General 3-11-2007

Will Work for Food: Taking Matters Into Their Own Hands

Head to “Will Work for Food” this weekend, March 16, 17, and 18, in the old Theater Antiques building at 2934 Lyndale Ave. S. It’s a show and sale of a couple of dozen young artists you should know about.

grider and inkala

“Will Work for Food” is a new collective of street artists and others who are looking for a new way of making and selling art—in other words a new way for art to get out into the world, into people’s houses and lives and habits. They make artwork with a strong graphic-design strain, sometimes applied to products like skateboard decks or T-shirts, sometimes created with stencils or spray paint on walls or sidewalks. The work is passionate, timely, witty, emotional, and incredibly varied.

They’re having a show and sale at an empty storefront in Lyn-Lake, the old Theater Antiques building. It’s just down the street from a couple of pioneers at this kind of thing in Minneapolis: Soo VAC and Robotlove, and their mutual project the Toomer Gallery, resident inside Soo VAC.

There are a lot of good artists involved with “Will Work . . .”, and a number of them are familiar from gallery shows as well as street art: the young painter Ben Olson, Joanne Bloboviak of ArtofThis Gallery, Gabriel Combs, Eric Inkala, Jennifer Davis, John Grider, and Drew Peterson, as well as over a dozen others.

Art like this—loosely, graphic-design-based street spectacle coupled with mass-produced or handmade products featuring the artists’ trademark imagery–has been around for a few years, and was represented locally by Ox-Op Gallery, behind Grumpy’s, till that venue closed last year. Ox-Op, though, showed mainly out-of-town pioneers of this form, such as Shepard Fairey and Banksey, whose two-pronged approach has included both spectacular street art and product production. They saw the product lines as democratizing forms of art, art that anyone could own, from broke kids to hip scenesters.

Of course these forms of art can be controversial; and the kind of shift into product-making that can grow out of it can also seem out of place in the art world. The New York Times recently ran an article ( ”Defacer with Mystery Agenda Is Attacking Street Art”) about a paint-splasher who’s covering up the works of Banksey and Swoon and other big-name street artists, putting up cryptic statements that seem to say that it’s these artists’ profitability that’s the irritant.

The Minnesota artists in “Will Work for Food,” however, don’t see potential profitability as a problem. In a state where a lot of lip service is paid to artists but few checks are made out to them, such potential money-making is seen as all to the good. The problem in Minnesota, apparently, is making good art cheap enough for the sensibilities of its citizens.

Recently we sat down with a number of the people who are involved in these kinds of artmaking (this discussion, a kind of street-art summit meeting, will be printed as “Facing the Street” in the May issue of 10,000 arts, the print quarterly does in partnership with The Rake magazine). One of the things we talked about was “Will Work for Food.”

Drew Peterson, one of the artist-organizers, said, “A group of artists took on a vacant storefront space, a really big space . . . it was a challenge. It’s something we’d like to do about twice a year, making an effort to make it happen for ourselves, working with the community. We’ve found sponsors, and that’s enabled us to buy things, to make the show a success. . . .

“We’re doing this sort of thing, and we can sustain our own lives from it, that’s just something we’re gonna figure out as we go.”

John Grider, another participant, noted: “The opportunity is there to create something annual, biannual, some regular avenue for selling work in all price ranges, without lowering the quality of the work.”

So the event will be an opportunity to both see and buy cutting-edge work that arises from a desire to knit art and life together, as well as from the desire of artists to keep body and soul together while still pursuing their profession. It should be a great few days—see you there.