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MAEP Presents Pop Culture and Political Commentary
Ruthann Godollei, Surge, 2006. Monoprint, screenprint, 41 x 30 inches.

MINNEAPOLIS.- Consumer culture and current affairs are under examination in two new exhibitions in the Minnesota Artists Exhibition Program (MAEP) galleries at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (MIA). Unconventional Wisdom and MILLIONS OF INNOCENT ACCIDENTS address popular and consumer culture as well as the realms of media, politics, war, and fear. Both exhibitions bring humor and commentary to a range of topics, resulting in provocative and satirical contemporary works. These exhibitions will be on view through October 26, 2008.

Unconventional Wisdom presents the prints of Ruthann Godollei, a professor of fine arts and former dean of fine arts at Macalester College in Saint Paul, and Mike Elko, a graduate of the University of Minnesota’s Department of Fine Arts, now based in Edina.

In her prints, Godollei takes the tools used in daily life, such as kitchenware, clocks, or portable music players, and places them against current military terminology, bringing a new view to words such as “containment,” “surge,” and “extended tour.” Using a black-and-white palette of with an occasional hint of color, Godollei strips these words of their intended meanings, opening them up to interpretation. For example, in Time Change 2 (2008), three clock faces show various time zones with a different label under each: Minneapolis Time, Kabul Time, and Time to End the War. Godollei’s dark humor recalls Honoré Daumier’s political prints of the nineteenth century, in which characters from all walks of life are labeled with humorous captions imbued with social and political satire.

Elko also manipulates contemporary political jargon and the vocabulary of war, but his works have a humorous tone. His brightly colored prints are assembled from vintage advertisements and current news media reports. His faux advertisement for “alert level trauma trousers,” for example, is likely to elicit a laugh from viewers. Elko’s aesthetic, part Andy Warhol and part Roy Lichtenstein, appropriates established imagery and contrasts it with current politics. He seeks to expose a truth behind the country’s idealized image and to reveal how the public’s fears are manipulated through popular media. Elko’s large-scale print series, My Presidents (2008), pays homage to the presidents of the artist’s lifetime. Celebrating their highs and lows, the presidents float in an ocean of media coverage as they attempt to keep their heads above water.

Hardland/Heartland (HL/HL) is a cooperative directed by three Minneapolis-based artists: Eric Carlson, Aaron Anderson, and Crystal Quinn. HL/HL dredges through the excess of consumer culture and assembles installations and performances that are less social commentary than conceptual scrapbook that takes shape as social, physical, and digital environments converge.

For MILLIONS OF INNOCENT ACCIDENTS, the HL/HL artists have created a landscape and narrative in what they call “an ongoing saga of grandiose proportions.” Their inspiration comes from popular culture, current events, graffiti, vector graphics, Robert Raushenberg’s “junk aesthetic,” and contemporary science fiction. The HL/HL artists work as a unit to produce drawings, zines, fashion, and video—passing objects from one member to another—in a style similar to the automatic drawings of the Surrealists. In the hands of HL/HL, new technologies are pressed to their limits and abused, while older ones are cobbled together enough to last the run of an exhibition. If their art seems raw and unabashed, it might be because we lack perspective on the events that inspire them. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security threat levels that Elko refers to in Herr Hausenfuss have been for the HL/HL artists the norm during their adult lives. For these young artists, public images of masked terrorists have been as much a part of their culture as banal humor postings found on YouTube.

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