Forget the food, animals, and rides. One of my favorite things to do at the Minnesota State Fair is walk through the Fine Arts building and disagree completely with the official judging of the event. Invariably, my list of favorites bears almost no resemblance whatsoever to the official list—and this year is no different.
My judging criteria could account for the difference. First, I don’t care what anyone else thinks; I just pick what I like. Second, it’s the state fair, so I give extra points for relevance to life in Minnesota, as well as bonus points for making life in Minnesota look better than it really is. I’m also a sucker for dogs and chickens.
Herewith are my choices for best art of the 2014 fair:
The Perfect Cabbage, Malia Emma Wiley — Nicollet (Oil on canvas)
Normally, cabbages don’t have much of an impact on me, even ones rendered in fluorescent green. But this one, depicted in all its leafy, veiny glory, raises the humblest of vegetables to the level of art, reminding us that no matter how boring a foodstuff is, it can still be painted to look better than it will ever taste.
Spanish White Face Chicken, Zack M. Wallenfang, Minneapolis (acrylic on illustration board)
This piece won the Weisman Art Museum Award, so I was somewhat reluctant to include it in my list of winners. But, as I said, I am a sucker for chickens—and this is one proud, no-nonsense, don’t-you-dare-cut-my-head-off chicken.
Stone Arch Bridge in 1943, Judy Renee Labuszewski, Minneapolis (acrylic on canvas)
Wouldn’t it be great if trains really did cross the Stone Arch Bridge? Well, no. They used to, and here’s what it looked like. Pedestrian-friendly it was not.
Flying Free: Minnesota Lake Memories, Barbara Otto, Stillwater (fiber collage)
It says “fiber collage,” but this is basically a quilt—one made almost entirely without squares. In Stillwater, freedom doesn’t get any crazier.
Glorious Remnant, David J. Bratzel, St. Paul
Could anything possibly be more glorious than an old tree stump? Yes, lots of thing. But kudos to Mr. Bratzel for trying to make us think there is glory in tree stumps. The words “glorious” and “St. Paul” don’t often go together, after all, but this is one way to do it.
Mr. Sullivan, Alex T.. Niemer, Eagan (digital print)
It’s hard to say why this dog looks so intelligent. Is it the droopy, knowing eyes? The “I’ve seen it all” expression? The sensitive, regal nose? I can’t put my finger on it, but this dog just looks so much smarter than other dogs. It’s uncanny.
Joyful Garden, Arden Harrison-Bushnell, Shorewood (fabric, embroidery, beadwork)
The garden depicted in this textile masterpiece isn’t just joyful, it’s positively psychedelic. Flowers, butterflies, birds, a pond—this garden has it all, including a simultaneous sun and moon. Psychedelic, indeed.
Winter Wonderland, Jeremy Jordan, Maple Grove (black and white photography)
Mr. Jordan’s romantic photo of St. Paul’s Selby Ave. after a snowfall almost makes you forget about the thousands of man hours and sweat that will go into removing all that snow, only to have it come back—again and again—until, one day, you have a heart attack and die. Almost.
Moonrise at Valley Grove, Nerstrand, Keith A. Dixon, Minneapolis (oil on linen)
Both of the churches in this painting were built in the late 1800s, and nothing has happened there since. Nothing. But occasionally, nothing looks pretty nice, especially if the moon is full and miraculously unobstructed by a sky full of clouds.
2014 Minnesota State Fair Commemorative Poster Original, Emily Taylor, (watercolor)
This colorful collage of Minnesota life, rendered in the shape of Minnesota, is lovely. However, artist Emily Taylor lives mere blocks away from the fairgrounds, and her poster neglects to include one of the fair’s great traditions—homeowners who live near the fairgrounds and charge people $15 to park on their front lawn. This is the kind of entrepreneurial spirit that keeps Minnesota’s economy vital, and should not be forgotten.