For his part, Bakkom, an irrepressibly social character, has established a no-budget gallery in the basement of his Minneapolis apartment building in an effort not just to show art, but to foster conversations about it. But he agrees with Spangler about the cliqueishness here. “You’re only one or two people removed from almost everybody else in town, except there’s this huge canyon in between you and them. It’s not just a step, it’s a divide.” Part of it, he thinks, comes down paradoxically to the quality of life—the reverse of the situation in New York. “Networking can be difficult, at least at first, because people are very isolated here. They have nice homes and apartments, so they don’t really have to go out to meet friends.”
Despite the limitations of the local scene, including the frequently lamented lack of buyers for local work, things have improved during the last ten or fifteen years. Glasoe, who visits several times a year, says she can feel it. “Minneapolis is a bigger city now, there’s more energy in the art market, at the museums. There’s just more visibility.” Partly, that’s due to the proliferation of web-based technologies and more and cheaper flights out of town, not to mention shipping services. It’s easier than ever for an artist to “keep one foot in New York,” as Vergne put it, while living here.
Curator Richard Flood also had a subtle but deep influence in bringing attention to the local scene, according to Glasoe. He was a fixture at the Walker for more than a decade before moving last year to New York’s New Museum of Contemporary Art; prior to his Walker appointment he was a major dealer at the Barbara Gladstone gallery in New York. “Since he had been in the market, he would get out there, he knows the younger artists—he didn’t just hole up in his office,” said Glasoe. “And when he moved to Minneapolis, those New Yorkers who knew him, along with dealers in L.A. and Europe—they all took notice.”
While Flood was already well known when he came to the Cities, Vergne has developed his own reputation for risk-taking during his years at the museum, a sensibility that no doubt appealed to the Whitney folks when he was asked to curate its biennial. And it didn’t hurt our reputation, either, when the international art world converged here last year for the re-opening of the Walker; Leslie Cohan was there, and that’s when she got the inspiration for the Minets à Polis show.
It’s difficult to put a finger on what is distinctive about artists here, Vergne said. But he knows that it’s very different from what’s going on, for instance, in Houston. “There are lots of reasons. You have the long winter,” he said. “It sounds silly, but it triggers things, you go inside for six months because it’s freezing and it’s dark out—you do a different kind of work than if your door is open and it’s sunny.” He also touched on words like “angry” and “feisty,” and noted that some artists here develop an idiosyncratic kind of “Midwest bad-ass philosophy.”
Glasoe has found that the artists she knows from Minnesota “all have this incredible mastery of subtlety, and they know how to make it into a strong work. I rarely see people who are not from the Midwest who know how to make painting or sculpture that is both quiet and strong. It takes putting everything into your work and still holding back at the same time.” This is especially apt with respect to New York, where artists from all over the world are competing for attention and thus tend to “dial it up a notch” in their work, as Glasoe described it.