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Art Interrupted: Advancing American Art and the Politics of Cultural Diplomacy is a new touring exhibition that sheds light on what one scholar called “one of the most infamous examples of red-baitingand censorship in the pre-McCarthy era United States”—and on the Walker’s first curator, J. Leroy Davidson, who was at the center of it all.
Art Interrupted: Advancing American Art and the Politics of Cultural Diplomacy is a new touring exhibition that sheds light on what one scholar called “one of the most infamous examples of red-baiting and censorship in the pre-McCarthy era United States”—and one of the Walker’s first curators, J. LeRoy Davidson, was at the center of it all. (more…)
“Hennepin facelift a tough problem.” That 1970 headline from the Minneapolis Star still has relevance today, as a new vision takes shape to revitalize the city’s legendary Hennepin Avenue—or more precisely, its two-mile segment downtown, running between the Mississippi River and the Walker Art Center/Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. Back in April, I wrote about Plan-It Hennepin, […]
“Hennepin facelift a tough problem.” That 1970 headline from the Minneapolis Star still has relevance today, as a new vision takes shape to revitalize the city’s legendary Hennepin Avenue—or more precisely, its two-mile segment downtown, running between the Mississippi River and the Walker Art Center/Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. Back in April, I wrote about Plan-It Hennepin, an initiative in which the Walker has partnered with Hennepin Theatre Trust, Artspace, and the City of Minneapolis; after a year gathering research and community input, the group’s draft plan for a Hennepin Cultural District has just been released for further public comment.
As a fixture on Hennepin from its earliest days, the Walker, not surprisingly, has historically had an interest in its vitality; what follows are outtakes from its coverage of some of those efforts in Design Quarterly, a magazine it published from 1954 to 1991.
In 1879, T.B. Walker founded the first public gallery west of the Mississippi, putting works from his vast art collection on view to the public in select rooms of his mansion at Eighth and Hennepin. He also owned a building at 719 Hennepin that housed studios for the Minneapolis Art School. More than 20 years later, the lumber magnate sounded off against the contested development of Gateway Park along downtown Hennepin’s northern blocks—perhaps the earliest effort to revive an area in need, as many saw it, of a cleanup. As Joanna Baymiller noted in “History of an Avenue,” published in 1982 in Design Quarterly No. 117, Walker explained his views in a pamphlet: instead of creating a more attractive view, he declared that “the park will make one pertaining more to bleakness, surrounded by secondary architecture which, under the circumstances, never will be reconstructed or rebuilt into important structures.”
Walker was both passionate and prescient: Even if bleakness and secondary architecture didn’t come with Gateway Park, they did accompany its demolition in the mid-60s as part of “urban renewal” efforts.
Ideas from “Ground-Breaking Mind-Stretchers”
In April, 1970, not long after the blight was cleared, a two-day public forum convened in downtown Minneapolis to brainstorm ways to help out the down-on-its-luck thoroughfare. Organized by the Walker, the Minneapolis Planning and Development Department, and the Minneapolis Downtown Council, “Hennepin: The Future of an Avenue” brought together a host of visiting designers, architects, sculptors, and artists—or “ground-breaking mind-stretchers,” as Minneapolis Star columnist Daniel M. Upham wryly described them, “untrammeled by the need to hang around to see how it all comes out.”
Upham, author of the column accompanying that “facelift” headline, was one of several journalists covering the standing-room-only events for Minneapolis’ two daily papers; later that year a selection of news clips and photos was compiled for a special section in Design Quarterly No. 78/79 (an issue otherwise devoted to “conceptual architecture,” conceptualism then being sufficiently new to require quotes).
