North of the 45th is an annual juried exhibition of artists living in the geographical area north of the 45th parallel in Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota. This line is known as the halfway point between the equator and the north pole, and crossing this line from the south is often associated with being “up north.” The exhibition and this catalogue showcase the breadth and depth of artists living in this upper Midwest region from both rural and urban areas. Each year, under the guidance of a juror, the exhibitions have been completely different but equally fascinating to present.
Though the upper Midwest region north of the 45th parallel hasn’t suffered the amount of Covid-19 related illness and casualty as some of its southern neighbors (according to New York Times data), it did struggle thru some of the same shut down circumstances; furloughed, laid-off and shuttered like many of the less populated regions of the country. Museums temporarily pulled the blinds, galleries closed and may never re-open, artist-run spaces followed suit and many decided an online presence of some sort was a useful, if temporary, response.
Is the experience of looking at objects online satisfactory or fulfilling? Not for this reporter. The value of looking at and feeling objects, with their idiosyncratic materials, spaces, illusions, surfaces and scales… is lost in digital translation. Oy Vey. What a drag to be excited for an upcoming exhibition, an opportunity to show-off to friends, rub elbows with peers and test chops on a public stage in real time, only to have a shut-down the size of half of North America strip that away. Reality of the pandemic hits hard, everywhere.
With that framework imposed, artists still have options: The art store sells paint online, the collection of intriguing materials in the garage hasn’t collected too much dust, the construction site down the road is churning out fresh scrap material, a box of screws still costs three bucks and who said you can’t paint or draw on reclaimed cardboard? Difficult circumstances bring out the best in artists, don’t they?
This might even be a boon for artists, if not their bank accounts. What’s better than solitude, isolation and time among some of the most beautiful landscape in the United States, in the height of summer? For some, fresh air and space, shorts and SPF 30, without a mask, given the circumstances, is ideal. For those schooled in post-modern theory, the artist as individual genius, isolated in the woods, working in a shack of a studio, offensively dogmatic in attitude, is a no-no, if not downright irresponsible.
Sounds pretty good today, when politics, gussied up as art, are being played out on screens at all hours, while the insular artist, who doesn’t participate in the spectacle, who can’t get their head around why they should, is instantly last year’s model. Did Justin Vernon write For Emma, Forever Ago in front of a 24/7 digital audience? No. He wrote it in a cabin, in the northern Wisconsin woods, alone, above the 45th.
I am not a fan of the populist New York art critic Jerry Saltz. But he said something recently that I appreciated hearing. He said “get to work you big babies,” speaking on a podcast to his many minions; artists who hang on his every word. This is something I have been wanting to say to so many artists lately, especially those who seemed to hit a wall once the professional art world and its economic pipeline have become depleted.
However, this is not the case with those of you who applied to the North of the 45th exhibition. It was a gratifying experience to look at so many examples of art work driven by a commitment to invention instead of professionalization. To see a dedication to one’s imagination through form and material exploration. To witness the affection and adherence toward landscape genre. And to discern a sophisticated obligation to advancing abstraction and its cerebral interpretations. This is the drive behind the art works submitted to this annual exhibition celebrating creativity in the visual arts. And it was my honor to have had the opportunity to experience this rich and rigorous engagement with artmaking.
Needless to say, selecting work from this teeming pool of submissions was difficult. It is always worth reminding artists that adjudicating is never objective and it will inevitably reflect the juror’s taste. That said, I would like to congratulate those artists whose work we selected. We combed over the submissions again and again. We had endless conversations about your work and how it could come together in an exhibition that represented the region’s vast cultural imagination. It is profoundly evident that Saltz’s words do not apply to the artists of above the 45th.