Undoing Typical Gallery Cultures

Northeast art space challenges the norms through inclusiveness and diversity

Photo by Kate Drakulic

Photo by Kate Drakulic

Sitting just off Broadway Street, in the midst of residential neighborhood, is a small, seemingly disguised warehouse. A modern gallery, Public Functionary hosts many local, controversial, and diverse exhibitions. The gallery’s tucked-away location suggests that it may be a niche secret amongst the Northeast art community, but it in fact has become widely recognized in the art world since its beginning in 2013, and its current exhibition was recently featured in the Huffington Post. With an innovative space, passionate staff, and unrelenting dedication to community engagement, Public Functionary prides itself in challenging typical gallery culture.

“I often don’t feel comfortable in art galleries, and I’m an art curator!” said Tricia Heuring, curator and co-director of Public Functionary. “The fact that it can be so pretentious makes no sense.” Before Public Functionary began, Heuring and current Co-Director Mike Bishop were very active in the Twin Cities art scene. “We would go out to openings and galleries and nothing really felt that energetic or inclusive,” she recalled. “It felt like ‘oh this is for a particular scene.’” The founders wanted to start a space that could reach out to more people, one that would always be dynamic and changing, one that asked what a gallery space could be if it thinks about accessibility and inclusiveness.

Photo by Kate Drakulic

Photo by Kate Drakulic

At the core, this is what drives Heuring and her co-directors. “Undoing gallery culture is really hard,” Heuring noted. “Most galleries set up their framework and say ‘this is what we are, let’s go out and see what kind of artists and audiences fit into this,’ and instead we look at it really differently.” For the last five years, Heuring and her co-directors have been exploring what undoing gallery culture really means, strongly inspired by the belief that art should be accessible for everyone. Public Functionary is a very different type of contemporary art space.

Designed with an open-air concept in mind, the gallery has previously hosted a wide variety of events and exhibitions. These have included “Claws,” a multi-artist show about obsession and letting go; “Caroline Kent: Joyful is the Dark,” powerful and peaceful works for quiet moments of reflection; “Selected Works,” which highlighted 22 artists and artworks chosen by Heuring herself; and most recently, “Wintertide: A Biennial Juried Exhibition,” which honored the work of artists of the Northeast Minneapolis Arts Association.

Public Functionary currently hosts Leslie Barlow’s “Loving.” A local Minneapolis and bi-racial artist, Barlow’s work is a direct response to the lack of representation of interracial families and additionally falls on the 50th anniversary of the Loving v. Virginia Supreme Court Case; a case that invalidated interracial marriage laws after Mildred Loving, a black woman, and Richard Loving, a white man, were sentenced to a year in prison after marrying.

“Loving” includes 10 detailed and richly painted portraits of interracial families and couples. Each large-scale piece includes subtle stitches and titles with the subjects’ names, some of whom are posed in original portrait stature and some in casual instances. The paintings capture each person, personality, and relationship as unique, yet as a whole maintain an incredible sense of normalcy. With ongoing racial tensions and lack of interracial representations, Barlow’s work has received more press than Public Functionary usually anticipates, Heuring reflected. “People have been really interested in this subject matter and in mixed-race identities,” she said.

Photo by Kate Drakulic

Photo by Kate Drakulic

Heuring’s curatorial process involves building relationships with the artists that she works with. She makes visits to their studios to better understand the artist and their work, and she considers factors such as the time of year and current events. “I believe a lot of art comes down to energy,” said Heuring. “I try to show artists who really put themselves into their work, who are vulnerable, who are willing to take risks and who I think will connect with people.”

Public Functionary’s philosophy is simple. It strives to incorporate diverse perspectives in its exhibits and serve as a safe and equal ground in which these perspectives can be communicated. Heuring and her co-directors encourage work that is vulnerable, risk-taking, and which responds to identity and experiences that both challenge and engage the community. “I’m really hoping to continue to show work that is true to artists’ identities and that brings in such a great and diverse mix of people in a contemporary fashion,” said Heuring.

Beginning in May, Public Functionary will be involved in pop-ups around the cities, and the next gallery show is anticipated to open in June. More information about Public Functionary can be found on their website, http://publicfunctionary.org