Philip Johnson, architect of the IDS Center then under construction a block away on Nicollet Mall, recommended that “Hennepin fill its teeth” (i.e. its empty blocks) with prefab buildings that could feature “stores, exhibit halls, shooting galleries or whatever draws a crowd,” reported the Minneapolis Star’s Barbara Flanagan. (She could have been referencing the Rifle Sport arcade, which in the later ’70s became the legendary Rifle Sport Gallery on Block E, a small slice of Hennepin both loved and hated for its notorious seediness.) Johnson also reportedly proposed that the historic Butler Building become a teen center, with rock bands on each floor. Never mind that the Butler actually stands a block west of Hennepin, on First Avenue. Also, it was unlikely that Johnson knew that just a block from the Butler, The Depot—a bus station-turned-nightclub later to be named First Avenue—had just opened a few weeks earlier. Nevertheless, his idea was ahead of its time in the worst way, presaging the string of ill-conceived entertainment/mall developments—Mississippi Live in particular comes to mind—that downtown would get saddled with in the coming decades.
A “video park” proposal from landscape architect M. Paul Friedberg was forward-thinking, both artistically and in terms of the growth of public surveillance: “Take a parking lot next to the blank wall of a big building. Mount TV cameras in trailers to photograph passers-by and throw their images on the wall, which becomes a giant TV screen. Interspersed with the passing scene would be the regular pickup of news programs—such as the moon shot (or a baseball game)—anything that draws a crowd.” (Freidberg went on to design the 1975 Peavey Plaza, another Nicollet Mall landmark that is currently the subject of a battle between preservationists and the city.)
Another architect who recently made news with his retirement, Robert Venturi in 1970 hadn’t yet co-authored the controversial classic, Learning from Las Vegas. But its ideas were very much in evidence with Venturi’s audacious claim that Hennepin is “almost all right now.” He nixed benches as too European—reportedly telling the forum crowd “Here if you sit on a bench you’re a bum”—but recommended bigger signs. Columnist Flanagan, however, took issue with his recommendation to “discover the ordinary”: “I have and that’s why I think Hennepin needs work,” she wrote. “It’s too ordinary for an entertainment street.”
Anticipating the coming age of “interactive” public art, James Seawright proposed “an electronic sculpture that could be programmed to relate to the passersby or be rigged to respond to a dialed telephone number. Like fellow sculptor Tony Smith, he also pitched wider sidewalks and mid-block shopping squares. In splitting up Hennepin into five sections for “different kinds of celebrations,” architect Walter A. Netsch (designer of the Air Force Academy Chapel) gets props for the oddest idea. He would assign movies and light shows their own sections, with a third for “the tassel trade”; the remaining two might be devoted to tree plantings and—in a nod to one of the forum organizers—the Walker Art Center. He also thought banning cars from dusk to 5 am might help draw people.
Speaking of the tassel trade, Art Seidenbaum, the forum’s moderator and a Los Angeles Times columnist, alluded to Hennepin’s long history with strip clubs and streetwalkers in summing up its plight: “Hennepin isn’t voluptuous enough to be seductive and it isn’t wrinkled enough to be replaced—just like a 45-year-old courtesan.” The Star’s Upham was thinking along similar lines: “The real problem of Hennepin … is to save it from blight without destroying its bawdy charm,” he wrote. “The factor which attracts the visiting stockmen, the boys in town for the sales meeting, and other free spenders? [sic] When the chips—or rather the shoulder-straps—are down, can a stripper really do her stuff if they air out the joint and sweep the floor?” Then there was Johnson’s pithy and au courant declaration, “What killed Hennepin was TV and the pill”; and Ms. Flanagan’s equally telling description of designer Barbara Stauffacher Solomon, the lone female guest at the forums, as “a little girl who designs big signs.” For the record, Solomon, a pioneer of Supergraphics, favored large, boldly colored swaths of paints as a low-cost temporary spruce-up for the avenue.
By 1982, Hennepin had gone further downhill, from aging courtesan to ailing spinster, if you will. In Design Quarterly 117 editor and former Walker design curator Mildred Friedman wrote about how the street “took on the air of a jilted lover” with the rise of the suburbs in the 1950s, existing “in this state of ambiguity for many years,” with “many empty storefronts; former movie palaces converted into evangelical centers or … dispensers of pornography; strip joints and stand-up bars.” Civically speaking, Hennepin was “always the bridesmaid”: a place “discussed in committees” but whose problems “never met with concerted action.”
