Shaking up the MIA

The Minneapolis Institute of Arts this month is hosting two provocative, high-energy exhibitions, one rooted in the present political reality and the other adrift in fantasy.

They are, respectively, “Unconventional Wisdom,” featuring the charged work of printmakers Mike Elko and Ruthann Godollei, and “Millions of Innocent Accidents,” an installation by the Hardland/Heartland collective that seems to have been cobbled together from some post-apocalyptic scrap heap.

Both are being shown through the Minnesota Artists Exhibition Program (MAEP), an exhibition series managed by a board of Minnesota artists.

Getting to “Uncoventional Wisdom” in September meant passing through “Hail to the Chief,” the museum’s mini-survey of presidential art and artifacts meant to appeal people of all political backgrounds, even — or especially — those in town for the Republican National Convention. While that exhibition was designed and executed as a nonpartisan affair, the suspension of partisan politics was called off as soon as you crossed into the MAEP gallery.

Elko and Godollei’s barbed satire attempts to ensnare the outgoing administration in its own rhetoric.

In one of the show’s most striking pieces, Godellei prints the word “surge” above a metal bucket tossing blood across an otherwise blank canvas. Viscous red ink fills the print.

It’s a strategy she uses again and again in her contributions to “Unconventional Wisdom.” Godellei appropriates the language of the war in Iraq, pairs it with her simple, powerful images and gives it an entirely new meaning.

The words “troop reduction” float above a graveyard. Beside a single soldier’s grave, Godellei prints “detainee.”

The phrase “extended tour” appears next to an empty wheelchair, implying that many of the soldiers who serve in Iraq and Afghanistan will never be able to leave the battlefield behind.

Godellei hits on domestic politics, as well: She pairs the word “Katrina” with a crumpled black umbrella.

Elko couches his criticisms in humor, with imagery that riffs on 20th-century consumer culture while attacking 21st- century neoconservative politics. His prints mimic dime-store crime novels and old comic book advertisements with their breathless language and dot-printing effects.

He prints faux-magazine covers with titles like “Practical Paranoia,” promising advice for the American paralyzed by government fear mongering during the War on Terror. “Depressing Confessions,” on the other hand, might be marketed to the conservative who regrets voting in an administration that ran up budget deficits while pursuing an imperialist policy abroad.

Elko has a broader agenda than just Bush-bashing. He dishes it out to everyone from Harry Truman to Richard Nixon to Bill Clinton in “My Presidents,” a gigantic digital print split up into 10 vertical strips depicting the modern American presidents adrift at sea.

He’s not afraid to parody himself, either. In “Hard-Boiled Self Portrait” Elko exclaims, “He knew a HUNDRED ways to kill with a SQUEEGEE,” one of the printmaker’s tools.

By comparison, the work Hardland/Heartland — artists Eric Carlson, Aaron Anderson and Crystal Quinn — seems to be an apolitical reaction to consumer culture and environmental degradation.

Scattered throughout the installation are a few small video works that document a kind of punk house environment filled with young, dazed artists and musicians. One can imagine the “Millions of Innocent Accidents” referenced in the installation’s title are the countless small, tossed-off creations that, collected here in a gallery, add up to the Hardland/Heartland aesthetic.

It combines Native American imagery, graffiti, the unsettling cartoons of the lowbrow art world, animal remains and pop culture junk. A standout example is “Mask of Bukefalos,” a creepy conglomeration of fur, foam, paint and thread that resembles a ceremonial mask for an end-of-the-world basement punk show.

In other places, found objects are collected into shrines of sorts. Skulls, plastic junk and scraps of fabric appear repeatedly, suggesting decay.

If Hardland/Heartland’s installation is dark, that darkness is balanced by the exuberant creativity of the artists at work. A wall covered in dozens of framed drawings and collages documents their impressive and varied output.

On the opposite wall, a triptych of faced-shaped ovals — one in pink, one in gold and the largest, central shape in black — offers a rare moment of calm in the installation. Close inspection of the black oval reveals graphite lines built up into a swirling, yin-yang pattern. Amid all of Hardland/Heartland’s chaos, there is balance.

Go see it

“Unconventional Wisdom” and “Millions of Innocent Accidents” run through
Oct. 26 in the Minnesota Artists Exhibition Program Galleries at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, 2400 3rd Ave. S. www.artsmia.org.