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Artist Reflections on 20 Years of SooVAC by Sophia Abrams

Updated: 11 hours ago

In June 2001, Suzy Greenberg opened Soo Visual Art Center, at that time it was located on 27th and Lyndale; the art space invited people in with its openness and thought-provoking exhibitions. Central to SooVAC is its emphasis on exhibiting emerging artists and ensuring that art is accessible to the community.

Since 2001, a lot has changed. In 2012, Greenberg unexpectedly passed away. Carolyn Payne had already taken over as Executive Director and Alison Hiltner moved into the role of Associate Director, both determined to continue the legacy Suzy had established as a place where artists have the freedom to make their own rules. In 2015, SooVAC moved to its current Bryant Avenue location. Withstanding the changes is SooVAC’s commitment as a nonprofit arts space that connects the community to dynamic, underrepresented art.

This past June, SooVAC celebrated 20 years. To commemorate the anniversary, SooVAC reached out to artists who have exhibited at SooVAC to reflect on the anniversary.

2004: Oakley Tapola: I’m With Stupid

What does the idea of family as art mean? In 1993 at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, Bruce Tapola, Melba Price, and their then six-year-old daughter Oakley exhibited the collaborative installation I Wuv You. 11 years later, in 2004, the family exhibited again at SooVAC, exploring the notions of family in art through their innate creations in their show, I’m With Stupid.

What does it mean to exhibit work that young? Seventeen years later, SooVAC caught up with Oakley to reflect on the show. Oakley was six and 17 when the shows were exhibited. Born in Chicago and raised in St.Paul, Oakley was introduced to SooVAC through her parents’ friendship with Suzy Greenberg. Reflecting on the show, Oakley remembers the process being very open. Each family member got their own corner in the gallery, and the family was essentially allowed to create whatever they desired in the space.

“Having an opportunity to exhibit work at such a young age is a huge privilege. The show impacted my career insofar as it was a seminal learning experience for me as a teenager who also wanted to be an artist - got to experiment and was given the time and trust to bring a project into fruition - that’s pretty invaluable at any stage of your career but even more so when you are learning about yourself, growing as an artist and finding your voice and message. So - it was a great foundational experience for me,” Oakley said.

2015: Alyssa Baguss: Dead Reckoning: A Site Specific Drawing

Alyssa Baguss was introduced to SooVAC through Alison Hiltner. Learning about SooVAC, Baguss realized that a lot of the artists she admired showed work there. Early in her career, it was a space that made sense for her work, and she wanted to be a part of it. In 2015, Dead Reckoning was a turning point for her career. As one of her first solo shows, she started exploring maps and satellite imagery, expanding the footprint of her work to meet its context. Baguss decided to submit a proposal to SooVAC to make a giant drawing on the walls — something Baguss had not tried before. When Baguss applied, SooVAC was still at the Lyndale location. Halfway through Baguss’ preparation for the show, SooVAC moved to Bryant, shifting Bauguss’ work to create a stencil to be used on the wall.

“And they were beautiful. They let me into the place at night while they weren't there and just let me work alone. And everything worked. And it turned out beautifully. And I was so happy with it. And they were just so supportive. And that's the beauty of SooVAC, they're really artist-focused. And so it was such a positive experience, and I got great documentation. And I used those photos to get other opportunities and other grants. And it just propelled me into a part of my practice that I don't think I could have without that opportunity,” Baguss remarked.

Monday Live Arts, a program SooVAC started in collaboration with artist Laurie Van Wieren, gave Baguss new insight about her practice.

“And there was a ballerina in the gallery with my artwork. And it was heart-crushingly beautiful. And I never would have dreamt of that. And it was so amazing. It made me realize that performance can happen in gallery spaces or with visual art in a way that takes things to a new level. And I think about my work in relation to those dancers all of the time and how people move through the space,” Baguss said.

Reflecting on 20 years of SooVAC, Baguss remarked:

“They're one of the very few galleries in the Twin Cities that are still in operation that are so artist-focused, but they really are about the artists. And of course, that doesn't mean that they don't serve their community well or anything like that; I just mean that their number one goal is to support us the best they can so that we have a great experience. And I've never seen that waver over the years, and I feel like I'm pretty close to them. I'm a super friend. I volunteer for them. I'm in other people's projects. I love being a part of something that I feel is important, and I hope they never go away it's just a really great thing to have in the Twin Cities.”

