Blogs Centerpoints

Walker Stands with National Peers in Support of Artistic Freedom

Before I came to the Walker in 2008, I was a curator of contemporary art and ultimately director of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. The Hirshhorn is one of the 19 museums and nine research centers that comprise the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. It is a sister museum to the National Portrait Gallery […]

Before I came to the Walker in 2008, I was a curator of contemporary art and ultimately director of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. The Hirshhorn is one of the 19 museums and nine research centers that comprise the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. It is a sister museum to the National Portrait Gallery (NPG), which has been the site of controversy since December 1, when Smithsonian officials caved to political pressures and removed a film by the late artist David Wojnarowicz from the exhibition Hide/Seek : Difference and Desire in American Portraiture.

In response to this crisis, various versions of the film Fire in my Belly will be screened daily at the Walker Art Center later this week, pending arrangements with the artist’s estate. (Check website for further details.) This film, in which the artist has edited a montage of video footage shot in Mexico, captures his anger and struggle with the death of a lover and his own H.I.V. diagnosis. Since its making, this film has become an iconic art work of the 1980s and has had a visible place in AIDS activism in New York and the U.S. See Holland Cotter’s article from Saturday’s New York Times “As Ants Crawl over Crucifix, Dead Artist is Assailed Again” and Frank Rich’s New York Times editorial “Gay Bashing at the Smithsonian” for more detailed descriptions and analysis of the work.

In addition, on December 16 the Walker opens 50/50: Audience and Experts Curate the Paper Collection in which Wojnarowicz’s Four Elements, a work in the Walker’s permanent collection, is one of over 50 objects the public selected for inclusion in this new collaborative exhibition.


David Wojnarowicz
Four Elements
1990
lithograph on paper
T.B. Walker Acquisition Fund, 1991

It is from my perspective both as director of the Walker, an institution devoted to supporting the most adventurous art and artists of our time, and my position as a former curator and director of a Smithsonian museum, that I write this statement. I do so after traveling yesterday to Washington to see the exhibition firsthand, a step I would encourage anyone taking a public position on this exhibition to take.

Hide/Seek was organized by the NPG to “show how art has reflected changing attitudes toward sexual identity.” As a museum dedicated to presenting the lives of individuals who have made significant impact on American life and culture over the course of U.S. history, the exhibition boldly tackles and in many ways admirably achieves this goal. Through the lens of over 100 artists, curators David Ward and Jonathan Katz frankly elucidate the lives of the individuals represented as well as the social history and sexual politics that attend over a century of art making. This history unquestionably shaped the lives of many of the century’s key makers as well as their creative output, influencing further developments in 20th and 21st century art.

Incredibly thoughtful, well researched, and comprehensive wall labels accompany each art work. Indeed the wall texts are central components of the exhibition in an installation conceived to reveal a social history of silence and oppression rather than trace any specific aesthetic impulses, artistic developments, or concerns. In this regard, it is important to acknowledge that Hide/Seek is not a traditional art exhibition nor is the NPG a conventional art museum. The NPG is a museum of American history that presents art (portraiture exclusively) as an artifact by which to understand and interpret American life and culture.

In every regard, the NPG should be applauded for organizing, mounting, and presenting this groundbreaking, scholarly exhibition and supporting the curators’ well argued thesis that a powerful artistic and cultural legacy has been “hidden in plain sight for more than a century.” Yet the NPG’s and Smithsonian’s surprising decision to remove a key work from the exhibition a month after its opening undermines this thesis as well as the premise and curatorial integrity of the exhibition in alarming ways. Indeed this action serves to sublimate or “hide” the very thing the exhibition attempts to make visible.


David Wojnarowicz, Untitled (face in dirt), c. 1990

During my tenure at the Smithsonian, I had the pleasure and privilege with my colleagues there to bring some of the most compelling and often challenging modern and contemporary art to the nation’s capital, including works by many of the artists presented in Hide/Seek. While I would say that any artist, curator, and administrator making an exhibition in Washington is keenly aware of what it means to present contemporary art in the nation’s capital and to reach a very broad general audience, I always felt that my curatorial choices founded on well grounded research, expertise and knowledge were supported by Smithsonian administration. This was true even if the content was potentially controversial so long as the museum took reasonable steps to inform the public and provide contextualizing material when such content might be present so that viewers could make their own choices.

