Blogs Untitled (Blog)

Walkaround Time: Photography of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company Collection

  When the stage lights go up in Walkaround Time (1968) the nine dancers are frozen, almost in mid-step as if they had been moving before the performance began. There’s something frozenly mechanical about this opening tableau, the cogs and gears of Marcel Duchamp’s The Large Glass imagery (on which Jasper Johns’ décor was based) […]

James Klosty, Merce Cunningham Dance Company in Walkaround Time, 1968. Collection of the Walker Art Center. © James Klosty

 

When the stage lights go up in Walkaround Time (1968) the nine dancers are frozen, almost in mid-step as if they had been moving before the performance began. There’s something frozenly mechanical about this opening tableau, the cogs and gears of Marcel Duchamp’s The Large Glass imagery (on which Jasper Johns’ décor was based) has, as the dancers themselves, momentarily ground to a halt. This is the moment photographer James Klosty captured in his 1968 photograph of the dance, a print of which is in the Walker’s Merce Cunningham Dance Company Collection.
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2015: The Year According to Black Futures (Kimberly Drew & Jenna Wortham)

Kimberly Drew and Jenna Wortham. Photo: Naima Green To commemorate the year that was, we invited an array of artists, writers, designers, and curators—from abstract painter Jack Whitten to musician C. Spencer Yeh, choreographer Trajal Harrell to designer Na Kim—to share a list of the most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects they encountered in 2015. See […]

2015-headerKimberly Drew and Jenna Wortham. Photo: Naima Green

Kimberly Drew and Jenna Wortham. Photo: Naima Green

To commemorate the year that was, we invited an array of artists, writers, designers, and curators—from abstract painter Jack Whitten to musician C. Spencer Yeh, choreographer Trajal Harrell to designer Na Kim—to share a list of the most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects they encountered in 2015. See the entire series 2015: The Year According to                                 .

What started as a series of casual DMs between Kimberly Drew and Jenna Wortham has evolved within the last year into an ambitious and multifarious research project that launches publicly today under the name Black Futures. The hybrid project will combine short essays and original, commissioned artworks from a variety of sources, all drawn from personal networks that span from storied institutions to Internet artists to online communities. “We’re devoted to the act of preserving and documenting contemporary blackness in the post-digital age,” the state, “and our ultimate plan is to create a time capsule that reflects the deep contours of global blackness at this precise moment in history.” In line with this vision, Black Future’s year-end list offers a nuanced exploration of the year’s undercurrents, from activism and appropriation to gender identity and global interconnectivity.

Kimberly Drew (@museummammy), currently the Associate Online Community Producer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, founded the Tumblr blog Black Contemporary Art, and has delivered lectures and participated in panel discussions at the New Museum of Contemporary Art, the Performa Biennial, Art Basel, the Brooklyn Museum, the Bronx Museum of the Arts, Creative Many (Detroit, MI) and elsewhere.

Jenna Wortham (@jennydeluxe) is a staff writer at the New York Times Magazine, where she previously covered technology and Internet culture. She has also written for The Fader, The Paris Review, The Hairpin, and Vogue. Other side hustles include: Bloop, Heartline on Bel-Air Radio, Everybody Sexts, the Emoji Art Show & Girl Crush Zine.

2015-01

Dawit L. Petros, Salute to Donald's Fascist Demagoguery, 2015 / Courtesy the artist

Dawit L. Petros, Salute to Donald’s Fascist Demagoguery, 2015. Courtesy the artist

$OCIAL PRACTICE

Social activism, community organizing, and subversion have been at the foundation of art movements since the dawn of time. But, in 2015, we have witnessed (and seen some grand, financial support for) a new wave of social practice art-making. Artists like LaToya Ruby Frazier, Mark Bradford, Theaster Gates, Rick Lowe, Maria Gaspar, Titus Kaphar, and Wangechi Mutu have been making major waves place-making and fundraising. With the US election on the horizon and the world basically in shambles, these artists have the audacity to help try and make the world a better place.

2015-02

2 New Black Geographies

Mahdi Ehsaei: The Khaj-e-Ata Beach in Bandar Abbas (capital of Hormozgan) rests against the Persian Gulf. It is a popular place for inhabitants and tourists. Afternoons are filled with children playing on the beach.

New Black Geographies

Afro-Iran is a hyphenated identity that may not be familiar to most, and Mahdi Ehsaei’s gorgeous, Kickstarter-funded photography project provided a textured glimpse into the lives and communities of African Iranians that have settled alongside the Persian Gulf. African slaves were sold to wealthy families in Persia as servants and concubines, and these are their descendants. The diaspora is so vast and varied, and in recent years we’ve been afforded the opportunity to learn about our pasts and move forward deftly into the future. Additionally, that’s why the ongoing body of work by Zanele Muholi, a queer South African photographer who documents the lives of lesbians and gender-nonconforming people in Africa, is also among the most important narratives to gain global recognition this year.

