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BEST ARTIST-IN-RESIDENCE 

Jessica Brandl

Critics' Choice

We're already suckers for art that's given a Midwestern slant, even when the Midwest depicted is a little blighted. Which means we utterly fell for Jessica Brandl's self-titled exhibition this past summer: ceramic depictions of tornadoes and mobile homes as infusions of Wizard of Oz Technicolor in dreary black-and-white landscapes. The pieces staged agitprop scenes of Manifest Destiny in dilapidated buildings, and every one of them was created during her residency at Red Star Studios. Even better? It was all functional, embodying the kind of practicality the artist attributes to the heartland. You won't lose any style points for using one of Brandl's TV trays or ornate jars for its intended purpose. In fact, that's the point. "You have a piece of art, but you may need to put snacks in it," she assures us. A TV tray might seem like a strange artistic canvas, but there's no condescension here. These are the objects she found while exploring abandoned buildings, artifacts she knew and loved. But don't count on scoring a decorative snack urn anytime soon. The show sold out fast.

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