A precocious 4-year-old

Art of This Gallery celebrates four years

LYNDALE — The man who walked into Art of This Gallery sported several days’ growth of stubble on his chin, and a threadbare plaid shirt hung off his belly.

He introduced himself as a representative of the dozen or so folks passing the evening next door on the patio at Casey’s Bar and Grill. They were all wondering, he said, just what was underneath the tarp in front of the gallery.

He pointed out the window at large blue tarp surrounded in orange plastic construction fencing. The excavation was the work of artist Jennifer Nevitt in honor of the gallery’s fourth anniversary, an event that was also the second installment in this summer’s One Nighters series.

A hole, someone said.

That’s it?

Yeah, a hole.

The man left a moment later, looking bemused. Since no one from the gallery followed, one can only imagine the conversation on the patio.

The things that happen at Art of This Gallery mystify some and enchant others. Everyone leaves with something to talk about.

In four years’ time, Art of This Gallery has become one of the most exciting art spaces not just in Southwest, but in Minneapolis. The One Nighters series, launched last summer, is a good example of what the gallery does so well.

For every One Nighter, the Art of This directors basically hand over the gallery to an artist or group of artists for five days. The fifth night is the culmination of a short but intense period of art-making, less a gallery opening than an event.

Yasmil Raymond, a Walker Art Center associate curator who sits on the Art of This board, said, “It’s like going to a concert.”

“I remember when I first went,” Raymond said. “I just felt that energy and I wanted to go back.”

Gallery directors John Marks and David Petersen often select emerging artists for the One Nighters. Their message to the artists, Marks said, is: “Here’s the space for five days. Do something you wouldn’t ordinarily do.”

Those instructions, and the short time period to act on them, encourage spontaneous, experimental work. The artists often interact with the crowd squeezed into the gallery’s single-room storefront.

Petersen called the events “social projects” that often are not only about the art, but about the interaction between artist and audience.

The series consistently filled the gallery last summer, a sign that Art of This was hitting its stride. There were others, too.

In the spring of 2008, Art of This teamed with the Walker to present an exhibition by Chris Johanson and Jo Jackson, husband and wife artists who emerged from San Francisco’s skate and street art scene. That fall, they hosted a spiritually and politically charged installation by Matthew Bakkom, who hung 664 photo portraits of the Tuskegee Airmen, the nation’s first black military pilots.

It was that second show local TV news anchor Robyne Robinson cited when she gave Art of This the nod for “Best Gallery” in City Pages’ annual best-of issue. In writing about the gallery, Robinson noted Art of This continued to host compelling exhibitions during a recession that has tested many local art organizations.

“It’s always in the back of our minds, and we’re always conscious of what other organizations are going through,” Petersen said. “… As rough as things are, we’re surviving in a way, whether that’s because of our small size or the way that it’s self-funded for the most part, too.”

That investment is not just in a gallery, but also in the idea of “creating experiences,” Marks said.

“This is how I choose to spend my time,” he said. “It’s an investment in our own lives.”

Those lives have, for the most part, been based in South and Southwest Minneapolis. The directors live in Phillips and Powderhorn, and the gallery has been based in Lyndale since 2007.

The anniversary One Nighter celebrated those neighborhoods. A mock field guide described members of the “boeingus” genus, a common Minneapolis bird that migrates to and from the airport. Petersen showed a semi-autobiographical photo essay of the Southwest neighborhood where he grew up.

It was part party and part art exhibition, with friends of the gallery filling long picnic benches and providing a potluck barbeque. There was art, but just as important, there was an event.

Go see it

One Nighters are most Saturday nights through Oct. 3 at Art of This Gallery, 3506 Nicollet Ave. S. 721-4105. For a full listing of events, visit artofthis.net.