Allen Brewer re-interprets artworks through written descriptions in latest exhibition

The Birthday Party as described by Michael Beech
The Birthday Party as described by Michael Beech
Allen Brewer

Upon arriving at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts' MAEP galleries, a group of young women squeal as they discover that two of them are actually a part of the new exhibit. For the show, titled "Verbatim," Allen Brewer has created new works of paintings, mixed-media pieces, and sculpture using descriptions from the public of different artworks in the museum as a starting point.

Lisa Shmulyan, a junior at Eden Prairie High School, knew almost as soon as she walked into the space that her write up had become a part of the show. Brewer's Frank, based on Shmulyan's summary of Chuck Close's pixelated painting, draws from Shmulyan's description of Close's monochromatic palette, and her observation of how it resembles a photograph.

Brewer's re-interpretation was able to convey the textures and multiple layers that she saw when looking at Close's famous work. "I recognized it right away," she says. "I thought, 'Oh wow! This is my piece!" Though clearly not an exact replica, she thinks Brewer's version captures the essence of it.

Shmulyan is a member of Art Team, a MIA program where teenagers learn about art and earn money by planning and staffing the museum's monthly Family Day. Fellow Art Team member Gemma Zahradka also had her description brought to life by Brewer.

Allen Brewer re-interprets artworks through written descriptions in latest exhibition
Gemma Zahradka

"It looks a lot like the original," says Zahradka, upon examining Coral Cutlery Set, which Brewer created from her explanation of a coral cutlery set made in Italy in the late 16th century. "I don't like modern art very much," she says. Perhaps this is why she was drawn to the utilitarian piece, as she knew that Brewer couldn't make something ridiculous out of it. "It's really accurate," she says of his version. "It's even made out of coral."

In her description, Zahradka writes in acute detail of the original set:

They are made delicately out of gold and silver, with a great deal of fancy 16th century decoration and embellishments. However, all this decoration is outshone -- to the point of looking insignificant -- by the luminous red branch of coral crowning each utensil. The coral is in its natural form -- like miniature red trees -- but polished until they shine with white highlights.

Brewer's summary of the set is perhaps the most closely matched to the original of any of the other pieces in the exhibition. This is most likely in part due to Zahradka's precise detailing. Other works tend to be more abstractly related to their inspiration. For example, in Grainstack, Sun in the Mist, Brewer draws from Connie Karls's take on Monet's masterpiece.

In her description, Karls writes of Monet's "beautiful pastels." To her, it seems dull from afar, but up close "you will not be able to take your eyes off of it. Orange, blue, pink, and yellow seem to be one color. Love, love, love it."

Grainstack, Sun in the Mist, described by Connie Karls
Grainstack, Sun in the Mist, described by Connie Karls
Allen Brewer

Brewer's manifestation of Karls's description is a large canvas filled with pastel dots which bring her words to life. At the same time, Brewer's piece also seems to reference the impressionistic tradition, and could almost be seen as an abstract version of a Georges Seurat painting.

On the one hand, the body of work Brewer has created here verges on making fun of the participants describing the pieces, as what we mean to say is never fully communicated. On the other hand, the exhibition is a wonderful testament to the power of interactive art practices.

Although Brewer appears to be at least subconsciously influenced by the originals in more than a few of the pieces, he also diligently brings to life the words of his collaborators. The artworks become conversations, not just with the artist and the person detailing the piece, but with the outside viewer as well as the original works, many of which frequent MIA visitors will recognize.

There's something very alive in this experiment, and it leaves you wanting to know more. As you go visit the originals, you may find yourself wondering how you might have described it, and what the essential piece is that both artworks illuminate.


MAEP Galleries at Minneapolis Institute of Arts
Through June 30

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Minneapolis Institute of Art

2400 Third Ave. S.
Minneapolis, MN 55404


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