“You’d think I’d have figured it out by now,” says Minneapolis sculptor Aldo Moroni. He’s celebrating 40 years of art making tonight at Chin Dian Cafe in northeast Minneapolis. While his remark is humorous and self-deprecating, it also hits on a clue to his work: He’s always searching and challenging the form.
“As an artist, you never want to get to the point where you are too sure,” Moroni says. “It’s got to push itself in a new direction. That also means you get to make mistakes.”
For decades, Moroni has created tiny houses and buildings. Together, they form neighborhoods and civilizations. Some are imagined places, others are real, including his recent tribute to Dinkytown.
For his anniversary show, Moroni has planned an interactive installation that will change over the course of time. “People come in, they can talk to me, and we get into dialogues,” he says. “I like interacting with people and being social. It’s part of my schtick.”
Based on the notion of haves and have nots, the new work is called Trumptopia and features an ever-evolving mountain.
“The Trump era is going to do a lot of damage to the formal art system,” Moroni says. “It’s going to be profound.”
Cuts to the NEA will affect local funding and museums. Who knows how that will impact the people who purchase pieces. “In unsure times like this people get nervous, which means the art market changes as well,” he says. “People get more cautious about collecting and buying.”
One of Moroni’s regular clients, a wealthy patron from Florida that he has worked with for years, didn’t fund Moroni this year because he gave all of his money to Mike Pence. “It’s like, what a bummer. That’s how the mood is changing.”
And yet, it’s times like this that make it hard for artists to be silent. “Artists have a responsibility to be political and make a statement,” Moroni says. “That’s why I’m doing Trumptopia. You need to step up to the plate. You need to have voice.”
Moroni hit it big in 1977 when, as a recent graduate of the art college now known as MCAD, he was selected by Martin Friedman, director of the Walker Art Center, to be featured in a sculpture show at the museum. Titled “Scale and Environment,” the show included 10 artists, many of international notoriety.
“He picked me for this show with all my heroes,” Moroni says.
The exhibition included Charles Simmonds, who was working with creating faux civilizations; Siah Armajani; Michael Hall, “a mammoth sculptor out of Michigan”; and Donna Dennis.
“I didn’t know what I was doing,” Moroni recollects.
Originally from Chicago, Moroni has spent most of his life in Minneapolis, where he has raised his two kids. He’s shown work in Chicago, New York, and Europe. His pieces have gone on tour through Asia, via a lecture series about imagined worlds and civilizations. “I wondered, ‘What do they think about this crazy guy from Minnesota that makes little houses?’” Moroni says.
Moroni has gotten all the big fellowships -- including McKnight, Bush, and Jerome -- and has shown in most of the regional museums. “I’ve been up and down many times,” he says. “It comes and goes. It’s just that weird thing; sometimes you are in favor, and sometimes you’re not. You get over it, and you’ll come back in again.”
He’s dabbled in theater design, especially early in his career in the 1980s, at places like Theatre de la Jeune Lune and the Red Eye. “I’m really interested in collaborative art,” he says. In one show at the Red Eye, he designed a 100-pound pearl costume for a friend. He also worked on installing artwork and selecting artists for Prince’s night club Glam Slam.
IF YOU GO:
The exhibition opens tonight, Wednesday, January 25 from 4 to 9 p.m. at Chin Dian Cafe (1510 E. Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis). The show runs through February 15. There will be an artist’s talk on February 8 at 2 p.m., and a Valentine’s singles night February 14 (couples are also welcome to sneak in).