The art of politics

The UnConvention is the massive umbrella over most of the arts events scheduled during the Republican National Convention, but it is by no means the end-all of RNC-related cultural happenings.

There is yet more to see and do in late August and early September at tiny galleries, major institutions and many places in between.

Take the Mad Ripple Hootenanny, the weekly musical round robin hosted by Southwest Journal columnist Jim Walsh. Walsh is teaming up with former Minnesotan Lizz Winstead, who will bring her off-Broadway show “Wake Up World” to the Parkway Theater in South Minneapolis for three nights of fake news satire and music (see accompanying story on page B8).

Still, Minneapolis by no means must import its political satire. We have the longest-running satirical comedy theater in the nation right here in Southwest: the Brave New Workshop.

“Every major election and most minor ones, too, we’ve done an election-based show,” said Caleb McEwen, director of “The Lion, the Witch, and the War Hero; Or is McCain Able?” — the theater’s follow-up to this spring’s 50th anniversary show.

The election-themed show opened in July, but the sketches will continue to grow and evolve as the campaign season picks up steam on the way to Nov. 4.

“The truth of the matter is that we’re still very early in the campaign,” McEwen said in early August. “We haven’t had the conventions yet, we don’t have running mates yet, there hasn’t been a debate between the two primary candidates yet, [so] there’s a lot to cover.”

By the time this story sees print, McEwen will have checked a couple of those items off his list, but that just gives the cast of “The Lion, the Witch and the War Hero,” more material to work with.

It’s a great American tradition to mock our political leaders (what better way to celebrate the First Amendment, really?), but we also venerate the best of them, especially those who reach the highest office. It’s a dual impulse, and “Hail to the Chief: Images of the American Presidency” at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts most strongly reflects our desire to celebrate and honor our presidents.

Consider the awed feeling you get standing just inches away from a document signed by Abraham Lincoln, James Madison or John F. Kennedy. In “Hail to the Chief,” that type of presidential memorabilia, contributed by to the exhibition by private collectors, mingles examples of political photojournalism, historical prints, artifacts and fine art pieces from the Institute’s permanent collection.

“It really does give you a sense of being united as Americans,” said Jennifer Olivarez, co-curator of the exhibit. “It really does sound corny, but that’s what I thought when we saw it all up.”

Olivarez said her favorite piece is a black-and-while photograph by Tom Arndt of presidential candidate Walter Mondale on the campaign trail in his hometown of Elmore, Minn., in 1984. A hand pushes into the crowd from behind the camera and Mondale reaches forward to grab it.

“It has a sense of pulling you into the photograph,” she said.

The exhibit celebrates not just the presidency but also the process of choosing a president, and some of the most interesting pieces in the collection are memorabilia from nominating conventions. There are finely detailed delegate pins in gold and silver, as well as several boldly designed shopping bags from several middle-20th century nominating conventions that reflect that era’s Pop Art sensibility and space age aspirations.

“Hail to the Chief” will complement the memorabilia on display at CivicFest, just down a few blocks down 3rd Avenue at the Minneapolis Convention Center. There, presidential artifacts — including a collection of gowns worn by First Ladies — will be side-by-side with detailed replicas of the Oval Office and Air Force One.

Organizers anticipate about 150,000 people might walk through the convention center doors during the seven days of CivicFest. Expect a smaller crowd at Art of This for the Aug. 29 release of the latest issue of local art zine ARP!, if only because the tiny South Nicollet Avenue gallery has space for just a few dozen at a time.

The theme of the latest issue is “DissentObjectProtest,” and you might guess that some of that implied disapproval with the status quo would be directed at out guests across the river.

It’s yet another aspect of this great American tradition. We protest, we honor the past, we argue, we crack jokes and, eventually, we elect a president.

“The Lion, the Witch, and the War Hero; Or, is McCain Able?” runs through Nov. 8 at Brave New Workshop, 2605 Hennepin Ave. S. Call or visit the theatre website for show times and ticket information. 332-6620. www.bravenewworkshop.org.

“Hail to the Chief: Images of the American Presidency”
runs through Sept. 21 at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, 2400 Third Ave. S. (888) 642-2787. www.artsmia.org.

Civic Fest runs Aug. 29–Sept. 4 at the Minneapolis Convention Center, 1301 Second Ave. S. www.civicfest.org.

The ARP! Fall 2008 release party is Aug. 29 at Art of This gallery, 3506 Nicollet Ave. S. 721-4105. www.artofthis.net.