Magazine article Artforum International

Distant Relations: Brian Sholis on Regional Nonprofits

Magazine article Artforum International

Distant Relations: Brian Sholis on Regional Nonprofits

Article excerpt

TEN YEARS AGO, urban theorist Saskia Sassen wrote that cities "that are strategic sites in the global economy tend, in part, to disconnect from their region." She was speaking in strictly economic terms, but as Pamela M. Lee and others have observed, the process of globalization in the cultural realm has largely marched alongside capitalist business ventures. Today the structures of the art communities in New York and London have more in common with each other than, say, New York has with Detroit or London has with Leeds. The international art world (however one defines that nebulous term) seems willing to make occasional exceptions to this economically dominant order in the name of "radical hybridity," bringing additional international exposure to artists in far-flung locales. But art communities in cities that are neither fully woven into the new, transnational economic network nor considered culturally "other" enough can struggle in the wake of this stratification.

Certainly, the commercial sectors of these less prominent art communities are finding it harder to keep afloat due to the increase in long-distance buying by local collectors (thanks to the Internet), the rise of art fairs, and the escalating competition for artists. Yet the past decade has witnessed small, nimble nonprofit organizations stepping in to undertake some of the endeavors typically associated with for-profit ventures. They offer production support to young artists, helping them realize ambitious projects at moments in their careers when larger institutions are unwilling to do so, and they devote exhibitions to artists not yet on the radar of the art world's metropolitan centers. Commercial galleries play a central role in the New York art scene, but a tour of nonprofits in other large North American cities indicates that many of the gallery's functions can be assumed by other spaces and institutions.

Midway Contemporary Art in Minneapolis is one such nonprofit venue. When Midway opened in January 2001, few might have predicted that it would soon present a spate of US-debut solo exhibitions by internationally noted artists. But in the past few years, as the gallery has expanded, director John Rasmussen has organized ambitious shows with artists such as Michaela Meise, Jesper Just, Lene Berg, and Matias Faldbakken, all of whom at the time of their Midway exhibitions had appeared in group shows and biennials throughout Europe but were not well known in the United States. "Most of the projects that Midway does at this point are commissioned," notes Rasmussen. "We help underwrite the costs of production and all of the costs of exhibiting the finished works." These solo projects are interspersed with group exhibitions curated by outside organizers, including independent curator Tanya Leighton and critic Bruce Hainley.

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Yet this programming approach has had a curious result: As Rasmussen puts it, "We may be better known outside the Twin Cities than inside." To address this, he has begun to weave Midway more tightly into the local community. In the past year the gallery has begun working with the Minneapolis College of Art and Design and the University of Minnesota to present artist talks, symposia, and other programming, which allow students and members of the public to meet the stream of artists who pass through the city in conjunction with exhibitions. Midway has also opened, adjacent to the gallery space, a research library of art periodicals, monographs, and exhibition catalogues--an attempt to redress the lack of ambitious art bookstores in Minneapolis. "What keeps me here," says Rasmussen, "is a sense that there's a real need for a place like this in Minneapolis. The mission--to support emerging and underrepresented artists--is really fulfilled in a place like the Twin Cities. Minneapolis is a quiet place where people can come and experiment." For example, Midway presented the first collaborative exhibition by artists Wade Guyton and Kelley Walker, who now work together as Guyton\Walker. …

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