Art-A-Whirl 2011

Yes, it’s probably going to rain this weekend. But northeast Minneapolis’s Art-A-Whirl, officially the nation’s largest open-studio and gallery crawl with more than 500 artist participants and an expected 50,000 visitors, will not be stopped by scattered storms. Really, it’s virtually waterproof: Most of the art viewing happens inside, remember? With huge warehouse epicenters like the Northrup King Building (home to 200 artist tenants) and the Casket Arts Building (over 100), you can see an overwhelming amount of work without ever setting foot outside.

So brave the weather, throw some fenders on the bike, and come on up to Northeast. Here’s our list of best indoor events this weekend—and one outdoor spectacle worth getting wet for.

Brickmania Toyworks open house

Brickmania, artist Daniel Siskind’s rogue Lego fantasia, is home to some of the most astounding brick-toy creations in the country. Find his studio, tucked deep inside the industrial catacombs of 1620 Central Avenue, and marvel at the train installation: two hyper-detailed Metro Transit Light Rail trains winding through an array of vistas (courtesy of the Greater Midwest Lego Train Club and Twin Cities Lego Train Club). Or thrill to the historical tableaux, in which Siskind recreates historically accurate battles from World Wars I and II. The open house even features a play area with bricks for building, a racecar ramp, and other creative activities.

Franconia in the City @ Casket Arts

Franconia Sculpture Park is like a wildlife refuge for large-scale contemporary sculpture, showcasing a rotating collection of some 75 creations in a 20-acre park just north of the Twin Cities. For this year’s Whirl, three large sculptures by local artists Amy Toscani, Aaron Dysart, and Andrew McGuffie are coming to Minneapolis, setting up a “satellite park” in the Casket Arts Building.  A weekend-long opening gala features live music, tacos, and a drop-in family sculpture-making workshop.

CURIO: A Michael Thomsen Retrospective at Rogue Buddha

You know Michael Thomsen’s work: those dark, wall-mounted carnival sculptures, lurid with the glow of midway lights and a manic jumble of junk-drawer treasures. Rogue Buddha gallery has featured Thomsen every Art-A-Whirl since 2004. This year, they’re giving him a retrospective. Go see the best of an artist who has come to define the festival.

 “The Best and Worst of Frank Gaard” at CO Exhibitons

If you haven’t seen this show yet, you really need to. Gaard’s salacious, neon-seared pop art gets the retrospective treatment for the first time ever, with over 40 years of work appearing together in one place. You’ll see everything from “unsaleable” paintings pulled from his basement. You’ll see feverishly drawn excerpts from Art Police (Gaard’s art zine and comic book which enjoyed a 20-year run and was ultimately collected by such museums as New York’s MoMA, the Walker Art Center, and the Smithsonian). And you’ll also see a new collaborative project that Gaard has undertaken with his wife Pamela, in which each paints a portrait of the same subject. Although CO Exhibitions is on the outskirts of Northeast, this show makes it worth the trek.

Czeslaw’s Loop

Okay, this one’s actually outside. But the event—an elaborate crescendo to the last four years of Creative Electric Studios’ “boat project”—has been getting so much hype, it can’t be missed. Since 2008, David Salmela, Jenny Adams, and a rotating cast of other artists have docked a ramshackle houseboat behind the Sample Room and filled it with some sort of odd, immersive art environment. Over the years, the project has expanded to include live music, with bands playing both on the boat’s roof and on loose barges drifting down the Mississippi River.

This year, the Creative Electric team has partnered with Permanent Art and Design Group for a conceptually robust upping of the ante. Based on a fictional story of a Polish avant-garde composer who vanished before his opus could be completed, Czeslaw’s Loop is a four-act opera of sculpture, sound art, live music, and interactive performance.

But the buzz has really been about the opera’s “conductors.” Marshalling the three-day production is a venerable cast of local musicians, including Ryan Olson (of Gayngs fame), Doomtree figurehead P.O.S., Martin Dosh, and Amphetamine Records founder Tom Hazelmyer. The big names, combined with the sheer number of artists involved, make Czelaw’s Loop the Whirl’s most ambitious event. Not to be missed.

For maps, artist listings, and more Art-A-Whirl info, check out