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Utica Queen brings designs to Rochester Art Center exhibit

Ethan Mundt will return to Southeast Minnesota to exhibit his drag garments, design ideas, and celebrate his own identity at the Rochester Art Center -- just 35 minutes from his hometown.

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Ethan Mundt. Contributed / Ethan Mundt

Mary Poppins.

Ethan Mundt’s first taste of drag was an elementary school costume. At that point, he had the same fear as many young, LGBTQ+ kids -- that he would have to move away from home to manifest his dreams. And he did, attending college in St. Paul, filming “RuPaul’s Drag Race” in Hollywood, and eventually moving to Chicago to continue his career.

Now Mundt, known as "Utica Queen" to his 461,000 Instagram followers , will return to Southeast Minnesota to exhibit his drag garments, design ideas and celebrate his own identity at the Rochester Art Center's "Homecoming Queen" exhibit -- just 35 minutes from his hometown.

Mundt’s story isn’t about leaving home, he said -- his drag persona is named after the 300-person town that raised him. He said his career is a thank-you to that community and the Midwestern vibe he still embodies.

“I would love for people to take away from this show the story of celebrating queerness,” Mundt said. “Ultimately, I didn't know that coming from a podunk farm town, in Utica, Minnesota, that I would be able to create in this regard -- I never thought it possible growing up. And so that I'm hoping that little queer kid can come to this exhibit, and know that it is possible to go and live your dream, and to go and become the best version of yourself you can possibly imagine. And then still be able to bring that right back home and be celebrated.”

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Mundt’s garments, photos, and multimedia pieces will spread out over 4,000 feet of the Rochester Art Center between Dec. 4 and April 3, beginning with a ticketed celebration on the first night.

The exhibit, co-curated by Zoe Cinel and Brian Dukerschein, features about 20 mannequins dressed in Mundt’s garments, as well as design sketches and a 10-minute film detailing the designer’s process.

The art center plans to host additional LGBTQ-focused programming during the show’s four-month run. The ticketed exhibit will also be available online.

Becoming Utica

Before attending Hamline University, Mundt discovered an affinity for performing. He cosplayed, learning how to “create these characters on the body.”

In a way, he said, he went to Hamline to be a drag queen -- ping-ponging between costume shop, modern dance, and fine arts courses.

“I'm very inspired by music,” Mundt said. “And my brain works in a lot of colors and a lot of musicality, being a performer. So if I need to come up with a concept, it's as easy as going on a walk, and just listening to music on random. Feeling what pulls me. And then I get these ideas and visions in my head where I'm like, ‘OK, how can I achieve that physically?’”

Then to the drawing board, where Mundt and his team begin building the designs from the ground up.

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“Drag takes people out of this world for at least two to three minutes to let people see their humanity, their souls on the stage, to tell their stories,” Mundt said. “And a big part of that is what we wear. It's about this fantasy that we put people into with our performances. So I want people to see their stories told through the artistic costuming that's going to be presented at this show.”

And if you were impressed with the garments on-screen, wait until you see them in person.

The pieces on display have actually gotten a boost, courtesy of Mundt’s helpers and local designer/seamstress Brooke Burch. Some Drag Race costumes were brought in to fit into the gallery’s space -- others gained extra panels for maximum effect.

“There are some pieces I’m adding some work into,” he said. “With the fever dream, the show and everything, some of the pieces had some corners cut to get them done with the really tight deadlines the show offered. This is my opportunity to get them done in the completed form so the storytelling is complete.”

Here’s a taste of what attendees will see at the Art Center Exhibit, opening Dec. 4.

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Ethan Mundt as Utica Queen, "Yarn Ball" garment. Contributed / Ethan Mundt

Yarn Ball

This technicolor piece inspired most of the artistic creations Mundt has come up with since 2017. With a technicolor dress, yarn accessories, and huge pins holding the dress to the ground, the piece evokes captivity -- even without the pin visually piercing the chest of the wearer.

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It’s the piece that “started it all,” after Mundt hit the Twin Cities drag scene in 2017. His budget, at that point, was that of a recent art school grad.

“It’s fabric scraps that I found at thrift stores, and the pins are made out of golf clubs that I found at the dollar store,” he said. “I tried to use whatever I could … trying to get this concept out into a physical form. And it still holds up on this date, which is so exciting.”

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Original "Yarn Ball" sketch by Ethan Mundt. Contributed.

Inspirations: “Undo,” a Eurovision performance by Sanna Nielson, made Mundy think of “a trapped doll, encapsulated in her own beauty.”

“The only way to escape is to tear out your own heart,” Mundt said. “That heart can mean the love you feel for others, or maybe the love you feel for yourself.”

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Ethan Mundt as Utica Queen, in the Finale garment. Contributed / Eric Magnussen

Finale

If “Yarn Ball” helped launch Mundt’s career, “Finale” signaled an end to another milestone -- his tenure on “RuPaul’s Drag Race” in 2020. The dress was designed to “emulate the night sky,” and is made from dark velvet and sequins.

“This piece, in my head, was all about being dressed in the night, and having your heart be the one thing that is out in this abyss.”

“I wanted to make it impactful,” Mundt said. “I wanted to make it simple. I wanted to make it tell a story.”

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Original design for the Finale dress. Contributed / Ethan Mundt

Inspirations: “Stayaway” by MUNA, a song “all about having your heart pulled to somebody, but having that unrequited love.”

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Ethan Mundt as Utica Queen, in the Marie Antoinette garment. Contributed / Eric Magnussen

Marie Antoinette

You’ll find this lace-and-organza confection suspended in the art center’s atrium.

Longtime collaborator and photographer Eric Magnussen presented Mundt with the Marie Antoinette wig one day before a planned photo shoot, in case he wanted to plan a look around it.

“I was like, ‘Oh my God, this is gorgeous, and challenge accepted,’” Mundt said. “So the day before I took this trip, I took my artistic baseball bat and did a big swing.”

The foundation is a powder pink, lace spandex suit, overlaid with earth-toned organza, giving it “a futuristic vibe.”

“It's this piece that really showed me that when I just let my hands go, I can create this piece out of my head,” he said -- with help from Minneapolis friends.

Inspirations: Rococo color palettes, “a tribute to the past and the future ... to show off classic iconography and costuming.”

If You Go

What: Homecoming Queen

When: Opens the evening of Dec. 4 with a ticketed event ($40, rochesterartcenter.org). Runs Dec. 5-April 3. The art center is open 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays.

Where: Rochester Art Center, 30 Civic Center Drive SE, Rochester.

Cost: $5 admission for adults, free for art center members and visitors younger than 21.

More Information: rochesterartcenter.org/event/homecoming-queen

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