Three years after my departure, I am saddened to find a very different Washington, one informed by fear, intolerance, and silence, and a different Smithsonian, one that has perhaps lost touch with some of the core principles and spirit of its establishment. Founded in 1846 to increase and diffuse knowledge, the Smithsonian was created by the U.S. Congress as a trust instrumentality of the nation to be administered by an independent governing body and leader. This structure was created in part to prevent an institution envisioned as a beacon for research, debate, and the advancement of knowledge from being subject to the winds of political change, partisanship, and special interest. So important was this value that the Congress debated for nearly a decade prior to the Smithsonian’s establishment how to best ensure scholarly objectivity.

I am, of course, deeply disheartened by the Smithsonian’s recent actions and join my colleagues at the Association of Art Museum Directors and the Warhol Foundation, on whose boards I also serve, in their statements of disapproval and condemnation. Since time immemorial, artists have questioned the predominant modes of thought in our society and pushed the bounds of conventional thinking to inspire reflection, debate, and ultimately advance culture.  As stewards and supporters of our cultural legacy, it is essential for institutions like the Walker and, indeed all citizens, to support the independent voices of artists and the value of creative and artistic freedom. It has never been more important to speak out and openly for the freedom of expression.

Sez Oprah: “everyone’s crazy about” International Klein Blue

The freight trucks arrived at the Walker last week and installation crews are currently installing Yves Klein’s first U.S. retrospective in more than 30 years, Yves Klein: With the Void, Full Powers, which opens here October 23. Meanwhile, thanks to the show’s acclaimed run at the Hirshhorn in Washington, D.C. — and fashion editors and […]

yves klein blue acessories

from "The Color of Style for Fall 2010," in the October issue of "O"

The freight trucks arrived at the Walker last week and installation crews are currently installing Yves Klein’s first U.S. retrospective in more than 30 years, Yves Klein: With the Void, Full Powers, which opens here October 23. Meanwhile, thanks to the show’s acclaimed run at the Hirshhorn in Washington, D.C. — and fashion editors and stylists, whose long-range schedules are nicely in sync with the museum world’s — “International Klein Blue” has become the breakout hue for fall.

A sizable fashion-and-home spread in Oprah’s O magazine features an interview with Leatrice Eiseman, head of the Eiseman Center for Color Information and Training, who notes that IKB “has a luminous, intense quality that’s really striking. … You’re drawn into it, almost like you’re seeing a light illuminated through it. It’s magical, mystical, infinite, deep” — an observation that sounds strikingly similar to reviwers’ takes on Klein’s monochromes in the retrospective.

As with Oprah’s stylists in the image above, those at Anthropologie are also sprinkling IKB pigment around like so much fairy dust — or its close cousin, presuming they were unable to acquire Klein’s actual, patented IKB pigment. The picture below, from the Walker’s Shape of Time exhibition of works from the Walker collection, shows a trough of the true blue stuff, positioned in front of Klein’s Mondo Cane Shroud.

FYI, some lucky devils in this world have coffee tables made with vitrines full of (yes, patented) IKB pigment, as shown at Design Crisis, whose co-blogger Erin is “OBSESSED with Yves Klein and his badass blue.” She covered Yves Klein: With the Void, Full Powers here, but last March (i.e. months before the current Klein-o-rama), she also wrote a lengthy post on Klein and interior design, which she called “a labor of love. As in, I literally feel like I just squeezed out a giant blue baby” – a comment that must have had Klein dancing with delight somewhere in his blue heaven. After all, he liked to say that he “impregnated” visitors to one of his gallery openings with IKB, in the form of cocktails that carried his International Klein Blue out into the world, via their urine.

