Art-a-Whirl 2009: Now with 20% more art and 33% more whirl!


What do you get when a few thousand people for three days gravitate to a certain neighborhood like zombies on steroids to move through a half a dozen huge warehouse buildings just to look at art? That annual cult classic: Northeast Minneapolis’s Art-a-Whirl. And just like those propagating zombies, each spring there always seems to be more and more Art-a-Whirling. More art. More places. More people.

Consuming approximately one square mile of real estate bounded by the Mississippi River, Central Avenue NE, Lowery Avenue, and Broadway, Art-a-Whirl mania whirls through myriad buildings, bars and cafes, commercial galleries, individual artist studios, local businesses, and public streets. Clay, glass, metal, fiber, jewelry, paintings, photography, prints, sculpture, and all manner of mixed-media work can be found. The majority of artist studios (estimated to be more than 350 in total) are found in the Grain Belt Brewery complex, the California, Casket Arts, Northrup King, Thorp, and Van Buren Buildings, among others. The 331 Club, The Modern Café, ÉRTE Restaurant, all on 13th Avenue, and the retro Diamond’s Coffee Shoppe in the Thorp will supply any needed nourishment.

There are a few spots and events that rise up above the happy chaos. Of note in the Thorp is the Big Shot exhibition at the digital imaging/print studio The Lab (#130), curated by Lab owner Eric Recktenwald. On view are very large photographs, some measuring as much as 60×90″, by more than a dozen well-know artists such as JoAnn Verburg, David Goldes, Angela Strassheim, and Alec Soth, as well as a few newcomers such as Anthony Marchetti and Scott Nedrelow.

Nedrelow, who also has a studio in the Thorp and counts 2009 as his second Art-a-Whirl experience, describes the weekend-long event as “a chance to hang out with everyone in the building and strengthen the building’s community. It’s an opportunity to show new work and get reactions from friends, peers and strangers alike.” Nedrelow is showing his new pigment ink prints of gallery advertisements torn from art magazines and scrawled with quotes from poems and songs, and Rich Barlow’s square-format landscapes rendered in silver metallic leaf on vellum, which are appropriated from album covers. Another not-to-be-missed exhibition in the Thorp is Ramon Muxter: A Tribute to the Master (#222). Muxter, an art world denizen who regrettably passed away in the fall of 2007, is eloquently represented by a host of images and written anecdotes by friends and colleagues.

In the never-ending Northrup King Building, artists John Fleischer, Ruben Nusz and Scott Stulen have launched Sellout (#456), a Lilliputian-scaled 250 sq. foot gallery dedicated to what Nusz calls “pop conceptual” art. The premiere show features work by the three founding artists, and a flat file of very affordable work by others. “We’re interested in doing challenging shows and educating people about conceptual art,” says Nusz. “We don’t think showing and selling compelling, more intellectually driven work is a mutually exclusive activity.” Still can’t find something to buy? Northrup King also hosts a silent art auction on the third floor, with all proceeds benefitting the Northeast Minneapolis Arts Association, creator of Art-a-Whirl.

Among the many Casket Arts Building studio activities, filmmaker and photographer Mark Wojan (#145) will project images from this year’s 2009 Heart of the Beast May Day parade. In the California Building, an event of note is WACTAC, a 24-hour artmaking marathon that ends with an 8:00 p.m. party on Saturday. Part of the Walker Art Center’s Teen Art Council program, WACTAC features groups of artists who are scheduled for 3-hour artmaking intervals around the clock. Watching the marathon is free; joining in on the artmaking melee is a possibility. Art gottcha hungry? The Mill City Bar & Café will supply the necessary fuel during the aesthetically grueling event.

Turning a blind eye to Art-a-Whirl is tough. What was once a renegade, foot-loose, easily bypassed happening more than a decade ago, has morphed into an almost institutionalized, community-wide event – a truly tangible rite of spring. But Art-a-Whirl’s real beauty lies in the fact that the good, the bad and the ugly are all flaunted indiscriminately and with pride, and any art-trooper can accept or reject artwork at will. Yes we can.

Mason Riddle writes on the visual arts, architecture and design. She has contributed to publications including Artforum, Metropolis, the Star Tribune, and the Pioneer Press. She is guest editor for the upcoming Public Art Review #39: Between Rural and Urban, which explores public art in the suburbs.

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