Blogs Field Guide Courtney Gerber

I'm the Assistant Director of Education, Tour Programs at the Walker Art Center. When I'm not chatting art with the Walker's tour guides I'm running (generally not away from something), digging in my garden, reading on my deck, writing, or enjoying a gin martini.

Making It: Psychedelic Fish and Energy Efficient Lily Pads in the Walker’s Art Lab

The following conversation fragments, observations, and exclamations were plucked from a workshop led by Walker Art Lab Coordinator Ilene Krug Mojsilov. I was struck by the poetic turns that emerged from participants’ reactions to their and each other’s work. The workshop explored how artists manipulate scale—looking primarily at Frank Gehry’s Standing Glass Fish for inspiration—to encourage […]

The following conversation fragments, observations, and exclamations were plucked from a workshop led by Walker Art Lab Coordinator Ilene Krug Mojsilov. I was struck by the poetic turns that emerged from participants’ reactions to their and each other’s work.

The workshop explored how artists manipulate scale—looking primarily at Frank Gehry’s Standing Glass Fish for inspiration—to encourage a new way of looking at the everyday and one’s physical relationship to the space one inhabits. The images taken inside the Cowles Conservatory were taken by participants as study shots.

 

Lily pad nation gathering sun beams

Transferring energy efficiency

Wind whips up the waves

Shark!

 

Wet sea

Powerful, fresh, and breathless

Martha hides from the fish

The water was cold

 

The fish with scales

Psychedelic

It emanates from an orderly mind

Creation

 

Assessing the fish from all angles

Posing and hiding

Tall guy taller fish

Lilly pad construction

Beautiful scales

One person's vantage point

Talking it through

Engineering a base

 

 

This art lab was part of a program called Living Well, a holistic program for people living with memory loss coordinated by the Amherst H. Wilder Foundation.

 

Viewfinder: Untitled (Last Light) by Felix Gonzalez-Torres

by Bianka Pineda Felix Gonzalez-Torres was once described to me as a giving artist whose art is about love.  When I came across his piece “Untitled” (Last Light) in the Walker collection, I understood how apt this description is.  The object itself is very simple; a set of 24 low-watt bulbs on a string, something […]

by Bianka Pineda

Felix Gonzalez-Torres was once described to me as a giving artist whose art is about love.  When I came across his piece “Untitled” (Last Light) in the Walker collection, I understood how apt this description is.  The object itself is very simple; a set of 24 low-watt bulbs on a string, something you might see at Christmas.  

"Untitled" (Last Light) by Felix Gonzalez-Torres

"Untitled" (Last Light) by Felix Gonzalez-Torres

The association with Christmas lights is not far from the effect it has in the gallery: the soft light warms an otherwise cold and sterile environment.  Currently the string is hung ceiling to floor in a corner that includes a window within the exhibition Absentee Landlord.  The light is at once reflected, offering life to the mute gallery space, and, at the same time, shining out and connecting to the world beyond the museum.  The second part of the title, (Last Light), could be an allusion to the practice of lighting a candle in remembrance of a lost one.  The light may be a reference to the artist’s own mortality (or even the viewer’s) or to Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ life partner, Ross, whom he lost to AIDS and included in his works of art.  Knowing the importance Ross had in the artist’s life, it’s not hard to imagine that the warmth of the lights is imbued with Gonzalez-Torres’ unrelenting love.

You can find another work by Gonzalez-Torres currently on view at the Walker in the exhibition This Will Have Been: Art, Love & Politics in the 1980s. The piece is called “Untitled” (Perfect Lovers). You can see an image of it on the MCA Chicago’s website.

About the author: Bianka Pineda is a Walker Art Center tour guide.

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Viewfinder posts are your opportunity to “show & tell” about the everyday arts happenings, interesting sights and sounds made or as seen by Minnesota artists, because art is where you find it. Submit your own informal, first-person responses to the art around you to katie(at)mnartists.org, and we may well publish your piece here on the blog. (Guidelines: 300 words or less, not about your own event/work, and please include an image, media, video, or audio file, and one sentence about yourself.)

Thinking Inside the Box: Twin Cities Art Museum Guide Collaborative Symposium

by Misa Chappell   Tour Guides love to talk, especially to one another. Sadly, we rarely have the opportunity. And so once every two to three years we eagerly convene for a good dose of shoptalk at the Twin Cities Art Museum Guide Symposium. This year felt especially momentous given the changing landscape of cultural […]

by Misa Chappell
 

Tour Guides love to talk, especially to one another. Sadly, we rarely have the opportunity. And so once every two to three years we eagerly convene for a good dose of shoptalk at the Twin Cities Art Museum Guide Symposium. This year felt especially momentous given the changing landscape of cultural institutions and the evolving role of museum education (evidenced by the recent New York Times article, “From Show and Look to Show and Teach,” in which our very own Director of Education and Curator of Public Practice Sarah Schultz was quoted). We had a lot to discuss.

