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Grand Forks museum balances new exhibits, 'Songs of Spirit Lake' project

From its current exhibits of dazzling beadwork and visual art from North Dakota's Oil Patch to the three-year "Songs of Spirit Lake" project that will open its first exhibit May 24 in New York, this is a busy, ambitious time at the North Dakota M...

'Beaded Moccasins'
"Beaded Moccasins," plastic beads applied to hot pink vinyl high heels, is part of the "Dancing, Dazzling Beads" exhibit at North Dakota Museum of Art. the work is by Kent Monkman of Toronto, Ontario. (NDMOA photo)

From its current exhibits of dazzling beadwork and visual art from North Dakota's Oil Patch to the three-year "Songs of Spirit Lake" project that will open its first exhibit May 24 in New York, this is a busy, ambitious time at the North Dakota Museum of Art in Grand Forks.

This summer, the first artists will move into the McCanna (N.D.) House to work in the peace and quiet of the tiny town. The "Songs of Spirit Lake," funded by a three-year $150,000 grant to support six artists, has nearly completed its first year.

One of the artists, photographer Rena Effendi, will be working on the Spirit Lake Indian Reservation this week.

And NDMOA, located on the UND campus, recently took physical possession of all the furniture, art and treasures of the late New York artist Barton Benes. By all accounts, it's an amazing collection that will require a new or expanded building to be displayed in the manner Benes specified when he left his worldly possessions to the museum.

The museum and its Executive Director Laurel Reuter are known for far-reaching and unexpected work. Consider the NDMOA exhibit "The Disappeared," which traveled to New York and throughout the Western Hemisphere from 2005 to 2010. It told the story of the kidnappings and murders of South American civilians by military regimes there in the 1970s, and earned a glowing review from an important New York Times art critic.

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Here's a quick look at some of what's going on now at the museum.

Oil Patch art

Susie J. Lee's exhibit "Split Open" is the result of her recent visit to the oil field at Stanley, N.D., where she and a videographer spent time in one of the man camps.

The video installation, which will run through May 26, includes four real-time video portraits of some of the oilfield workers she met, and examples of her earlier work, too.

Lee grew up in Grand Forks and today works out of Seattle. The opening reception in Grand Forks for her exhibit and for "Dancing, Dazzling Beads" happened on a Sunday when a significant snowstorm moved into the area. Still, about 110 came for the opening and the artist's talk, said Matthew Wallace, NDMOA's director of rural arts initiatives.

"For a looming blizzard, that was a very good turnout for us," he said.

Dazzling beads

"Dancing, Dazzling Beads" will be up through May 26 like Lee's exhibit. The pieces range from pink vinyl high heels decorated with native beadwork to an ancient Egyptian mask from the collection of the late artist Barton Benes.

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Other artists with work in the show are KC Adams, Sonya Clark, Glen Hanson, Jessica Kincaid, Anne Kingsbury, Evelyn Letfuss, Shawne Major, Sherry Markovitz, Kent Monkman, Nadia Myre, Judy Onofrio, Rochelle Peterson, Christy Puetz, Joyce Scott, Elizabeth Simonson and Evelyn Svec Ward.

Scott will give the annual Elaine McKenzie Memorial Lecture at 7 p.m. May 2 at NDMOA. The title of her talk: "Luxuriating in Beauty."

Rena Effendi

Effendi, a native of Azerbaijan, had an exhibit at NDMOA in 2011. Called "Pipe Dreams," it featured black and white photos that chronicled the lives and unrealized dreams of people living along an oil pipeline that was being built in eastern Europe and Asia.

She will be in Fort Totten, N.D., through April 29 as part of the "Songs of Spirit Lake" project, which explores life on the mixed-race, multicultural Spirit Lake reservation.

Effendi and five other artists have been using the Cankdeska Cikana Community College in Fort Totten as their base, Wallace said.

The other artists are Bill Harbort, an art professor at Minot State University; Terry Jelsing, Rugby, N.D., a longtime artist who works from his family's homestead; Mary Lucier, a New York video-installation artist whose work includes "The Plains of Sweet Regret," filmed in western North Dakota; Tim Schouten, Winnipeg, whose work includes paintings based on photographs shot at treaty signings from 1871 to 1954; and John Hitchcock, an art professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

An exhibit of the artists' preliminary work will open May 24 at the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation project space in New York.

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McCanna House

Margery McCanna Jenniston, who died in 2010, left her ancestral home in McCanna, N.D., 35 miles west of Grand Forks, to NDMOA to develop as an artist-in-residence colony.

On June 12, artists (and husband and wife) Helgi and Vala Eyjolfsson from Reykjavik, Iceland, will be the first to live and work at the McCanna house. They will stay for five weeks, to be followed by Pirjo Berg, a Grand Forks artist originally from Finland, and artist Carole d'Inverno, a friend of his from Italy.

Barton Benes

Benes, a longtime friend of NDMOA, died in May 2012 and left the contents of his Greenwich Village apartment and his extensive and valuable art collection to the museum.

His 850-square-foot apartment contained thousands of objects including masks, religious relics and his curio collection. NDMOA representatives recently traveled to New York to pack his belongings into two 26-foot trucks and bring them back to Grand Forks for storage, according to Wallace.

The Grand Forks museum's agreement with Benes said it would create a space to reassemble his apartment and its contents as a 20th century artist's studio. In his bequest, Benes asked that his ashes be kept in a pillowcase on his bed.

Museum officials haven't yet decided how they're going to make room for Benes' collection, whether it will be an addition to the current museum or another location. But NDMOA does plan to exhibit part of Benes' art collection beginning in November, Wallace said.

Reach Tobin at (701) 780-1134; (800) 477-6572, ext. 134; or send e-mail to ptobin@gfherald.com .

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