To Van Gogh or not to Van Gogh

The new Immersive Van Gogh show at 15th and Central on the border of the Northeast Minneapolis Arts District has stirred some controversy. The arguments seem to be focused on whether it is trite. And will it continue to gentrify the neighborhood with all these Van Gogh enthusiasts coming to see this show?

For most artists going through art school in the 1990s and early 2000s, Van Gogh posters were everywhere at museum stores. Not local art but Klimt, Warhol and Impressionist artists’ posters. Those posters made Modern art popular to the masses and allowed Van Gogh to become famous in our time. Fast-forward 20 more years and most artists I know don’t draw a lot of inspiration from Van Gogh as we once did because he is everywhere. So is the exhibit trite? To many artists, yes, but many are fine with it because it introduces the public to appreciate art.

Photo credit Mike Madison, Bumpopera Media

A serious downside to the Van Gogh story is the narrative that cutting off an ear and dying is the only way artists become famous. This famous trope has been used to tell creative children and adults interested in pursuing the arts that this will be their fate. This story of Van Gogh has hindered the collective imagination of what artists are in society. We’re portrayed as crazy, mentally ill, self mutilating weirdos who make beautiful works of art and die poor. This narrative has to change if artists want to make the leap to where we truly are today or at least much closer to it: Creative individuals that collectively make and invent amazing objects, ideas, and educate the public.

About gentrification in Northeast Minneapolis. Yes, gentrification is happening. Yes, it is frustrating and challenging to move to an underutilized area and revitalize it only to have Johnny-come-lately arrive. There is the fear that they are edging artists out. This is only one side of the argument.

Shows like Van Gogh are in theory what the Arts District was meant to attract. Do you really want popular art-related shows to only be shown in the suburbs or other parts of the city? We are the Arts District of the city of Minneapolis! We are where art events should and do happen. About 1,200 artists work and/or live in the boundaries of the Northeast Minneapolis Arts District.

In order to debate the quality of a show, there first has to be a show. We should want the city and travelers to come to the Arts District. It showcases that we are safe, fun, interesting, vibrant; and the viewers can learn something about art. They can debate if Van Gogh is relevant to their lives. Our goal is not about Van Gogh, our issue is how do we get the public to view the Arts District for its true purpose, the place where artists create and where the public goes to learn about art, to learn to evaluate good, bad and mediocre.

Gentrification is a byproduct of our success. The real issue is how artists take advantage of opportunities we created that attract shows like Van Gogh.

To artists and supporters of arts in Northeast: If you want to tackle gentrification, then learn about your candidates running for office and let them know your viewpoint as an artist. It is your most effective way to guide gentrification to the artists’ best uses.

This is a sprawling campus of art. Don’t sit by and let real estate developers and other government policies negate what many have done over the years to help revitalize Northeast Minneapolis. The numbers coming to Van Gogh demonstrate this concept in spades. Embrace your artist power and use it effectively.

By Josh Blanc, Chair
Northeast Minneapolis Arts District