This month marks the twentieth anniversary of Rosalux Gallery. Normally we would have a big party to celebrate but, pandemic. In light of that we thought that we would share the book we produced with writer Gregory Scott which captured the history of our first fifteen years of our collective followed up by an update of the last five. We hope that you enjoy taking a stroll down memory lane with us and look forward to sharing twenty more years with you all.
GALLERY ON FIRE AN INTRODUCTION TO ROSALUX GALLERY
by Gregory J. Scott
Like any good origin story, this one begins with a meth lab explosion.
It was spring 2002. The scary auto-repair garage next door to Terrence Payne’s DIY art space was getting scarier. Rottweilers stalked the premises. Acrid smells had been wafting over in unexpected, flatulent bursts. Artists working late rehabbing the space one night beamed flashlights through the windows at 1 a.m., saw burly mechanics asleep at their desks. Payne and his crew had been there for three months. No one had seen a single customer.
The place was sketch, but then so was Northeast. For scenesters of a certain era—a pre-brewery era, when the 331 Club was a peanut-strewn biker bar, Stasiu’s a punks-versus-hicks rock venue—the neighborhood was an unknown hamlet. A place you heard about, all hid- den studio spaces and scary white people. Bands play- ing in warehouses and this thing called Art-A-Whirl.
If you made it up there at all, it’s because someone dragged you to U Otter Stop Inn for karaoke, promised you an epic dive bar. There was an atrocious mural you absolutely had to see. That mural. Christ. It still haunts our dreams: dead-eyed otter mutants carousing in a 70s tavern-under-the-sea. A garish swirl of bubbles and bell-bottoms, octopi and otter cleavage. It stretched the entire block.
And for many of a certain era, the only thing more creepy/tantalizing than that mural—or rather, the thing that electrified all that was already creepy and tantalizing about that mural, about the Otter, about Northeast in general, the thing that bestowed upon it all a seedy/ cool glamor—was the stucco shack across the street. A furniture storage place, long abandoned and decayed.
It was rumored to have been a pornography warehouse. When Payne first found the place, months earlier, the previous tenant said he had discovered boxes of old stag films in the basement. Which would have fit the mythos of the neighborhood: the Otter itself was said to have been a brothel.
By winter 2002, though, the shack had gotten a lot less creepy. Some guys from the Uptown Bar were organizing art exhibitions there.
A Pulse Twin Cities article from the time describes it like this: “The gallery, situated in the ever popular NE area, sports an open, if not a bit sparse, white-walled space with high vaulted ceilings, a leather couch, and all of the trap- pings for an urban art affair.”
This was Rosalux. The guys from the Uptown were Terrence Payne and Reed LaPlant.
Today, you know Rosalux for its gleaming Van Buren Building gallery. You know it as a showroom for grant winners, a weekend destination for critics and curators. You know it for its annual Open Door juried competition, one of the most closely scrutinized exhibitions of the year, known to net national curators and launch careers for locals.
You also know it for its prestigious membership; it’s the collective your art school professor came through, the collective your art school classmates are trying to join. For better or worse, Rosalux is in the firmament, a fixture of Northeast’s arts-industrial complex. Realtors boast about its proximity to houses they’re trying to sell. But Back in 2002, it was a derelict storage space.
This is the prehistory. And what’s great about this pre- history—not to mention the actual history, chronicled in the pages that follow—is its power as microcosm.
The story of Rosalux growing up is, in many ways, the story of Northeast growing up. Central Avenue. Gallery on one side, dive bar on the other. Hipsters on one side, teamsters on the other. So many exchanges—both wit- ting and unwitting—between the two worlds. It was a highbrow/lowbrow straddling that would come to define the neighborhood for years to come—a somewhat sordid hustle blossoming into something slick, profitable, and coveted. It’s even baked into the gallery’s name. Rosalux means “red light”—as in red light district—but it’s written in fancy Latin. Seediness transmuted into status. As went the gallery, so went Northeast.
