We paired leading artists from Minnesota’s theater, music, visual arts, dance, and literary communities to talk about craft, creativity, and the inspiration behind their boundary-pushing work.
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John Marks and David Petersen
In the early aughts, John Marks and David Petersen were an arts-scene odd couple: brainy grad-school theorist (Petersen) and punky noise-obsessed sound artist (Marks). But in 2005, the two found themselves partnered up, running what many considered the most visceral contemporary-art gallery in Minneapolis: Art of This. Today, the guys are all grown up. Marks just had a kid. Petersen recently opened his own gallery. And this fall, they’re reuniting to curate an ambitiously unusual anti-biennial of Minnesota art at the Soap Factory. Not only does the show, which runs September 7–November 3, not have a name, but it barely has a catalogue; the two plan to issue artist interviews and an LP instead. You can take the boys out of the DIY, but you can’t take the DIY out of the boys.
John: We haven’t worked closely together in years.
David: Do you regret it yet?
John: I don’t. Not yet. I do, though, sometimes question our control, question the scope of the show.
David: In what way?
John: Like we’re losing part of our roles as curators. We’re avoiding the typical biennial feel, you know, of sectioning off one gallery per artist.
David: Yeah, the installation process. Which we’re, um, imposing on the artists. It’s carte blanche. The artists can install almost wherever they want in the gallery, even if that means they put pieces in multiple sites. At Art of This, the artists never had to worry about their neighbors.
John: True. And that’s the big challenge. I wonder if we’re losing part of our curatorial practice.
David: At AOT, we talked a lot about this idea, this mantra: “trust the platform.” Time and time again, we handed control to the artists. Things seemed to work out. But this is as much as we’ve trusted it, for sure. We’re using their words and input in all facets of the exhibition. We’re using their words in the freaking catalogue! They’re going to have so much more say than they’ve probably ever had, certainly in a group exhibition.
John: Well, it isn’t a good show unless it has the very real possibility of failing. That was the AOT philosophy. And those were the good shows, the ones that rode that edge as closely as possible. But now we have more resources. This exhibition, in terms of budget, is like one year of AOT programming.
David: Which makes me wonder how on earth we pulled AOT off. We were accommodating six shows a year, plus 15 to 20 events.
John: Every show was a process of complete renewal. And certainly the first few One Nighter Series—eight to 10 weeks of just.…how many different projects? There were projects that I didn’t see because I didn’t even know they happened.
David: There were myths! In some cases, no one was there but the artists themselves. I remember Julia Kouneski’s piece, where she stood in the basement on top of what was then the bar and held her hand to a hole that she had cut into the floor above her. Upstairs, you stepped into the empty gallery, you’d look down, and all you’d see was this hole—this palm portion of her hand; this strange, fleshy circle. There was absolutely nothing in the space. I think that piece was seen by six people. It was in the top five of my favorite experiences there. And for her, it was perfect that nobody saw it. Much of the concept of the piece was about absence.
John: We were able to develop such an identity and an aesthetic at AOT. Now we’re using someone else’s platform.
David: You remember back before we approached the Soap Factory? We weren’t certain of who, exactly, was going to be the curator. Was it going to be curated by John and David? Or was it going to be curated by Art of This? Is there even a way for us to divorce ourselves from Art of This?
John: Probably not. There’s no need in pretending that AOT was this thing that was bigger than us, that we were just stewards of something larger. We did make it, logistically. I think it’s one in the same. You can’t really change history.
John: I consider AOT being something that we did.
David: Or as something that we were. I wasn’t really involved in the birth of AOT. So how exactly did AOT become realized? It came out of what was a fairly tight-knit group of artists working in the Sexton building in 2005.
John: We all had studios there. And we all got evicted because the building was getting converted into condominiums. We already had this cooperative mindset, we had all been working in these collectively run businesses: Seward Café, Hard Times Café, the old Seward and North Country co-ops. So instead of renting a new studio, we decided we would open something street level that we could not only work out of but also show other artists. And a space the public could actually walk into, without a door code.
David: AOT gave me so many opportunities; it opened a lot of doors for me. It pushed me harder than doing my own work ever did.
John: I always thought that, too, about the One Nighter Series: “If we mess this up, we can always do better next week.”
David: It will always be the foundation for whatever I do going forward. That, and Rococo painting.
John: Ha ha.
For extended interviews with this year's featured artists, visit mnmo.com/fallarts2013.
7 Other Must-See Shows
Lynn A. Gray and Wayne E. Potratz, Katherine E. Nash Gallery, 9/3–10/12, nash.umn.edu
Fabled, Altered Esthetics, 9/5–9/26, alteredesthetics.org
Tom Maakestad, Groveland Gallery, 9/6–10/19, grovelandgallery.com
Claes Oldenburg: The Sixties, Walker Art Center, 9/22–1/12/14, walkerart.org
Exquisite Pots II: Red Handed, Northern Clay Center, 9/27–11/3, northernclaycenter.org
The Modern Face: Portraits from the Pompidou, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, 10/6–1/5/14, artsmia.org
I Am Water, Form + Content, 10/31–12/7, formandcontent.org