In June, Minnesota Street Project galleries opened Invincible Summer, a group exhibition unlike anything they’d offered before. Each gallery has installed a piece in the building’s atrium or upstairs catwalk, effectively turning the viewing rooms inside out. The result is an exhibition that can be visited safely in a well-ventilated communal space, while many of the galleries remain shuttered due to public health directives.
The exhibit’s title is taken from Albert Camus’s essay, “Return to Tipasa,” in which one line states, “In the depths of winter, I finally learned that within me, there lay an invincible summer.”
While the exhibition demonstrates determination, the content is too disparate for the effort to gel. Each gallery submitted one or more pieces, but the works themselves, made pre-pandemic, some as early as 1992, don’t necessarily fit the theme.
Rena Bransten Gallery offers two photographic screen prints by David Linger: End of Day, Rio de Jeneiro, 2018, shows a group of men huddled together around beach chairs, far too close for Covid comfort; Will I or Won’t I/Vou ou Fico? Ocean Beach, San Francisco, 2018, features a lone figure surrounded by stark sand dunes, the very definition of socially distant. Ward Schumaker’s Disappear for a while, 2018, Jack Fischer Gallery, is an abstract wash of black and white acrylics with the titular words written along the right side. The attempt to play off the current moment by re-contextualizing these pieces is valiant, if blatantly ad hoc.
Other works touch on a different aspect of the present. Amani Lewis’s Giovanni in the Meadows, 2019, Jenkins Johnson Gallery, is a mixed-media painting of a Black man wiping tears from his eyes. The title invokes James Baldwin’s 1956 novel Giovanni’s Room. Alison Pebworth’s A Short History of Women, 2020, McEvoy Foundation for the Arts, is an installation of feminist books and ephemera, culminating with Octavia Butler’s 1993 novel Parable of the Sower, open to a page reading: “When civilization fails to serve, it must disintegrate unless it is acted upon by unifying internal or external forces.”
Uncertainty around reopening has left galleries and viewers alike reevaluating what a safe mode of engagement looks like. Invincible Summer represents an early attempt, rife with unsettling signs of the times that detract from the experience. Upon entering the show, visitors must have their temperature taken with a facial scanner. They’re then invited to scan a QR code with their phones that opens an exhibit guide. No wall text is provided. Spectators must toggle between the work and their screen to learn an artist’s name, specifications, and affiliated gallery, with a paper price list available.
Another mark of the pandemic is that the show has no end date. Like the rest of 2020, Invincible Summer threatens to be subsumed by the coronavirus fugue, reminiscent of school summers that didn’t so much invoke invincibility as they did defeat.
Invincible Summer is on view at Minnesota Street Project through September.