Art beat // Seasonal swing

From a pop-up park to the desolate Antarctic

WHITTIER — A “pop-up park” was planted in the Minneapolis Institute of Arts’ main lobby in January, and it will remain there until mid-April when, presumably, hopefully, there won’t be any more need for a simulacrum of spring. We’ll have the real thing by then.

On a recent weekday afternoon, school children and their chaperones filled the lawn chairs in the lobby, basking in the incandescent glare of the can lights clustered on the ceiling above. There were real potted palms with artificial songbirds perched among the fronds.

False or not, it felt like an oasis, and those bodies sagging in lawn chairs and lolling in the artificial grass seemed to melt with relief from the fog and chill outside. And that grass — plastic or not, nothing evoked springtime more than the feeling of that green carpet squishing underfoot, just like the real thing.

A walk through the pop-up park is suitable preparation for a visit to the Minnesota Artists Exhibition Program (MAEP) galleries on the second floor, where Mark Ostapchuk and Chris Wilcox combine to produce one of the strongest shows those rooms have seen in a long time. Ostapchuk will keep that warm feeling going before Wilcox chills you to the bone.

Ostapchuk, an adjunct faculty member in the University of Minnesota’s Department of Art, works with a tropical palette for the series of abstract paintings in “Standards,” his half of the exhibition. Thick and vibrant, the paint achieves an almost neon glow in the gallery.

The paintings are bustling with color, shape and pattern. Crisscross patterns bump up against one another, like lit-up skyscrapers crowding a skyline at night. Thick lines trail paint across the canvas and obscure shapes show up again and again, sometimes doubling, as if they’d gone out of focus. Ostapchuck’s little loops — a brush tracing a circle — seem to float above it all.

There’s a stark, seasonal shift in the crossing over to the next room, where Wilcox, a Macalester College art professor, imagines the dreadful trials faced by the early Antarctic explorers of a century ago.

Those explorers, the men of the Shackleton and Scott expeditions, appear as ghostly figures in these paintings. Wilcox works in semi-transparent blues and grays, rendering the sailing vessels and the men as faint inclusions in cold, blue ice.

In one painting, “800 Miles, 16 Days,” we see men poling a boat through floating sea ice, a visual quote from “Washington Crossing the Delaware,” but noticeably missing that painting’s sense of triumph. On those expeditions, the harsh Antarctic climate won out.

Wilcox devotes one entire wall to an astounding triptych. In the far left panel we see what could be Shackleton’s ship listing in the pack ice. The sun is a faint yellow orb muffled in clouds, and its glow peters out in the middle and right panels as the landscape flattens and becomes nearly featureless.

It’s a powerful depiction of a vast, inhospitable land. If you feel a shiver coming on, head for the lobby.


Young artists hit the bull’s eye

Six current and former Minneapolis College of Art and Design students are getting some significant exposure downtown for the next few months.

Working with Target through the retailer’s Design United program, each artist produced an illustration incorporating the well-known bull’s eye logo. The results are hanging in the street-level windows of Target Corporation headquarters, 1000 Nicollet Mall, facing 10th Street and Lasalle Avenue.

MCAD senior Anton Pearson called the project “a great portfolio piece” and that may be something of an understatement. Each of the illustrations was blown up to massive proportions to fill the windows.

In Pearson’s version, the familiar logo seems to float among digitally rendered clouds. Fellow MCAD senior Taisha Benson nestled the logo in what look like patterned ribbons and garlands inspired by similar patterns found in medieval Indian painting.

“It was great because … they really kind of let us have free rein with our artistic interpretation,” Benson said.

In an email, Shawn Gensch, senior vice president of marketing for Target, wrote, “The artists’ diverse interpretation of the Bullseye is inspiring and we’re thrilled to celebrate the local talent in Minneapolis.”

The Design United program was started in 2011 and at least one past participant, Sara Lintner, subsequently landed a job with Target.

Go see it

Work by Minneapolis College of Art and Design students and alumni will remain on display for several months at the intersection of 10th & Lasalle, on the street-level exterior windows of Target Corporation’s Downtown headquarters.