It’s New / It’s Now, but it’s not for me

As someone who comes at the art scene from a lit background, I admit I have my preferences when it comes to picking events and shows to see. I’m much more apt to latch onto pieces that have or invite narratives both imagined and real. Abstract art rejects such narratives and forces you to try to engage with an alien species.

I like to consider myself open to new experiences. I walk into an exhibit with a mix of excitement (what will grab me in this room?) and fear (what if I don’t get it?). I fear becoming that stereotypical person who looks at a piece, doesn’t engage or understand it, and wonders how the hell anyone calls this mess of paint “art.”

For the most part, the local art scene in Minneapolis and St. Paul are aware of this and are doing a great job of curating exhibits that are accessible and challenging to people from various backgrounds. I appreciate the hell out of them for that mercy. And I expect that from time to time I’m going to be challenged more than others and may walk away from an exhibit dumbfounded and, if an admission cost was involved, rather angry – in much the same way I walk out of a crappy movie wishing I hadn’t spent two hours and so many bucks on it.

Such is the feeling I had when leaving the “It’s New / It’s Now: Recent Gifts of Contemporary Prints and Drawings” exhibit currently at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. In the rather negligible press about the exhibit when it opened, there was little to indicate that on the whole the works on display would be mostly abstract expressionist prints and sketches. The pieces are certainly expressive, and I wonder if ordinary people are meant yet to fully understand what’s going on here.

I want to understand, but part of this type of exhibit is like instrumental music. Sometimes you enjoy it, and other times it’s noise. You sit and open your heart and try to let it happen, but it sits there, inert, and you begin to hate it for being so snooty.

If abstract expressionism is your thing, there are many pieces here that will interest you.

If you crave scraps of narrative and ideas to soak in, there are a couple pieces that stand out.

“Mississippi Delta” by Siah Armajani is a powerful piece of dream/nightmare imagery in a 13-foot-long triptych that focuses on the flooding of New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Roy Lichtenstein’s “Peace through Chemistry II” is also on display. It references comics, chemical companies, and nature in what looks like an art deco “age of industry” mural you might find in a New York skyscraper. Lichtenstein’s print was made during the Vietnam war period when chemistry was used to strip trees of foliage and burn villages.

Joseph Nechvatal’s “The Sex Prayers” was also a life raft of figures to grab onto. Within a forest of random marks emerges recognizable shapes and figures – men, women, spiritual.

On the whole, I will continue to attempt to engage with abstract pieces and I appreciate being challenged, but my entry point was not this exhibit. The title, It’s New / It’s Now promises accessibility by being relevant to audiences that may be used to being on the outside of the art world. Instead, it seems to be a vague reason behind putting up a bunch of recent donations to the institute with little in the way of texts to help new art goers get a foothold in unfamiliar territory.

On the way out, I passed an interactive station where visitors are encouraged to create their own prints and collages, eventually photocopying them or taking a digital picture with an iPad and printing it. The wall full of the results of this activity was much more engaging and fun. It appears the archetypal parents who think “That’s art? My kid could do better than that” might have been right.

IT’S NEW / IT’S NOW: RECENT GIFTS OF CONTEMPORARY PRINT AND DRAWINGS, MINNEAPOLIS INSTITUTE OF ARTS, MINNEAPOLIS, through SEPTEMBER 1, 2013

John Newman, Minneapolis Institute of Arts

John Newman, Untitled, It’s New / It’s Now, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Minneapolis

Kiki Smith, Minneapolis Institute of Arts

Kiki Smith, Worm, It’s New / It’s Now, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Minneapolis

Joel Shapiro, Minneapolis Institute of Arts

Joel Shapiro, Untitled, (Blue and Black), It’s New / It’s Now, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Minneapolis

David Hockney, Minneapolis Institute of Arts

David Hockney, Celia in an Armchair, It’s New / It’s Now, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Minneapolis

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by Joel Hagen
in Focus on the Midwest

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