Moving back to fashion, the IKB trend also embraces looks for men; the following puzzling angle on Kleinian fashion from the “men’s clothing, men’s wear” blog may well be a result of a Google translation, but it does attempt a broader art-historical positioning of the artist:

2011 Spring Men's ten week point prevalence

Jil Sander

2011 Spring Men's ten week point prevalence

Prada

“In 1957, French artist Yifukelai because (Yves Klein) in Milan exhibition on display at the 8 same size , similar group of green pigments painted canvas – ” Klein Blue , ” an official appearance in front of the world . Since then, this color was officially named ” International Klein Blue “(International Klein Blue, called IKB). Looking around the spring and summer show season games Gucci handbags, all from Jil Sander to Prada Klein blue preference seems to have added a large number of blocks of color rendering , so the original white male models become more pale , sharp . Live to 34 -year-old Klein, June 6, 1962 in a heart attack . He is considered the most important representatives of Pop ArtFigureOne , and Andy Warhol (Andy Warhol), Marcel Duchamp (Marcel Duchamp) and Yuesefubo AES (Joseph Beuys) , together known as the second half of the 20th century the greatest contribution to world arts The four artists”

The Walker’s  design director, Emmet Byrne, has been digging up more on this storied and celebrated hue — watch the design blog for a series of upcoming posts on the topic.

This year’s crop of geniuses

Every year, after the MacArthur Foundation gives a couple dozen people the surprise of a lifetime with its “Genius” grants, a flurry of articles are generated touting the newly mined geniuses based on birthplace, current residence or place of work, age, gender, profession, etc. The Walker is not immune to this tradition, as oftentimes the geniuses […]

Every year, after the MacArthur Foundation gives a couple dozen people the surprise of a lifetime with its “Genius” grants, a flurry of articles are generated touting the newly mined geniuses based on birthplace, current residence or place of work, age, gender, profession, etc. The Walker is not immune to this tradition, as oftentimes the geniuses include artists who have developed notable relationships with the institution through exhibitions and performances, by creating commissioned work, or artist residencies. To wit, this year’s crop includes:

Matthew Carter: PBS.org calls him “a prolific type designer who has created more than 60 typeface families and over 250 fonts” — including, in the mid-90s, the Walker typeface.

Jason Moran, also on PBS.org’s highlighted list, “is a jazz pianist and composer whose work crosses genres and combines disciplines. Leader of an ensemble called The Bandwagon, Moran has made melodies out of human speech, collaborated with visual artists in multimedia performances and honored jazz gods like Thelonious Monk.” Moran has performed at the Walker (and toured current exhibitions) on several occasions – his work Milestone was a Walker commission based on its visual art collection. Here’s his “Making Music” talk at the Walker from May 2009.

Related shout-outs (on a geographic and professional basis) go to Marla Spivak over at the University of Minnesota for her work in protecting the honeybee population; and to two visual artists, Elizabeth Turk and Jorge Pardo (who does have a set of screenprints in the Walker collection).

Here’s the full list at the MacArthur Foundation, with portraits, videos, etc. etc.

Dwell: A Photo Caption Contest

To our wonderful, funny, and sarcastic readers and visitors– This month, Dwell features the Julie Snow-designed home of the Walker’s very own Andrew Blauvelt and Scott Winter. The first thing I did after I viewed the slideshow (or maybe even before) was pop over to the blog Unhappy Hipsters, whose sole purpose is to write […]

"Best to keep the gingers behind bars."--Unhappy Hipsters blog

To our wonderful, funny, and sarcastic readers and visitors–

This month, Dwell features the Julie Snow-designed home of the Walker’s very own Andrew Blauvelt and Scott Winter. The first thing I did after I viewed the slideshow (or maybe even before) was pop over to the blog Unhappy Hipsters, whose sole purpose is to write tongue-in-cheek melancholy narratives for the photos in modern home design publications. I was rewarded with the picture and caption above.

Now it is your turn to show off your caption-writing prowess. Take a look through the entire Blauvelt/Winter residence slideshow (shot by Dean Kaufman), pick an image, and write a caption. Leave a comment with your contact information, a link to which photo you are captioning, and your caption.

The winner receives two tickets to the Yves Klein After Hours Preview Party on October 22.

I think this one has some possibilities:

Play nice and happy writing!

