The art of politics

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September 1, 2008
By: Dylan Thomas
Dylan Thomas
A roundup of exhibits and performances during the RNC

The Unconvention is the massive umbrella over most of the arts events scheduled during the Republican National Convention, but it is by no means the end-all of RNC-related cultural happenings.

There is yet more to see and do in late August and early September at tiny galleries, major institutions and many places in between.

Still, Minneapolis by no means must import its political satire. We have the longest-running satirical comedy theater in the nation right: the Brave New Workshop.

“Every major election and most minor ones, too, we’ve done an election-based show,” said Caleb McEwen, director of “The Lion, the Witch, and the War Hero; Or is McCain Able?” — the theater’s follow-up to this spring’s 50th anniversary show.

The election-themed show opened in July, but the sketches will continue to grow and evolve as the campaign season picks up steam on the way to Nov. 4.

It’s a great American tradition to mock our political leaders (what better way to celebrate the First Amendment, really?), but we also venerate the best of them, especially those who reach the highest office. It’s a dual impulse, and “Hail to the Chief: Images of the American Presidency” at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts most strongly reflects our desire to celebrate and honor our presidents.

Consider the awed feeling you get standing just inches away from a document signed by Abraham Lincoln, James Madison or John F. Kennedy. In “Hail to the Chief,” that type of presidential memorabilia, contributed by to the exhibition by private collectors, mingles examples of political photojournalism, historical prints, artifacts and fine art pieces from the Institute’s permanent collection.

“It really does give you a sense of being united as Americans,” said Jennifer Olivarez, co-curator of the exhibit. “It really does sound corny, but that’s what I thought when we saw it all up.”

The Premier Gallery’s “Genus elephas,” is an exhibition of original artwork inspired by the elephant. A reception and awards presentation is scheduled for Sept. 2.

The show is designed to be politically neutral. In a prepared statement, gallery director Kelvin Miller said: “The purpose of the exhibition is to cast attention on art and artists while the national spotlight is focused on the Twin Cities and the convention. We are excited about this rare opportunity.”

The Burnet Gallery at 9th & Hennepin opened “Important If True (Hootenany in E)” on Aug. 23. The politically inspired show features seven artists.

Organizer David Bartly said he chose artists whose works spoke to him “on a political level but didn’t fall into partisan clichés.”

The artists are Dan Attoe, Matthew Bakkom, Robert Gober, Jay Heikes, Jenny Lion, Steven Matheson and Joe Smith. They come from all over the country.

 Jonathan Cowgill contributed to this report

“Hail to the Chief: Images of the American Presidency” runs through Sept. 21 at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, 2400 3rd Ave. S. (888) 642-2787. artsmia.org.

 “The Lion, the Witch, and the War Hero; Or, is McCain Able?” runs through Nov. 8 at Brave New Workshop, 2605 Hennepin Ave. S. Call or visit the theatre website for show times and ticket information. 332-6620. bravenewworkshop.org.

“Important if True (Hootenanny in E)” runs through Nov. 2 at Burnet Gallery, 901 Hennepin Ave. S. 767-6900. chambersminneapolis.com

Genus elephas runs through Sept. 19 at the Premier Gallery in the Baker Building, Suite 141., 141 S. 7th St.