Art beat // Women of vision

McKnight Artist Fellowship winners show at MCAD

What did you accomplish this year? For each of the four women awarded a 2008–2009 McKnight Artist Fellowship for Visual Artists — Jennifer Danos, Janet Lobberecht, Margaret Pezalla-Granlund and Megan Rye — the past year was a time to reflect on her body of work and refine her vision. The culmination of that effort, a group exhibition at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD), is evidence it was a very fruitful year.

The prize, awarded annually since 1981, comes with a $25,000 stipend for each artist. Judging from the work in the MCAD gallery, it was money well spent.

Pezalla-Granlund’s work involving meteorites — familiar from a recent show at Soo Visual Arts Center — occupies the center of the gallery space. Paper meteorites hang from the ceiling, suspended over inkjet prints of impact craters, like a shoebox science diorama blown up to adult proportions.

Also included are a series of Pezalla-Granlund’s watercolor paintings of meteorites, amorphous pools of color on stark white paper as empty as deep space.

Pezalla-Granlund is interested in the minute forces that shape these space rocks during their long journeys through the cosmos. Their odd shapes are the sum of many tiny incidents, a record of chance encounters.

Nearby, Janet Lobberecht creates a scene of mock formality against one of the gallery walls. A black X taped onto the floor seems to mark something, but a standing lamp illuminates only the wall. A brass plaque mounted nearby is blank.

Lobberecht’s work challenges expectations, as with a podium set up at the front of the gallery space.

Installed in the podium is a monitor. Lines of text appear on the bottom, with individual words highlighted in order, like a karaoke machine. Above the text, a cast of characters dances to a silent rhythm.

The lines, taken literally, amount to a kind of absurd, patchwork poetry. A sentence from the Pledge of Allegiance is followed by a portion of the oath recited by a witness in a court case. Snippets of marriage vows are inserted.

These are all words that have significant meaning — sometimes legally binding meaning — in the right time and place. Encountered in a different context, the viewer has to wonder what gives the words so much power in the first place.

Soft and loud

Subtlety is one of the most important elements of Jennifer Danos’ work.

For a 2005 show described in the exhibition catalog, Danos explored the nooks and crannies of a gallery, concentrating her work in out-of-the-way, unnoticed spaces. She made tiny alterations to capture viewers’ attention, as when she used a bit of pink Sculpey clay to highlight the insect carcasses collected on a windowsill.

Danos directs attention lower for the McKnight show, aiming a set of projectors at the MCAD gallery’s baseboard. An image of rippling water reflects off a strip of material near gallery-goers’ feet, drawing their thoughts and attention to an unutilized surface.

While Danos’ work draws attention with a whisper, Megan Rye’s panoramic oil paintings based on photographs from the battlefield in Iraq fairly explode.

Rye’s source material was an archive of photographs taken by her brother, a U.S. Marine, while on tour in Fallujah. She reproduces photographic effects, like overexposure from searing desert light, to surreal effect.

That light seems to obliterate the world seen through a Humvee’s window in “Drive,” one of several paintings to incorporate a mirror-image effect. A front-seat passenger in a helmet and fatigues is reflected on each side of the painting, staring out the windshield into blinding, white nothingness.

The same desert sky, now a crystalline blue, frames the portrait of a soldier in full battle dress. Dark goggles and a balaclava obscure the soldier’s face.

In three smaller canvases, the same figure is abstracted. It blurs into the background, seeming to disintegrate in the desert wind.

Several of these powerful paintings appeared in a 2008 solo show in the Burnet Gallery at Chambers hotel, and the other McKnight fellowship winners should be familiar from recent local shows, as well. The chance to see work from all four of these women in one room should not be missed.

Go see it

The MCAD/McKnight Artists 2008–2009 exhibition runs through Aug. 12 at Minneapolis College of Art and Design, 2501 Stevens Ave. 874-3667.