North Dakota’s 10 Best Contemporary Art Galleries & Museums
In North Dakota, the culture scene is all about regional development and an admirable commitment to promoting the careers of local artists. From Bismarck to Jamestown, Fargo and Grand Forks, North Dakota’s public art museums, artist cooperatives and private galleries showcase the best of Midwestern contemporary art. We take a tour of the state and bring you a curated selection of ten must-see contemporary art galleries and museums in North Dakota.
Run by artists and for artists, the Bismarck Downtown Artist Cooperative has its finger on the pulse of all local art developments. Set up in 2011 with the mission of boosting interest in the fine arts among Bismarck’s residents, the art space has since held numerous collective exhibitions, including a successful art swap with Gallery 4, another artists’ collective in nearby Fargo, and Reuse, Upcycle and Recreate, a show focusing on art created from recycled materials. Together with the respected Bismarck Art & Galleries Association, the Downtown Artist Cooperative is one of the most valuable art spaces in the city.
Art Gallery, Building, Cinema, Theater, Yoga Studio
Turning its attention to contemporary artists from the Midwest is Ecce Art Gallery, a modern and clean art space located in a turn-of-the-century red brick building just a few steps away from the historic art house cinema Fargo Theater. In a modern spin on fine art, the gallery combines art with healthy living, as part of it acts as a yoga studio. The roster of Ecce’s represented artists is equally invigorating. It includes photographer Meghan Duda, whose fascination with architecture colours her images, and visual artist Amber Fletschock who creates hypnotising mixed media collages. Temporary exhibitions always bring something new, and showcase local as well as international works.
James Rosenquist at the Plains Art Museum | Image courtesy of the Plains Art Museum
The Plains Art Museum is one of the most respected non-profit museums in the region. First opened in 1965 in Moorhead, the institution has evolved and expanded over the years, moving premises to Fargo in 1997. The permanent collection spans numerous genres and media, with particular emphasis on modern American art, and over 10 temporary shows each year. James Rosenquist is a regular fixture on the museum’s exhibition programme. Born in Grand Forks, ND, this prominent exponent of American pop art has retained close links to his home state and engaged with several local projects, including The North Dakota Mural, a massive 12-panel oil painting that graces the museum’s atrium. Additional galleries are located within the Katherine Kilbourne Burgum Center for Creativity, a multipurpose arts facility attached to the museum via a skybridge. The Center for Creativity provides art classes and studios, and houses the region’s premier ceramics facilities.
Home to a comprehensive collection of modern art from the 20th and 21st centuries, the Memorial Union Gallery is part of the North Dakota State University and profits from its non-profit, academic environment. In addition to hosting annual student shows, the art space regularly organises must-see temporary exhibitions featuring a range of themes and media, from print and illustration to bird-themed shows by local artists. The gallery’s own artist-in-residence programme is another source of inspiration. New Hampshire-born Megan Mitchell was granted the honour in spring 2014; the collaboration between the ceramicist and the Memorial Union Gallery led to an exhibition that combines the arts of printmaking and pottery. Small yet active on the Fargo art scene, Memorial Union Gallery has developed a rock-solid reputation and amassed a collection of 400 artworks in its 45-year career.
Situated a few short miles across the border from North Dakota, in Moorhead, The Rourke Art Museum and Gallery brings together an eclectic permanent collection of 3,000 items and temporary exhibitions across two exhibition spaces: the museum and the gallery. Bringing together such gems as pre-Colombian and Asian art in addition to contemporary works hailing from the Midwest, the museum has come a long way since opening in 1960, when it mainly exhibited local works. Recent exhibitions have showcased a range of media and artists, including German painter Moritz Götze, local artist Molly Yergens and several thematic exhibitions exploring memory, bird’s eye views of the Earth and time. Housed in a neoclassical building designed by architect Oscar Wenderoth, the Rourke Art Museum and Gallery enjoys an impressive, historic setting that practically straddles the border between North Dakota and Minnesota.
What started out as a space for student art four decades ago has, over the years, evolved into the art venue we now know as the North Dakota Museum of Art– though a faint feel of a laid-back, student atmosphere remains, as the museum is housed in a former, renovated gymnasium that used to belong to the UND. The museum is an active collector of art from the region of the Northern Great Plains and focuses in particular on assembling a comprehensive collection of contemporary Native American art. From the vibrant paintings of Walter Piehl to Songs for SpiritLake, a collective exhibition that featured contemporary artists who live and work away from the world of contemporary art. As the official museum of the State of North Dakota, this institution fulfils its role with praiseworthy commitment and energy.
University of North Dakota (UND) Art Collections at the Empire Arts Center
Art Gallery, Theatre
Owned by the University of North Dakota, the collection and gallery at the Empire Arts Center features work by local and international artists, both promising and renowned. The media on display span drawing, painting, textile and jewellery pieces, and many others, making the collection a comprehensive and multifaceted one; some of the most prominent artists featured here are Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and Claes Oldenburg, but work by various other exponents of pop art, psychedelic art and op art can also be viewed here. On top of the collection, the centre also arranges temporary exhibitions and educational programmes to accompany them.
The Blue Door Gallery is an artist-run art space established in September 2011 in the historic, red-brick St. John’s Block building. Thriving on and supporting the local art scene, Blue Door Gallery is actually a pioneering cultural venue, and one of the few truly experimental and contemporary art galleries in Grand Forks. Shows – especially collective ones – can incorporate a wide variety of media, techniques and styles; some of the most original have featured the vibrant and thought-provoking mixed media works of Adam Kemp, and the quasi-religious, quasi-pop art sculptures and two-dimensional works of Armando Ramos. The rotating exhibition programme at Blue Door always offers something new, and unexpected, which may be due to the fact that the space is managed by the creative Escape Artists Collective. Email in advance, as the gallery is open by appointment only.
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The Arts Center, founded in 1964, is Jamestown’s main art and culture venue, located in the city’s downtown area. With a programme that spans not only monthly exhibitions, but also stage plays and art classes, the centre presents works that relate to North Dakota in one way or another. Past shows have included Photographer Of The American West, which showcased the photographs of L.A. Huffman, and Creative Spirits, a double show by Lydia Richez-Bowman and Tammy Jones who share a passion for creative experimentation. A visit to the Arts Centre makes for an interesting afternoon in the Buffalo City.
Launched in 2005 and constructed using 62 doors (hence the name), 62 Doors Gallery is home to nine local artists and their studios. All the exhibitions organised here are the fruit of their collaboration: thematic shows in the past have included an exhibit about tattoo art and design, or the more self-explanatory Art Inspired by Music. Shows usually feature open calls, making this gallery a suitable venue to get acquainted with the work of North Dakota-based artists. Lively and genuinely enthusiastic about art, 62 Doors Gallery is a must-visit in Minot.