The symposium began with a galvanizing keynote speech by Kelly McKinley, Director of Education Programming at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto. Titled “Crafting Relationships One Conversation at a Time,” McKinley addressed the particular challenges that museum education faces today, and outlined new strategies to connect with our public. What can we do with what we already have? What can we make better?

We are all familiar with the concept of “experiential learning” at the Walker – it’s a cornerstone of the art center’s mission. Now it is the driving focus for most museums. Why? Because museums face more competition for an audience than ever. There are still the usual crowd-pilfering suspects—sports, movies, shopping malls—but McKinley pointed out that we also have to contend with the lure of the couch. With the mind-boggling array of technologies available to the average consumer, art is accessible with just one click, so what is the point of leaving the house only to deal with parking, admission fees and tired feet? With the Google Art Project alone, a person can peruse the collections of over 155 institutions in their pajamas. Clearly, museums need to come up with more compelling reasons to get people off the couch!
Museum educators must face the fact that new technologies will continue to develop, offering people information however and whenever they want it. The authority of a museum is no longer paramount, and a passive audience is becoming extinct. People want to customize their experience at a high level, make their own meaning and craft their own significance. They no longer want to simply learn, they want to participate. Even the word education sounds suspiciously “school-y.” The new contextual model of learning is personal, physical, and socio-cultural. Its goal is to facilitate connections between people and art. In order to continue to build relationships, increase participation, and grow our audience, museum practitioners must look into the assets that we already have: our people.

Drawing Club on Walker's Open Field. Open Field transforms the Walker Art Center’s big, green yard into a cultural commons. The space is designed in the spirit of the “gift economy,” to explore what happens when people get together to share and exchange skills and interests, to create something new, or delve into the unknown.

With those provocative ideas planted in our minds, the tour guides settled into a seriously stimulating afternoon. It was hard to choose which breakout sessions to attend with the enticing array of titles such as “Evidence of Impact: What does visitor research tell us?,” “iPads on Tour,” “Complexities of Touring: addressing cultural misconceptions and intrusive questions,” and “Engaging Resistant Visitors: How Can We Draw Mr. X into the Tour?” But no matter: every discussion was thought provoking, even the ones in the hallway on the way to the bathroom!  One particularly rich session was “Evidence of Impact: What Does Visitor Research Tell Us” led by the Walker’s Curt Lund. Participants took turns articulating their concept of what it means to learn within a tour context. A few of the answers included “creating an experience,” “engaging in conversation,” “inspiring a sense of wonder.” I was especially impressed by how visitor research can define the big ideas that can shape our practice. Lund left us with a short but comprehensive list of online resources about learning in museums. I can’t wait to start reading more.

Getting children and adults alike to talk dance and collaboration in Dance Works I: Merce Cunningham/Robert Rauschenberg

Here are some of the most salient threads of the day:

Customization and personalization: The idea of museum authority has been displaced. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing—it opens new venues for dialogue. Tour customization occurs on both the analog level in the form of special groups, multisensory tours, and motivation types and on the technological level by adding iPads, iPhones, user-generated content, Facebook and Twitter to our arsenal.

Semantics: Recently the Minneapolis Institute of Arts changed the name of the Department of Education to the Department of Learning. This simple adjustment indicates a shift in focus from the internal to the external. Calling the audience guests or facilitators instead of visitors is more inclusive.  Many museums have done away with the somewhat archaic word docent in favor of the user-friendly tour guide. We might also be known as facilitators, i.e., catalysts for an experience of your own making. 

 
Accessibility: The advent of multisensory tours for visually or hearing impaired and those with memory loss/dementia indicates a new sense of altruism in museum learning. This kind of tour puts the tour guide in a similar position as their audience as a fellow-explorer in search of a mutual experience. By way of illustration, McKinley cited a tour for the visually impaired in which the tour guide passed around a piece of felt to convey the bleeding colors of a Mark Rothko painting.

