

Last August, at the age of 23, he appeared on the TV show China's Got Talent, the Chinese version of the show that made Susan Boyle a star. The smiling, humble musician left the judges and audience in tears. He wasn't just good for an armless guy; he was good period, stunningly so.

But there was more than music going on here. A wildly driven human will was sensed dancing in the spotlights. More than this, the audience was seeing a new plant, a strange new flower, one that had worked its way through the rubble of some devastating earthquake, emerging from a last crack in the concrete, out into the open air where it preened like no rose ever has.

And the tears, they weren't for Liu. They were tears over the divine beauty of the best part of ourselves, the lofty regions we occupy when our purest light shines. The tears fell because we were reminded once more we're better than we think we are, more exquisite than we appear in the newspapers and reality shows.

Mention China in random bars in the U.S. these days and you'll sense a simmering fear. For some it's about that country's economy, for others it's the military. Is this the century the Leviathan rises and throws its shadow across the globe? Perhaps. But watching Liu Wei play, we can imagine that shadow having a different name. Suddenly it's not economic or military. Instead, it's legions of artists, unleashed from the east by the millions, coming our way with gifts we can't yet fathom.

Bring 'em on.

TD Mischke is a columnist for City Pages and host of The Nite Show, which airs weeknights from 10 to midnight on WCCO radio.

Oliver Platt

By Ella Taylor

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Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Television / Ken Regan

Oliver Platt is a lot more highborn than he looks. His father was a diplomat, and word is that the prolific character actor is distantly related to Princess Diana. But Platt, who wears his tall, round frame and India-rubber features without noticeable vanity, can do just about any Everyman you can think of. He has carved a thriving film and television career out of playing ambiguous political types (The West Wing, Frost/Nixon) or partners in crime (see The Three Musketeers) who stick with you long after the movie has faded from memory. He has a face made for funny, and he can pump up the volume on a dime—onstage recently as Nathan Detroit in Guys and Dolls, or in this season's big-ticket movie Love and Other Drugs, in which he plays an excitable salesman who opens Jake Gyllenhaal's eyes to the marketing promise of a new drug called Viagra.

But Platt is an ironic minimalist at heart, which may be why he works so wonderfully well in talky ensemble pieces. He's far from detached or self-conscious, but there's a dry, understated amusement about him, as if he's rolling his eyes at the dissembling madness of human behavior, his own in particular.

In Nicole Holofcener's Please Give, released this year, he plays Alex, an affluent Manhattan antiques dealer treading water in a friendly but becalmed marriage to Catherine Keener. Watching Alex, an affectionate husband and loving father, shuffle furtively closer to an affair with the disgruntled granddaughter (Amanda Peet) of a neighbor whose apartment he covets, we see how a perfectly good man can utterly lose the rhythms of his fortunate life and court disaster with a young woman he doesn't even like. Platt gives Alex just the right balance of shiftiness, guilt, and rising panic, and it's remarkable—given that he's up to something most women hate in a partner—how much sympathy and eros this adorably odd-looking man can muster from an audience in what is undoubtedly one of the better women's movies we've seen in years.

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