Paul Shambroom MMoCA Collects

Dassel City Council, Dassel, Minnesota (population 1,134), (L to R): Nancy Nichalson...

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Paul Shambroom, Dassel City Council, Dassel, Minnesota (population 1,134), (L to R): Nancy Nichalson, Ava Flachmeyer (Mayor), Jan Casey, Sherlyn Bjork (Deputy Clerk), inkjet on canvas and varnish, 1999.
Paul Shambroom. Photograph by Doug Beasley. Courtesy of the artist.

This is not a staged photograph. Paul Shambroom has captured a moment in the proceedings of a city council meeting in Dassel, Minnesota. Three women council members sit at a long table while a fourth records the minutes of the meeting. The back wall of the conference room is flanked by the American flag and the state flag of Minnesota. Framed maps of the city and surrounding counties and townships hang on the wall. The secretary and one member at the table rest their heads on one hand. The member to the left, with poofed blond hair, looks suspiciously off to her right. The other woman sits expressionless.

What are these council members doing? What moment in the meeting have we tripped upon? The approval of the minutes? The defeat of a drainage motion? The aggravation over a lack of a quorum? There must be more than four council members. Shambroom takes the most mundane of situations and imbues it with greater significance. Viewers familiar with the history of western art may call to mind the group portrait of seventeenth-century Dutch painting, even The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci. Perhaps, while celebrating the civic procedures of a democratic America, the photographer is also affectionately satirizing the seriousness with which Americans take their local matters.