First Friday at 2010 Artblok

On the first Friday evening of each month, the artists of 2010 Artblok in Northeast Minneapolis, along with FOCI Minnesota Glass Arts Center, open their doors to the public from 5pm–9pm.

Participating artists will change each month. Stop by the studios and see what they’re creating! Find more info at the Facebook page.

MCAD Announces Annual Art Sale: November 21—23, 2019

Held every year the weekend before Thanksgiving, the MCAD Art Sale is your chance to buy one-of-a-kind art created by students and recent graduates at unbeatable prices. Now in its twentieth year, the sale is a Minnesota tradition that has generated more than $3,300,000 for emerging artists.

This event has gained a tremendous reputation as one of the nation’s top destinations for affordable, appreciable artwork by leading-edge artists who are creating not only what’s new, but what’s next.
Eye-catching, one-of-a-kind art created by MCAD students and recent graduates at unbeatable prices along with hundreds of eager, local art enthusiasts. Thousands of original artworks are displayed throughout MCAD’s galleries and hallways and represent all media, including, paintings, prints, photographs, sculpture, furniture, toys, clothing, jewelry, accessories, and more.

The MCAD Art Sale is the nation’s largest college art sale. Every piece is priced at or below $1,500 and the average price is less than $100. Watch mcad.edu/artsale for a preview of this year’s artwork. All proceeds go directly to the individual artists or to the MCAD Art Sale Scholarship funds.

Event Details
When: Opening Reception Thursday, November 21, 6:00–9:00 p.m., $150
Friday, November 22, 6:00–9:00 p.m., $25 in advance, $30 at door
Saturday, November 23, 9:00 a.m.–5:00 p.m., Free
Where: MCAD Main Gallery, 2501 Stevens Ave, Minneapolis, MN 55404

Tickets: mcad.edu/artsale

First Friday at 2010 Artblok

On the first Friday evening of each month, the artists of 2010 Artblok in Northeast Minneapolis, along with FOCI Minnesota Glass Arts Center, open their doors to the public from 5pm–9pm.

Participating artists will change each month. Stop by the studios and see what they’re creating! Find more info at the Facebook page.

MCAD Announces Jerome Foundation Fellowships for Early Career Artists

Minneapolis, MN—July 2, 2019—The Minneapolis College of Art and Design, on behalf of the Jerome Foundation, is honored to spotlight the recent work of the recipients of the 2018/19 MCAD–Jerome Foundation Fellowships for Early Career Artists: Mara Duvra, Marjorie Fedzyszn, Tucker Hollingsworth, and Boone Nguyen, all of the Twin Cities.

ABOUT THE ARTISTS

Mara Duvra’s current body of work is a continuation of a project, Tending: meditations on Blackness and interiority. With photographs, found objects, and texts, this work uncovers poetic representations of tenderness, calm, and silence as visual and tactile modes of self-study.
“To allow for breath, space, and time. To allow also for the body.” (Gabrielle Civil)
Marjorie Fedzyszn has been working with handmade, over beaten abaca paper for the duration of the fellowship. With this new material, Fedyszyn continues to explore the tensions between power or control and vulnerability. Integrating memories and feelings of her life experiences through her art, she strives to reach her viewers and elicit conversations on our shared human experiences.
Tucker Hollingsworth is continuing to make work that expands the perceived limits and definitions of what a camera is possible of making, doing, and even in some cases, of being. These images captured “from nature” have the distinct look of having been manipulated when they are, in fact, due to the serendipitous process of clicking the shutter of a damaged or otherwise non-functioning camera.
Boone Nguyen will create a multi-media installation—including still photography, observational video, and soundscapes—interrogating the dichotomy between the personal and the universal. Which cultural objects and whose stories, lives, and actions are deemed valuable, and thus worthy of preserving? How do we recover, reclaim, and reanimate what is consigned to be forgotten? Through an engagement with these questions, his own family archives, and the materials collected in the Hmong Archives and East Side Freedom Library in St. Paul, Nguyen’s project will explore the social agency and collective histories of displaced and marginalized communities.

