Arts Magazine: The Foot in the Door Show 2000

From Minnesota Artists Exhibition Program

The Door is Open: For this exhibition, you are who you want to be, and everyone's invited

We hominids often take on more than is reasonable. Getting to the moon never did make much sense. Nor did climbing Everest. Eating 267 goldfish in twelve minutes-the world record-also is questionable. And who can rationally justify teaching dogs to sit up on their hind legs and put their two front paws in the air? Just recently a flock of ducks was enticed to quack in unison while waddling in formation.

Now we offer something that is reasonable: "The Foot in the Door Show." All artists in the state have been invited once again to participate in an exhibition at The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, provided they each restrict their work to an area of one cubic foot. The show, opening with a free reception Saturday, January 8, from 8 to 11 P.M., is presented by the Minnesota Artists Exhibition Program, also known as MAEP.

The history of "The Foot in the Door Show" goes back more than twenty years. MAEP was conceived by artists and adopted by the Institute in 1975. In the early years its very premise-that a curatorial department of the museum be controlled by the artist community-was questioned. Some saw it as visionary, others as sheer folly. MAEP was democratically driven. It acknowledged the artist's point of view as unique and significant. It brought the living artist's voice into the museum's creative process. But by the end of that decade, MAEP's survival was under discussion. Within the museum world, some feared that the democratic process of MAEP would let anyone in. Within the artist community, some argued that the work of many notable artists hadn't yet been shown.

Late one wintry night in 1979, the artist panel, elected by the artist community to select the program's exhibitions, was debating these concerns when there came a flash of inspiration. Defying all logic (something not uncommon for MAEP), the panel realized that the perfect remedy was to do exactly what was feared-open the doors and let everyone in.

Exultation over this breakthrough was followed by this question: Would this invitation produce more artwork than could fit into the gallery? Keen thinkers, the panel devised a plan: limit the space given to each artist. Big enough but not too big, a square foot of space was determined to be about right.

Next: What to name the show? What title could simultaneously reveal an attitude of inclusiveness and a restriction of space? The word "foot" evoked multiple perspectives. "Door" would also be fitting. The show opens the door to all. What title would celebrate democracy and comment on how tough it was for artists of the day to get their work into the museums? And then it came. "The Foot in the Door Show." The meeting adjourned amid enthusiasm that something worthwhile had been conceived.

Understandably, this exhibition brought into focus many challenging issues. If all artists are invited, one must ask, "Who is an artist?" Consider this: Instead of asking who is an artist, ask who is a lawyer? Imagine what could happen if anyone could call himself a lawyer? Clearly, laws are necessary concerning who is a lawyer. No such laws yet pertain to artists. The artist panel conjectured that if there is no law against it (yet), then let the individual decide: You are an artist if you call yourself an artist. This freedom to identify oneself still strikes some people (mostly lawyers) as crazy.

Now, what about the museum's identity? Does the museum define what is art? If it doesn't, it may no longer be an art museum. Nothing can be taken for granted.

Four hundred years ago, no public art museum existed in the world. Public art museums came about only after the realization that: 1. The earth is round, not flat; 2. The earth if filled with our species; and 3. Almost all of them are making what could be thought of as art. So, is the museum challenged by this question of "What is art"? Of course! Since their inception, art museums have been thus challenged. This is primarily because no one is quite sure what art is. The definition of art is continually evolving. This tumultuous process going on before us is one of the reasons life can be so interesting...and more than reasonable.

The philosophy underlying "The Foot in the Door Show" is uniquely American-it asserts that you are who you want to be and everyone's invited. And while visual art is often discussed in spiritual terms, it has material form. This brings us back to where we started-will there be enough room in the gallery for all the art? Will unanticipated productions strain the gesture of good will?

Appreciation for this show has grown with each decade. The first "Foot in the Door Show" in 1980 included 740 artists. The second, in 1990, included 882 artists.

What excitement will happen in this new millennium's "Foot in the Door Show" ? There is an ancient saying, "We will just have to wait and see." Since this is a visual arts museum, that seems more than reasonable. After all, that's what "The Foot in the Door Show" is about: opening the doors...and seeing.

Stewart Turnquist is the Coordinator of the Minnesota Artists Exhibition Program at The Minneapolis Institute of Arts.

The Foot in the Door Show
January 9 to April 2, 2000
Minnesota Artists Gallery

"The Foot in the Door Show" is presented by the Minnesota Artists Exhibition Program, an artist-run curatorial department of The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, which is made possible by generous support from the Jerome Foundation.

Citation: Stewart Turnquist, "The Door is Open: For this exhibition, you are who you want to be, and everyone's invited," Arts 23, no.1 (January/February 2000): 18-19.