The rehabbed Union Depot in Lowertown St. Paul was to be visited Thursday by a sprawling, one-of-a-kind traveling show — a cross-country art extravaganza on a nine-car, LED rainbow-lit train whose cargo included musicians, visual and performance artists, filmmakers and their work.
One problem: Because Union Depot is only connected to light rail, not Amtrak, the train wound up not actually being within eyesight. It had to stay parked at Midway station, which seemed quite a bait and switch after all the advance hoopla about the train being part of the appeal.
The producers moved all the art installations in front of and inside the depot, mostly inside portable yurts.
Jeff Lund of Minneapolis said he was disappointed. “I was expecting more art and higher caliber art,” he said. “And to be on the train.”
A crowd of about 900 turned out for Station to Station, an ambitious project promoting nontraditional art, spearheaded by multimedia artist Doug Aitken.
St. Paul was the fourth of just nine stops the creative cavalcade will make between New York City (where it started on Sept. 6) and San Francisco. Each features an evolving roster of artists, but St. Paul landed what can arguably be dubbed the crown jewel — a concert by class-of-her-own rocker Patti Smith and her son, guitarist Jackson Smith.
For Aitken, the project is about the journey and not the destination, the experience rather than a final product. The loosey-goosey agenda allows for attendees and artists, some of whom travel along with the show, to spontaneously interact. Starting last spring, project organizers visited each stop, recording video and connecting with area artists via social media to make sure their choices were in sync with the local talent.
One yurt contained a giant white bed under a disco ball, surrounded in mist created by dry ice. “It’s the first time I’ve been on a bed with people I don’t know in quite some time,” joked attendee Elroy Schroeder.
Two other yurts featured “artisanal denim” workers, whose custom embroidered jeans jackets could be had for $425 (except one featuring the word Minneapolis and an image of Prince — not for sale).
Local names involved include dance company BodyCartography Project and, nestled among the touring sculptures, a work by artist Kate Casanova. Her “Vivarium Americana,” a follow-up to last year’s “Mushroom Chairs,” features an AMC Pacer re-purposed as a terrarium full of oyster mushrooms.
Minneapolis photographer Alec Soth, who is featured on the project’s website, was scooting a dolly around, taking shots of the warm-up music acts, which included brother-sister duo White Mystery and indie rocker Eleanor Friedberger.
Underwritten by Levi’s brand, Station to Station sold out at its three previous stops, New York, Chicago and Pittsburgh. Proceeds from sales of the $25 tickets go to nine arts organizations across the country including Walker Art Center, the event’s local partner.
Lucas Koski, a neighborhood resident who works for Bedlam Theater, and his friend Benjamin Kelly, a music producer, were happy Lowertown was buzzing on a weeknight.
“It’s great to see so many people realizing it’s a fun walkable area, even before the light rail is finished,” Koski said.
The low-key crowd livened up considerably when Smith took the stage. She tried to keep the train theme going, saluting the architects of the Union Depot “past, present and future,” then opening with “My Blakean Year,” with lyrics including “boots that trudged from track to track.” She was joined by a couple of locals on stage: Former Jayhawks frontman Gary Louris accompanied her and her son for Neil Young’s “It’s Only a Dream.”