But even more significantly, the story of Rosalux grow- ing up is the story of the Twin Cities art world growing up, becoming what it’s become in the 21st Century. Rosalux altered the ecosystem. It was an evolutionary link.
It delivered us from the 1980s, from the Warehouse District away from commercial galleries, with their contracts and their 50-percent commissions, and toward today’s scrappy mix of nonprofits, independent studios, and unaffiliated spaces.
The gallery runs on a cooperative model. Member artists sustain the space by paying a fee and helping with administrative tasks. In exchange, artists get to keep 100 percent of their sales. And they get to do whatever the fuck they want.
Rebecca Krinke, a University of Minnesota professor in the School of Landscape Architecture and a Rosalux member since 2009, calls it “gallery as studio.” For a spring 2017 show, Krinke built a life-size, four-poster bed and installed it upside down on the ceiling. “My studio is barely bigger than the bed sculptures I make, and the gallery space is when my work really comes alive for me. No commercial gallery would let me do that. For someone doing large- scale installations, installations that aren’t necessarily sale- able, it’s powerful.”
“These commercial galleries, they were taking 50 percent of your sales but not putting in any leg work,” says Payne. “When I’d get a show, I’d want promotion. I’d want to bring in an audience. And I felt like I was doing all that stuff my- self. Like, what the fuck am I giving you 50 percent for? “But they’re also taking away part of your creative freedom. They want you to do certain things because they have an idea that it will sell better than other things. So they’re not exactly encouraging you to grow as an artist.”
If this sounds like a good deal for the artists, it proved an even better deal for the audience.
Before, it was the artists hidden away and the dealers on the sales floor. At Rosalux, you had a very good chance of meeting the people with work on the walls—and drinking with them after the opening. Members staffed the space, came to each others’ shows. They still do. “I equate it to going to a concert, and the band comes out after to work the merch table,” says Shawn McNulty, an original Rosalux member. “The audience gets to have direct, personal relationships with the artists. Be- fore social media, there was nothing like that.”
Ruben Nusz, a former Rosaluxer who’s now a top-sell- ing painter rapidly climbing the national art-word ranks, put it like this: “I wonder if the real source of the gallery’s longevity is that audiences desire nothing more than an absolute and unequivocal relationship with artists and their work. The beauty of Rosalux is that it circumvented the commercial gallery hegemony that thrives in larger cities like New York.”
It’s these direct relationships that sell art. And Rosalux certainly sells. Don’t let the word “collective” fool you; this is less a hippie kibutz than a consortium of entrepreneurs. Alumni have won grants, quit day jobs, and infiltrated art schools all over the Midwest as instructors.
“You look at the artists who are or who have been in Rosalux they are some of the most awarded artists in town,” says Krinke. “It’s considered a top place. We get press, we get critics and curators coming to our events. And it’s hard to get into Rosalux. Many top dogs apply and many do not get in.”
As you flip through these pages, you’ll catch names, see faces. Former members, curators who judged Open Door. They’ll be familiar. One of these people now runs Weisman Art Museum. One does album art for Bon Iver. One started Soo Visual Arts Center. One just finished running Mia’s hallowed Minnesota Artist Exhibition Program and is now the head curator at the Minnesota Museum of American Art. One is an artist whose career is so hot his sales could single handedly support the lo- cal gallery that represents him. (Hint: He shares a name with a sandwich.) In other words: if you have anything to do with the visual arts in Minneapolis/St. Paul, you are one degree away from a Rosaluxer.
But anyway. Back to the meth lab explosion. It was Mothers’ Day 2002. Payne was at the Uptown, working a shift. As he remembers it, some dude came into the bar and simply said, “Hey man, your gallery’s on fire.”
This news was alarming but not terribly surprising. And Payne had every reason to believe it was true. In just three months at the stucco shack, Rosalux had had a lot of excitement. A drunk driver plowed through the back door. A cinderblock shattered the front window in a smash-and-grab robbery. There was an ongoing standoff with the landlord to get basic functions up and running.
