The Biggest Art Museum Event of the Weekend is in….St. Paul?

Poor St. Paul. For all its hard fought relevancy in the Twin Cities’ arts and nightlife scenes, for all its venerable rock venues and Lowertown studio crawls, there will always be one thing that Minneapolitans can smugly hold against it: it doesn’t have a real-deal art museum. When the Minnesota Museum of American Art shuttered three years ago, it left a cultural crater in downtown St. Paul. Its 4,000 works of art entered a sort of archival purgatory, stashed away in a suburban warehouse, occasionally trotted out around the state to remind us—and maybe even themselves—that they still existed.

Jil Evans, Breaking Light #5, 2011

But no longer. One of the year’s biggest stories in the local-art world is that the MMAA has developed a new physical presence in St. Paul—albeit a temporary one. This weekend, the museum debuts its much anticipated Project Space, a multi-use gallery, located in the historic Pioneer Building, intended as “an incubation space or laboratory for investigating how MMAA can serve the local community.” Word on the street is that it’s also being scouted as a potential permanent home for the revamped museum.

The debut exhibition, which opens Saturday, December 1, studies how four contemporary Minnesota painters—Betsy Byers, Jil Evans, Holly Swift, and Andrew Wykes­—engage with the landscape in and around Cannon River, Northfield, the Temperance River, and the Boundary Waters.

Far from a folksy nature show, though, “Painting the Place Between” has a coolly self-referential conceit. The painters aim to expose their roles as mediators; subjective persuaders who use a mage-like set of tools—the physicality of the painted surface, the “aura” and legacy of presenting work on canvas—to convince us to see and feel the world the way they do. It’s heady, contemporary stuff. But it’s proudly and earnestly Minnesotan—which is precisely the kind of humble-brag show at which the original MMAA always excelled.

“Painting the Place Between” runs through February 17. But this month, the space will open, pop-up style, for four exhibition-related events: a performance piece, a suite of film shorts, a nature lecture, and an artist talk.

Painting the Place Between
Public Opening: Saturday, December 1 (exhibit runs through February 17)
7:30–10:00 p.m.
Project Space, corner of Fourth and Robert Streets, St. Paul