Opening Reception: Friday, October 4, 6:00–8:00 p.m.
Jerome Artist Discussion: Wednesday, October 23, 6:30 p.m., MCAD Main Gallery Moderated by Victoria Sung, assistant curator, Walker Art Center
When: October 4–November 10, 2019
Where:MCAD Main Gallery, 2501 Stevens Ave, Minneapolis, MN 55404
Who: Free and open to the public

First Friday at 2010 Artblok

On the first Friday evening of each month, the artists of 2010 Artblok in Northeast Minneapolis, along with FOCI Minnesota Glass Arts Center, open their doors to the public from 5pm–9pm.

Participating artists will change each month. Stop by the studios and see what they’re creating! Find more info at the Facebook page.

First Friday at 2010 Artblok

On the first Friday evening of each month, the artists of 2010 Artblok in Northeast Minneapolis, along with FOCI Minnesota Glass Arts Center, open their doors to the public from 5pm–9pm.

Participating artists will change each month. Stop by the studios and see what they’re creating! Find more info at the Facebook page.

First Friday at 2010 Artblok

On the first Friday evening of each month, the artists of 2010 Artblok in Northeast Minneapolis, along with FOCI Minnesota Glass Arts Center, open their doors to the public from 5pm–9pm.

Participating artists will change each month. Stop by the studios and see what they’re creating! Find more info at the Facebook page.

First Friday at 2010 Artblok

On the first Friday evening of each month, the artists of 2010 Artblok in Northeast Minneapolis, along with FOCI Minnesota Glass Arts Center, open their doors to the public from 5pm–9pm.

Participating artists will change each month. Stop by the studios and see what they’re creating! Find more info at the Facebook page.

Art-a-Whirl at 2010 ArtBlok

Come see over 30 artists in one place! The Historic General Mills Laboratory is full to the brim with creative people and their businesses. Many will have their doors open for Art-a-Whirl weekend. Many will be offering family friendly demos al weekend long. We have plenty of free off street parking, and food trucks each day. Come visit!

Friday, May 17th 5-10pm – Food trucks: Gerhardt’s Brats and Kabomelette
Saturday, May 18th 12-8pm – Food trucks: Gerhardt’s Brats and Kabomelette
Sunday, May 19th 12-5pm – Food Trucks: Gerhardt’s Brats

2010 E. Hennepin AVe, Minneapolis

Art-a-Whirl at 2010 ArtBlok

Come see over 30 artists in one place! The Historic General Mills Laboratory is full to the brim with creative people and their businesses. Many will have their doors open for Art-a-Whirl weekend. Many will be offering family friendly demos al weekend long. We have plenty of free off street parking, and food trucks each day. Come visit!

Friday, May 17th 5-10pm – Food trucks: Gerhardt’s Brats and Kabomelette
Saturday, May 18th 12-8pm – Food trucks: Gerhardt’s Brats and Kabomelette
Sunday, May 19th 12-5pm – Food Trucks: Gerhardt’s Brats

2010 E. Hennepin AVe, Minneapolis

Art-a-Whirl at 2010 ArtBlok

Come see over 30 artists in one place! The Historic General Mills Laboratory is full to the brim with creative people and their businesses. Many will have their doors open for Art-a-Whirl weekend. Many will be offering family friendly demos al weekend long. We have plenty of free off street parking, and food trucks each day. Come visit!

Friday, May 17th 5-10pm – Food trucks: Gerhardt’s Brats and Kabomelette
Saturday, May 18th 12-8pm – Food trucks: Gerhardt’s Brats and Kabomelette
Sunday, May 19th 12-5pm – Food Trucks: Gerhardt’s Brats

2010 E. Hennepin AVe, Minneapolis

First Friday at 2010 Artblok

On the first Friday evening of each month, the artists of 2010 Artblok in Northeast Minneapolis, along with FOCI Minnesota Glass Arts Center, open their doors to the public from 5pm–9pm.

Participating artists will change each month. Stop by the studios and see what they’re creating! Find more info at the Facebook page.