And that doesn’t even include the mischief happen- ing from within. For an early group show, artist Darrin Mueske mounted a live gun in a sculptural installation. At some point during the opening party, the gun went missing, stolen by a party goer. Rosaluxers spent the night bracing for a shooting.
The very first exhibition at the space was a keg-party fundraiser. “It took several months and several thousand dollars to get the space into shape,” Payne says, “so we decided to have a live auction.”
Payne asked a coworker from the Uptown, Anne Milligan, an actress and comedian who did a character named, "Connie the Coke Whore" as the MC.
Pictures from the night look like rock photography. A crush of people, sweaty and raucous, hoisting drinks. All leather jackets and knotted scarves.
“It was packed, man. I couldn’t believe it,” remembers McNulty. “It was just such a good response to something we didn’t know was going to work.”
For a while, the gallery even had a stage. Venus de Mars’s famed goth band All the Pretty Horses played openings. “After that initial opening and the first couple of shows, it became apparent we were onto something,” says Payne. “But there was definitely a faction that just wanted a clubhouse to trash and have parties in.” The place was successful but chaotic, teetering between respectable gallery and shit-show party space. It could have gone either way.
So when Payne showed up, with fellow Rosalux founder John Stewart, to find his building drenched in fire-hose water, guitars (from a band rehearsing in the gallery basement) and mannequins (from the upstairs storage space) bobbing in the flooded street gutter, it seemed like a fitting, if fucked up, conclusion. It was time to move on.
“That was the thing that pushed out of the nest,” Payne says now. “There was a come-to-Jesus moment, a drive to get real about what we were up to.” The intervention was still a ways off, but the seed of seriousness had been planted. “We could have putzed around in that stucco shack and been weird forever.”
Payne and the Rosalux crew salvaged what they could. It was mostly their art work at risk of damage, and they managed to save most of it. After a few hours, they said “Fuck it,” went over to the Otter for drinks. At the bar, drinking away their Mothers’ Day, were the rough Polish women of the neighborhood. Carnations from the Holiday gas station across the street sitting on the bar.
-Gregory J. Scott
WE’VE COME A LONG WAY WITHOUT GOING VERY FAR AT ALL: A Geographic Guide To The History Of Rosalux
628 Northeast Central Avenue
Technically, the history of Rosalux starts at the stucco shack: 628 Central Avenue NE. But if you re- ally want to drill into the origins, you gotta go one block away, to First Ave.
Tucked way up on the third floor of 501 1st Ave. NE was Shiny Robot Studio, a perfect urban nest of an art studio operated by John Alspach. Alspach wanted to host a group exhibition for Art-A-Whirl 2000. He asked Terrence Payne to submit some work. Neither artist knew it at the time, but this would prove to be a very influential show.
“I met John through a mutual friend,” Payne remembers. “He was like, ‘Hey, we’re doing a party for Art-A-Whirl. I hear you’re a pretty good artist. Do you wanna make some stuff?’”
Meanwhile, several miles away, Shawn McNulty was managing the student computer lab at Eden Prairie High School. Three years earlier, he had finished a BFA in painting at St. John’s University, in Collegeville, MN. McNulty was an early Internet adopter, had taught himself web design—“an artist having a website then was a really weird thing,” he remembers—and the day job supported his painting practice. He quickly made friends with the school’s art teacher, another early Internet adopter, who had found Shiny Robot online. The teacher saw that Alspach welcomed submissions and urged McNulty to send in work.
Long story short, McNulty lands in the Art-A-Whirl show. And he and Payne immediately hit it off.
“We just had similar personalities. We were both sarcastic,” McNulty remembers. “But we also really liked each others’ work. Neither of us was afraid of using big saturated color. We bonded over that.”
“This was back when Art-A-Whirl was real,” says Payne. “We had a big party with All the Pretty Horses. And some guy, one of those First Ave dudes that wears the biker jacket, with like the shitty long hair...he was standing too close to a flash pot and his hair caught on fire. He was so high he didn’t even know it.”
