Warehouse vets

Warehouse District veteran artists reunite at Kenwood’s new Bockley Gallery

Three artists who helped shape the once vibrant, but now diffused, Warehouse District art scene reunite at the new Bockley Gallery. The gallery itself, which thrived in the Wyman Building, 400 1st Ave. N., from 1985 to 1996, has been reborn in Kenwood.

Owner Todd Bockley’s new space, at 2123 W. 21st St., features some of the artists who introduced him to art in the first place, including Warehouse District “vets” Glen Hanson, Philip Larson and Stuart Nielsen in a kind of mini class reunion.

That’s also the name of the show – “Warehouse Vets.” It presents various “focused” works produced through centering activities or meditative exercises.

Old friends and new acquaintances say the gallery is the product of Bockley’s deep roots and “lifetime” approach to art. Furthermore, these exhibiting artists are part of a renewed art scene in Downtown and southwest that’s less centralized but still contains core artists. Some wonder if it’s symptomatic of a move toward mom-and-pop style storefront galleries and away from big spaces in industrial warehouses.

Although times have changed, Bockley said, “Now we’re seeing a renaissance. [The scene is] just not as centralized. Lots of younger galleries have sprung up. It’s important to me that Minneapolis should support its own local artists. There’s a wealth of wonderful talent. That’s a motivating thing to me. We can share and build on a community level our collective culture.”

Tom Owens, a real estate attorney who lives in Kenwood, bought his first piece of art from the first Bockley Gallery in the mid-’80s.

“This is one of the top-notch three or four art dealers in the Twin Cities over the last 20 years because of the quality of artists whom he’s [Todd] exhibited of local and regional stature and the relationships he’s developed with them over the years.”

Bockley’s niche

The Bockley Gallery is settled comfortably into the former Kenwood Cycle shop. Nestled in a neighborhood alcove that locals fondly refer to as “downtown Kenwood,” the gallery finds camaraderie with nearby businesses including Birchbark Books, E Photography, the jewelry/stationery store Tabula Rasa, Isles Market and Deli, Stephen Dean Tailors and Kenwood Veterinary Clinic.

David Warner, who lives nearby and has known Bockley since childhood, liked what he saw when he visited.

“It’s nice to have someone in the neighborhood like Todd who’s been in the business for a long time. A lot of people in the neighborhood love art. I think it’ll be well received.”

From the doorway, you can view the entire 800-square-foot walk-in gallery, with its spare white walls, big windows and flood of natural light accentuated by a stream of steam rising from the tailor’s shop downstairs.

Bockley approves of the scaled-back dimensions and view of the street. “I love feeling more connected to the outside world and the quality of life. It’s so nice to have a small space. The last space was so big,” he said.

The curator also appreciates the life and energy around the gallery, especially the activity directly outside the window. Just across the street, kids play in Kenwood Elementary School’s playground, 2013 Penn Ave. S.

Larson, who’s also a professor at Minneapolis College of Art and Design, 2501 Stevens Ave., said such neighborhood galleries are “nicely insulated from crowded parking” and the intimate environment invites closer inspection. “The gallery that has failed is one is one that’s too big. Todd has good instincts.”

The Warehouse District’s artistic heyday, which lasted from the ’70s through mid-’80s mimicked the New York art scene. There were a dozen galleries in the Wyman building, where there are now none. The galleries held simultaneous openings.

“It was a great thing and there was a sense of community, but it was very stratified,” said Bockley.

Exhibitor Nielsen added, “It was a really vital time. That’s very attractive for people. Developers capitalized on it. Artists go into these underutilized spaces, vacant buildings and fix them up so they can live and work there. It improves the neighborhood, and pretty soon people come.”

After closing his gallery Bockley took a sabbatical and worked as a private art dealer out of his Kenwood home. He also curates exhibits for museums, including the 2000 show “Listening with the Heart” at the Weisman Art Museum, 333 E. River Rd.

Warehouse vets

The ads for “Warehouse Vets” show a triangle inside a circle framed by a square. The triangle represents Larson because of the frequency of the shape in his work. Neilsen’s work is full of circles. Finally, the square represents Hanson.

Consciously or not, the graphic seems to illustrate Bockley’s and the artists’ intertwined personal histories: Bockley bought his first piece of art from Hanson, who then operated the Downtown neighborhood’s first commercial gallery, called the Hanson Cowles Gallery and later the Glen Hanson Gallery, 331 2nd Ave. N. now home to the Urban Wildlife Bar & Grill.

