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Strong, but not too strong, opening.

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Untitled (Andromeda) spin-painting. Alfons Schilling.

*Levi Weinhagen is serving as Artist in Residence for Education and Community Programs from September 2014 through February 2015*

The Walker Art Center was built on an ancient burial ground. Alright, as far as I know, that’s not true. But I bet that opening sentence would make you want to keep reading that story.

First sentences to stories can be perilous. Whether it’s meant to be read or being written for a live performance, the first sentence has the job of being interesting enough to pull the audience in but not so exciting as to over-promise or set-up the rest of the story for disappointment. As a writer and performer of comedy I know that if the first thing I say on stage is the funniest thing said in the entire performance the audience will walk away disappointed or at the very least underwhelmed by the overall experience. And if you see a popular band you’ll notice they will never play their biggest hit to open the show.

The same challenge exists for curators when staging a museum exhibition.

On October 16th, the Walker’s new “Art at the Center: 75 Years of Walker Collections” opened. In celebration of the Walker’s 75 years of public institution-hood, the new exhibit covers the past 75 years of acquisitions and exhibitions. This exhibition is laid out over three galleries with multiple entry points. There’s very little control over where a visitor first engages with the exhibition or how they consume the work.

At one of the entry points to “Art at the Center,” visitors are confronted by Alfons Schilling’s Untitled (Andromeda) spin-painting. Schilling’s piece spins at a rate of 3 revolutions per second which not only impacts how a visitor connects with the work but also sets a tone for experiencing the exhibit overall. The work actually moves, which immediately disrupts expectations of art hanging on a wall in a gallery. But it’s neutral in black and white colors and it manages to be fairly non-aggressive for a large spinning piece of art. The piece works to pull a visitor into the exhibition without being so overwhelming or even so compelling as to as stop visitors from wanting to move on or draining their energy.

It’s fun to think of how curators pace out an exhibition the same way I would think about putting together a comedy show or how a choreographer would put together a dance. You have to consider how the audience will feel from moment to moment and how each of the various parts can impact one another. And when a curator gets it right, just like in comedy, no one really notices the intentionality behind the staging.

Joke Telling and Fill In The Blanks

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Walker fill in the blanks

*Levi Weinhagen is serving as Artist in Residence for Education and Community Programs from September 2014 through February 2015*

For the October First Free Saturday we put together a fun Fill-in-the-Blanks activity that lets folks create their own unique description of Art Expanded, 1958-1978. You can print your own Fill-in-the-Blank with this pdfWalker Fill In The Blanks – Art Expanded exhibition edition

Here’s how 8 year old Benjamin put together his description of the exhibit.

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We also helped visitors write jokes and invited them to share some of their favorite jokes with us. Below is a video compiling some of those awesome jokes.

More Conscious

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*Levi Weinhagen is serving as Artist in Residence for Education and Community Programs from September 2014 through February 2015*

“Before answering your question I want to be sure that all of us understand what I mean when I say artist. I am not only talking about painters or sculptors, I am talking also about the men who design furniture, automobiles, refrigerators, tableware, and the things we all have around us every day. For all of these artist the Center does a very great deal. Artists must have people who use and appreciate their work. It stands to reason that if we, as a people, are more conscious of what the artist does for us, the artist will have greater support and more economic security. The Center is building among people an interest and appreciation for art. Although the Center also provides 80 jobs for artists and technicians, in the long run, its work of bringing more people to the support of art is more lasting than the paycheck it gives the artist.”
—Daniel Defenbacher, first director of the Walker, radio interview, August 1941

I’ve been digging through the Walker archives recently and, with the help of the amazing Walker archivist Jill Vuchetich, I got my hands on transcripts from correspondences and radio interviews from 1940 and 1941 surrounding the early days of the Walker’s public institution-hood. (One quick side note about archivist Jill Vuchetich: she is lovely and super-knowledgeable. Seriously, I dare you to try and ask her something about the Walker’s history that she can’t answer. End of digression.)

There’s this fascinating thing I’ve noticed while going through random images, texts, and other museum detritus from the past. Half of the things I’m reading or seeing from 50-plus years ago feel very dated and specific to their era, and the other half feel entirely relevant and contemporary. I know things are often cyclical and art is specifically a place where something old is constantly being made new again. I’m not a genius, but I work hard to stay on the right side of total idiot.

But the above quote I pulled feels so close in so many ways to conversations that are surrounding my creative community all the time lately that I can’t quite process my reaction to it. I can’t decide if it’s thrilling to see that 70 years ago significant thinkers in the art world were working to remind the general public that art is so much more than what you typically see in a museum or if it’s disheartening to think that one of the biggest barriers artists have in connecting with their audience, being perceived as human and accessible, hasn’t actually progressed in any significant way.