Phil Vandervaart: The Sign Painter of Minneapolis

Phil Vaandervart, famed signed painter from Minneapolis // Aaron Job

Phil Vandervaart, famed signed painter from South Minneapolis // Aaron Job

That’s the thing about sign painting. I don’t have a job that I go to clock in and do my work and leave. I create. I have to hustle all of these jobs and I have a lot—like, I have six or seven,” Phil Vandervaart tells me from inside his South Minneapolis garage, which serves as his workshop and studio and smells strongly of paint and faintly of wood.

By six or seven, he means six or seven projects he’s currently working on or lining up for the spring. Some are new customers. Others are organizations he’s worked with before. A lot of his clients either hear about him through word of mouth or see his work around town.

The signs are hard to miss. A handful of his work iconically litters the West Bank—quaint and colorful hand-painted storefront signs, many of which are painted directly onto the buildings. There’s Midwest Mountaineering, The Hub Bike Co-op, Palmer’s Bar, the Cedar Cultural Center, Hard Times Cafe. More recent projects extend into the Longfellow/Seward neighborhood, and into St. Paul, like the Fitzgerald Theater mural, and trickle throughout the metro.

The Cedar Cultural Center, which still shows Phil's work // Photo by Aaron Job

The Cedar Cultural Center // Photo by Aaron Job

From left to right, Midwest Mountaineering, The Hub Bike Co-op, and MayDay Books. Palmer's Bar, and the Hard Time's Cafe // Photos by Aaron Job

From left to right, Midwest Mountaineering, The Hub Bike Co-op, and MayDay Books; Palmer’s Bar; and the Hard Time’s Cafe // Photos by Aaron Job

Most of the gigs pay at least a little, and Phil, who’s 65 years old, has managed to make a living from them. Others, like the Hard Times Cafe arrangement, are made on a barter system: Phil told the owners he’d paint their sign in exchange for free coffee for life. Twenty-six years later, he can still walk up to the counter and get a free cup.

“I can’t imagine how many hundreds of pounds of Peace Coffee beans Phil’s put them through,” says Chris Mozena, the executive director of the Firehouse Performing Arts Center, which is the parent organization of The Hook and Ladder Theater & Lounge. Mozena hired Phil to paint a sign for the theater in the summer of 2017. “It was just right—checked every box of who we wanted to work with: someone from the community, someone with a good track record of success. He’s a character and he supports the arts, you know? You know, everybody knows Phil,” Mozena continues.

The Hook and Ladder Theater, which Phil painted in 2017 // Photo by Aaron Job

The Hook and Ladder Theater, which Phil painted in 2017 // Photo by Aaron Job

Before settling down in Minneapolis, Phil spent most of the 1970s hitchhiking across the country and finding work where he could. In the late ’70s, he found himself in a cult.

“I was a moonie; I was in the Unification Church,” Phil explains. “But that’s not really part of my story anymore.” After extricating himself, Phil says he joined an anti-cult organization and helped deprogram others who had been taken advantage of—something he still participates in today. It’s a part of Phil’s life he isn’t fond of. Getting out, however, heavily informed his political and social views, and shaped his personal philosophy to question everything and be helpful.

Phil’s main trade is carpentry, and he’s used it to get by when he could. “My idea was to live in all these towns for a couple of years and keep moving around,” he says. “I wasted a lot of time, but I saw America.”

It was in a small town near Chicago Heights, Illinois, though, that Phil started painting by hand. He was working as a school bus driver and washing buses on the weekend when he met a guy named Swanny who was doing the lettering of the school district names on the side of the buses.

Phil sketching letters in his garage and studio // Photo by Aaron Job

Phil sketching letters in his garage and studio // Photo by Aaron Job

“He just drew some horizontal lines, just put a little sketch mark like this,” Phil says while gesturing swift, flat strokes with his hands. “He’d just mark where it is and then just freehand it.”

Phil, who had been trained in technical drafting, says seeing Swanny working so artistically freed him to do the same. “I thought, ‘Well, I could do that.’”

From there he says he learned by taking on jobs and working through it. Phil has now been painting signs for 40 years, 35 of which have been in Minnesota. “It took me a couple of years to loosen up,” Phil says. “People are mad at you in the beginning, you gotta learn to do business for yourself. Which is hard for me.”