Participants interact with Sherrie Levine's La Fortune (after Man Ray: 3)

Community Outreach: Museums should be good neighbors and fulfill their civic duty. According to McKinley, “your neighbors need to think you’re a great museum, otherwise it doesn’t even matter if you’re a world class museum!” The Walker tour guides in the crowd exchanged glances: we know that we could do better in this regard. Initiatives such as free museum passes to new citizens, more free admission days, increased youth group access and partnerships with the VA hospital are all interesting possibilities.  

New Kinds of Tours: The museum-going audience might not have time or inclination for a full-length tour. Different kinds of tours can engage unlikely people, including socially oriented versions like our evening Think and a Drink events or tour guides on call. Linking museum departments with a tour is another way to capture a specific audience, something the Walker has explored, for example, with pre-performance gallery tours. McKinley introduced the idea that audience motivation was more important than tour content, personal interest, or guide knowledge. Tours aimed at different motivational identities, such as the explorer, art aficionado, recharger or reluctant companion were much more likely to hit a bulls-eye.

A Walker Art Center Teen Art Council member engages visitors in a gallery conversation

New Kinds of Tour Guide: Tour guides no longer need to be art history experts. Instead there is a move to recruit guides who reflect the community’s diversity, as well specialist guides, graduate students, and part-timers. Again, the focus is no longer on content. We have transitioned from information imparter to conversation/experience facilitator. Information feeds rather than drives the tour experience.

So how do Tour Guides move forward? I intend to carry on McKinley’s uplifting claim that it all comes down to the people and the art and forging a connection between the two. Our opportunity lies in our people, and the symposium proved we are a mighty group indeed. Let’s keep the dialog going.

 

 

 

Viewfinder: Experiencing Cunningham Through Your Own Body

by Susan Rotilie Last Wednesday evening a group of 18 people joined tour guide Lucy Yogerst and me for a tour of Dance Works I: Merce Cunningham/Robert Rauschenberg. It was a tag-team tour in which Lucy and I shared our enthusiasm for the installation of costumes, sets, videos, and artifacts that are part of Walker’s recent acquisition […]

by Susan Rotilie

Last Wednesday evening a group of 18 people joined tour guide Lucy Yogerst and me for a tour of Dance Works I: Merce Cunningham/Robert Rauschenberg. It was a tag-team tour in which Lucy and I shared our enthusiasm for the installation of costumes, sets, videos, and artifacts that are part of Walker’s recent acquisition of the Cunningham Dance Company archives. We told stories and viewed objects related to the long and rich collaboration between the choreographer Cunningham and artist Rauschenberg.

In the end, however, it was clear that the typical gallery experience of looking at displays and discussing them lacked the vitality and life the objects had originally embodied when part of a performance. So, what did we do? We took a risk that is not usually part of our tours.

Suggestions for Movement (p2)

Inspired by a gallery guide written by associate director of education, Susy Bielak and research fellow, Abigail Sebaly, along with a tour plan for high school students developed by tour guide Marvel Gregoire, we invited our group to channel Cunningham, Rauschenberg, and their third collaborator, composer John Cage, to create a performance piece together. We focused on a response to Rauschenberg’s’ set piece Tantric Geography for the 1977 dance Travelogue. The work is a linear sculptural composition incorporating Duchampian bicycle wheels with chairs facing different directions installed diagonally across the gallery space. Five volunteers stepped up and they were asked to isolate a small gesture inspired by a word such as curve, tilt, twist, or arch (or not). They moved along the set piece, pausing, turning the direction of each chair, and repeating their gesture. The rest of the group, inspired by John Cage, provided a sound scape of voice- and body-generated “music” to accompany the dance.

We may not have reached the level of art or dance of the artists inspiring us, and our only audience was the gallery monitor Ann Norberg, but the experience was kind of magic and our tour ended with applause, laughter, and camaraderie.

Maybe you think sound making and movement in the gallery is reserved for school kids, or you feel unprepared to break out of your own inhibitions; however, in the case of the Dance Works exhibitions, alternative ways of experiencing the galleries seem to be called for. Moving beyond simply looking and talking about objects to a place where the art is experienced through our bodies and spirit leads to a new level of engagement with these artifacts, and an in-your-bones understanding of the rich collaboration from which they were created. And you don’t have to be a dancer or part of a guided tour to have this experience. The gallery cards with suggestions for moving through the space in Dance Works I are free for the taking right inside the entrance to the Medtronic Gallery. Come on….get moving!

Viewfinder posts are your opportunity to “show & tell” about the everyday arts happenings, interesting sights and sounds made or as seen by Minnesota artists, because art is where you find it. Submit your own informal, first-person responses to the art around you to katie(at)mnartists.org, and we may well publish your piece here on the blog. (Guidelines: 300 words or less, not about your own event/work, and please include an image, media, video, or audio file, and one sentence about yourself.)

