Published December 13th, 2023 by Russ White
The show and accompanying book of photography is a love letter to the Midwest, exhibited for one night only in a most Midwestern establishment
"Worth a Look" is a series of semi-regular essays about excellent art, interesting ideas, and whatever other cool stuff we find around town. Go see art (or in this case, buy a book); it's good for you.
So much of art criticism is about driving traffic to pristine white cubes. Go to the galleries, we implore; there you will find beauty and truth and pathos and craft. On a good day, inside a good show, all of the elements will align, and you will have a properly satisfying art experience.
Don’t get me wrong: I love all of that, and I want all of that for you this time as well. But right now, there are two problems: the first is that I’m not talking about an esteemed museum or a prominent gallery; I'm talking about the wood-paneled walls of the Eagles Club #34 in Seward.
The second problem is that you would have had to have been there this past Saturday night, because it was a one-night-only affair.
It happened quite by accident: some friends and I had simply stopped in for a beer. We posted up in one of the booths — shooting the shit, sipping Summit out of plastic pint glasses, trying to make sense of the Booty Chaser Bingo game silently rattling away on the TV screen above us. At one point, the bartender walked by trying to figure out which table had ordered the cheese curds. Not us, we were sad to say. Some art spaces try to transport you to LA or New York with their bare concrete floors and fluorescent lights; here, it felt like we'd walked right into Wisconsin.
Then there were murmurs. One of my friends ran into a neighbor on his way to the bathroom, who mentioned there was some sort of photography show in the next room over. Maybe that explained the larger than normal crowd at the bar? We were intrigued. Artworks in unlikely environs are kind of my favorite, so after settling our tabs, we wandered in to discover Eric Ruby’s Day, Dusk, Dust.
Installation view of Day, Dusk, Dust at Eagles #34. Photo by Russ White.
Hanging on the walls in between faded posters honoring veterans were about twenty color photographs affixed to fabric squares, each in a different pattern. The fabrics acted as frames for the photos, their colors reacting to and complementing each image. It was an odd mix of portraits, landscapes, and still lifes — melted candles on a tabletop, a quizzical bulldog on a staircase, a house halfway under construction — installed almost willy-nilly in bunches under a large American flag. On a folding table, more photos on fabric were laid in a pile, inviting you to flip through them like we were at a church basement rummage sale. The fabrics showed crease marks where they had clearly doubled as envelopes for these strange, precious photos, unwrapped just for us here in the back room of a South Minneapolis dive bar.
The images themselves are sensitive observations of everyday life. The compositions appear both stumbled upon — a blazing blue puddle in a muddy driveway, a husky sniffing dandelions in a city park — and thoughtfully observed — a cluttered kitchen table, a woman smiling in a lawn chair. There is a shared stillness to them all — a stability of both camera and subject, even in the image of a family’s canoe entering a rushing river.
Pages from Day, Dusk, Dust.
The good news for everyone who missed it is that Ruby also made a book that collects the whole series — available online and worth the $30. Inside, the photos are framed again by their fabric squares, the backs of which have also been scanned and reprinted as the flipside of each page. Taking the collection home as a book allows you the right amount of time to sit with these images anyway. Bound together with rainbow string, it comes with a yellow bookmark emblazoned with a hand-written artist statement explaining that these photos were all shot in Minneapolis over the past twelve years during the artist’s comings and goings between here and California, where he now lives.
Flipping through the book also gives you time to reflect on the fabric choices — to notice how they make certain colors in the photographs pop, to wonder how and where Ruby found all these scraps and whose pillow cases and bedsheets they might have been in a past life. There are stripes and racing cars and flowers and flyfishermen. The whole project exhibits a sort of brooding optimism, an exercise in holding the banalities of the Midwestern world in steady regard. Many of the photos capture the lazy nonchalance of a Minneapolis summer, when simply sitting in front of an open window with a dog on your lap is all you could ever ask out of life. It’s a respite from the cold and the horrors of the present moment, a love letter to “the quaint or unpretentious comfortability of this place,” as the bookmark explains.
This is where the wood paneling really shined, adding an extra layer of well-worn texture behind the vintage textiles behind the printed images. Sometimes a white wall just doesn’t have the same effect. I'm sorry if you missed it. These people, these places, these dogs, these summers, they’re all kind of fleeting and all kind of timeless and all kind of lovely and all kind of bittersweet. Afterward, new books in hand, my friends and I filed back out past the fake Christmas tree and the stack of red vinyl chairs and through the doors to an icy sidewalk. I suppose the title means that each day of our weird little Midwestern lives will turn to dusk and after that to dust, collecting somewhere on a shelf where all the others have settled. Taking photos is a good way to remember, I find. It's also a reminder to be on the lookout for all the strange beauties in these days, the odd luck you'll need to find them, and the right light with which to see them. ◼︎
A self-portrait from the book. Image courtesy of Dog Eye Press.
Although the show is down, you should still pay a visit to the Fraternal Order of Eagles #34 at 2507 E 25th St. in Minneapolis. Word is the burgers are real good.
This activity is made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a grant from the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund.
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