Wing Young Huie has built his reputation on ambitiously scaled public installations featuring his photographs of everyday life. Huie’s first outdoor exhibition featured images taken in Frogtown, one of the poorest, most diverse neighborhoods in Minnesota. Most recently, with the support of Public Art Saint Paul, he created The University Avenue Project, a six-mile long installation of photos.
The strength of Huie’s work rests on the fact that while his projects hold up to rigorous critique in the art historical tradition, they are also highly accessible to regular people. This accessibility is based on more than the images’ physical location on the street. As members of contemporary society, we intrinsically understand the point made by Susan Sontag, “To photograph is to convey importance.” Photographs in store windows and online are nothing new. From anti-abortion advertisements on billboards to models wearing the latest fashions, our ideas of what is valuable are shaped by the images we see. By focusing his lens on immigrant communities and everyday urban life, Huie is not just making a historical record of these groups but also elevating their importance in their own eyes and in the eyes of those who consider them to be “other” – unfamiliar or unknowable.
Given enough of Huie’s deep portfolio, we can all identify with someone in his images. From the white lobbyist on the steps of the Minnesota capitol building to a community of Hispanic Immigrants in Southern California, Huie’s America, seen through the eyes of a second generation immigrant, is a more accurate representation of our own lives and communities than the images many of us think of when we think of America. As I see more and more photos from his archives, I increasingly recognize familiar humanity in people whose lives and lifestyles I can barely comprehend.
When Huie first described his idea for a blog, I admit I was skeptical. Why would an artist who has built his reputation on hyper-local public art launch a blog, which is, by definition, a geographically dislocated platform? While it is difficult to analyze a project that is still in its infancy, I have since been won over. Huie has always been concerned with bridging barriers to the accessibility of art. It would be wrong to think that internet access is universal in the United States, but publishing photographs online allows communities that lack large scale public art exhibitions to view Huie’s work. If a 20 by 30 foot photograph on a busy thoroughfare removes cultural and financial barriers to the access of art, then an online blog removes the geographic barriers that prevent many Americans from experiencing contemporary art. In the 21st century, the Internet has, for better or worse, become a forum for social engagement and public interaction. The beauty of public art is that people who may not recognize it as art serendipitously encounter it every day. (k)now aims to use the public forum of the Internet to create other types of serendipitous encounters with thought-provoking images. We welcome the dissemination and reposting of Huie’s original content, provided that (k)now is recognized as the original source and Wing Young Huie is listed as the photographer.
It is important to note that (k)now supplements rather than supplants Huie’s physical, geographically located initiatives. With a new gallery at 38th Street and Chicago Avenue in South Minneapolis, Huie has established a storefront presence in the neighborhood that has been his home for more than a decade. The Third Place Gallery is designed to be a center for community engagement, and Huie has plans in the works for a new public exhibition of large photographs and projections. Thanks for checking out (k)now, and please check back soon. This is just the beginning.
– Stephanie L. Rogers, Gallery Director of The Third Place