Feeling funky

MARY ABBE | Updated 12/20/2012

Minnesota artists show their off-kilter sensibilities in show at the U.

"Scooter" by artist Kent Aldrich is part of the Minnesota Funk art show.

The droll depressives of Lake Wobegon may define Minnesota's character on the national stage, but theirs is not the whole truth.

Far from it.

Their bipolar opposites are the 13 upbeat crazies whose art, gathered under the title "Minnesota Funk," now fills Katherine E. Nash Gallery at the University of Minnesota's Regis Center for Art.

They are a pretty amusing bunch. Anyone who can get through "Funk" without chuckling aloud must be from some humorless place, like Iowa.

An eccentric assortment of paintings, collages, prints, drawings, sculpture and video -- plus some sofa pillows and a vintage motor scooter -- "Funk" is a tribute to the notion that there is something inherently funny, twisted or psychologically warped about this place.

The artists were gathered by Nash curator Howard Oransky, who, after moving to Minnesota from New York many years ago, noticed "things that are a bit off-kilter."

"I'd heard about this thing called 'Minnesota Nice,'" he said recently. "But over time I realized that there is this underground Minnesota aesthetic that has sly humor and an interesting, hip sensibility."

For arty hipsters, Kent Aldrich's "C-foam" would be the vehicle of choice, a mint-green Stella scooter tricked out with more than 40 mirrors and wheels ornamented with little green dice. Nice.

Hanging nearby are Tom Garrett's insect gals. Their generic, stereotypical "Asian" features are screened onto paper (and pillows) amid clouds of bees, bugs, butterflies and bristly screws that coalesce around them where hair or shoulders might otherwise be. The resulting "Bee Woman," "Bug Woman" and so on are cheerfully surrealistic female avatars.

They're the kind of gals who might appeal to the lusty, wild-eyed salesman who recurs in Lamar Peterson's collages. In one clever design, he collages cutouts of hair and shoulders to paper, leaving a void where facial features would appear. In the face-space he then tosses a cascade of colorful confetti that explodes from almost hidden eyes and mouth, a propulsive metaphor for an obnoxious, out-of-control personality type.

Across the gallery hangs Jim Dryden's "The Object of His Desire," three large collage-paintings featuring images of Michelangelo's "David" as the gay-guy ideal, surrounded by excerpts from personal ads and homoerotic memorabilia.

Perci Chester's sassy Pop-style sculptures stand as 3-D extensions of hipster style. From flat sheets of steel, she has sliced continuous ribbons of metal that pull out like Slinky toys colored with rainbow-bright automotive paint. Vaguely human forms seem to dance in the ribbon-like designs of her "Slinky Chick Rocks," and "Slinkyman."

Fans of Faye Passow will be delighted, as always, by her hilariously cranky silkscreened maps and diagrams of cartoonish worlds defined by candy, miasmal swamps, commuter hazards and weird Minnesota landmarks.

Strangeness really blossoms among Kelly Connole's white rabbits, life-sized porcelain critters with human hands instead of paws. Their artful blend of animal physiognomy and human expressions is brilliantly rendered and more than a little spooky.

Around the corner, huge bugs and crustaceans crawl through a young woman's hair and mouth in creepy videos by Kate Casanova.

By contrast, the nicely designed geometric paintings of Sanford Resig scream "normal," and Chris Larson seems to be documenting his own manic energy in a huge installation of studio photos, half-burned beams and video of random, art-like activity. Cartoonish drawings by Mary Esch and projected images from Frank Gaard's idiosyncratic sketchbooks round out the show.

As an alternative to Minnesota's tradition of keenly observed landscapes, "Funk" plumbs quirky psychic byways.