2018: Joe Sinness: Portraits (2018), Enough (2013), Untitled 6 (2007)- More on Joe Sinness

Since 2007, Joe Sinness has exhibited work with SooVAC. After graduating from MCAD in 2005, Sinness was encouraged to check out SooVAC because Suzy Greenberg was an MCAD alum, and he heard of the great work Suzy did in the Twin Cities arts community. Sinness applied to Untitled 6: SooVAC’s Annual Juried Exhibition and was selected as one of 20 participants from over 200 entries. Sinness was thrilled that Suzy selected their drawing as the poster for the exterior of the building and made prints of the drawing to sell in the former gift shop.

In 2013, the group show Enough greatly boosted Sinness’ confidence with colored pencil drawings and encouraged him to keep creating. Sinness’ 2018 show Portraits is a testament to their evolution and commitment to colored pencil drawings, with eight drawings of members of the Twin Cities Goodtime Softball League. Since their SooVAC shows, Sinness continues to show art and makes colored pencil drawings out of their home in St.Paul.

When asked how SooVAC has changed since he started exhibiting, Sinness responded:

So many! I actually worked assisting the front desk and helping with the gift shop for a period of time with Alison Hiltner. I was there when Suzy brought in Carolyn as the new director. Suzy is dearly missed, but Alison and Carolyn and the board have been doing a great job of continuing Suzy's vision for the gallery.”

2018: Christopher E. Harrison: A Monster’s Anthology

In 2018, Christopher E. Harrison’s show, A Monster’s Anthology, was shown at SooVAC. Instrumental to the show was its exploration of imagined species’ existence through abstract portraiture and landscapes. Like many, Harris was introduced to SooVAC by attending show openings. Once familiar with SooVAC, Harrison entered the Call for Art and created a theme and work for the show. Since the 2018 show, Harrison has developed a stronger relationship with SooVAC through selling work and community outreach. Now a Minneapolis resident for 30 years, Harrison is finishing graduate school this year, finding that while his practice has changed, it still contains some of the themes explored in his 2018 SooVAC show.

2021: Anika Schneider: Chinese-ish

This past March, Anika Schnieder explored her Asian identity in her mixed-media exhibition, Chinese-ish. As an MCAD MFA first-year student four years ago, Schneider became familiar with SooVAC through their MCAD juried show. Originally from Maryland, Schieder wanted to move to Minneapolis because she had a hard time making connections with other emerging artists in Washington, D.C. Since her move, she has been able to find a vibrant community of Minneapolis artists. This exhibition was in honor of SooVAC's founder Suzy Greenberg and her commitment to supporting the Master of Fine Arts program at MCAD. Schneider was selected for this exhibition by curator Pujan Gandhi.

“Previously in my work, I have explored a lot of themes about family memory and childhood, which obviously all intersects greatly with my Chinese family, my Chinese identity, and my Chinese background, but I hadn't really explored it specifically. And I felt ready to do that at that point in my practice. And I think I needed a way to have that conversation,” Schnieder said.

Schnieder started brainstorming for this exhibition by thinking of traditional and historical Chinese art around her. Chinese Berdan flower paintings and printmaking catalyzed her to recreate childhood imagery through layered prints. Prominently, Schnieder grappled with and re-imagined her Chinese identity by looking at motifs and themes of her childhood explored through art and Mahjong to create her own narrative about being Chinese-ish. Working with SooVAC enabled Schnieder to bring the vision of her show to fruition through the curatorial guidance of SooVAC.

Evidence of Schnieder’s show’s reach was the positive response from the community, seeing Schnieder’s new direction of work.

“One person who actually didn't see the show but read about it and reached out to me was another Chinese American, not mixed race. It was really interesting to hear their perspective on the work and how they connected with it, like how a lot of the things I was talking about, like feeling sort of distant from my Chinese heritage but a really deep connection at the same time and feeling very Chinese and familiar with the imagery of Chinese culture, but at the same time, not always feeling like I fully understand it at once. So all of these dualities of understanding and how they also really felt the same way and were connecting to it as a non-mixed race Chinese American,” Schnieder remarked.

Reflecting on 20 years of SooVAC, Schnieder responded:

“I'm really thankful for SooVAC for supporting young artists because I think young artists sometimes are capable of so much, they just need the opportunity to show it. And I feel like the show really gave me that. And I'm looking forward to seeing what work SooVAC does in the next 20 years.”

Learn More About Sophia Abrams, SooVAC 2021 Summer Intern HERE.

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