An impressive amount of art in the Shiny Robot show sold. And Payne, McNulty, and fellow artist Scott Neff were struck by the fact that Alspach had orchestrated the whole thing himself.
“I had just met these people, it was small talk, but we all kind of said, ‘We could just do this all the time, not just for Art-A-Whirl,’” says McNulty. “’We could have a DIY gallery.’”
Payne took the idea back to the Uptown, where he worked with another artist named Reed LaPlant. The two discussed a co-op model, with a pre-established mission of focusing on sales and promotion: expenses shared across the collective, profits kept by the individual.
“Once Reed and I settled on a structure,” Payne says, “we went back to recruit those artists from the Shiny Robot Show.” Payne reached out to all of the artists from that Shiny Robot show, some of which got on board right away, and the others were to follow later on. Reed reached out to artists that he had relationships and word of mouth began to spread out from this core group.
By 2002, the lineup was set. The first 12 Rosalux artists were: Terrence Payne, Reed LaPlant, Shawn McNulty, Dave Bowman, Mary Bowman, Neil Rassmusen, Amelia Biewald, Suzy Greenberg, Darrin Muske, Scott Neff, Mary Sullivan, and Dave Whannel. But Rosalux 1.0 wouldn’t last. The collective only managed a handful of shows at the stucco shack. After the meth lab fire, Payne decided to dial down the party and look for a more serious place to show art.
1011 Washignton Avenue South
Sometimes with lifestyle change, there’s dramatic swerve. You sweep the party out of your system and go overboard on kale. You quit smoking and kill yourself jogging. For Rosalux, it was giving up Northeast—the sketchy neighbors, the boozy openings, the crumbling building—for entirely new territory, both geographically and spiritually: The Open Book building. Downtown Minneapolis. Home of Loft Literary Center, Minnesota Center for Book Arts, Milkweed Editions, and—until Rosalux took over their enormous, three-floor space—the famous Ruminator bookstore. The place was literary. Exposed brick, wood beams, a majestic spiral staircase. “We definitely had to be more professional,” Payne says.
And that they did. Unlike the cigarette-quitting jogger, this change stuck. Rosalux would spend nearly seven years at Open Book. It would be the gallery’s most generative period, marked by a steady climb in quality, a coalescing of identity, and a relentlessly consistent, month-after-month output of art we would come to consider quintessentially Minneapolitan. The list of Rosalux freshmen from this time is generation-defining: Ruben Nusz, Jennifer Davis, Andy Ducett, Gregory Euclid, Amy Rice, Alex Kuno and Rebecca Silus.
In a way, the quality came on the heels of quantity. With three floors to fill, the Rosalux roster suddenly expanded from 12 to 36 members. “We got too big too fast,”Payne says now. “The expansion happened almost overnight. It got too unwieldy, so we let the numbers fall to 24 over time and had two-person shows each month, which is the model we used moving forward.”
Administratively, the gang found its groove. Rosalux had regular gallery hours. It held regular member meetings (with a critique-over-beers afterwards at Grumpy’s down the street). McNulty built a website, collecting members’ work in one, easily searched inventory. Payne got press people in the door.
But what’s most amazing about this period is how organically, subtly, as if from a chemical reaction in the air a charisma blossomed within the gallery. Shows were friendly, organized not around opaque critical themes but around the requirement that artists exhibit in pairs. The result was a buddy aesthetic, one that felt very welcoming to audiences. And showing two artists meant double the amount of friends and family that came in the door. Opening nights always drew a crowd.
And there were occasional themes. The “Process Show” tasked artists with showing not their own work but artifacts that influenced them. (John Diebel brought in an entire steamer trunk full of doodles he made on post it notes in an attempt to cling to his sanity at his day job) The “Live With It” show imported furniture from Room & Board for artists to pair their work with. It allowed the audience to consider art as décor—something to actually buy and display in their actual homes—and it sold incredibly well. There was the popular fundraiser show, “Green,” which happened every year. And, of course, there was “Peep Show,” a celebration of all things taboo and tawdry. The bacchanal resulted in party goers paying Andy Ducett $20 a piece to sharpee penises onto their skin that year.