Top: Phil, who originally went to school to become a photographer, keeps an extensive record of his work. The box shown here is one of many Phil keeps in his basement. It's filled with negatives, slides, and photographs from when he was younger and of his career as a sign painter. Bottom: As Phil was showing me pictures of his work, he came across an birthday calendar from '79 that an amateur photographer friend had given him. It highlights the West Bank during that time, with pictures of parties, the drag queen Divine, and musician Bonnie Raitt // Photos by Aaron Job

Top: Phil, who originally went to school to become a photographer, keeps an extensive record of his work. The box shown here is one of many Phil keeps in his basement. It’s filled with negatives, slides, and photographs from when he was younger and of his career as a sign painter. Middle: Phil holds a sleeve of slides made from photographs he took up to a window in his basement. Bottom: As Phil was showing pictures of his work, he came across a birthday calendar from ’79 that an amateur photographer friend had given him. It highlights the West Bank during that time, with pictures of parties, the drag queen Divine, and musician Bonnie Raitt // Photos by Aaron Job

The West Bank was a beacon of sorts for Phil—and other outcasts like him—in the late ’70s and early ’80s. “It’s where the blues were. It’s where the musicians were,” he says, mentioning that he plays the harmonica and would often join bands at parties or bars or other events.

Palmer’s, in particular, is important to Phil’s story. He’s repainted the bar’s sign twice, the last time adding his own contributions to the West Bank institution: a beer mug to the right of the Palmer’s name, and a beer belly on the dandy with the goblet. “I figured since he’s 40 years old, I gave him a potbelly,” Phil says.

It was at Palmer’s that Dylan Adams, owner of Agartha Records on University Avenue in St. Paul, ran into Phil during a performance (Phil plays the harmonica at the bar every first and third Sunday of the month) and decided to have him paint a sign for the shop. “I didn’t know who he was, but we just got to chatting,” Adams says. “He was pretty timid about his sign painting, so I didn’t really know he was a sign painter until shortly after. I was just pretty lucky to have met him randomly at a bar.”

Everyone knows Phil.

Phil stands in the kitchen of his home in South Minneapolis // Photo by Aaron Job

Phil stands in the kitchen of his home in South Minneapolis // Photo by Aaron Job

In addition to his solo work, Phil is a member of IATSE 490, the Minnesota chapter of the International Alliance of Stage Employees and Studio Mechanics. In short, he paints fake storefronts for films and TV commercials. He worked on the Coen brothers’ “A Serious Man,” all three of the Mighty Ducks movies, and more—about 25 in total, he says.

Two handmade sheds in Phil’s backyard stand as a record of his work on the big screen. Through a stroke of luck, he was able to scavenge some of the signage he made for the Mighty Ducks movies and decided to use them as building materials—more specifically, as the walls and ceiling of a small patio. Inside the three walls of the movie-sign lean-to are an armchair and chaise, rugs, prayer flags, and a lamp on a small table.

Phil in his backyard, in the front of his hand-made movie sign shed // Photo by Aaron Job

Phil in his backyard, in the front of his hand-made movie sign shed // Photo by Aaron Job

“I’ll just sit out here and think. Relax. Play some music,” Phil says of the shed. “Obviously in the summer; it’s kind of hard to enjoy it out here right now.”

His garage is similar to his second shed (which houses a jumbled collection of scavenged items) but is slightly more organized. Years of paint cover the workbenches. There’s no signage besides some sketching he’s started for his upcoming projects. Small windows on each side of the cedar garage door are covered with aging red curtains that allow the sun to only hazily drizzle through. Paint cans of all sizes and colors line the wall. Zig-Zag rolling papers and a lighter sit on the table. Paintbrushes and an assortment of hardware dot the paint-layered workbench and fill the drawers beneath.