Nice Ride: Biking to and from the Walker

I recently moved to Minneapolis from Northfield (Cows, Colleges, and Contentment!), forty miles south of the Cities. I’m fortunate enough to have a car, but having had to deal more with cattle crossing than heavy, downtown traffic and confusing one-ways, city traffic can be a little overwhelming. Adding that to the fact that my bike […]

I recently moved to Minneapolis from Northfield (Cows, Colleges, and Contentment!), forty miles south of the Cities. I’m fortunate enough to have a car, but having had to deal more with cattle crossing than heavy, downtown traffic and confusing one-ways, city traffic can be a little overwhelming. Adding that to the fact that my bike is falling apart (that’s what $40 on Craigslist gets you), getting around Minneapolis for work and leisure isn’t always the easiest to do.

I just started interning in the PR/Marketing department at the Walker, about two miles from my apartment. It’s too far to walk, but I feel guilty driving such a short distance (not to mention having to find parking). So what’s a geographically-challenged guy to do?

Three months ago, Minneapolis introduced a new, really unique, really convenient way to get around. The city built 42 bike stations downtown, uptown, everywhere in between, and stocked them with 350 bikes. As of July, it’s been upped to 65 stations with 600 bikes. You can spot the bright green ‘Nice Ride’ bikes pretty much everywhere around the city, in use or parked at busy locations. The Walker has a station right out front, usually stocked with at least a half a dozen bikes. In the morning, I’ll grab one at the Lake & Humboldt station, turn onto Hennepin, and follow that a dozen blocks north to the Walker. It helps not only that drivers in Minneapolis are incredibly bike-aware, but that the cost of a ‘Nice Ride’ is reasonable. $30 gets you a month pass, or $60 for a full year, and every ride under a half hour is free. In all, it beats gas prices by a huge amount.

If the advertising for 'Nice Ride' is representational of their users, most riders sport bow ties, vests, or cardigans

If the advertising for 'Nice Ride' is representational of their users, most riders sport bow ties, vests, or cardigans

Nice Ride also just published their three-month update online (you can find it here), detailing overall usage, revenue, stats, complete with nifty pie charts. Turns out that the Walker is one of the most popular destinations for Nice Riders, many coming from my neighborhood but also from Whittier, downtown, and even as far away as Seward and University. There’s still plenty of comfortable fall days left to check out these bikes. If you’re close, you should definitely grab one and swing by the Walker. It’s hard to beat a day filled with art and biking.

A View from Three Feet Up: Eavesdropping on a Sculpture Garden tour

  Out in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden recently, I tagged along with a gaggle of field-tripping preschoolers from various day care centers in White Bear Lake. Following are outtakes from their spirited debates about the artistic representation of animals in the Garden. Kim, the group’s intrepid tour guide, started the conversation: “What do you think you’ll […]

 

Octopus, lion, giraffe, or spider: Which inspired Mark di Suvero's "Arikidea"?

Out in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden recently, I tagged along with a gaggle of field-tripping preschoolers from various day care centers in White Bear Lake. Following are outtakes from their spirited debates about the artistic representation of animals in the Garden.

Kim, the group’s intrepid tour guide, started the conversation: “What do you think you’ll see in the garden today?”

“I think we’ll see a cherry and spoon,” quipped Bella, 5, showing off copious advance research.

Jake, 4, stated that he had seen some dragonflies in his backyard recently.

“I’m three!” shouted Aiden, 3, before telling everyone to be quiet.

Kim moved the group into the Cowles Conservatory, past the fragrant Madagascar jasmines and New Guinea impatiens and into the exhibit space with Frank Gehry’s Standing Glass Fish. “Can anyone tell me what they think of when they see this sculpture?” she asked.

“It’s flopping its way out,” said Caden, 5.

“He got one tail,” explained George, 2.

“What is this fish made of?” asked Kim.

“Likeable stuff,” answered Zander, 3.

Kim nodded in agreement. She told a story of Gehry’s grandmother, who used to come home from the market with a live fish and let it swim in the bathtub until dinnertime. That’s why Gehry likes to make art look like fish, she explained.

Continuing into the outdoor garden, Kim stopped the group at Deborah Butterfield’s Woodrow. “What do you think this animal is?” she asked.

Hannah was certain it was a giraffe. Multiple votes were cast for a deer. Someone suggested it was a moose. Kim shook her head. “Any more guesses?”

