Art beat: In season

Snow, ice and an invasion of color at Minneapolis Institute of Arts

WHITTIER — In one gallery, a spring-like profusion of color and three-dimensional shape; in the other, the austere beauty of winter, revisited.

Minnesotans are used to seasonal swings, and so they should be able to weather the transition from Liz Miller’s “Ornamental Invasion” to Paula McCartney’s “A Field Guide to Snow and Ice,” both of which opened in April in the Minnesota Artists Exhibition Program galleries at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.

Miller works wonders with a very ordinary material, incising intricate patterns into large sheets of colored felt that she pins to each other and the walls of the gallery, creating a huge, soft sculpture that arcs over viewers’ heads and even invites them to wander through.

Felt, in Miller’s hands, seems anything but soft. Her symmetrical, dagger-like shapes bristle with spines and are edged with saw-toothed cuts, like the spiny leaves of jungle plants.

It’s not all exotic flora, though. Miller mined the museum’s archives for imagery of weapons, and some of her patterns are based on the grip, trigger and hammer of a pistol, while other vegetal curlicues prove to be the cross guard and pommel of some medieval sword.

It’s a prickly piece, containing symbols of both human and plant aggression. But as it pours off the gallery walls it also opens up into a little cave dappled with the light streaming through Miller’s doily patterns, and then it seems less an aggressor than a protector.

In the next gallery over, a less-flamboyant exhibition of McCartney’s photographs strictly sticks to the walls. But her pleasurably disorienting study of nature’s recurring patterns can start the mind soaring with its suggestions of telescoping shifts in both scale and time.

McCartney’s stark, mainly black-and-white photographs highlight visual rhymes, like between a frozen waterfall and a mass of stalagmites, one formed in a season, the other over centuries. She finds stand-ins for snow: a mound of white sand that could be a parking lot snowdrift, as well as a single umbel of Queen Anne’s lace, whose delicate structure resembles a snowflake’s.

McCartney presents these images absent the context of their surroundings, and without any reference for size a small snow pile might as well be a glacier atop the Himalayas. A crust of ice on a pond looks like the satellite view of a frozen port city. And snowflakes blowing around in the dark tend to resemble galaxies tumbling through deep space.

Go see it

“A Field Guide to Snow and Ice” and “Ornamental Invasion” both run through July 3 at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, 2400 3rd Ave. S.


Tibet, seen from afar

THE WEDGE — A week before the Dalai Lama’s scheduled visit to Minneapolis in early May, a string of Tibetan flags went up above the entrance to Intermedia Arts.

Inside, the galleries housed an exhibition of art by and about Minnesota’s Tibetan community, by some estimates the second-largest concentration of Tibetan-Americans in the country. Minneapolis was one of 10 sites to welcome Tibetan refugees in the early 1990s as a part of the federal Tibetan Resettlement Project, and since then that community has grown from 160 people to as many as several thousand.

Local photographer Keri Pickett began documenting the story of their resettlement at the beginning, and her candid photographs of Minnesota’s Tibetan diaspora form the heart of the show. There’s almost no explanatory text, but it’s easy to tease from the photographs the familiar outlines of the immigrants’ story.

Pickett finds odd juxtapositions. A banner reading “50 Years of KILLINGS,” protesting Chinese oppression in Tibet, hangs above a typical Midwestern church basement scene, complete with coffee urns on a folding table.

There also are touching scenes of the community’s young people participating in traditional ceremonies and marching alongside elders to demand a free Tibet. In other photos, two boys crowd around a Game Boy, a group of four play with an action figure beneath a string of prayer flags and several girls whispers secrets surrounded by miniature replicas of Buddha.

A collection of drawings by students from the Tibetan Culture School lends Pickett’s photographs some added poignancy. Asked “What is your dream of Tibet like in your imagination?” they mostly they reproduce the simple trees and houses and people recognizable from any child’s drawing, anywhere — except, that is, for the zigzag line always in the background, the mountains in their imaginations.

Go see it

“The Art of Tibetan Survival: Artists’ Vision of Tibet and the Tibetan Diaspora” runs through June 13 at Intermedia Arts, 2822 Lyndale Ave. S.