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Three art exhibits show the dignity of the ordinary

Vivian Maier took thousands of photographs throughout her lifetime.
Vivian Maier, courtesy of the Minneapolis Photo Center

Three exhibits are currently open in the Twin Cities that bring home the point that the "ordinary" is worth our time and our attention. After all, wouldn't most of us be considered "ordinary" to an outside observer? The outside observers who photographed street life in mid-century Chicago and daily life in Siberia clearly had an appreciation of the people and culture around them. The artist who painted portraits of volunteers to the Minnesota regiment that fought in the Civil War saw dignity in each person he painted, including a fourteen-year-old who lied about this age to join the cause. While the focus of the exhibits differ widely, all seek to help the viewer find commonalities with the people featured.

Faces of the First: Contemporary Civil War Portraits of the First Minnesota Volunteer Infantry Regiment
February 6 – July 3, 2014

The exhibit consists of 12 original works of art and 12 reproductions of oil paintings by portrait artist Jay Wittenberg of Ramsey County soldiers who fought in Minnesota’s famous First Volunteer Infantry Regiment. Wittenberg explains, “Since 2007, I have been working on a series of portraits of Minnesota Civil War soldiers. I did preparatory work in the form of over 750 drawing studies, and I read their letters that recounted what they had seen and experienced. The paintings were then executed in oil, on archival panels of Minnesota pine, oak, maple and birch.

The artist emphasizes that the individuals depicted were ordinary citizens, called upon to save the Union, to leave their homes and fight against other Americans, upon fields of mass carnage. The images from which Wittenberg worked and used as the basis of his portraits were often the only images to capture the soldiers’ likenesses, and were given to their families to keep and cherish. “Perhaps these portraits will remind the viewer of the cost of history, but also provide a visual legacy. I hope these portraits will be a tangible reminder to present day Minnesotans of these men and the service they provided. Perhaps these works can even serve to remind people of the sacrifices that are given by Americans in the military today,” says Wittenberg. Admission is free.

Ramsey County Historical Society
Landmark Center, 75 W 5th Street, St. Paul, MN 55102

Siberia: Imagined and Reimagined
February 1 to May 18, 2014

The one-hundred photographs of everyday life in Siberia quickly make it apparent that there are more similarities between Siberians and Minnesotans than differences. The photographs range from the 1870s to the present day. Quirky, beautiful, and engaging, the exhibit makes you smile back at the photographic subjects who silently ask, “Don’t you, too, want to pose in the snow in your bikini?” Admission is free.

Weismann Art Museum
333 E. River Road, Minneapolis

Vivian Maier – Out of the Shadows
February 1 to March 1, 2014

Mid-century Modern is all the rage in decorating. This exhibit brings the people and daily life of that era to life, photographed by Vivian Maier, a woman who spent her life documenting Chicago. Ms. Maier worked as a child’s nurse. While she cared for her charges, she also recorded the streets and neighborhoods of Chicago, and with her camera she photographed people of all ages, races, social, and economic backgrounds. Her work was unknown in her lifetime and only discovered after the storage units in which she stored her thousands of photographs were auctioned off to pay the rental fee. This exhibit is records the daily life of several decades of American life, photographed by an unobtrusive women with an eye for making the ordinary worth noticing. Admission is free.

Minneapolis Photo Center
2400 N. 2nd St, Second Floor, Northwind Lofts

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