Wing Young Huie pulls his station wagon onto University Avenue in St. Paul, heading east past Vietnamese restaurants and Hmong grocers. “I shot there,” he says, pointing to a Somali charter school. “I shot there,” he says, pointing to a barbershop. “Tried to shoot there,” he says of the Midwest Hotel, a flophouse he describes as “something out of a Coen brothers film. They wouldn’t let me in.”
Huie got enough photographs, though, along a six-mile stretch leading up to the capitol, to open “The University Avenue Project” on May 1. Hundreds of images—of schoolkids, merchants, street life—will be displayed along the avenue. In an empty lot next to the Town House Bar and Piano Lounge, they will also be projected each night this summer onto stacks of shipping containers.
Huie describes the avenue, cutting through immigrant communities, as “colliding cultural realities,” which could also describe his own life. He grew up in Duluth, the only child in his Chinese-American family of eight born in the United States. “I grew up with Paul Bunyan and A Prairie Home Companion,” he says, “but my reality was always bumping into those myths. People like me don’t live in Lake Wobegon.”
He shot his first public-art project, of St. Paul’s Frogtown neighborhood, in 1995. He shot Lake Street in Minneapolis a few years later, which led to a book, a show at the Walker Art Center, and a side career lecturing on ethnicity and art. “I wasn’t going to do another six-mile show,” he says, pulling up to his favorite Vietnamese restaurant. “Lake Street exhausted me.” But Christine Podas-Larson of Public Art Saint Paul asked him what he might do with University Avenue, promising an even bigger splash.
“The usual?” asks a waitress. Huie orders and looks out at the avenue. “The question I’m always trying to answer is, ‘Who’s a real Minnesotan?’ ” he says. “ ‘Who’s a real American?’ I’m trying to create a new iconography.”
5 THINGS YOU DIDN’T KNOW ABOUT WING
1. He’s an introvert. “Photography gets me out of my bubble,” he says.
2. His father ran Joe Huie’s Café, one of the most popular restaurants in Duluth.
3. He started out shooting weddings and portraits of John Casablancas models.
4. He’s an avid basketball player and keeps a ball in the car for impromptu pickup games.
5. His first exhibition, on the Frogtown area, was shown on University Avenue.
PHOTO BY WING YOUNG HUIE. MORE CAN BE SEEN ON THE NEXT PAGE.