Getting to Know the Walker’s John Greenwald

    If you’re a frequent Walker visitor you’ve maybe met John Greenwald. He’s one of our guards and is often poised to greet people as they enter the art center by the Garden Café, or encourage them as they breathlessly but enthusiastically reach the final brick steps that carry one from the 1971 building to the 2005  expansion. When […]

 

 

Courtesy of Courage Center

If you’re a frequent Walker visitor you’ve maybe met John Greenwald. He’s one of our guards and is often poised to greet people as they enter the art center by the Garden Café, or encourage them as they breathlessly but enthusiastically reach the final brick steps that carry one from the 1971 building to the 2005  expansion. When he’s not present in one of the Walker’s public spaces he’s in the galleries to, as he says, “protect the art from overly enthusiastic viewers.” John’s kind and always game for humor.

Something that I learned recently about my colleague is that he’s had a 24-year relationship with Courage Centerparticipating in the organization’s Transitional Rehabilitation Program and Vocational Services. It was Courage Center that helped link John to Common Sense Building Services, the company that provides the Walker with its great team of guards. Courage Center has also been a great partner to the Walker’s Education and Community Programs department over the years, assessing the work we do and offering suggestions for making it evermore inclusive.

To learn more about John and what lead him to the Walker, take a look at Our Stories: John Greenwald, a recent profile in  Courage Center’s May newsletter. And the next time you’re at the Walker seek out John and chat him up about an artwork you encounter during your visit.

 

The FlatPak Reopens on May 5

On Saturday, May 5 the FlatPak House will begin hosting public hours. The space will be available as an orientation center for the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, Walker Art Center, and Open Field on Saturdays from 10am-4pm and Sundays from 12pm-4pm. Come and chat with a Walker staff member or simply put your feet up, read a […]

On Saturday, May 5 the FlatPak House will begin hosting public hours. The space will be available as an orientation center for the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, Walker Art Center, and Open Field on Saturdays from 10am-4pm and Sundays from 12pm-4pm. Come and chat with a Walker staff member or simply put your feet up, read a book, or take a cat nap (dreaming about art and prefab architecture of course). Public hours will continue through September. You may see the space animated at different moments throughout the summer, as it’s a popular spot for Open Field and Free First Saturday programming.

FlatPak (interior)

A cozy, green couch for lounging in the FlatPak on those hotter days.

 

The FlatPak House is located near the northwest corner of the Cowles Conservatory.

 

Viewfinder: Walkaround Time by Terrence Williams

These seven wonderful soft plastic boxes are stage furniture Jasper Johns made for a dance performed by the Merce Cunningham Dance Company in l968.  The dance, choreographed by Cunningham, was called Walkaround Time. Music for the performance was written by John Cage.  The whole project was an homage to Marcel Duchamp –a friend of the three artist collaborators. The […]

Walkaround Time

Walkaround Time, 1968, Jasper Johns, Image courtesy Walker Art Center/Right Art © Jasper Johns/VAGA, New York, NY

These seven wonderful soft plastic boxes are stage furniture Jasper Johns made for a dance performed by the Merce Cunningham Dance Company in l968.  The dance, choreographed by Cunningham, was called Walkaround Time. Music for the performance was written by John Cage.  The whole project was an homage to Marcel Duchamp –a friend of the three artist collaborators.

The idea for the dance emerged from a conversation between Cunningham and Johns on an evening when the two were guests at Duchamps’ home.  Johns suggested that Cunningham could construct a dance using images that were based on parts of “The Large Glass” that would be disposed in various ways around the stage.  They asked Duchamp if he would go along with such a translation of his painting.  When Johns said that he would do the work, Duchamp agreed.  Duchamp asked only that at some point in the dance the furniture should be seen with its parts related in the same way as in the original work.  Johns supervised the manufacture of the pieces, painting images from “The Large Glass” onto these soft plastic boxes, and changing the dimensions to make them capable of being free-standing and moveable on the stage.

The dance title, Walkaround Time, derives from the term computer scientists coined for the time it took their huge early computers to boot up, time they could use for other work.  A linkage between Duchamp’s “Large Glass” and the modern computer?  What do you think?

 

About the Author: Terrence Williams is a writer and honorary Walker Tour Guide. He resides in St. Paul, MN and Santa Monica, CA.

