All cities depend on their elite classes to help foster the collective culture. Certain names are associated with places–New York and Guggenheim, London and Tate; Pittsburgh and Carnegie; Florence and Medici–because of these citizens’ contributions to the greater cultural good. Even here, in relative cultural backwater Minnesota, we’ve had a few good arts patrons. For instance, on January 31, 1883 twenty-five “commercial, industrial, and professional leaders” met to found what became the Minneapolis Society of Fine Arts. Their efforts would lead directly or indirectly to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, the Minneapolis School of Art and Design, and the Minneapolis Public Library.
Today is a different era, of course. The cultural contributions of the wealthy–when they are even offered–are now not wholly philanthropic or cultural. According to a recent Pioneer Press story, some local high schools turned down grants from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation because “the cash came with too many strings attached.” Though it’s always been true to one degree or another, the offers of today’s rich seem designed more to glorify the reputation or agenda (business or political) of the donor. And alas. Judging from initial indications from the opening exhibition, “Joe Geshick,” at the Horst Galleries (as in Horst Rechelbacher, brain-father of the whole Aveda thing), it appears to at least this critic what we have on our hands is one big fat glorious art-vanity space.
I mean, come on man. Horst, baby, you’ve just single-handedly turned a nondescript warehouse in a nondescript Northeast neighborhood into perhaps the most beautiful and commodious gallery space in the entire region, and this is the best you can do?
I don’t mean to denigrate the work of Joe Geshick, whose glazey oil paintings and giclee, um, print-thingies, are on the whole rather colorful and decorous and fashionably New Agey and Ojibway (in a maudlin sort of way). These are just the sort of overpriced art that overpriced people will like. At least the artist has skill, which one sees once one gets past looking at all these weird sad aged Native American figures in mishmashy idealized spaces (warning: I may not be the audience for this imagery). The artist has a fine sense of composition, color, and design. The images that go more toward the abstract–with more stray lines or circles in off-key colors (red, turquoise, yellow)–are more interesting.
Sometimes the images seem to be all about these flourishes, and that is good. Take for instance “The Feeding of the Spirit,” with its four-square composition of dark and light, and various circles and squares hidden like a rebus-puzzle in a fairly straightforward (and clichéd) scene of a lone man in a canoe on placid water. This is interesting to look at if you can avoid the subject matter, or don’t mind it. It also doesn’t help that the vast spaces of the two-room gallery are just teeming with dozens of these things, to the point of visual overload.
You will quickly want to escape the hard sell from the first two gallery spaces, but you can’t. The third and last room of the gallery saves the best for last: cases and cases and cases of the weird pseudo-spiritual trinkets that the trinket-set never seems to get enough of. We’re talking jewelry, pottery, weaving, and whatnot to the nth degree–so much stuff that Horst’s priorities become clear (even if he has agreed to donate a portion of sales to the heritage center at the Nett Lake Reservation, where the artist grew up). Not that I’m opposed to a little salesmanship in art–far from it. I just wonder whatever happened to great cultural contributions of old.