One last time for McKnight

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January 28, 2014
By: Dylan Thomas
Detail from an Amy Toscani mobile.
Submitted image
Dylan Thomas
A final MCAD gallery show for the foundation’s visual arts fellows

WHITTIER — The McKnight Visual Artists Fellowship Exhibition has been a staple on the Minneapolis College of Art and Design exhibition calendar for three decades. No more.

After 32 years, the McKnight Foundation plans a “re-imagining” of its fellowship program, which each year awards $25,000 cash to four mid-career artists selected by a panel. Beginning this year, the fellowship will be expanded to include photographers, and a total of eight artists will win cash awards.

But this is the last hurrah for the annual gallery show at MCAD. Future visual arts fellows will spend more time working with visiting critics, and instead of a group exhibition McKnight plans an artist-critic discussion series.

The 2013–2014 fellows, Catherine Meier, Joe Sinness, Amy Toscani and Dyani White Hawk, make this last MCAD appearance a memorable one.

Seeing new work from Sinness, who is extraordinary with colored pencils, is always a pleasure. His photo-realistic still life drawings are concentrated bursts of color, loaded with sparkly tchotchkes, patterned fabric, fruit and flowers.

Sinness’ arrangements often include pictures torn from magazines or what look like redrawn video stills that, if not explicitly gay porn, often suggest it. The combination can be cheekily lewd (see Sinness’ hilarious deployment of a bunch of bananas) or even a bit coy, like when a houseplant’s extended frond covers part of a photo like a fig leaf.

Sinness is a dazzling draftsman, but he’s not the only one in the show with some serious drawing chops. Just as impressive are Meier’s immersive graphite landscape drawings.

The landscape, in this case, is the scruffy grassland on the edge of South Dakota’s Badlands National Park that Meier has drawn on unspooling rolls of paper.

This is the big sky country of the western plains, and Meier seems to be intimately familiar with it; she subtitles one drawing “My Dad’s Walk.” That piece is a vertically oriented scroll, placing the rolling grasslands within a tight frame. Her pencil marks end abruptly about halfway up the piece of paper, and the rest is white, unblemished sky.

Three of these scrolls hung side-by-side contain one treeless landscape, a sea of scruffy grass that covers the low hills like fur on a dog’s back.

Toscani is the lone sculptor among this year’s fellows. Her pieces often have a humorous edge, like the mobile that extends an open palm, as if asking for a tip.

“Brute,” a clump of cut-up Rubbermaid bins melded into one plastic mass, may not have very nice things to say about the aesthetically abrasive Art Brut movement, seeing as how the sculpture is balanced on one decomposing foot.

“Endless Column” makes a more direct art history reference, swiping the title from Constantin Brancusi’s famous touchstone of abstract sculpture. Toscani swaps out Brancusi’s minimalist stacked pyramids for a column of Wonder Women stretching to the ceiling.

The largest body of work in the exhibition comes from White Hawk, and it includes paintings, prints and mixed-media pieces, much of it inspired by American Indian symbols and motifs. She has both European and Lakota ancestry, and draws from both cultures’ artistic traditions.

White Hawk translates the geometric designs found in American Indian textiles and beadwork into the language of contemporary painting. Alternating colored stripes appear often, as does a compass pattern.

A moccasin shape shows up most often of all, and it reads almost like a stand-in for White Hawk, herself, especially in one painting, “Self Reflection,” where it breaks the surface of a dark pool like a shark’s fin.

The mixed-media pieces incorporate yellowed pages from old ledgers, and White Hawk’s patterns partly obscure a spidery script recording lists of frontier supplies like tobacco, saw blades, lard and coffee. Almost two centuries ago, similar paper notebooks arrived on the Plains with white settlers, and were adopted by native artists who recorded the history of their peoples at a time when their way of life was quickly changing.

2013/14 McKnight Visual Artists Fellowship Exhibition

WHERE: Minneapolis College of Art and Design, 2501 Stevens Ave.

WHEN: Through Feb. 23

INFO: mcad.edu, 874-3700