All this fun helped Rosalux win an audience, which is important. But a subtle marketing savvy was burbling in the background. “I thought, let’s bait the future collector,” remembers Payne. Open Book was where Rosalux cultivated an actual collector base. “Terry’s always been the guy to sell work face-to-face,” McNulty says. “I was the guy selling on the Internet.”
Soon Rosaluxers were selling to collectors out-of-state— even out of the country. This was years before Etsy.
Finally, with the launch of Open Door, an annual juried show, Rosalux secured critical respect. The first ever juror was Yuri Arajs, curator of the esteemed outsider art gallery Outsiders and Others. A call went out for artist submissions, and those deemed the best got in the show. Over the course of the Open Book years, Open Door would become a prestigious competition. Submissions poured in from all over the country, and the gallery secured jurors from the curatorial staffs of major institutions.
Life got pretty good at Rosalux. And it stayed pretty good, for awhile.....
Then, the Great Recession happened.
Right around 2008, Payne decided to step back from helming the collective. He’d been steering Rosalux for six years. He needed a break. And just as he took his hands off the wheel...the nationwide economy took a historic, terrifying nosedive. Thus would begin Rosalux’
s dark years.
A vacuum of leadership coincided with a brutal crush of capitalism. Payne, blithely, considers it a “comedy of errors.” First, there was a demographic bet that didn’t quite pay off. One thing that attracted Rosalux to South Washington Avenue was the glimmer of urban revitalization. All around Open Book—a building once surround- ed by surface parking lots and the infamous Liquor Depot new construction lofts were going up, with corporate types moving in. At the same time, well-heeled culture seekers were coming in and out of Open Book. Payne thought these folks would wander into Rosalux and maybe buy art. They didn’t.
“I don’t think any sales came from being in that building,” longtime member Daniel Buettner recalls. “People were coming into the gallery just to find a quiet place to make phone calls.”
“I think what we learned at Open Book was that it’s more effective to identify our audience first and then directly target them,” says Payne. Foot-traffic as advertising wasn’t work-
ing. “We learned that an expensive storefront on Washington Avenue wasn’t exactly a must have.”
Then, there was rent. The new Guthrie Theater, designed by Pritzker Prize winner Jean Nouvel, had opened in 2006—which meant that, by 2008, downtown rents had hit luxury starchitect levels. Meanwhile, the whole country was ravaged by layoffs. Artists began losing their day jobs. Which meant that Rosalux a collective funded entirely by member dues began losing artists. The roster dropped to 16.
The nail in the coffin came in the form of a new lease with Open Book. An interim Rosalux director, who stepped in just as Payne stepped away, negotiated a too-hasty lease renewal, which locked Rosalux into a monthly increase of thousands of dollars. Ultimately, they worked out an agreement: Open Book would freeze Rosalux’s rent at its previous level if the gallery promised to vacate in six months, enough to find someone who could pay for the area’s rising prestige. The gallery was put on notice.
“After that, every single show was a fundraiser,” Payne says. “Some were fun. Some were not. At that point, it was just like, let’s take a break.”Rosalux shut its doors in spring of 2009.
There was a hiatus. A quiet retreat. But the core members stayed in touch.
1224 Northeast Second Street
Lo and behold, Rosalux resurfaced. In 2010, the collective opened a new showroom, a smaller storefront space back in Northeast. It was cheap, modestly sized. The artist roster had shrunk to a manageable 12. And best of all, the gallery could share expenses with the building’s other tenant: the upstart Chowgirls Killer Catering, friends of the gallery, had their headquarters there.
“In hindsight, it was a great way to ease back into it,” Payne remembers. “Definitely a moment of turning a corner by way of adversity and cautious maturity.”