Friedman also noted “positive changes,” however, in the form of a new Hennepin Avenue Urban Design Plan, to which that issue of DQ was devoted. Denise Scott Brown, writing on the plan created by her firm, Venturi, Rauch, and Scott Brown, made a playful reference to the inevitable “pressure … to exchange the red silk petticoat image of Hennepin Avenue for a gray flannel one.” Considering what her partner Venturi advocated for back in 1970, it probably surprised no one that the firm favored Hennepin as a good-time girl over any kind of reputable matron makeover. However, their plan’s central visual element—36 “reflector trees” arching over the street to create a dance of lights at nighttime, per the rendering above—met with controversy.
The “trees” were actually to have a “fan-like silhouette,” one “carefully disciplined so as not to suggest overhanging branches,” a muddled-yet-dazzling gesture meant to give the street a “unique character” and “help provide an attractive environment”—even though Scott Brown acknowledged that “entertainment will never be the predominant use on Hennepin again.” In that same issue of Design Quarterly, “An Opposing View” of the plan, written by a special committee of the Minneapolis Arts Commission, took issue with the trees’ “overwhelming scale.” More significantly, the committee suggested that this single, showy design element would bear too much “responsibility for attracting the essence of an entertainment district, that is the business activities.”
Those reflector trees never did debut, and six years later Hennepin’s Block E was finally razed. Even sitting as a parking lot for more than 10 years, it remained a flashpoint for the persistent woes along the avenue. The mall that eventually filled the space and is now left for dead is but one reason why the “Hennepin facelift a tough problem” headline still applies today.
The jury’s still out on the fresh set of prescriptions for a Hennepin Cultural District, as envisioned by the Plan-It Hennepin initiative. But compared with the host of plans, proposals, and ideas from past decades, a couple factors could make a considerable difference going forward. One is that the District so far avoids any expensive investment in grand visual gestures like reflector trees. Another is the role of artists. In 1982, they were reduced to forming a “special committee” so they could object to a plan they had no role and no stake in. Plan-It Hennepin has included artists in the planning process from the start, thanks partly to a “Creative Placemaking” grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.
Come to think of it, maybe the arts could play a role in creating a fresh, 21st-century female archetype for a transformed Hennepin—an update on its longstanding, troubled, lady-of-the-evening image. Proposals, anyone?
Established in 1994, the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize is given annually to “a man or woman who has made an outstanding contribution to the beauty of the world and to mankind’s enjoyment and understanding of life.” Named after the silent film actresses, who left most of their estates to the arts, the $300,000 Gish […]
Established in 1994, the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize is given annually to “a man or woman who has made an outstanding contribution to the beauty of the world and to mankind’s enjoyment and understanding of life.” Named after the silent film actresses, who left most of their estates to the arts, the $300,000 Gish Prize is one of the largest in the arts and is meant to honor groundbreaking figures in all disciplines.
Receiving it in its 18th year, Brown joins a formidable and eclectic roster of artists — see below — many of whom, like Brown, have had lengthy associations with the Walker. Bill T. Jones, for instance, performed an open rehearsal with his company just last night; and the 10-day festival The Next Stage: Merce Cunningham at the Walker Art Center unfolds starting in late October.
In 2008, the Walker presented an exhibition of Brown’s drawings and other artworks integrating the performing and visual arts, along with several performances of her early work, in Trisha Brown: So That the Audience Does Not Know Whether I Have Stopped Dancing.
Congratulations to Ms. Brown on this latest honor in recognizing her work and its influence. More about the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize here.
