The true beauty of Taco Tuesday

The exhibit “The Art of Service” recognizes those in the service industry

Sara Nicole Miller

The robust American lunch lady, scoop of mashed potatoes in hand, is encapsulated in the heart and mind of every American child.

The Art of Service
WHEN: Now through Feb. 22, 1 to 7 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays, 1 to 5 p.m. Saturdays
WHERE: 1224 Quincy St. N.E. Suite 130, Minneapolis
TICKETS: Free, (612) 378-8888, www.alteredesthetics.com

Similarly, we have varying nostalgic notions of other American workers in the service industry: the waitress in the roadside diner, the cheery-eyed barista, the advice-doling bartender, etc.

However, it isn’t too often we make further philosophical enquiries about the people who serve us Italian Dunkers, espressos, or other satiating treats.

Luckily, Altered Esthetics – a community art gallery in Northeast Minneapolis – has a special fondness for those everyday service workers who we casually overlook. Artists, after all, often work in the service industry to support their creative endeavors.

“The Art of Service” exhibit has gathered the works of 20 artists, providing a glimpse into the everyday nuances of the service industry. The artists use a variety of media to illuminate some aspect of their own experience.

“We take it for granted that fresh vegetables should cost less than $3 per pound, our food should be ready in 30 minutes or less and the person bringing it should have a smile on their face,” wrote photographer Matthew Dahl in his artist statement. “The irony is that most people working in the service industry barely make a living wage and many times cannot even enjoy the very things that they are helping us to attain.”

Margaret M. Gamache’s “Lunch Lady Series” is inspired by her 20 years of experience serving lunch to children in the school system. Gamache’s art deals with issues of hunger, subordination and inspiration. Her five pieces include monochrome photo collages, depictions of plastic lunch lady passes and other food-pyramid-related visual delicacies.

Michael Harlan Turkell, who spent time capturing Brooklyn, New York restaurants on camera, contemplated all of the daily goings-on that went into running a food joint. “There is more presented on a plate than just food,” he explained in his statement.

His array of photographs depict seemingly mundane snippets in the day of a restaurant: racks of dishes, expediters, pigs hanging from meat hooks above a prep counter and chefs next to a BFI dumpster on a smoke break.

Some of the other pieces in the exhibit include Tonja Torgerson’s assemblage of digitally printed pinhole photography in “The Bunshop Series” and Adam Knott’s shrine-like tributes, complete with gaudy metal frames, to “The Great American Waitress.”

“The Art of Service” doesn’t discriminate against more taboo professions in the service sector – also included are representations from those in the sex industry. The exhibit estimates that there are approximately one million sex workers in America.

The gallery, housed inside an old warehouse off of a cobblestone street, with a manufacturing plant collecting moss nearby, has a warm industrial charm that accommodates the likings of a variety of exhibits. Curators Jamie Schumacher and Lucas Schulze have taken painstaking effort to nurture a service industry ambience in their exhibit, right down to the coffee rim stains on the bulletins and vintage “Guest Check” receipt slips serving as artwork indicators.

As long as there will be eggs to scramble, drinks to pour and luggage to haul, there will always be starving artists around to fill the jobs. However, it is the ultimate satisfaction of creating art that makes all the grease stains and chump change worthwhile.

“Art is a service in itself,” said Schulze. “People work really hard to be able to make art.”