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

Influential artists of 2010

Nate Patrin is City Pages' clubs editor.

Marina Abramovic

By Eric Lorberer

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"Golden Mask," courtesy of Sean Kelly Gallery

Viewing art is usually about bearing witness to a thing made, be it an object, performance, or even an environment. But what if it's the artist herself on view? That was the seed of genius behind Marina Abramovic's recent exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, The Artist Is Present. The flat title perhaps belies its Zen accuracy: In the midst of a career-spanning retrospective, Abramovic placed herself, seated in a wooden chair, in the center of the museum's atrium, evoking the bullfighting ring as much as the art gallery. Opposite the artist was an empty chair, which exhibit attendees were welcome to inhabit as long as they wished, for the sole purpose of staring into the artist's face. No words, no movement, just two figures in full gaze: one a towering figure in the art world and the other, you.

Some viewers of this strange installation lasted only a minute, others a full day, but people lined up in droves to do it (with the line itself becoming a unique community and thus an extension of the piece). The unique work created a new peak in the Yugoslavian-born artist's four-plus decades of groundbreaking art, in which she has famously placed her own body in physically tense situations: She has been on the receiving end of a taut bow and arrow and a loaded gun. But those sound simple next to 700 hours of her audience's fixed expression. Perhaps not surprisingly, The Artist Is Present broke attendance records at MoMA and became a cultural phenomenon that bled beyond the boundaries of the rarefied museum walls—which is what art is supposed to do. The performance is discussed in the exhibition catalog of the same name and documented in video feeds and Flickr portraits on the web, all evidence of the exhilarating thing Abramovic has given us this year, perhaps the very thing we'd been missing: ourselves, watching.

Eric Lorberer is a Minneapolis poet and writer who edits the award-winning quarterly Rain Taxi Review of Books and directs the Twin Cities Book Festival.

Joanie Smith

By Linda Shapiro

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Photo: V. Paul Vietucio

When Joanie Smith lost her husband, Danial Shapiro, to prostate cancer in 2006, she also lost a working relationship unique in the dance world. While choreographers often collaborate with their dancers and other artists, they seldom work together as symbiotically as Shapiro and Smith did. Together they created highly theatrical dances that ranged from What Dark/Falling Into Night, a work about the Holocaust, to Anytown, a folk opera about working-class life set to music by Bruce Springsteen.

Four years after Shapiro's death, Shapiro & Smith Dance thrives on Smith's rigorous and passionate dances, and on her indomitable spirit. This year's premiere of Bolero, a work of relentless emotional architecture, demonstrates that Smith can fly solo. Can she ever. Shapiro's spirit invades this re-imagining of an earlier work the two created. To Ravel's much used and oft abused score, Smith molds a dance that sparks references to everything from 1930s expressionism to a 21st-century zeitgeist spinning out of control. Walking, stalking, jogging, catapulting, and catching one another, seven dancers shape a fluid, constantly shifting group dynamic. Sometimes they resemble heroic warriors, sometimes people cast adrift in an anarchic world where terrorism, global warfare, and cyberspace anxieties collide. For all the Dionysian frenzy bubbling beneath its surface, Bolero flaunts an Apollonian formalism and athletic grace that brought exhilarated audiences to their feet.

But Smith has taken the maxim that hope springs eternal further than her own creative output. She has created the Danny Shapiro Fellowship in Dance (a.k.a. the Dannys). Starting in 2011, a Danny will be awarded annually to a choreographer to work with a composer or visual artist, or to pay dancers' salaries. And as a faculty member of the University of Minnesota's Department of Theatre Arts and Dance, Smith continues to infect students with her wit, wisdom, and multifaceted artistry.

Linda Shapiro is a Minneapolis writer and co-directed a dance company in the 1980s.

Cantus

By Brian Newhouse

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Photo: Curtis Johnson

I saw it happen again a couple of weeks ago. Cantus sang their signature piece for the holidays, Franz Biebl's lush "Ave Maria." Right after verse two, the air ringing with a big, silvery chord, they paused for a second and took a breath for the third verse. I looked around and everyone in the audience seemed to be holding their own breath.

That doesn't happen often enough in classical concerts—an audience hanging on a syllable. But the nine guys of Cantus make it their job every time they take the stage to ensure we get that kind of thrill.

They started 16 years ago in a St. Olaf dorm—just for the pleasure of knitting together harmonies as tight and warm as the stitches of a Norwegian sweater. A lot of the faces have changed since the group has gone pro, and they tour all over now, but they call Minneapolis home. This year they're Classical MPR's artists-in-residence.

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