Past Recipients of the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize
Frank Gehry, architect, 1994
Ingmar Bergman, film director, 1995
Robert Wilson, artist and director, 1996
Bob Dylan, singer/songwriter, 1997
Isabel Allende, author, 1998
Arthur Miller, author and playwright, 1999
Merce Cunningham, dancer and choreographer, 2000
Jennifer Tipton, lighting director, 2001
Lloyd Richards, theater director, 2002
Bill T. Jones, dancer and choreographer, 2003
Ornette Coleman, jazz innovator, 2004
Peter Sellars, theater, opera and festival director, 2005
Shirin Neshat, film maker, 2006
Laurie Anderson, artist, 2007
Robert Redford, actor, 2008
Pete Seeger, singer/songwriter, 2009
Chinua Achebe, author, 2010
Coming on the heels of two new reviews for Gather (City Pages, Star Tribune), this story was originally published in the September/October issue of Walker magazine; it’s accompanied by a recipe for chef Josh Brown’s raw-and-cooked vegetable salad. Besides the not-inconsiderable task of presiding over Gather by D’Amico, the Walker’s new restaurant that launched in June, chef Josh Brown […]
Coming on the heels of two new reviews for Gather (City Pages, Star Tribune), this story was originally published in the September/October issue of Walker magazine; it’s accompanied by a recipe for chef Josh Brown’s raw-and-cooked vegetable salad.
Besides the not-inconsiderable task of presiding over Gather by D’Amico, the Walker’s new restaurant that launched in June, chef Josh Brown has been tending a new vegetable plot at home—his first of any size since he was a kid in rural Montana. “Watching everything growing has definitely been a source of inspiration for Gather,” he says.
Recently he sat down to talk seasonal food and look toward the summer transition into fall. For Brown, tomatoes are “one last end-of-summer hurrah” that, as he points out, can be had until early October. Rather than fuss with this fruit, he prefers to let its sweetness stand out: “I just eat them with salt, pepper, and olive oil, or I make my wife’s favorite dish: pasta with fresh tomatoes, basil, olive oil, garlic, and parmesan. Of course, it only works with excellent tomatoes.” Leeks, another late-summer favorite that the chef enjoys braising and pairing with swordfish, also become available in late summer. As greens like chard and kale come into their own, he uses a simple preparation he picked up from a fellow cook: “Add salt and a pat of butter to boiling water before blanching your greens—the butter sticks to them and they’re delicious served with chicken or beef.”
Given the locally sourced and seasonal focus of Gather, Brown develops new dishes monthly as certain ingredients reach their peak. But the raw and cooked salad endures on the menu—not just because it’s one of his personal favorites, but because its components change depending on what’s freshest. “As summer ends, we’ll be trading out the beans and asparagus, probably with Brussels sprouts and a root vegetable,” he says.
As these items come into season, Brown turns on the oven. “Parsnips, turnips, kohlrabi, beets, and the like are really good as a hash, diced up small and slowroasted,” he says. Kohlrabi in particular, a lesser-known member of the cabbage family, takes him instantly back to that large garden of his childhood. “It has always stood out in my mind—something about the way it grows, watching my mother and grandmother picking it. Food sparks so many vivid memories for me; it’s one of the reasons I love cooking.”
Josh Brown’s Raw & Cooked Salad with Mustard Vinaigrette
Serves 2. As Brown notes, this salad can change based on what’s in season, so swap out and add in vegetables — the key is freshness.
3 sliced asparagus spears, lightly blanched
3 oz fennel and fennel fronds
2 oz sliced radish
3 oz sliced haricot vert, lightly blanched
1 oz Hong Kong scallion
lemon vinaigrette (see below)
1 oz ricotta salata
6 slices soft boiled egg (see below)
Eggs: Cover eggs in cold water in a saucepan; bring to a boil and turn the heat off. Let stand for 7 minutes, then put eggs into an ice bath.
