Blogs Centerpoints Olga Viso

Olga Viso is director of the Walker Art Center.

Harriet Spencer: A Tribute

Harriet Spencer, who played a hugely important role in the growth and success of the Walker Art Center over many decades, passed away last month. An amazing woman and incredible friend of the Walker, Harriet joined the Board of Trustees in 1976 and became an Honorary Trustee in 2000. During the past 36 years, she frequently […]

Harriet Spencer at the Walker in 1985, with Director Emeritus Martin Friedman on her left and art dealer Leo Castelli, Honorary Trustee Judy Dayton, and Mickey Friedman on her right.

Harriet Spencer at the Walker in 1985, with Director Emeritus Martin Friedman on her left and art dealer Leo Castelli, Honorary Trustee Judy Dayton, and Mickey Friedman on her right.

Harriet Spencer, who played a hugely important role in the growth and success of the Walker Art Center over many decades, passed away last month. An amazing woman and incredible friend of the Walker, Harriet joined the Board of Trustees in 1976 and became an Honorary Trustee in 2000. During the past 36 years, she frequently served in a leadership capacity on the Board, also chairing numerous committees during her long tenure.  In addition, she served on the Capital Campaign Advisory Committee for the $100 million drive to expand the Walker seven years ago.

Together with her husband Ed, who passed away in March 2012, Harriet was exceedingly generous to this institution. Two of their major gifts supported the capital campaigns to create the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden in 1988 and to build the 2005 expansion.  Their generosity included contributions supporting Walker exhibitions, including Picasso and American Art, Dirt On Delight: Impulses That Form Clay, Sol LeWitt:  2D+3D, and Graphic Design: Now in Production; as well as donations and/or contributions for the acquisition of 13 works of art for the Walker Collection, among them Deborah Butterfield’s Woodrow, the beloved sculpture of a horse located in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. We are especially touched that Harriet included the Walker in her estate plans, ensuring that the institution would receive additional works of art from her collection. An extraordinary couple who were married for 62 years, the Spencers were also great travelers, whose many Walker trips included such destinations as Los Angeles, Havana, Paris, and Roden Crater in Arizona.

Harriet’s contribution to the vitality of this institution is truly astonishing. She was a close friend and confidante to my predecessors Martin Friedman and Kathy Halbreich, who, like myself, greatly benefited from her wisdom, wit, and steadfast support during their tenures here. I was also inspired by her tremendous spunk and verve for life and living. She and Ed not only modeled for me the merits of leading a joyous life, but also maintaining a deep commitment to curiosity and learning as one grows older. They were both incredibly open and generous people, engaged with the Walker and its programs until the very end. I will miss seeing Harriet at her frequent lunches at Gather, which became her custom following Ed’s passing. She is also deeply missed by many other friends at the Walker and in Minnesota, as well as in Arizona and Wyoming—places where she also had homes and made a significant difference in the quality of life.

 

 

John Cowles, Jr.: An Appreciation

Sage and John Cowles with Olga Viso at a 2010 benefit for the Cunningham Dance Foundation The Walker, along with the entire cultural community in Minnesota, lost a great friend and an unparalleled champion with the passing of John Cowles, Jr. last Saturday. While I admired his steadfast commitment to the arts, John was also […]


Sage and John Cowles with Olga Viso at a 2010 benefit for the Cunningham Dance Foundation

The Walker, along with the entire cultural community in Minnesota, lost a great friend and an unparalleled champion with the passing of John Cowles, Jr. last Saturday. While I admired his steadfast commitment to the arts, John was also one of the most elegant and inspiring individuals I have had the pleasure of knowing. I was drawn to his probing and inquisitive mind, his generous spirit and intellect, and learned much from his experience and savvy as a passionate and vital community leader. He was never afraid to take risks, and encouraged risk-taking and freethinking in others—a characteristic embodied by his performance in Bill T. Jones’ Last Supper at Uncle Tom’s Cabin: The Promised Land in 1990.

John’s adventurous spirit carried over to his role as a longtime Walker Trustee, who with his wife, Sage, made the Cowles Conservatory possible in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. They were also longtime members of the Patrons’ Circle and founding members of the Walker Producers’ Council, which supports our performing arts program. Their gifts to the Walker included support for the 1998 Art Performs Life exhibition, the 2005 expansion to our building, and numerous performances, including the once-in-a-lifetime production of Merce Cunningham and John Cage’s monumental Ocean in 2008.

