A Line or Two: The Secret Art Library
I'm a fan of hidden, underused, or otherwise out-of-the-way Twin Cities cultural resources (see last week's Line or Two
, which celebrates Saint Paul's dramatic, offbeat Irvine Avenue). And I'm a particular fan of out-of-the-way bookstores and libraries, such as the fine selection of titles from India available at the Khazana
gift store in Uptown and the U of M's Owen H. Wangensteen Historical Library of Biology and Medicine
, where you can examine huge 17th-century anatomy books with engravings of human skeletons re-enacting Bible stories.
So when our well-connected new publisher, Dena Alspach, casually mentioned to me that there was an almost unknown art library over in the East Hennepin neighborhood of Minneapolis near the Brasa restaurant, I was all attention, and on Saturday I ventured over to Midway Contemporary Art
, the gallery that houses it.
And out-of-the-way it definitely is. For that matter, Midway itself isn't easy to find. If you show up at its advertised address, 527 Second Avenue Southeast, you're at the entrance to the Minuteman Press printshop, with no indication of any art in the vicinity. Ah, but then you spot, high up on a nearby wall, the word "Midway," and an arrow pointing diagonally upward, as if the gallery were accessible only by some nonexistent stairway to the roof. Taking the hint that the gallery might be around the corner in the same building, you find yourself following a blank wall into a parking lot, and then in the back of the building there's a lot of dense, pretty planting—but still no sign-guidance to an art gallery.
You push on, though, into the alleyway of foliage, and eventually you come to a locked glass door (it was locked on Saturday anyway) through which you can see shelves of art books! (Getting warmer.) A few more steps, and there's finally a sign—Midway Contemporary Art—and another glass door that proves to be unlocked.
(I often wish the Twin Cities would be a little less shy about its cool stuff—accessibility is no sin, folks!)
At this point you can say hello to the pleasant young woman at the gallery's reception desk, then make your way through the labyrinthine gallery space (it was made labyrinthine by the drywall additions of the artist whose enigmatic show was up, Brussels-based Canadian artist David Catherall
) into an open area where there's a big table and a lot of very hip art periodicals on display: Artforum, Parkett, October, the fascinating African contemporary art journal Nka
, and the ur-avant-garde literary magazine F. R. David
You pass through a door into the library proper, and you're in a book-space that's as up-to-the-moment as anything at MCAD or the Walker. Dark grey walls, black shelves, track lighting, and drop-dead-cool books, mostly exhibition catalogues and monographs about single artists.
Seven different studies of the enigmatic Dutch poet-sculptor Mark Manders
, who had a show at the Walker a little while ago. A massive catalogue of the work of British Columbia photo-artist Jeff Wall
and a compendium of the sly silhouettes of Kara Walker
, which tweak racial stereotypes wickedly while pretending to celebrate the antebellum South. A history of Gutai
, the rambunctious midcentury Japanese art movement, and a humongous collection of the work of Anish Kapoor
, the guy who did the shiny "Bean" sculpture that has become Chicago's newest civic icon.
And not a soul in the place.
The books, which are mostly donated, don't circulate, but the library is a perfect place to sit, read, and stare at the sharp end of visual culture for hours.