Behind the biennial

Talking with 4th Midwest Biennial curator Cheryl Wilgren Clyne

Detail of a 4th Midwest Biennial submission from Minneapolis artist Margaret Pezalla-Granlund. Credit: Submitted image

Cheryl Wilgren Clyne knows exactly how busy she’s been assembling “superusted,” her title for The Soap Factory’s 4th Midwest Biennial, since she accepted the role of curator almost a year-and-a-half ago.

Clyne has made 138 studio visits since May 2014 — a precise tally she offered without hesitation during a recent conversation at a St. Paul café. It was two weeks before opening, and she was just about to begin installing work by 17 artists from Minnesota and several nearby states in the wood-and-brick former warehouse.

The Soap Factory’s fourth biennial is the first to include artists living beyond Minnesota’s borders. Clyne — a multimedia artist, art teacher and art director for CHS Field, home to the St. Paul Saints — was originally supposed to be one of two or three curators, but because of scheduling conflicts for the others took on the task alone.

“I wasn’t afraid of doing it myself,” Clyne said. “I actually was really welcoming that, in a way.”

Her biennial selection combines artists who’ve already left a strong impression in local galleries, including Alexa Horochowski and Sonja Peterson, with out-of-towners who may be less familiar to local audiences, like North Dakotan Jessica Christy, and at least one outside-of-the-box pick: the poet Clarence White, who will compose love letters to visitors’ favorite pieces.

As for the title: Read it as “super rusted,” a reference to The Soap Factory’s handsomely aged interior, or “super usted,” Spanish for “super you.” Your choice.


Southwest Journal: How do you approach the mission of a biennial? Is it to try and capture a moment in time, or is it just, “These people are making interesting art?” Do you try and come up with a theme?

Clyne: The first thing I do before I even visit an artist’s studio is I try and sit down with them, like we are, and have a conversation — just to see what they say about their own work and how they talk about their process. I’m really interested in artists who are actually living it, actually making art all the time. …

And (I) also (wanted) to see if we could just work together because, with 17 artists and just myself, I wanted to make sure these were people who are good to work with. They’re good people, and I actually do enjoy all these artists very much.

And then a thread started to occur. I selected around five artists who I was pretty sure were going to be in (the biennial), and a thread started to happen where it was, definitely, they were working with things that are happening right now and it was very much about life in modern times. …

I wanted there to be some kind of language between the final pieces, and what’s really surprising is a lot of the work has changed since our initial meetings. I think that thread is still there, but it might be less apparent in some cases.

I wanted the artists to feel free to experiment, as well. If you’re in the Soap Factory, you should know that you can experiment with what you’re working on. And how exciting is that, that people are experimenting?


The biennial is a format that is out there in the art world, obviously. Are there any models that influence the way you approach this?

And the word is just full of triggers and assumptions.

It’s not a survey in any way, because it’s really just one curator looking at work that she finds interesting. So, I am a little worried about that word in general, but I think this work is so strong and amazing that we’ll be able to not worry so much about that.


What do you want people to take away from the show?

Hopefully, they’ll take away (an impression of) the rich art community that we have in this area. …

I think the thing I want people to take away from it is just that: Look at these amazing artists that we have right here. Maybe they’ll take time to go to their shows. They’ll find out more about the people they’ve never heard of or the people that they do know about and they’ve never seen.

The work is really good. I think it just stands for itself.



When: Sept. 12–Nov. 8

Where: The Soap Factory, 514 2nd St. S.E.

Info:, 623-9176

Detail of “Sunshine on a Cannibal” by Andrea Carlson. Submitted image

Detail of “Ghost Ship” by Sonja Peterson. Submitted image