Chad Rutter and Amy Toscani critique American culture at the MAEP Galleries

<i>Pond</i>, 2014, by Chad Rutter

Pond, 2014, by Chad Rutter

The artists selected to exhibit at the Minnesota Artists Exhibition Program (MAEP) at the MIA don't always go together quite as well as Chad Rutter and Amy Toscani do right now. Chosen by an elected artist panel representing the Minnesota artist community, the artists who exhibit together for this program often show work with their own visions. So, essentially, what you often have are two completely different shows. Currently, however, Rutter's "Floodplain" and Toscani's "CHASTUSHKI" converse with each other in surprising ways as both artists grapple with their unique versions of America. 

Central to Rutter's "Floodplain" is a giant electronic sign, like you might see on a highway, that tells you the lane you're driving on has road construction ahead. Mounted on a bright-orange trailer, the sign rotates text that comes from Henry David Thoreau's Walden. While the passages Rutter displays on the screen at any given time don't carry the whole of Thoreau's long sentences, they offer a glimpse of the ideas Thoreau presented about his dismay at the conformity of humankind, and our reluctance to make our own paths. 

Accompanying this work are two large pieces that, though they are made out of human-made materials, suggest a landscape. In one of the pieces, three blue tarps are draped simply from high on the wall, suggesting water, while another textile-based piece suggests displaced dirt. On the opposite wall are three drawings based on found photographs of soil displacement. Though made with graphite, they appear like blurry photographs of the earth in flux. 
Rutter's world both celebrates and critiques rural America. At once showing the spiritual beauty of the land and subtly exploring the destruction of that earth by natural disaster and human development, his work is a meditation and also a call for greater care to preserve the natural world. 

If Rutter's body of work explores rural America, Toscani's "CHASTUSHKI" looks inward toward a more psychological take on the hearts and minds of the suburban midwest. Toscani exploits cute to the extreme, twisting it up and creating work that's bizarre and strange and yet oddly alluring. 

Take, for example, Cuccu, a sculpture of an enormous longhaired dog with a tiny head, or the similar Bad Seed, with a tiny-headed little girl and her tiny-headed dog whose bodies buoy below them. They are frighteningly and disturbingly pleasing. There's also Wuv Is..., an amalgamation of adorable monsters whose heads are stuck on these long-arm things from a 
pedestal that reads "Wuv is Weconstwuctiong Normative Weality."  Each monster in turn has its own saying, similar to what you might find on a figurine in some gift shop, like "WUV IS WONDERFUL WHEN THE SOMEONE I WUV IS YOU."  

Detail from <i>Wuv Is... </i>2013 by Amy Toscani 

Detail from Wuv Is... 2013 by Amy Toscani 

There's less roughness to Toscani's sculptures than her previous showings, such as in "Body Doubles," at SooVAC in 2012. She's still working with found objects, but somehow she creates cleaner constructions here. Her work with found objects still parodies plebian aesthetics, but in a way that does so on a line so close to thrift-store kitsch that some of the pieces could almost pass for something you might see in a store -- almost. Her careful satire creeps up on you. There's a delight in entering into this world, no matter how insidious it becomes. 

It's a different kind of critique of America than what Rutter presents. But in a way, both artists slyly embrace and comment on the clichés and traditions of American culture.  


"Floodplain" and "CHASTUSHKI"

Through June 29

MAEP Galleries in the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.