Rochester Art Center: Obscure No More

Glenn Gordon made the trip to the impressive new Rochester Art Center and spoke to the people there about their new exhibition program for emerging artists. It's a great opportunity.

Rochester Art Center
Liz Miller, "serendipitous hybrid"
Liz Miller, "serendipitous hybrid"
Tema Stauffer, "Winter Gas Station"
Tema Stauffer, "Bird Feeder"
Eric Ullanderson, "Astronaut"
Eric Ullanderson, "Fulnk"
Scott Stulen, "Gnawing"
Scott Stulen, "R2 and Bambi"

The handsome new quarters of the Rochester Art Center, overlooking the Zumbro River on the eastern edge of the city’s downtown, are now barely a year old. Designed by the noted Minneapolis firm of architects, Hammel, Green, and Abrahamson, the exterior of the Center presents two main architectural volumes. One of these is clad in copper; the other is sheathed in zinc, both of which metals happen to be excellent conductors of electrical energy. I don’t know if the Center draws its energy from lightning, but the materials used for the building’s skin are emblematic of the Center’s talent for conducting the energy of contemporary art to the people of Rochester, southeastern Minnesota, and beyond, not by electrocuting them but by electrifying the community with art that lights up first the eyes and then the mind.

The Center has four main exhibition spaces in addition to its facilities for the workshops it offers in painting and drawing, digital photography, audio/video, and other media. The largest gallery, equivalent in size to one of the galleries at the Walker or the Weisman, is the Burton and Judy Onofrio Gallery, where the current show, the fifth international American Tapestry Biennial, is on exhibit through May 8 (the previous show in this gallery was “100 Years of American Photography,” a terrific travelling collection from the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York.) Then there is a smaller, more intimate space called the Accent Gallery, the setting for shows by established Minnesota artists like Margo Selski, of the Twin Cities, whose show of her signature style surreal paintings done after the manner of the Flemish Old Masters hung here through the middle of March. The windows of the Accent Gallery overlook the approach to the Art Center, making some of the works in shows mounted in this space visible from outside as you walk toward the building.

On the same floor as the Onofrio and Accent Galleries is the Center’s Audio + Video Project Room, a large chamber for viewing new work, currently showing a dramatic and intense 15 minute work called “The Prisoner,” by another Twin Cities artist, Abinadi Meza. Next door to the A + V room is a three story stairwell, an elongated vertical space, basically a big organ pipe, where young local artists are experimenting with video and sound projections that rumble up and down the walls.

There is one other exhibit space at the Rochester Art Center that every serious, young, freshly minted or emerging artist in Minnesota should know about. It’s called the Atrium Gallery and it’s the setting for what is called 3rd Floor, the Contemporary Emerging Artist Series. The series welcomes proposals from talented young artists working anywhere in the state. Kris Douglas, the Art Center’s Education Director and the series’ Managing curator, is interested in exhibiting “exciting new work that both challenges and inspires the viewer. The series is designed to reflect shifting trends in current art practice and production. Its focus is on innovation.”

The work of the four artists shown in the series so far (there have been four shows since the opening of the new building) bears this out. The series’ inaugural show last fall was an installation called serendipitous hybrid, by Liz Miller, a work of fractal, meandering patterns in bits of such synthetic materials as felt, vinyl, foam, and Plexiglas in saturated or “amplified” colors, a kind of aesthetic confetti that drifted over the walls, growing and combing into and through each other in chance, ambiguous, and visually interesting ways. The show after that, American Stills, featured large color photographs by Tema Stauffer, contemplations of scenes so ordinary, commonplace, and mundane that the viewer had to put aside preconceived notions of beauty in order to come to terms with the beauty they proposed, the mystery of the quotidian. Following this was Renvois, more contradictions than distinctions, or: I spend my time in Stinkpitas, an outpouring of anarchic paintings and comic bent-logic/stream-of-consciousness riffs by Erik Ullanderson. The current show, which opened just last weekend and runs through May 22, is the work of the artist Scott Stulen (who is the Public Programs Coordinator for the Rochester Art Center, but didn’t hold this position when his work was selected for this show). Titled, “stuff I made in my couch fort and my continuing obsession with Bridget Riley”, the show is a melange of Pop- and pattern- and media-drenched elements from the experience of American childhood, covering the Atrium with found objects and exuberant drawings and paintings done right on the wall.

The shows mounted in the Rochester Art Center’s 3rd Floor emerging artist series signal that the Center’s curatorial staff is wide open to new developments in art in Minnesota. Their receptivity to young and emerging artists looking to plant their flags is rivaled only by the Minnesota Artists Exhibition Program (MAEP) at the M.I.A. and the adventurous Soap Factory. The Rochester Art Center offers artists doing experimental work in new, old, and mixed media a place to get a leg up in the world. Every emerging artist looking for a place to show should consider submitting an exhibit proposal. The benefits of exhibiting include the opportunity to speak to a Rochester audience about your work and to have your work discussed in print, in the form of a critical essay written by Kris Douglas for the beautifully printed illustrated brochure produced for each show. For information and guidelines on submitting a proposal, contact the Center and by all means, apply — you’ve got nothing to lose but your obscurity.

Applications for the 3rd Floor Emerging Artists Series at the Rochester Art Center will be accepted from June 15 – August 15, 2005. Application materials will be available for download at starting May 31.