2014 Year in Review: Top Moments in Visual Arts

Margaret Pezalla-Granlund

Margaret Pezalla-Granlund

It was a great year for visual arts in the Twin Cities and beyond. In 2014, we saw the return of the MMAA's biennial, a celebration of the Walker Art Center, floating biospheres and libraries, scathing critiques of American culture, and more. Here are 10 of our favorites moments (feel free to add your own in the comments).

See also:

2014 Year in Review: Top Literary Moments

Jim Denomie at Bockley Gallery 

Jim Denomie brought his searing sense of humor to Bockley Gallery this fall with an exhibition featuring several pieces from his Dialogues series, which use an oblivious Lone Ranger and a trickster-like depiction of Tonto as metaphors for conversations between mainstream and Native cultures. Denomie showed his uncanny knack for satirical truth-telling in pieces such as Communion, a scathing critique of the boarding schools that Native children were forced to attend, as well as the epic The Creative Oven, a work exploring the experience of being an artist. 

"Art at the Center: 75 Years of Walker Collections"

The Walker Art Center pulled out all the stops to celebrate its 75th anniversary. There was free admission during the opening Walktoberfest weekend, which included live music, a beer tent, selfie stations, and more. The museum brought out all of its greatest hits for the exhibition, with such masterpieces as Franz Marc's The Large Blue Horses, Chuck Close's Big Self-Portrait, and Andy Warhol's Sixteen Jackies on view. There was also plenty of historical context given about the different eras the Walker has gone through under the leadership of its various directors. The show served as a reminder of just how groundbreaking the Walker has been over the years, and whet audience's appetites for what lies ahead. The exhibit continues through September 2016. 

There's nothing to dislike about the Minneapolis Institute of Arts' homage to luxury and flamboyance in "Italian Style: Fashion Since 1945," which opened in October and remains on view until January 4. Spanning nearly 70 years, the exhibition takes viewers through a whirlwind history tour from post-World War II through today. Though the context adds greatly to understanding how Italian fashion evolved over the decades, the real treat is seeing the lavish designs up close, with gorgeous fabrics, extravagant frills, and other conceptual gymnastics. A must-see. 
Floating Library 

One of the highlights of last summer was Sarah Peters's glorious Floating Library, which held open hours during August on Cedar Lake. With a collection of art books by local and national artists -- including three by Molly Balcom Raleigh, Areca Roe, and Margaret Pezalla-Granlund that were specially commissioned for the project -- the Floating Library was a grand success. The fact that the journey to get to the Floating Library took some work only added to the experience. If you didn't own a boat or floatation device, you had to borrow one from Wheel Fun Rentals at Lake Calhoun, and make your way across Lake of the Isles to Cedar, where you were finally rewarded. The end goal was sweet, though, with lots of wonderful art books and water-nymph librarians happy to guide you toward the perfect book. 

MMAA Biennial 

This summer, the Minnesota Museum of America Art (MMAA) hosted its first biennial since 2008, returning to a tradition the institution had fostered since the 1950s. Chosen from a jury that included Brian Frink, Meredith Lynn, and the museum's curator of engagement, Christina Chang, participating artists included a range of ages, ethnicities, and levels of experience. The show gave a nod to MMAA's history of supporting craft artists, with a particularly lovely Anishinaabe cradleboard by Douglas K. Limon, and an interactive installation piece by Sarita Zaleha. It celebrated a number of different mediums and genres, including Miranda Brandon's brutal dead photography, and Alison Hiltner's fabulous creeping flower installation. 

Matthias Merkel Hess's "Water and Gasoline" at Burnet 

Last spring at Burnet Gallery, Matthias Merkel Hess showed a body of work that revolved around a theme you might not typically associate with fine art: gasoline tanks. The collection, which also included various containers for water made out of brightly glazed porcelain, displayed a whimsical array of patterns and color. "Water and Gasoline" poked fun at America's obsession with car culture, asking questions about the survival of our species when gasoline has become just as essential as water. 

Radical Presence at the Walker

While the Walker Art Center's 75th anniversary exhibition acknowledged all the great stuff the museum has been responsible for since its inception, "Radical Presence: Black Performance in Contemporary Art" provided a glimmer of directions for the future. The show, which premiered at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston in 2012, and was also presented in New York City before arriving in Minneapolis, offered a first-of-its kind retrospective on the contributions of African Americans in performance art. Filled with archival photographs, video, and objects documenting noteworthy performances, the exhibition included a number of live performances when the show opened and throughout the fall.

In particular, the exhibition exemplified the way African American artists have created their work in public spaces, at times in a guerilla fashion. This includes Lorraine O'Grady's Mlle. Bourgeoise Noire, where the artist would show up unannounced at high profile art events in full beauty-pageant regalia. The show also included new ways that modern technology has changed the dialogue of performance, with people like Jayson Musson re-shaping the ways that artists interact with viewers in the internet age. 

"Americana" at the Soap Factory

With cheerleaders, race-car driving, one-room schoolhouses, and Charles Lindberg, the Soap Factory's homage/take-down of American nostalgia dripped with irony this summer. "Americana," an exhibition curated by the Soap's executive director Ben Heywood, railed against sentimentality -- even as the artists flung themselves deep into its embrace. With wonderfully dark work -- especially by Ellen Meuller, Shana Berger, and Nathan Purath -- the exhibition found humor and sarcasm, along with the added bonus of some visually stunning works. Kenneth Steinbach's 2,600 pencil-shaped objects piece made from wood stolen from Charles Lindbergh's house was noteworthy for its overwhelming grandiosity, and for its send-up of American exceptionalism. 

Sean Connaughty's Ark of Anthropocene

It's true that Sean Connaughty's Ark of Anthropocene, the giant concrete biosphere that was to set sail on Lake Superior this summer, had a slight problem (a small hole made it sink to the lake's floor). However, points must be given for the sheer audacity of the project, which was a blend of real science, science fiction, and metaphor. The work, now settled in a nest outside of Connaughty's home, may get a reprise, as he plans to give it another go, perhaps at Lake Hiawatha. While the floating ark, carrying remnants of our Earth to be preserved for future generations, floated for just a few hours, it was a beautiful sight to behold, and we deeply hope it gets to set sail again.

This year, Connaughty also exhibited other science/art creations at the Duluth Art Institute, Prøve Collective (in Duluth), and at Instinct Gallery in Minneapolis. His tenacious persistence illustrates that sometimes an artist's process can be just as engaging as the end result. 

Andrea Carlson at Bockley

There was something absolutely captivating about Andrea Carson's Ink Babel painting, which was shown at Bockley Gallery in August. The giant black-and-white work, which took over a year to create, folded dimensions and time in its deconstruction of the notion of diaspora in the public imagination. With giant pigs, Egyptian gods, and the golden record from NASA's Voyager mission, Carlson's elaborate structure of cascading film strips took a critical look at "otherness" in narrative, with the end result being a riveting visual effect and thought-provoking work.