artist of the year


by David Lefkowitz

1995 may go down as the year in which cyberspace became the new frontier of the cutting-edge artist. As such, painting and sculpture were eulogized yet again in the wake of supposedly more egalitarian, more flexible, and just plain better and cooler new technology. So it was heartening to encounter work in more traditional media that can still command attention and engender experience that is at once visceral and intellectual.

Two particular exhibits in the Twin Cities in the past year were just such encounters. Shana Kaplow’s paintings of discrete body parts on hand-cut, slightly irregular wood panels are ironically unified and complete; we reconstruct these partial gestures according to our own knowledge and experience of the human animal. By focusing on the body in a way that is at once clinical and lyrical, Kaplow somehow manages to express both how commonplace and how amazing our existence is. Moreover, an adequate experience of these pieces is only possible in real space. A reproduction, on a postcard or online, can only hint at what the paintings clearly convey.

For his installation at the Soap Factory, N44 58.961′ W93 14.982′, Michael Rathbun used a single basic material, raw pine, to construct a large, ship-like form which plows through wooden waves with absurdly oversized and unwieldy oars. The huge structure of blonde lumber trapped in the dark gray confines of the equally raw warehouse space was as “interactive” as anything I’ve seen on the Web. This fantastic ship-in-a-room embodies a paradox of motion and stasis, and a slow, considered walk on its gently sloping planks offers a constantly shifting perspective.

For all the possibilities of cyberspace, it’s not a panacea for creativity. As long as our brains rely on our bodies to gather information, plastic forms will continue to inspire awe and reflection. Kaplow and Rathbun convey that message as articulately, and evocatively, as any artists anywhere today.

David Lefkowitz is a Minneapolis painter and writer.