Chris Willcox and Mark Ostapchuk at MAEP

Tyler Pentecost by Mark Ostapchuk
Tyler Pentecost by Mark Ostapchuk

There are two ways to deal with the cold winter months in Minnesota. You can live in denial: Turn up the light, jack the heat up, and go around in shorts. Or, you can embrace reality: Go ice fishing, sleep 14 hours a day, and grumble to your neighbor about the horrible weather. Chris Willcox and Mark Ostapchuk, two artists whose work is currently on display in the Minneapolis Institute of Arts' MAEP Galleries, offer two extreme outlets for cold Minnesotans seeking either refuge from the storm or to wallow in misery. 

Before you get to the MAEP Galleries, you'll pass by the MIA lobby, which has been transformed into an odd, plastic, tropical zone with fake grass, palm trees, beach chairs, and bright lamps. Clearly catering to the denial folks, the setup invites those wishing to pretend, at least for a moment, that it is not freezing outside. It seems to be working. On any given day visitors happily bask in the artificial light, sipping their coffee as if it were an umbrella drink. 

In the same vein, although perhaps less deliberate or extreme, is Ostapchuk's "Standards," an exhibition of large paintings filled with pastel colors, big brush strokes, and repetition of different shapes.
The Lost Men (100 Years Ago) by Chris Willcox
The Lost Men (100 Years Ago) by Chris Willcox

In the accompanying brochure about the show, MAEP coordinator Christopher Atkins talks about how the title is taken from the jazz tradition of using a repertoire of songs. But instead of riffing on Gershwin's "I've Got a Crush on You" or some other jazz standard, Ostapchuk draws from abstract painters such as Phillip Guston and Henri Matisse, as well as baroque and rococo painters like Fragonard at Watteau. And while there may not be anything particularly new or innovative in these works, that doesn't mean we can't appreciate their vibrancy,  energy, and rich texture and color. 

Atkins also says Ostapchuk has spoken about his paintings in musical terms. "He often uses the language of music in how he 'riffs' off others, 'playing' with his paint and giving his colors 'rhyme,'" Atkins writes. Indeed, his works are very musical. The pieces have a rhythm and movement, and altogether create a sense of joy.

In the next room, and at the opposite extreme of the spectrum, is Chris Willcox's "90º South." Willcox depicts the freezing cold temperatures of Antarctica, and the brave explorers who often lost their lives in their subarctic expeditions during the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration, which began in the late 19th Century through the 1920s.
Grave (South Pole) by Chris Willcox
Grave (South Pole) by Chris Willcox

For some, Willcox's paintings might offer a comfort in that at least we here in Twin Cities probably won't actually die in the middle of the wilderness or sink into icy water. At least it is not as cold as all that. 

Depressing, certainly, but the paintings are beautiful too. Willcox has a lovely, subtle handling of the brush, creating ghostlike ships and figures that if not dead already soon will be. She doesn't seem to feel sorry for the poor explorers, but rather raises them up as tragic heroes. 


MAEP: "Standards" by Mark Ostapchuk and "90º South" by Chris Willcox
Through April 1
Minneapolis Institutes of Arts
2400 Third Ave. S., Minneapolis

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