Artists of the Year 2011

Alan Moore, Louis C.K., Bethany Larson, and more

More than a couple of talented artists who happen to be life and artistic partners, Toni Pierce-Sands and Uri Sands are dancers with a mission. When they combined their initials to form TU Dance in 2004, they were determined to create a company and school that reflected the increasing diversity of the Twin Cities' urban community. Both had performed with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, which presents the African-American experience through rigorous, virtuosic dance. Toni and Uri envisioned a hub for dance in St. Paul that offered intensive classes and programs for everyone from kids to professionals.

Over the past year they have worked to transform an old carpentry shop in St. Paul into a state-of-the-art dance center, which opened its doors in August. Toni, who directs the programming, organized a workshop for preteens and teens that offered experiences in everything from ballet to Afro-Brazilian dance.

Under the couple's scrupulous direction the company has evolved into a crack ensemble that animates Uri's complex, multilingual choreography, a meld of ballet, modern, African, and street dance elements. Toni and Uri work as a team: Uri creates the dances, while Toni translates his highly idiosyncratic moves to the dancers and directs rehearsals. Individually and collectively, Uri, Toni, and the dancers have earned numerous awards, attracting national attention and fanatically loyal audiences. Their Ordway concert last May was the first dance event to sell out that 1,900-seat house.

Toni Pierce-Sands and Uri Sands
Ingrid Werthmann
Toni Pierce-Sands and Uri Sands
Louis C.K.
courtesy of Fox
Louis C.K.

This year TU Dance premiered two major works of startling emotional power. With Love, inspired by the depictions of life and dance in the paintings of African-American artist Ernie Barnes, revealed both the ebullient energy and the dark underside of Barnes's urban scenes. And in A Subconscious Plastic Nowhere, nine dancers inhabited fluid states—animal, metaphysical, mythical—with feral intensity. In its relatively short life, TU Dance has managed to achieve artistic success, popular acclaim, and broad reach in the community.

Linda Shapiro is a Minneapolis writer and co-directed New Dance Ensemble from 1981 to 1994.

Jan Xylander/Natasha Pestich

By Andy Sturdevant

Jan Xylander is a young painter and performance artist who splits his time between urban Minnesota and the state's northern woods. In his short career he has exhibited work all over the country, in venues as diverse as California's Davis Art Alliance and the Vacant Lot in suburban Chicago. He's collaborated with national design cooperatives such as Parallelogram Press. Perhaps you've seen the results of these print collaborations in the recent show The Opening Act: A Survey of Jan Xylander Exhibition Posters at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.

Jan Xylander and his exhibition posters also happen to be the wholly fictional creation of Minneapolis printmaker Natasha Pestich. Xylander, the names of his collaborators, even the exhibition venues and their addresses: all works of fiction, created by Pestich and existing only on a few dozen beautifully screenprinted posters.

This might seem irritatingly precious if Pestich was merely a gifted stylist with a well-developed sense of mimicry. While she does have a gift for capturing the look and language of the sort of ephemeral exhibition artwork that decorates apartments, telephone poles, and art department bulletin boards all over America (in particular, her imagined exhibition titles like Strategies for Forgetting, On the Cusp of the Miraculous, and Bred in Captivity are dead on), Pestich is, more importantly, adept at using these tools to spin a multifaceted, engrossing story.

Though we never actually see a portrait of Xylander or even any of his paintings in these printed works, we feel we get to know him and his work quite well. Xylander seems prolific and funny, but a serious agoraphobe. He appears to be obsessed with bucolic imagery and often retreats into an inscrutable, private mythology of mazes, rabbits, and snow. A few of the posters, purported to be created around 2010, darkly hint at "late work."

What makes Xylander unique from the fictional creations of many visual artists is that he isn't really an alter ego for Pestich. She's not hiding behind him to tell a thinly veiled autobiographic story, or using him as a mouthpiece. She's simply using her considerable visual talents to spin a story about the life of an artist, told so convincingly we truly want to believe it.

Andy Sturdevant is a Minneapolis artist and writer. He is also the host of Salon Saloon, a live artists' talk show held at the Bryant-Lake Bowl every fourth Tuesday of the month.

Louis C.K.

By Jeff Kamin

They say every joke has an element of truth, which is partially why it's funny. Louis C.K. gave up trying to be funny and decided to tell the truth. He routinely discarded all of his best old material, consistently writing and performing an entire new hour of comedy. And he ended up becoming the funniest and most prolific standup comic of the past few years.

The 44-year-old divorced father of two girls has been called a comic's comic. There's been a pop culture debate about whether TV has been better than movies lately. C.K. seems to straddle a fine line between both, making what is essentially a 20-minute short film for each episode of his F/X show Louie without any network notes or interference. The shows aren't even all comedies. Some are downright sobering and frightening stories about issues such as bullies, suicide, war, and religion. C.K. stars, directs, writes, and edits on his own little Macbook, a perfect inspiration in our Hulu age.

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