Lemon vinaigrette (makes extra)
1/2 c. lemon juice
1T lemon zest
1T Dijon mustard
2T minced shallot
1C extra-virgin olive oil
3T chopped basil
Mix lemon, zest,Dijon, and shallot in a bowl; whisk in the olive oil, then add basil and season with salt and pepper.
Plate set up: Salt and pepper the eggs and place in triangles on two plates. Toss all vegetables with vinaigrette and place on the plates; top with ricotta salata.
Thanks to everyone who contributed their chairs and their presence to this observance on Tuesday. It turned out to be a visually striking and heartfelt statement in support of artists around the world who work under oppressive conditions where artistic freedom is compromised, including Ai Weiwei, the Chinese artist who in June was released after […]
Thanks to everyone who contributed their chairs and their presence to this observance on Tuesday.
It turned out to be a visually striking and heartfelt statement in support of artists around the world who work under oppressive conditions where artistic freedom is compromised, including Ai Weiwei, the Chinese artist who in June was released after more than two months of imprisonment. A chair arrived from Ai Weiwei’s studio in Beijing — a stool the artist uses in his office, see below — to join the assembly of seating inspired by one of Ai’s own monumental artworks.
There’s good commentary about the event at the Eyeteeth blog, and at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, another chair from Ai — his Marble Chair sculpture from 2008 — is currently on view at the entrance to its Asian art galleries.
Although authorities released artist Ai Weiwei on June 22, the Walker is moving forward with a planned event on July 12, which would have marked his 100th day of detention. As a message on the Facebook page dedicated to freeing Ai Weiwei puts it, “He may be out of prison, but he is not […]
Although authorities released artist Ai Weiwei on June 22, the Walker is moving forward with a planned event on July 12, which would have marked his 100th day of detention.
As a message on the Facebook page dedicated to freeing Ai Weiwei puts it, “He may be out of prison, but he is not free. We must remember those who lack the most basic human rights and raise our voices in support of freedom.”
The public is invited to take part in the July 12 event, inspired by one of Ai’s works, Fairytale: 1001 Qing Dynasty Wooden Chairs, as a way to acknowledge both Ai and other artists in China and around the world who work under oppressive conditions where artistic freedom is compromised.
Fairytale is a monumental installation made up of the titular antique chairs (see image below) and was first presented at Documenta 12 in Kassel, Germany in 2007, as one part of an even larger project. In Minneapolis, people can bring a chair or chairs of any type to the Walker’s Open Field lawn on July 12. The goal is to amass 1,001 by 6 p.m (see details below).
“We believe that no artistic voice should ever be silenced in any society,” said Walker executive director Olga Viso. “We envision the chairs on the Open Field as a reminder of artists across the world—artists we may not even know—who have been lost and who face repression and censorship every day. Weiwei’s art and his recent detainment have brought this reality into disturbing and important focus.”
Ai was detained April 3 by Chinese police at the Beijing airport while en route to Hong Kong. Though Chinese authorities have alleged that Ai is guilty of tax evasion, many in the international community believe the arrest was the government’s response to his politically-charged work and social activism – just as they believe that his release was brought about, at least in part, by international pressure.
Named in 2011 as one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world, Ai is a sculptor, architect, installation artist, and filmmaker. He is perhaps best known in the U.S. for helping conceive the design of the “Bird’s Nest” stadium for the 2008 Beijing Olympics (he later wrote an op-ed for the Guardian UK titled “Why I’ll stay away from the opening ceremony of the Olympics”). His work has been exhibited in more than a dozen countries; in May, just weeks after his detention, his Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads was installed at New York’s Grand Army Plaza, one of the gateways to Central Park.
PARTICIPATE IN THE EVENT:
Visitors can drop off chairs throughout the day on July 12 and can witness the culmination of the event at 6 p.m., when Viso will make brief remarks. Visitors can collect their chairs between 6:15 and 8 p.m. and unclaimed chairs will be donated to charity. The Walker will offer free gallery admission for the entire day, and galleries will remain open until 6 p.m., an hour past its usual closing time.
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:
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.