Minnesota State Fair Fine Art Show

September 1, 2009


Above: Painter Don Bajus standing next to his 2009 State Fair entry "Time Travel 1510 Rome, Michelangelo and Me," in the exhibition hall. (That's Don, in the painting, walking up the scaffolding at the right and reaching out to Michelangelo. I love the assistant at the left putting up fresh plaster to work the fresco in.)

You'll remember that I was able to attend a pre-view of the 2009 State Fair Fine Art Exhibition. Well I still haven't got my thoughts together on all that I saw there, and now with the distraction of Fair attendance and sketching, I may never, but I did want to encourage you to see Don's painting in person.

Local art critic Mary Abbe singled out Don Bajus' painting for kudos, along with a couple other artists. You can read her review here. What she doesn't know, and what I'm privvy to beacause I know Don, is that this is one painting in a smashing series in which he interjects himself into the visual worlds of several old masters—a tour de force showing Don's ability to leap into a wide range of artist styles. 

While I didn't think the show was overall as "flabby" as Abbe did, I have to admit to a yearly on-going, inner dialog of confusion over the State Fair Fine Art Exhibition. While every year I see pieces I find truly stunning and engaging, I also find pieces that leave me puzzled as to why they were included.

Besides Don's piece I suggest you seek out Mary P. Opatz Herges' landscape (which has a lovely fog hanging about, and reminds me how glorious it was to be out tracking with the girls); Michael J. Smith's gouache painting of bird cages which is called something like "Studies for the Cathedral," and shows a wonderful skill with using gouache; and my favorite painting in the show, James Arthur Penfield's "Wintertime" from class 1/India ink, pencil, acrylic—it's a mixed media painting of a wonderful warthog type creature, on untreated wood panel.

Some of this confusion could be immediately cleared up if the organizers would start hanging all artworks in one class together with its classmates. Then seeing a blue ribbon, next to a red ribbon, from the same class would at least let a common thread of judges' criteria and opinion begin to emerge.

As it currently hangs, with botanicals and vegetables grouped, and elsewhere people, and here boats and other "things," and of course landscapes together, a flow is only artificially achieved, as so many works don't fit those constructs. However there are still enough interesting pieces to justify time off from other Fair pursuits. Part of the State Fair Fine Art Exhibition tradition is parsing the judges' decisions.

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