A&E » Art

“Unconventional Wisdom” is uncommonly good

A new exhibition at the MIA has the gumption to make us nervous
September 11, 2008

WHAT: “Unconventional Wisdom” exhibition
WHEN: Aug. 29 – Oct. 26
WHERE: Minneapolis Institute of Arts
TICKETS: free www.artsmia.org

The Minneapolis Institute of Arts is freaking enormous. It boasts three floors, dozens of different galleries and nearly 100,000 works of art. It is literally a warehouse of genius. To see every work in the building in one business day, you would have to look at four pieces of art per second. Needless to say, it’s pretty easy to miss something. Keeping this in mind, Mike Elko and Ruthann Godollei’s new exhibition “Unconventional Wisdom,” is not something that’s worth skipping. The show, put on by the Minnesota Artists Exhibition Program,, is a mix of intensely dark humor, poignant wit and social critique that will leave you smirking, despite an apprehensive feeling about the future.

The world that Elko and Godollei show us, our world, is one plagued by overconsumption and wrought with violence, yet simultaneously glossed over and reinvented for the American public. It is a world ruled by fear-mongering and political buzzwords. Godollei is a professor of art at Macalester College, with a concentration in printmaking. Her pieces function as biting social criticism that utilize only one word and one object. They are generally absent of people, yet full of people’s stuff, household items, and technological gadgets — basically, the things we busy ourselves with. Godollei’s pieces read like a military memo; the words are the buzzwords of our current administration: “Extended Tour,”

“Detainee,” “Troop Reduction,” “Redeployed.”
The pieces are black ink on white canvas, impossible to misread and void of frivolities. One piece entitled “earplugs” shows an iPod as an object used to isolate ourselves from the realities of the war. The iPod’s screen has a podcast on it which reads “Pretend there’s no war/ stick it in your ears.” Godollei shows us the way in which each of us controls how isolated we let ourselves become from the world around us. The reality portrayed in Godollei’s prints is a wry and sarcastic one but also disturbing. “These images are digitized, altered, and printed again for a menacing, decayed mechanistic feel.” It’s effective, to say the least.

Elko’s prints are an adaptation of the style and visual language of ’50s and ’60s tabloids and Sears catalogs. They read like the front cover of a pulp magazine with titles like “Depressing Confessions” and “Paranoia.” Elko’s style is humorously nostalgic while bitingly to the point. One print shows a young woman holding her head in distress above a caption that reads, “I feel CHEAP and USED! After four years of heartache, she finally admits, I Chose the WRONG MAN!” Humor and information comprise each print, and remind us of the realities that are too important to forget. Elko will have you laughing but will leave you thinking about the future.

Effective art has the power to push us to think. Above all else, this is what “Unconventional Wisdom” does. Godollei and Elko’s pieces work off each other; they serve to form a running dialogue, which will undoubtedly pull you in regardless of whether you are willing to be moved.

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