Shoebox Gallery hosts final show

BodyCartography Project, Shoebox Biennial Performance 2003

BodyCartography Project, Shoebox Biennial Performance 2003

As Robert's Shoes is closing, so must the Shoebox Gallery, Minneapolis's longest running storefront exhibition space, located in a window of the store. Artist Sean Smuda, who curates the gallery and runs his studio in the same building complex, has invited over 25 artists to show work for the final exhibition, which opens this Friday. The reception will also include performances by BodyCartography Project, Jaime Carrera, and Hijack (with Smuda) in the artist's studio.

The idea of art exhibits that exist within the confines of a storefront window has taken the Twin Cities by storm as of late, with successful projects including Joan Vorderbruggen's Artists in Storefronts and her Made Here program with Hennepin Theatre Trust. Forecast Public Arts has also taken on their own storefront work. The Shoebox Gallery is unique, however, given that the gallery has existed in the same spot for 11 years, and has featured over a 100 artists during that time. 

The Shoebox began with an installation, called "X-Ray Alley," that Smuda put together after moving his studio into the building. The exhibit included a live video feed of the alley outside, where drug deals would happen regularly, as well as recorded footage taken from inside the building. The result was a metaphorical x-ray of the space. The idea for the piece was to "basically deal with the environment I found myself in, and ameliorate it," Smuda says. "[It was about] fighting crime with beauty, but also to really hold a mirror up to it and see what could happen." 

The exhibition "literally stopped the drug dealing," says Smuda. After that, the landlord offered Smuda the window on a permanent basis. 

In all, Shoebox has featured over 100 artists and performers, going through a number of different phases. "The Wild West early days were really fun," Smuda says. Within six months, the gallery had its first biennial, featuring artists from all around the country, and an all-day dance event curated by BodyCartography Project. That show, Smuda says, "was really strong and kind of established [the space]."

There have been memorable moments, such as Jennie Schmid's "Waffle Intervention," where the artist and her partner "made waffles for whoever came around and served them up. We had a portable sound system, so there were tunes and dancing," Smuda says. For another exhibition, professional cartographer Matt Dooley charted UFO sightings in the Midwest, and combined that information with clay tiles he created to represent those geographies. 

Arturo Cruz installation

Arturo Cruz installation

Besides the exhibitions in the window on Chicago Avenue, the gallery has also hosted many events throughout the year in Smuda's studio, including performances of various kinds. 

The final exhibition will be the first group show the space has had in awhile. Smuda sees it as a way to have a dialogue with the whole community. "It's not a nostalgia trip, it's a 'the end' trip," he says. Included among the artist roseter is Roger Sayre, whose own gallery in Jersey City is closing because the building has been sold. 

While the gallery is closing because Robert's Shoes is vacating, Smuda will remain at his studio, as the management of the building remains the same. Over the years, there have been numerous artists and arts organizations who have found a home in the two buildings that make up the complex, both of which were built around the turn of the century. According to Smuda, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance was written in the building, and organizations such as In the Heart of the Beast, Open Eye Figure Theatre, and Obsidian Arts have all found a home there in the past. 

While Smuda says he never set out to have a community-focused gallery, he sees it as something that's helped him find his role in the neighborhood. "That's been a really great thing. I hope everyone will undertake those kinds of endeavors wherever they are at." 

In addition to the final show, Smuda is working on a book explores the 11 years of the gallery. Titled Arrests, Accidents, Fires and Openings: 11 Years of the Shoebox Gallery, it will focus on the history of the space as well as the neighborhood. 

Smuda also leaves open the possibility that the gallery could exist again, once a new tenant gets settled in the Robert's Shoes commercial space. "I'm not sure at this point," he says. "It's possible it could be renegotiated once it's occupied again."

For a full listing of the artists presented in the final exhibition, and for links to past shows at the gallery, visit the gallery's site on


The Shoebox Gallery
The window to the right of 2948 Chicago Avenue South in Minneapolis.
October 3 through November 15 (this date may change depending on Robert's Shoes final days).
The opening reception will take place from 7 to 11 p.m. Friday at Smuda Studio. Performances begin at 8 p.m. Press buzzer #8 for entrance.