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John Lamb, Published January 25 2012

Subversive humor of Midwest life on display at new Plains exhibit

If you go

What: ‘Art on the Plains XI’ reception

When: 7:30 to 9:30 p.m., Saturday

Where: Plains Art Museum, 704 1st Ave. N., Fargo

Info: Free for members, $10 for non-members. (701) 232-3821

FARGO – If you thought art from the northern Plains was all images of farmers, fields and wide-open sky, Megan Johnston invites you to look again.

Johnston, director of curatorial affairs and interpretation at the Plains Art Museum says the newest juried “Art on the Plains” gives people a different view of life above Oklahoma.

Featuring 76 works from North Dakota, Minnesota, Nebraska and Montana artists, the show was judged by Hesse McGraw, curator for the Bemis Center for Contemporary Art in Omaha.

The exhibit opens this weekend with a reception Saturday night.

“He didn’t pick just the best work. He created a show with a strong viewpoint,” Johnston says.

That viewpoint is of life on the Plains that’s, “a little quirky and humorous.”

She points to one of the show’s centerpieces, Raina Belleau’s “Dignity in Dexterity.” The Minneapolis artist displays a mock stuffed bear – made of artificial fur, cast resin and foam – on a carpet holding a teacup from a claw that’s actually a mannequin’s finger.

Placed just inside the door of the main floor gallery – the show continues in the third floor gallery, Johnston calls it a “creepy” introduction to the exhibit.

“Subversive humor is everywhere in this show,” Johnston says.

McGraw’s selections stress that regional arts can make just as big of an impact as international art centers, Johnston says, adding that his picks are “clever and reflective,” of the region.

“Although their work emerges fervently from the terrain, culture and ethic of the Plains, it resists and upends the quaint color of this exhibition’s title,” McGraw wrote in the catalogue.

“Rather than sink under the weight of knowing too much – having global perspective but a provincial everyday – these artists create a space of openness, belief, and ingenuity. They have rejected cynicism to celebrate the authentic absurdities of life in the Midwest.”

The absurdities are plentiful, particularly in the photography.

What looks like trees against a light sky in Lynn Fundingsland’s “Urban Forest” become a white wall on further inspection.

Meghan Duda’s pair of untitled rural N.D. landscapes feature precision negative space where the structures have been physically cut out and removed from the image.

J. Earl Miller’s photo “Maytag Man’s Last Job” shows a lonely washing machine on the prairie.

“If you were driving out to Bismarck and you saw this in the field, you’d stop,” Johnston says.

Of the eight Fargo-area artists picked for the show, six are photographers, including Dan Koeck. His photo of a boy lying still, almost planking, in mud, is, “Really simple, but not cute or sappy,” Johnston says. She adds that viewers will ponder what the child is doing.

“I really think artists are one of us, but they have a real astute way of seeing things,” she says.

Readers can reach Forum reporter John Lamb at (701) 241-5533