“It’s a giraffe,” said Aiden.

Kim provided a hint: “It’s something you might find on a ranch or farm.” A debate followed regarding the constitutions of horses and cows. An agreement was reached. Horse.

The group migrated to see Mark di Suvero’s Arikidea, which Kim alleged to be another animal—but what kind?

“It’s an octopus, because it has lots of legs,” said Nick, 6. Caden thought it had a head like a lion. Aiden thought it was a giraffe. Hannah guessed correctly: a spider.

Seven of the children climbed onto Arikidea’s giant platform and got a push on the swing. Joni, the day’s organizer, brought out her camera. Bella instantly flashed a movie-star grin, displaying missing front teeth.

Responding to an inquiry from Aiden, Kim expressed regret over the paucity of elephants in the garden.

“Can we go see a giraffe?” he asked in reply. Kim looked apologetic.

 

Help us preserve your Sculpture Garden! Visit garden.walkerart.org and sign up for the Action E-List to receive e-mail updates (only a couple, we promise) on how you can help at times when it is most needed.

Paul the Psychic Octopus Predicts Your “50/50″ Votes!

The World Cup may be over, but Paul the Psychic Octopus still has some work cut out for him before he retires. He’s been busy predicting which artworks will be chosen for the upcoming exhibition, 50/50: Audience and Experts Curate the Paper Collection. Since there are 180 works to vote on, and 5,000 possible match-ups […]

The World Cup may be over, but Paul the Psychic Octopus still has some work cut out for him before he retires. He’s been busy predicting which artworks will be chosen for the upcoming exhibition, 50/50: Audience and Experts Curate the Paper Collection. Since there are 180 works to vote on, and 5,000 possible match-ups to predict (*), he’s going to be pretty busy until the polls close on September 15.

You have your work cut out for you too: VOTE NOW!

* (We were trying to figure out the formula for this, but our math is a little rusty. If anybody knows it, please share.)

What does it take to spiff-up the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden?

  During Minnesota’s 2010 legislative session, the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board—with the full support of the Walker Art Center—made a request to the legislature for funding to restore and preserve the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. The project did not make it through the bonding process this year for a variety of reasons, but it did […]

 

During Minnesota’s 2010 legislative session, the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board—with the full support of the Walker Art Center—made a request to the legislature for funding to restore and preserve the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. The project did not make it through the bonding process this year for a variety of reasons, but it did draw attention to the need for a renovation of this 22-year-old gem, a centerpiece of the Minneapolis park system. It also stirred up a group of grassroots supporters—both park and art lovers—who sent a clear message to legislators.

So what’s going on with the Sculpture Garden that needs spiffing up? It’s not the sorts of things that make for great photo ops, like brightening the cherry atop Spoonbridge and Cherry with fresh coats of paint, or Windexing the mirrored scales of Frank Gehry’s fish in the Cowles Conservatory.

In fact, the work involved in renovating a landscape or garden is most always quite subtle — less visible or even invisible — but it’s nonetheless important, even crucial. The pictures here zoom in on some of the ways that more than two decades – and the enjoyment of more than 7 million visitors — have taken their toll on the Garden.

For starters, the linden trees in the image at left would be trimmed to open up views and create the kind of experience intended by the original design. Another experience involves what’s underfoot: If you’ve walked around the Garden in the springtime after the snow has melted or after a heavy rain, you’ve probably noticed how muddy and squishy it is. That’s because the green spaces currently lack adequate drainage and the pathways were originally installed with baseball diamond clay. 

A renovation would include a cistern to collect water runoff so the Park Board can keep the Garden watered in a sustainable way, plus pathways would be resurfaced and replaced with porous materials that would dry more quickly. (While the current odds are already negligible, chances of catching an errant baseball are reduced as well.) Other work on the pond and lawns would prevent storm water pollution, improve filtration and reduce off-site drainage and overall water use.

 

Many trees in the Garden, including the arbor vitae "walls" of its four "galleries," are at the end of their natural life cycles.

The same goes for some of the evergreen border trees.

Granite slabs used for paving, walls, and steps need re-setting, replacement or repair.

