“Art (Like It Matters)”: Conceptual theater goes normcore at the Minnesota Fringe Festival

“Art (Like It Matters)”: Conceptual theater goes normcore at the Minnesota Fringe Festival

As Art (Like It Matters) began last night at the Weisman Art Museum, I felt like John Cusack getting off on floor 7½: not quite sure if I was being put on or not. The site-specific show, produced by Lesser Mortals, purports to be a series of exercises that bring you into a closer relationship with nothing less than art itself.

I was expecting this would involve a gallery tour, but not at all: instead, the audience of about 20 was divided up into four small groups and each group had sequential encounters with gurus (for lack of a better word) who encouraged us to open up and explore our minds in various pseudo-therapeutic ways.

My first guru was Paul, a booming Fred Willard type who first sang wordless tunes to us and encouraged us to write down the images that came to mind (my notes: “toy soldiers marching along a seashore,” “Mulder and Scully making out,” “a fat man doing a toga striptease”). Then, he showed us a series of art prints and encouraged us to vocalize whatever sounds came to us. Only one participant found her voice, a little melody sort of popping out of her like a belch. “Good, good, very good!” enthused Paul.

After that it was on to the Wiseman’s balcony, where a different man, sweating in the sunset, encouragd us to select particular objects in our purview and, ultimately, to draw one of them. My drawing of the wispy clouds against the horizon was praised by both our moderator and by my three groupmates. “Very realistic,” said one man. “Yes,” agreed the moderator. “There’s a lot of detail there.”

My remaining sessions involved a “consulting session” with a man who asked me a series of questions about what types of art I like; a pricing workshop where we discussed the relative monetary values of Lichtenstein’s World’s Fair mural and a couple of IKEA prints;  and a Jungian art-therapy session where we elaborated on a series of figures.

The various cast members performed their duties with widely varying levels of irony—ranging from Paul and the Jungian analyst, who seemed to be burlesquing, to the grandfatherly “consultant” and the wide-eyed young man on the balcony, who seemed to be taking their roles with the utmost seriousness.

In the end, we were called up by our names and favorite numbers, which we’d provided (“Jay! Jay, lucky 13!”) and each handed a specially selected work of art. My booty? A small bottle of bubble solution with a little wand. How very whimsical.

Jay Gabler