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BEST ART GALLERY Minneapolis 2006 - Outsiders and Others

Readers' Choice: Walker Art Center

Not everyone who shows at Outsiders and Others is completely self-taught. Perennial fave Grant Hart, for one, dropped several grand on his formal education before leaving MCAD's hallowed halls for a life in punk rock. What he shares with the 200-plus other artists whose paintings, drawings, collages, prints, and objects have graced the converted funeral home's walls, floors, and vitrines since it opened as a gallery in 2003 is a status that's marginal even by "alternative" art world standards—and a body of work worthy of attention. Children, seniors, tattoo artists, musicians, and artists living with mental illness—even writers—have been the focus of past themed group exhibitions, often curated by co-founders Beth Parkhill and Yuri Arajs, who also handle most of the facility's day-to-day tasks. The duo's efforts paid handsome visibility dividends in November, when "Homeless Awareness" opened at the Mall of America. Co-curated by Arajs and Robyne Robinson (another veteran O&O artist), the juried exhibition, featuring the work of 10 Minnesota artists who have experienced homelessness, enjoyed a seven-week run, the full benefit of MoA holiday traffic, and sales that made a mockery of conventional expectations. It's not hard to see why. As with most of the gallery's shows, the work displayed was extremely affordable, with few items priced over $500 and many under $100. (Prices in the onsite Outsider Shop run even lower.) Sure, some is a little rough around the edges; that's why they call it "naive," "folk," and "primitive." But outsider's art's popularity has grown enormously over the past 20 years, and even when sloppy, it's as engaging and fun as the openings the gallery holds every six weeks or so, where art is hardly the only draw. A couple of glasses of wine on the terrace at dusk, and Elliot Park might as well be Paris.

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