Art beat // On the boardwalk

Think summer with ‘Escape from Coney Island’

STEVENS SQUARE — Being home to the hot dog would be, on its own, enough to cement Coney Island’s place in American pop culture.

But as the birthplace of the American amusement park, traces of its DNA are present in almost every fair, traveling carnival and state fair midway offering cheap thrills alongside deep-fried delectables. Erik Farseth of Stevens Square Center for the Arts would argue its influence was even greater.

“This is sort of the beginnings of a lot of what became popular culture in the 20th century,” said Farseth, who organized “Escape from Coney Island,” now showing at the gallery.

“In some ways, the modern midway, it’s gotten kind of tamed down, in that you know what to expect,” he said. “Whereas, Coney Island, when it was in its heyday at the turn of the last century, leisure time was such a new phenomenon — in terms of, up until then people were working six-, seven-day weeks — and the whole idea of taking a weekend and going to the beach, going on the rides was such a brand new thing.”

Decades of decline shrunk the amusement park district, but there are artifacts of the island’s pre-World War II glory days. Mia Jenning’s vibrant paintings of doe-eyed carousel horses and the iconic Cyclone rollercoaster sign retain some of the sense of wonder early visitors must have felt.

Preston Lawing’s painting and prints of amusement park rides subtract the riders, the better to focus on the structures’ intricate metalwork. It’s the midway in broad daylight, out of its element.

Drained of visitors on an overcast day, the Coney Island beach is a dreary stage for Alex Prince’s odd sea monster sculpture, a human-like form made of multi-colored starfish. It lumbers across the sand like a ghost from the boardwalk’s sordid past.

Escape from Coney Island celebrates that appealingly seedy side of Coney Island, a history of sideshows, burlesques and games of Three-card Monte.

Timothy Piotrowski specializes in painstaking recreations of vintage glamour photos, and here contributed sepia-toned shots of women posing in period circus and stage dress. Photographer Mark Ryan visited the Minnesota State Fair and captured a midway crowd considering the sideshow barker’s pitch.

“Escape from Coney Island” anticipates the coming summer, with all its delights and temptations.


Go see it
“Escape from Coney Island” runs through June 6 at Stevens Square Center for the Arts, 1905 3rd Ave. S. 879-0200. stevensarts.org

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For Art of This, one last summer on Nicollet

LYNDALE — Barring the intervention of a deep-pocketed hipster patron, this will be the last summer Art of This Gallery makes its home on Nicollet Avenue, or possibly makes its home in any permanent space at all.

That’s the bad news.

The good news is they are planning a summer-long event that sounds chaotic, little-planned and only loosely defined — which is exactly the kind of thing they do best. The gallery will host 30 or more artists in an 80-day collaborative residency program, with the goal of keeping the space open and active all day, every day.

“Open Summer” runs from early June to the end of August, when gallery Artistic Director David Petersen said he and Executive Director John Marks plan to vacate the space their five-year-old gallery has occupied for about half its existence.

“Because of that we really wanted to make sure that this summer is not as much a commemoration as it is just a celebration, and a way to get everyone involved that has been around, and a way to get new people involved as well,” Petersen said. “For us, it’s kind of a way of saying ‘Thank you’ and it’s also a way of just getting the most we can out of a very finite period of time — with, really, very little resources at this point.”

Call it “Plan B.”

“Plan A” was to host an exchange program with New York-based artists, pairing a few at a time with Twin Cities collaborators over the summer. They sought to fund the program with a grant from a local arts foundation, but were rejected.

“When we didn’t get funding, we either had to not do it at all or, in my mind, do it bigger, broader and more inclusive,” he said.

The gallery’s fantastic One Nighter series will return this summer, with the resident artists planning the one-night-only art events, typically held on Saturdays. The Tuesday Improvised Music Series also will continue.

Still, it may be easier to think of the residency as one big event, since the gallery will be open to the public and filled with artists as many hours a day as possible — or at least that’s the plan.


Go see it
“Open Summer” runs June 8–Aug. 28 at Art of This Gallery, 3506 Nicollet Ave. S. 721-4105. artofthis.net