Burnet Gallery: a “Fresh” look at contemporary art


"Blue Fog Prophet," Andrea Stanislav

I remember the day I first heard about Chambers Hotel's (then) new Burnet gallery. "A hotel gallery," I mused. "How corporate. Well, I'll probably never have reason to cover that."


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I couldn't have been more wrong. Over the past five years, gallery director Jennifer Phelps (pictured at left) has continued to showcase great talent in her space on Hennepin Avenue, and the majority of the artists have been local names with national chops. Now, whenever I get a press release announcing a new show at the Burnet Gallery, I know to give it a thorough read.

The gallery wasn't originally intended for showcasing local artists, however. Phelps says when she was first hired - just before the hotel opened - the idea was for the space to show items from Ralph and Peggy Burnet's (of "Coldwell Banker Burnet", the couple are major art collectors), personal collection, rotating in new work every three months. But Phelps says that plan didn't last long:

"After three months Ralph said it was too boring," laughs Phelps. "He decided he wanted to show local and international artists. It's really Ralph's desire to support the local art scene, but also to bring in work from out of town, to expose the locals to new work as well. And so Minneapolis photographer Angela Strassheim had the first solo exhibition in the gallery in May, 2007."

Phelps certainly knows how to pick them. Since the 2007 show, Strassheim's career has continued to skyrocket; she's taken her studio to New York City full time, shown her work in Europe, Israel and the Ukraine, and is now the subject of an exhibition back home at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.


"Untitled," Angela Strassheim

Strassheim's work is now back at Burnet as part of a group show called "Fresh," celebrating the gallery's fifth anniversary. Other artists include Andrea Stanislav, David Bartley, Allen Brewer, Chris Larson and Megan Rye.

"It was tough," says Phelps. "We just whittled down the parameters to artists who had solo shows here before, but not too recently."

If there's a theme to "Fresh," it's that several of the artists are trying completely new things; David Bartley went from angst ridden collage work to minimalist painting, Andrea Stanislav - who normally does thick layered resin pieces and sculptures - brought in a print. Megan Rye, whose solo show featured paintings of military scenes in Iraq, produced a series of studies of butchered pigs at a market in Puerta Vallarta.


Pig 21, Megan Rye

Burnet Gallery hosts six solo shows a year, and typically four of them are local artists. Phelps says she tries to balance the work between new artists who are just starting out, and well-established artists who haven't let the success go to their heads.

"People tell me that they appreciate the fact we show so much local work. But I don't want to peg us as a local-only gallery," says Phelps.

Looking to the next five years, Phelps says she feels like there are destined to be changes ahead, because social media and technology is rapidly changing the world of exhibiting.

"Artists have a lot more control of their careers, or have more ability to promote themselves," says Phelps. "The hierarchy is shifting, which makes me think about what is a gallery? It seems like everything changes on a daily basis. And maybe there are different ways to approach art. I don't have the answer yet, but it's kind of exciting."

Phelps says she feels like the art world is on the edge of the unknown, and it doesn't yet make sense which way to go.

"Fresh" runs through May 1 at Burnet Gallery, located in the Le Meridien Chambers Hotel on Hennepin Avenue in downtown Minneapolis.

Thanks to Cameron Wittig and the Walker Art Center for the photo of Jennifer Phelps.