As a civic leader whose support for the Walker extends back to the early 1970s, John offered counsel and perspective that were of enormous value to me. We will miss him deeply at the Walker, where he and Sage have left many indelible marks that will inspire us for decades. We extend heartfelt condolences to Sage, their children, Jay, Fuller, Tessa, and Jane; his brother Russell and sister Sarah; and extended family and friends.

Updates on the petition to release Ai Weiwei

Updates to the April 12 post [see below]: – Almost a month after he was detained, more than 127,000 petition signatures have been gathered. Click here to add yours. – Ai’s whereabouts remain unknown, but what is certain is that due process under Chinese law has been denied him. – Watch a 3-minute conversation with the artist on […]

Updates to the April 12 post [see below]:

- Almost a month after he was detained, more than 127,000 petition signatures have been gathered. Click here to add yours.

- Ai’s whereabouts remain unknown, but what is certain is that due process under Chinese law has been denied him.

- Watch a 3-minute conversation with the artist on British Tate museums’ website.

- Read Salman Rushdie’s editorial in the New York Times.

 = = = = =

original post, published 11:17 am 2011-04-12

On Sunday, April 3, acclaimed Chinese artist Ai Weiwei was detained by police in Beijing as he was boarding a flight to Hong Kong. His current whereabouts are unknown. The arbitrary arrest of artists and intellectuals by any government is very troubling, and this news has struck a deep chord with me and with the art community worldwide.

Weiwei is one of the world’s leading contemporary artists. He is widely regarded for his visionary conceptual work, which often examines structures of power and morality. Weiwei’s work has been exhibited across the world, and recently ArtReview hailed him as one of the “100 Most Powerful Figures in Contemporary Art.”

The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation has launched a cooperative effort to petition Chinese authorities for Ai Weiwei’s release. The petition was jointly issued by a coalition of curators and directors from museums and organizations worldwide, including the Association of Art Museum Directors, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Tate, the Museum of Modern Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Walker, along with several others.

The petition has already generated tremendous momentum, but we need your participation. I invite you to take a moment to lend your support to this important effort by signing the petition.

Additional links:
New York Times blog post, April 8, 2011
Olga Viso comments in online journal Eyeteeth, April 7, 2011

A Petition for the Release of Ai Weiwei

 Updates: – Almost a month after he was detained, more than 127,000 petition signatures have been gathered. Click here to add yours. – Ai’s whereabouts remain unknown, but what is certain is that due process under Chinese law has been denied him. – A 3-minute conversation with the artist on British Tate museums’ website. – Salman Rushdie’s editorial in […]

 Updates:

- Almost a month after he was detained, more than 127,000 petition signatures have been gathered. Click here to add yours.

- Ai’s whereabouts remain unknown, but what is certain is that due process under Chinese law has been denied him.

- A 3-minute conversation with the artist on British Tate museums’ website.

- Salman Rushdie’s editorial in the New York Times.

 = = = = =

original post, published 11:17 am 2011-04-12

On Sunday, April 3, acclaimed Chinese artist Ai Weiwei was detained by police in Beijing as he was boarding a flight to Hong Kong. His current whereabouts are unknown. The arbitrary arrest of artists and intellectuals by any government is very troubling, and this news has struck a deep chord with me and with the art community worldwide.

Weiwei is one of the world’s leading contemporary artists. He is widely regarded for his visionary conceptual work, which often examines structures of power and morality. Weiwei’s work has been exhibited across the world, and recently ArtReview hailed him as one of the “100 Most Powerful Figures in Contemporary Art.”

The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation has launched a cooperative effort to petition Chinese authorities for Ai Weiwei’s release. The petition was jointly issued by a coalition of curators and directors from museums and organizations worldwide, including the Association of Art Museum Directors, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Tate, the Museum of Modern Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Walker, along with several others.

The petition has already generated tremendous momentum, but we need your participation. I invite you to take a moment to lend your support to this important effort by signing the petition.

Additional links:
New York Times blog post, April 8, 2011
Olga Viso comments in online journal Eyeteeth, April 7, 2011

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.