Top: The various paint cans, brushes, and tools that lay scattered atop the workbench, which is made from an old waterbed frame, in Phil's garage. Middle: Phil poses for a portrait inside of his garage. Bottom: The paint splattered and heavily layered workbench top // Photos by Aaron Job

Top: The various paint cans, brushes, and tools that lay scattered atop the workbench, which is made from an old waterbed frame, in Phil’s garage. Middle: Phil poses for a portrait inside of his garage. Bottom: The paint splattered and heavily layered workbench top // Photos by Aaron Job

“Here, watch this,” Phil says as he clears a spot on the workbench and douses a rag with some varnish, then wipes it across the splatter. “Woooo, pretty colorful, isn’t it?” He says wryly with a smile and a chuckle.

He’s eager to show me what he’s been working on this winter. “This is a coat rack I’m making for my daughter,” he says proudly as he grabs a wood-piece from a side table. The work-in-progress is crafted from table legs, an old wicker chair, and some broomsticks he’s fashioned together.

Phil holding the coat rack he spent the winter making for his daughter Ayla. It's a part of a set, with the second awaiting assembly // Photo by Aaron Job

Phil holding the coat rack he spent the winter making for his daughter, Ayla. It’s a part of a set, with the second awaiting assembly // Photo by Aaron Job

We go inside his house where a BBC news segment is playing on the radio in the kitchen. There’s a cluttered desk with several large potted cacti, letters, papers, pens, and a tiny disco ball. In the middle of his living space is a large wooden table upon which a couple of sketch pads and old newspapers are chaotically strewn about.

The whole house is like this, save for a small shelving unit at the front window that is neatly organized and clean. Totes of children’s toys, coloring books, markers, and kids’ novels line its shelves. “This is the little area I set up for my grandkids,” Phil says. “They’re two and four. I see them every week at some point or another.”

Phil holding up framed photos of his daughter Ayla that he took when she was younger // Photo by Aaron Job

Phil holding up framed photos of his daughter, Ayla, that he took when she was younger // Photo by Aaron Job

Phil’s daughter, Ayla, is one of the reasons he made Minneapolis his home. “I almost immediately had a child within two years of being here,” he recalls warmly. “For me to have a child, it was completely accidental. But, I rolled with it and stuck around, ya know? I had to help raise this daughter.”

“Were you and her mom close?” I ask.

“I’ve never been married,” he replies. “We get along now. It takes a while, but you ultimately have to do that for the sake of the child. So you get over your own things and, ya know, as time goes on you forget about it anyways. Like, why were we arguing? What was the reason for all that?”

Some of the signs Phil's painted more recently and from around town // Photos by Aaron Job

More of the signs which Phil has painted // Photos by Aaron Job

Phil’s hodgepodge, blue-collar-Bohemian background informs everything he does.

As a three-year-old, he and his family immigrated to the United States in 1957. According to Phil, his family was moving to America for many of the same reasons people emigrated from Europe after World War II. His father had been a tool and die maker in Holland and felt there was more work and better opportunities for his children in the U.S. And, after spending five years hiding in the false attic of a theater in the Dutch city of Den Haag in order to avoid Nazi conscription, his dad was eager to move on.

Vandervaart’s aunt, still in Holland, kept a scrapbook of newspaper clippings covering her relative’s voyage on the ship’s maiden trip. She sent the book to Phil's mother after they settled in the U.S. Here, Phil shows one of the clippings in English which is mother added // Photo by Aaron Job

Phil’s aunt, still in Holland, kept a scrapbook of newspaper clippings covering her relatives’ voyage on the SS Statendam’s maiden trip. She sent the book to Phil’s mother after they settled in the U.S. Here, Phil shows one of the clippings in English, which his mother added // Photo by Aaron Job

The Vandervaarts traveled to America aboard the SS Statendam, which was making its maiden voyage from Holland to the U.S,  and landed in Hoboken, New Jersey. They’d already weathered an Atlantic storm and a tugboat strike in New York Harbor that had delayed their arrival by several days. As Phil puts it, “my dad was kind of desperate. You’ve got three kids, $200 to your name, and you just got off a boat.”

His father eventually landed a job with a company in Chicago, and Phil spent his childhood in nearby northern Indiana on the shores of Lake Michigan. “He was a totally technical dude,” Phil says of his father. “He was also a figure drawer. He even taught figure drawing right in our home when I was a kid.”

