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Published June 17 2012

Rourke’s 53rd Midwestern exhibition looks at American songbook

When an art gallery’s annual exhibition becomes one of the longest-running in the nation, something must be going right.

That seems to be the case for the Rourke Art Gallery’s Midwestern, the invitational juried exhibition that started the year the museum opened.

The Midwestern kicks off tonight with an opening reception for the 53rd straight time.This year features a theme that revolves around the idea of the American songbook, and includes a mix of artists both young and old, regional and from afar.

Though the theme might conjure visions of Irving Berlin or Glenn Miller, many of this year’s entrants found different ways to create art on the subject, according to Executive Director Tania Blanich.

“It’s a diversity of perspectives,” she says.

Some, like Fargo artist John Volk in his “On Stage at the Dutch Mill,” depicted a scene straight out of the songbook era of the 1960s.

Others went into a more contemporary setting, creating artwork connected with bands like Led Zeppelin (one piece is titled “Stairway to Heaven”) or artists like Bob Dylan.

The way that each artist connected with the theme is what makes this year’s exhibition particularly interesting, Blanich says.

“That kind of range of work and approaches to the theme is what you want to celebrate,” she says.

Most of the pieces are paintings or photographs, but a few three-dimensional sculptures can also be found among the entries, some utilizing songbook-related materials such as CDs or vinyl records.

Fargo artist Jon Offutt, for example, created a small piece using blown glass for his “Nothing But Blue Skies …” piece.

Bismarck native Jonathan Twingley, who also has an exhibit currently on display in the upper level of the gallery, is the show’s juror and was responsible for picking the theme.

“The tradition of giving each year’s show a theme guarantees a fresh and unique collection of work,” he says.

After 53 years, the Fargo-Moorhead arts community might be hard-pressed to disagree.

The exhibition will run through Labor Day weekend.

If you go

What: Opening reception of the 53rd Midwestern exhibition

When: 6 to 9 tonight

Where: The Rourke Art Gallery Museum, 521 Main Ave., Moorhead

Info: Admission is $25 for members, $30 for non-members, $35 at the door; regular hours for the museum are 1 to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday or by appointment. For more information, call (218) 236-8861 or email museum@therourke.org.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Sam Benshoof at (701) 241-5535