Luckily, I’ve got a plan. I love working creatively with young people for many reasons; they’re not worried about looking stupid, they’re generally excited to try something new, and they think up awesome and unique ideas constantly. But the main reason is because young people have not yet been told that fart jokes aren’t “Art.”

I think the democratization of art and what people think of as art lives and dies with our children. Any programming I create for young people, any performances I stage for an all-ages audience, any work I make with this audience in mind is in service of highlighting to them that they are constantly making and consuming art in countless forms. It’s not just about making people “more conscious of what art does for us,” but also about making people more conscious of how much art they are doing all the time. The more people who self-identify as makers of art, the more support there will be for art in all its forms. The only way to change people’s relationship to art and artists on a grand scale is to connect with them when they’re young and keep connecting as they make their way through the world.

A vital part of that ongoing connection is pointing out how funny it is when someone slips and falls on a wet floor, and then pointing out how artistic that funny fall can be.

Let’s Make Comedy from Art and Art from Comedy

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Hi, my name’s Levi Weinhagen.

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From now through January 2015 I will be the Artist in Residence for the Walker Art Center’s Education and Community Programs department. This opportunity will give me the chance to combine my work as an all-ages comedy and theater writer, improvisational performer, and public engagement artist and find new and exciting ways to play with people young and old who are coming to the Walker to learn and grow.

There are two core driving forces influencing every move I make with my work. I want to deepen the understanding of and highlight the importance of intergenerational connection. And I’m on a mission to show the world how tremendously powerful comedy is as a tool for connection and understanding of everything from the very simple to the incredibly complex.

There may be nothing I find more frustrating than adults showing condescension towards young people. Children are full of amazing thoughts and ideas and are in constant search for adults who will show them respect and work with them. Sadly, the same kind of treatment is often shown towards the very old in our society. The work I’ve been a part of over the past 15 years has been more and more created for the very old, the very young and everyone in between with the idea that creating truly shared experiences for people of all-ages creates more opportunities for connection between them and fosters the sharing of ideas and builds relationships.

I believe deeply in the uniting power of comedy and am fascinated by what we can learn about cultures, regions and communities by examining the comedy culture of a place. Comedy as an art form and as a tool is often held in low regard, partly because it is so prevalent but partly because when it is used properly no one can see the hard work that has gone into creating something comedic. I want to help people understand how powerful and important various forms of comedy are to their lives.

My deep belief in the power of comedy to connect people and ideas and my drive to break down generational barriers can coalesce in remarkable ways. I want to create opportunities for children to feel like leaders amongst their peers as well as amongst adults. I want to create opportunities for aging people to feel they have a voice that is heard, respected, and valued. And I want to use the tools that are unique to comedy to make these challenges seem less daunting and more enjoyable to confront.

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A few big questions I’m always seeking answers to are: what’s funny about today, what’s funny about art, and what can we learn about ourselves by being honest and vulnerable without being self-serious?

A few specific questions I hope to answer in my time at the Walker include: where’s the best place to do a pratfall in the Walker? Is it easier to write puns or knock-knock jokes inside an art museum? What’s the best part of a guided museum tour led by a five year old? Which color is the funniest? Which color is the least funny?

 

Bernadette Mayer, Vito Acconci, and 0 To 9 Magazine

Bernadette Mayer is one of the most acclaimed poets of the “New York School” of poetry. Her avant garde and exquisitely rendered final pieces are a result of adventurous journal keeping and writing experiments, some of which will be evident September 13 when the Walker and Rain Taxi Review of Books co-present Bernadette Mayer along […]

Bernadette Mayer is one of the most acclaimed poets of the “New York School” of poetry. Her avant garde and exquisitely rendered final pieces are a result of adventurous journal keeping and writing experiments, some of which will be evident September 13 when the Walker and Rain Taxi Review of Books co-present Bernadette Mayer along with poets Jennifer Karmin and Philip Good, an evening of collaborative literary mayhem.

Mayer’s life as a literary artist has been well pronounced in the world of visual art. In the late 1960s, she — along with artist Vito Acconci — edited the groundbreaking mimeographed magazine 0 to 9, which brought together the era’s leading figures of experimental poetry and conceptual art. Featured artists included Sol LeWitt, Adrian Piper, Dan Graham, and Robert Smithson; writers ranged from Ted Berrigan and Clark Coolidge, to Hannah Weiner and Dick Higgins.

Though 0 to 9 is now longer in active print, the majority of the magazine’s archives are now available as a book: 0 to 9: The Complete Magazine (Ugly Duckling Presse). In celebration of the upcoming performance, we’re publishing Mayer’s introduction to that volume, “Rock, Paper, Scissors,” in which she recounts how she and Acconci taught themselves, through 0 to 9, “how to make art that had no boundaries.” (more…)

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