Phil poses for a portrait inside of his studio // Photo by Aaron Job

Phil poses for a portrait inside of his studio // Photo by Aaron Job

“Phil’s more an artist than a cold technician,” Regina Perry, the stage manager at Tasty Lighting Supply and ACME Stage in Minneapolis, who Phil painted signs for, says. “These other guys, these other sign painters, they’re the ‘Sesame Street’ version of a sign painter—you know, overalls, a little handkerchief, and the name of their company on the side of their truck. Phil is the anti that.

“I just try to do the best job on each one I can,” Phil says.

As I packed up my gear to leave, Phil checked his phone to see if he’d missed any calls from prospective clients. He’s stopped drinking, he says, and told me how excited he was to see his grandchildren as we walked to my car.

First Friday at 2010 Artblok

On the first Friday evening of each month, the artists of 2010 Artblok in Northeast Minneapolis, along with FOCI Minnesota Glass Arts Center, open their doors to the public from 5pm–9pm.

Participating artists will change each month. Stop by the studios and see what they’re creating! Find more info at the Facebook page.

Art, Printed: Computers are redefining fine art. But is that a good thing?

A 3D printer at MCAD creating an artist's design // Photo by Harrison Barden

A 3D printer at MCAD creating an artist’s design // Photo by Harrison Barden

Watching a lumbering 3D printer slowly churn back and forth, painstakingly adding minute layer to minute layer of material to an ambiguous shape is far from exciting. It can take hours—sometimes days—until a final product reveals itself. But for as cumbersome as 3D printing can be, the technology has had a profound impact on the art world in recent years, affecting everything from how art is created to how it’s shared and consumed.

If the idea of using computer software and a printer seems antithetical to fine art, it’s worth talking to third-year Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD) student Zachery North. He’s an advocate for using 3D printing to make art and sees many reasons to embrace the technology. “I can much more easily correct or change things that don’t work. My work is very iterative and 3D helps me keep building on what I’ve done,” he says. “A lot of my work is experiential. I want people to be able to experience it and touch it. It’s not the traditional fine art gallery where people aren’t allowed to touch the art.”

Some artists, fine art enthusiasts, and curators might be concerned that developing art via coding and pre-written algorithms is a poor substitute for more traditional artistic craftsmanship. But as more artists (and art school programs) work with 3D technology, concerns are lessening. “The art world in general is accepting of change, even if there is some grumbling,” says Brad Jirka, professor of fine arts at MCAD. “Some people worry that you lose the artist’s ‘hand’ in the artwork. But then they see exhibits where the 3D printing is used as a tool—an invisible component, often with analog tools—and the artist’s hand is there.” 

Brad Jirka explaining the process of 3D printing // Photo by Harrison Barden

Christopher Atkins, the curator of exhibitions and public programs at the Minnesota Museum of American Art, feels the art potential with 3D printing goes beyond just technology. “Think of 3D printers the same way you think of charcoal or clay,” he says. “It’s elemental. It’s a tool for artists to use, just as people use clay to form ceramics.”

3D printing only dates back to the 1980s and has strong roots in Minnesota thanks to Eden Prairie–based Stratasys. The printers have greatly improved in quality and precision over time, which has expanded the types of products they’re used to produce. At first the devices were considered industrial in nature and were developed with an aim to create less-expensive manufacturing processes and parts. Eventually a wide variety of industries took to using the technology, from medical device companies to gun enthusiasts developing online designs for guns to be printed at home to NASA installing a 3D printer on the International Space Station for the printing of tools. 

As technicians and scientists were looking into the mechanical possibilities of 3D printing, artists were taking note of the technology’s artistic potential. At MCAD, students began exploring the tool decades before they could execute the actual printing. “The digital part of 3D came to MCAD in the late 1980s; we had an Intro to Digital Imaging class and slipped 3D modeling into that class,” Jirka says. “The first actual 3D printer arrived in 2000.” 

The process of 3D printing art varies depending on the artist but usually includes web-based modeling tools and/or scanning equipment to capture designs. Once captured, the designs are programmed into 3D-printing software to create a printing template. From there, the artist selects the desired materials for and scale of the piece, and ushers it into the final stages of actually printing. 