Existing wheelchair ramps would be made compliant with the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (the Garden opened in 1988), with wider clearance and a gentler slope.

Lighting for evening strolls will be brighter and more energy efficient, new emergency call stations will be installed, and the HVAC/mechanical systems in the Cowles Conservatory would be updated, drastically reducing energy use (and operating expenses). And dying or dead trees would be replaced with live, healthy ones. (Hey, why not?)

Even if you’re not a landscape architect, HVAC technician, or soil specialist, you can help restore the Garden by becoming an advocate. We are building our initial group of supporters into a strong, statewide collection of voices who can help by doing a couple easy things – like contacting legislators at times when it will make the biggest impact (we’ll cue you). Find out more here, and  sign up for the Action E-List today.

Pancake art: A cherry on a spoon

If you haven’t spent an hour browsing Jim’s Pancakes, you aught to (just don’t do it during an otherwise boring breakfast). For the uninitiated, Jim is a guy who makes spectacular pancake creations for his daughter and blogs about them. His latest creation is near and dear to the hearts of many Minnesotans, our Spoonbridge and Cherry: […]

If you haven’t spent an hour browsing Jim’s Pancakes, you aught to (just don’t do it during an otherwise boring breakfast). For the uninitiated, Jim is a guy who makes spectacular pancake creations for his daughter and blogs about them. His latest creation is near and dear to the hearts of many Minnesotans, our Spoonbridge and Cherry:

About the pancake, Jim said:

…It was tasty. For the red color of the cherry I used some strawberry preserves (the kind without chunks of fruit) and it was delicious. I think I’m going to try apricot preserves for yellow coloring next time.

The reason for Jim’s creation was an interview with KARE11 yesterday morning.

Robert Bergman, Alec Soth, and contemporary portraiture

    Robert Bergman: Portraits, 1986-1995 opened at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts a few days ago, following a pretty amazing triple-play last fall, with Bergman shows at the august National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C.; P.S. 1, the MoMA affiliate in Queens devoted to contemporary art; and the Yossi Milo Gallery in Chelsea. Among a host of glowing […]

 

Untitled, 1989; © Robert Bergman

 

“Adelyn, Ash Wednesday, New Orleans, Louisiana”; 2000; Alec Soth

Robert Bergman: Portraits, 1986-1995 opened at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts a few days ago, following a pretty amazing triple-play last fall, with Bergman shows at the august National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C.; P.S. 1, the MoMA affiliate in Queens devoted to contemporary art; and the Yossi Milo Gallery in Chelsea. Among a host of glowing reviews (see below) and compelling profiles of the Minneapolis-raised Bergman (who turned down a show at the MIA in 1968 and has worked almost entirely outside art-world circles until now), critic Andy Grundberg sparked a controversy in the current Aperture magazine when he concluded that ”  … Bergman is out to convince us that he is a great photographer. Unfortunately, he has appeared a half-century too late.”It wasn’t long before Alec Soth called out a “photo critic rumble!” on his Little Brown Miscellanea blog, pointing to Aperture’s Exposures blog, where David Levi Strauss countered Grundberg with the title of his response, claiming that Bergman is “Right on Time.” Reading the review, the response to the review, Grundberg’s counter-response, and the commentary from others is a great primer on some key issues related to contemporary photography.

Which brings us back to Soth. It’s too bad the Bergman show ends (August 22) before From Here to There: Alec Soth’s America opens (September 12); it would be fun to zip between the MIA and the Walker and compare the formidable portraits by these two photographers.

That said, would it spark another photographic controversy to claim that the average art fan might conduct such an exercise just as well or even better with a dual-monitor setup? (To be clear — a display of considerably higher quality than is presented on this page.) Photographs reproduced in books are one thing — in a recent interview related to his show here, Soth said “A picture in a book is often nearly as good, and sometimes better, as a picture on a wall” — but has a similar argument been made for photographic display on computers? Notwithstanding the shift to digital photography over the past 15 years or so, that idea seems more germane than ever with the impending iPad revolution.

Robert Bergman’s work reviewed in (among many other places):
The Wall Street Journal
The Washington Post
Brooklyn Rail

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