Art beat: In on the joke

THE WEDGE — In case you don’t recognize her, that’s the Star Tribune’s art critic, Mary Abbe, there, in Bruce Tapola’s less-than-flattering double portrait, based on what looks like an enlarged photo, one piece among dozens in an installation at Soo Visual Arts Center.

Tapola’s given her a goofy, slightly vampiric look — you might think Sesame Street’s Count von Count — which, coming from an artist who has not always fared well in Abbe’s reviews, seems like an act of retaliation. Is Tapola saying she just doesn’t get it?

Tapola’s collaboration with Scott Stulen and Erik Ullanderson is fragmentary, elusive, irreverent and self-referential. The visual chaos is also its reason for being — as the title jokily suggests, the “action” is in the interaction between the dozens of pieces by all three artists, including paintings, sculptures, altered photographs and drawings, which together create a kind of energy that seems barely contained by SooVAC’s gallery.

As a whole, the cluttered exhibition space reads, visually, like an artist’s studio, full of false starts and experiments. But it could also be a metaphor for the artist’s psyche, where ego battles self-doubt.

A banner reads “STUDIO VISITS MODEST STIPEND” — which could be a reference to the McKnight Artists Fellowships, of which Tapola has been a recipient. (Stulen also directs the McKnight Artist Fellowships for Photographers.)

A two-by-four covered in glitter and paint taunts: “It’s truly amazing how lame U R.”

Take some time; there are some great pieces in there.

Ullanderson’s sculpture, “Amazing Volcano (Fantasy Fodder),” brought to mind the work of Japanese post-war artist Tetsumi Kudo, who was given the retrospective treatment at the Walker Art Center a few years ago. The volcanic cone narrows into a thin pole that rises to about eye-level and is covered in pink, yellow, blue and green dots, all topped with a plastic ear. It is gaudy, grotesque and utterly compelling.

Go see it

“Hot 3-Way Action”
Oct. 23
Soo Visual Arts Center
2638 Lyndale Ave. S.