Related: See the 3D printed art featured on the cover of The Growler’s January issue

Unlike the ease of using a conventional printer, there’s a somewhat steep learning curve to using 3D printers—especially to create. “Even handing off the 3D models to printing machines requires some technical understanding,” says Duluth artist Jonathan Thunder. “You can expect to learn along [with] the process.” 

Challenges aside, 3D printing and modeling has enabled artists to pursue ventures previously unattainable. David Bowen used a drone above Lake Superior to photograph the lake, capture undulations of waves, and carve them into acrylic columns using a CNC router, which is similar to a 3D printer but uses a wood carver. Heather Dewey-Hagborg’s exhibit “Stranger Visions” featured 3D renderings of individuals’ faces developed from DNA she’d extracted from things like hair, chewed gum, and cigarette butts collected on the street and in public spaces. 

Duluth artist Jonathan Thunder with a rough cut of one of his pieces for the “Manifest’o” exhibit // Photo courtesy Jonathan Thunder

Beyond pushing artistic boundaries, 3D printing can also be used to overcome more basic limitations. Files of 3D sculptures can be sent to exhibit locations and printed on-site. After the show, the piece can be destroyed or donated. For the visually impaired, copies of famous sculptures provide an opportunity to engage with a piece that would otherwise be off limits. 

There’s also an archival application to the technology. MCAD’s 3D shop director Don Myhre creates models of buildings scheduled for demolition so they can be kept for posterity. Iranian artist Morehshin Allahyari used 3D printing to create scale models of historical art and monuments destroyed by ISIS. Even the Smithsonian is using the medium: the organization is scanning their entire collection to use for research, education, and, for select items, to allow the public to 3D print and study them at home.

At the Minneapolis Institute of Art (Mia), curator and head of contemporary art Gabriel Ritter sees a world of possibility in 3D printing, and believes acceptance of the technology in art has largely arrived. “It’s an art form already accepted by collectors, especially those who like to have one foot in the future,” he says. “Museums are along for the ride, collectors are on board. It’s the embodiment of the future.”

Not every museum is embracing 3D art with as much aplomb as Mia or The M. Both the Walker Art Center and Weisman Art Museum declined to be interviewed for this article, citing a lack of experience with the medium.

As more artists experiment with 3D printing, more museums are paying attention to the medium // Photo by Harrison Barden

As more artists experiment with 3D printing, more museums are paying attention to the medium // Photo by Harrison Barden

More likely than not, though, the art form will eventually be accepted at museums as nothing out of the ordinary. According to Ritter, the art world is infinitely large enough to embrace tools traditional and new. “Artists will always use the tools available to them, and 3D printing is a tool,” he says. “It’s like when
synthetic paints became available. People didn’t stop using oil. It’s like digital music, or digital books. There will be people who prefer the older techniques. It’s important to understand that 3D printing will not make other things extinct.”

Ritter does have one concern about the new tool, though: the materials being used—namely, plastic. “What is the longevity of the materials used to print? The raw material varies from one printer to another. For a curator, that’s not the concern, as the curator focuses on form and ideas. But anyone involved in conservation sees it as a bigger issue. Will the sculptures brown, fade, melt?”

It’s a fair question, and one that will eventually have to be addressed, but right now artists are still in the
exploration phase of the technology. In Duluth, Thunder was commissioned by the Tweed Museum of Art for a multi-media installation featuring his animation work—as well as his first attempt at 3D printing. “They wanted to bring it a step forward and have me create sculptures from the animation, so we printed out the models used in the animation,” Thunder says. “To have something I’ve created on the computer become a thing I can hold in my hand is almost unbelievable. I’ll look for more opportunities to work with it in 2019.” 

The experience of putting together the exhibit, called “Manifest’o” and running through July 2019, left Thunder in awe. “My own experience in the process is that I was able to bring something from the digital to our world, the real world, something born into the world out of creation. 3D—any single thing you can think of, just hit a button and it comes to life. It blows my mind. And that we can take a technical thing for devices and turn it into fine art—it’s a beautiful thing.”