For $600 – the money he saved up from mowing lawns – Bockley, then a high school senior, purchased an abstract painting by T.L. Solein. It was painted on an un-stretched canvas that Bockley remembers Hanson unrolling onto the floor like a rug.

That’s not all. Hanson represented both Larson and Nielsen in his gallery. Just about the time that Hanson closed his gallery’s doors, Bockley’s opened across the street in the Wyman building. Then, Bockley gave Hanson his first show ever (in the ’90s).

The show featured an earlier conception of Hanson’s three 12-inch beaded squares, which appear in “Warehouse Vets.” The squares feature the “lazy stitch,” a Lakota technique that groups rows of seven beads together. Each painstakingly sewn piece contains 30,000 beads sewn onto traditionally tanned deer hides.

It took him most of last year to accomplish. Hanson, a former Benedictine monk who lives in a log cabin in Avon, beads routinely every morning from 6 a.m. until noon. He starts after stoking the woodstove. While he works, he listens to National Public Radio. (He doesn’t have a TV.)

He enjoys beading because, “It’s the kind of thing where you have to be present but you don’t have to think. It’s meditative,” he said.

Nielsen’s circles

In Nielsen’s work, it is circles that have recurred most over the past 30 years. Multicolored concentric circles emerge from the center of the painted Masonite panels. Only one color is applied each day. They took him two years to complete.

He says they’re unpredictable: “I make those paintings to see what they’re going to look like and bring into the world stuff nobody’s ever seen before.”

Nielsen, who usually makes commissioned pieces for public spaces, worked on all four panels at once. None of the colors was premeditated. It was a moment-by-moment palette that he judged sequentially. Starting with the small dot in the center, he built up a series of bands, applying each color in response to the color that came before it. He said that he wanted to add in the color’s counterpoint and to interpret it.

“You can look at any two bands and discuss those two for harmony, dissonance, quality then move to another pair and another and then a quad,” he said.

There’s a rhythm in the colors. “I think that as the ear hears progressions in sound and music, the eye can respond to color with forms that translate to an internalized feeling,” he said.

Larson’s triangles

Larson claimed that he never intended to become an artist: “I always had an icy relationship with conceptual and minimal art.”

His 160-pound pieces in the show are just one component of a bigger cast iron series called “Northome” that pay homage to a 1912 Frank Lloyd Wright house on Lake Minnetonka that a later owner deconstructed. Although Wright considered Northome one of his finest accomplishments, the owner sold pieces of the structure in the ’70s to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, 2400 3rd Ave. S. and New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, among others.

In the sculpture, a set of five trunk-like columns that seem to be the base of taller pillar-like structures come together. The less-than-waist-high bases are cracked irregularly. They show a pattern of various triangles embedded within each trunk. On the surface of the sturdy made-for-outside piece there’s a dark and sandy industrial finish.

Although the pieces look similar, there are subtle differences. It’s titled, “The Hand of Wright.”

Larson, who feels an affinity for tradesmen in his work, knew Wright personally and originated a Prairie School style revival. Architectural forms often emerge in his work.

Bockley’s style

Bockley attributed his love of art to his mother, a collector. He said that she passed on her passion to him and all three of his brothers. After an internship at a Boston gallery, “I knew I wanted to grow a gallery of my own,” he said.

When he first opened, he was mainly interested in painting and “Outsider art” or nonmainstream art that lacks a particular school’s hallmark and is often self-taught. “Outsider art gets in that zone. [Outsider artists] are gifted image-makers. Images are powerful,” he said.

Bockley gravitates to artwork intuitively, rather than based on rigid requirements. A selective dealer, he’s only represented a dozen artists in his career.

Bockley is attracted to art that lacks irony. What he means by that is, “It isn’t that I dislike all work that uses irony, but I’m tired of it. I’m sort of over the hipster stuff. I’m attracted to work that’s more sincere, of substance, and work that’s expressed directly and clearly. Too much irony becomes irrelevant.”

His taste runs toward a straightforward, Midwest aesthetic. “The work is very honest,” he said. “A lot of hard work went into the making of each of these pieces as well.”

For more information about the gallery, visit www.bockleygallery.com or call 377-4669.