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Viewfinder posts are your opportunity to “show & tell” about the everyday arts happenings, interesting sights and sounds made or as seen by Minnesota artists, because art is where you find it.  Submit your own informal, first-person responses to the art around you to katie(at)mnartists.org, and we may well publish your piece here on the blog. (Guidelines: 300 words or less, not about your own event/work, and please include an image, media, video, or audio file, and one sentence about yourself.)

A New Art on Call Tour That Focuses on Deep Description

Are you familiar with the Walker’s Art on Call program? It’s a way to access information about works of art—piecing together a personalized audio tour—through your mobile device, home phone, or computer.  The content varies, but frequently the stops feature the voices of artists and exhibition curators telling stories of objects or unpacking ideas. This […]

Are you familiar with the Walker’s Art on Call program? It’s a way to access information about works of art—piecing together a personalized audio tour—through your mobile device, home phone, or computer.  The content varies, but frequently the stops feature the voices of artists and exhibition curators telling stories of objects or unpacking ideas. This summer we introduced an alternative stop: visual descriptions of select artworks in the exhibition Midnight Party and the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. Visual description uses non-visual language to convey the visual world and offers an intense study of a work of art. The key physical components of an object are boiled down including how it exists in space, its surroundings. Take the opening lines from the visual description for Spoonbridge and Cherry:

“Enormous in scale, this fountain-sculpture offers a utensil and piece of fruit fit for a giant. Weighing around 7,000 pounds and stretching almost 30 feet into the air, Spoonbridge and Cherry is situated in the center of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. The spoon spans a small pond ringed with native prairie grasses. During pleasant weather the grasses sway gently in the breeze, giving a sense of movement to the overall installation.”

The analysis isn’t targeting meaning or art history, but rather it’s a concentrated look at the anatomy of the object. Take a listen to the entire description: Visual description for Spoonbridge and Cherry.

Visual description is a particularly good access point to the visual arts for people who are blind. In fact, the visual description Art on Call stops originated from work the Walker was doing around its Open Door Accessibility Initiatives. Members from the Walker’s access advisory group along with education and curatorial staff selected objects to include in the project and tested the scripts penned by Lara Roy, a longtime museum educator and art historian with experience in the accessibility field.  Lara, now Director of Continuing Studies at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, worked at the Walker several years back, so her familiarity with the collection runs deep. Once our advisors signed off on the scripts and they were edited by our in-house editors it was time to bring them to life.

The voice for the stops is local actor, Stacia Rice. Stacia is a long-time access advocate, founder of Torch Theater, and regularly graces the Guthrie’s stage(s). She’s also hysterically funny and possesses a truly collaborative spirit. Tom Hambleton, sound magician at Undertone, produced the stops. The shots you see below show Stacia and Tom at work in Undertone’s Washington Avenue studios.

Stacia in mid-description

Stacia taking a break for a smile

Tom at the controls

Eager to listen to the end result, aren’t you! Here’s how…

Dial 612.374.8200 to enter the Art on Call program and then dial one or more of the following codes to access the content attached to them:

Introductory Stops

1465    Introduction to Open Door Accessibility Initiatives at the Walker

1466 Introduction to Visual Description

1467    General Introduction to the Walker Art Center

Midnight Party

1490    Introduction to the exhibition

1491    Francis Bacon, Head in Grey

1492    Matthew Barney, DRAWING RESTRAINT 7

1493    Frank Gaard, Untitled

1494    Robert Gober, Untitled Door and Door Frame

1495    Yayoi Kusama, Oven-Pan

1496    Kiki Smith, Kitchen

1497    Jana Sterbak, Vanitas: Flesh Dress for an Albino Anorectic

1498    Angela Strassheim, Evidence No. 6

Minneapolis Sculpture Garden

1051       Mark di Suvero, Arikidea

1057       Barry Flanagan, Hare on Bell on Portland Stone Piers

1041       Frank Gehry, Standing Glass Fish

1042       Dan Graham, Two-way Mirror Punched Steel Hedge Labyrinth

1049       Jenny Holzer, Selections from The Living Series

1489       Sol LeWitt, X with Columns

1036       Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, Spoonbridge and Cherry

1045       George Segal, Walking Man

You can also go to newmedia.walkerart.org/aoc/index.wac and type in the work’s title in the search box to bring up the above stops and then listen.

While the initial intention was to offer this tour as a resource for our visitors who are blind or have low vision we believe this approach to viewing the art will appeal to all visitors. Tell us what you think. Hopefully, we’ll be able to continue adding to our visual description library.

 

 

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