Winter Apples â€“ Three New Openings In the Low Digits
Apples and Oranges
Gallery Co through February 28
Thomas Barry Fine Arts through February 23
Midwestern Dandies: Wit and Whimsy
Tom Stack, Chris Kerr and Allen Christian
Fox Tax Gallery through April 30
With the mercury in the low digits below zero on a recent Saturday night, I slipped to three openings. I began my search at Gallery Co, a space on First Avenue North that recalls a time when the sort of contiguous art tour that I had constructed was a matter of walking between warehouses. Having traced out a trajectory, I worked out an art tour that, staying within ten blocks of the Grain Belt sign, could be completed in less than an hour by car.
The photography of James Henkel, at Gallery Co through the end of February, employs the densest of symbols: apples, in the studio and on the tree. So fraught are these little spheroids that their stems should snap under the weight of their own importance. But while Henkel’s bucolic ruminations can’t completely elide mythologies and more heavenly considerations, his photographs have a modesty that tempers any preciousness. While explicitly honoring “big L” Life, his lens frames keen and unusual observations, presenting figure and ground rather than windows on the natural world or Kingdom. Henkel uses focus and contrast to abstract pure shape from his subjects, transforming the fruit of one tree until it oscillates between a shape study and a solar system.
If not for a cumbersome construction site, it would be just a short walk to Thomas Barry Fine Arts, where Melanie Pankau’s new work is on display. It’s an agreeably delicate collection that suggests studies for some other work still in gestation. Pankau works a motif of rigidly rendered, drifting leaf-like forms into these drawings and paintings. Arranging these objects into crests of varying symmetry, she implies order, whether found or arranged in nature. Like Henkel, Pankau investigates the root chords of the natural world without pretense to theology. Her enhancements of universal symmetry strike me more as celebrations of natural harmony than evidence of divine work. The figures themselves â€“ striated structures that are half leaf, half shell â€“ are uniformly beautiful in their almost graphic simplicity, especially when Pankau isolates them with heavy black edges against pure white paper. The work is less successful when she tries to place her line drawings against a background. Her painted grounds, which she apparently layers carefully to reveal the natural tendencies of the medium, evoke the muddy blendings of textured interior walls. Pankau has broader interests than what is on display here, and much of her past work is better than a few missteps here. But the sense of focus and expectation is appetizing, and there is a palpable sense of efflorescence.
Just across the river, Fox Tax offers a new batch of cheering rectangles to hang on our walls before the housing bubble bursts. The show is called Midwestern Dandies, and the name is evocative of an attitude toward art and the artist’s place. Dandies elide their current historical moment by donning the gay apparel of lost aristocracies while rejecting the notion of noblesse oblige. It is the dandy’s wont to oppose the crass exploitation of the modern world by refusing to take it seriously. When they come to my door with foreclosure papers, I won’t answer it. I’ll be staring at a painting of a cartoon seagull flying a rescue helicopter.
Tom Stack’s painting epitomizes the silly and twee brightness adorning the walls at Fox Tax. An iconographic sweetness privileges single-panel stories, bright color and simplified forms. Stack’s tiny creatures are often heroic, not least so when they take on a giant octopus in a collaboration with Chris Kerr. Kerr’s paintings veer more resolutely into clever weirdness. He focuses on the daily works of his imaginary creatures, and the presentation of one-line surprises (a dolphin dreams of Pabst, a witch pushes a lawnmower), is a rebuke to serious art.
Classified ad pianos are often free for the taking, but the taking is never free. Allen Christian has a novel solution for this problem â€“ pillage them for parts. These he assembles into faces that look like
caricatures. Christian’s work continues its modern primitive approach to sculpture and human form. The same kind of post apocalypse animism that pervades Christian’s House of Balls studio and gallery is on display here. Humans assemble faces by primary instinct. Scientists tell us that the infant who acknowledges faces with his smile survives to deface magazine covers with curled moustaches, discover vegetable saints and etch caricatures of faculty on bathroom stalls. There is a similar goofy insouciance to Christian’s piano key faces. But by letting the ghost of the instrument settle back into its keys and hammers, can we imagine these masks as haunted with their own disarticulated history? Like much of Christian’s work, these sculptures are heavy with the destruction implicit in their past â€“ the disintegration of a finely tuned instrument, the replacement of music with a grin, the entropic slide from tones and harmonies to the baser symmetries of the face.
The tour I’ve described, which can be viewed in a hurried hour by car, is a remarkably broad sampling of the kinds of openings that are currently happening in Minneapolis. The persistent renewal of these gentle provocations â€“ and their healthy attendance in the midst of January â€“ affirms the vitality of our local art scene.