2015-03

Bathroom door at the ICA Philadelphia/Photo: Kimberly Drew

Bathroom door at ICA Philadelphia. Photo: Kimberly Drew

#GenderMuse: Talking Gender in Museums

The gender revolution has arrived (again.) This year, museums globally have been charged with reconsidering how they can be receptive to the myriad identities of their visitors. It’s our hope that unpacking cis-gender-centric museological practices will be one of the art world’s greatest challenges in the 21st century. That said, news flash: gender equity is more than just bathrooms! Yes, gender neutral bathrooms are a step in the right direction, but they surely aren’t the only qualifier for gender-inclusive museum practices. So, get on it y’all!

2015-04

Martine Syms, Notes on Gesture (Still), 2015

Martine Syms, Notes on Gesture (Still), 2015

Notes on Language & Internet Vernacular

Claptalking is a uniquely black gesture, an action one associates primarily with black women and black womanhood. It is a part of our colloquial vernacular as familiar as any other part of the English language. As emoji became popularized in America and social media services like Twitter adapted their software so that the colorful cartoons would show up in tweets, something interesting began to happen. People, including non-black Americans, began using the claphands emoji to emulate claptalking online. Is this linguistic minstrelsy? And is it the Internet’s fault for facilitating it? None of these questions have answers, but Martine Syms’s provocative and brilliant project helps to explore the meaning of language and, by association, the ways online media and the Internet debone culture from its origins, how we process digital representation and cultural migration in a post-Internet era. (Further reading: Manuel Arturo Abreu’s Online Imagined Black English.)

2015-05

Photo: Natalia Mantini/Paper Magazine

Cardi B. Photo: Natalia Mantini, Complex magazine

The Year of the Hoe

2015 was undoubtedly the year of the hoe (and in many ways, “whoremongering.”) Self-proclaimed, self-affirming hoes like Amber Rose and Cardi B forged a new path towards decolonizing black female sexuality. Rose’s How to Be a Bad Bitch is perhaps the first book of it’s candor since Karinne Steffans’ seminal 2005 book, Confessions of a Video Vixen. Rose doesn’t hold a candle to Steffans as a novelist, but the Amber Rose Slut Walk has had an undoubtedly profound impact on the public dialogue around black female subjectivity.

2015-06

A still from Tabita Rezaire’s online work asking how the Internet operates as an imperial force.

A still from Tabita Rezaire’s online work asking how the Internet operates as an imperial force.

#CyberNewSlaves

An enormous and ongoing theme from 2015 was the slow-rising awareness of the Internet as a biased, hegemonic, and very-not-neutral space. It is not the democracy we’ve lulled ourselves into thinking it could be. Plenty of dialogues have emerged about how multibillion-dollar corporations like Uber, AirBnb, Facebook, Spotify, and the like continue to reinforce—not disrupt—age-old hierarchies. But none have been as entertaining as the work of online artist Tabita Rezaire, a French-Guyanese-Danish multimedia artist living in Johannesburg, South Africa. Her work addresses the colonist attitudes of the Web and forces you to address that we might be co-opting a new form of slavery, one that’s too far embedded to extricate ourselves from.

2015-07

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Constance Wu

“I’m not going to ask Lena Dunham to write a story about Asian-American girls; that’s not her experience. But if we want more stories about Asian-Americans, then we have to help foster the creators, the writers, the producers, the directors. I’m trying to read more books that are written by Asian-Americans. It’s important to me that I read these stories.” —Constance Wu

2015-08

Addressing Appropriation

2015 was a year of strange cultural confusion. Identities were borrowed, racial histories co-opted, and the post-Internet etiquette of “sharing first and worrying about crediting later” came to a head with the Fat Jew and a handful of other popular aggregators. But perhaps no one broke it down better than Amandla Sternberg, actress and musician, in a YouTube video talking about the dangers of appropriation and what is lost when we just assume aesthetics, fashion, and ideas are up for grabs.

2015-09

A typical social media post during #BlackOut

A typical social media post during #BlackOut

New Online Narratives

There’s something so revolutionary about black Internet users deciding to simply make themselves known a few days each year by flooding Tumblr with resplendent images of blackness. It’s a way to push back at an overwhelmingly Eurocentric images of beauty media and claim a little space for oneself. Acknowledging the power to create and control independent narratives—to define what it means that the Internet is intended as a democracy—was one of the most important themes for keyboard activism in 2015.

2015-10

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Unconventional Archiving

In January 2015, the New York Times ran an article outlining web initiatives by major art museum including the Whitney Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, and others making images in their collection accessible online. In the piece Ken Johnson asks, “Will global interconnectivity promote homogeneity and less idiosyncrasy?” The clear answer here is: hell no. This year was chock full of intensely creative infrastructures for global interconnectivity. For example, Tulane University’s Bounce Archive, Sonia Boyce’s Black Artist and Modernism, the #CharlestonSyllabus, the digitization of 1.5 million of the Freedmans Bureau’s papers, and many others are inflating the traditional definitions of archives or databases. Global interconnectivity was turnt in 2015 and we can’t wait to see what 2016 has in store.

2015: The Year According to Adam Pendleton

Adam Pendleton   Photo: Peter Ross To commemorate the year that was, we invited an array of artists, writers, designers, and curators—from graphic designer Na Kim to filmmaker Tala Hadid, painter Jack Whitten to the Black Futures project—to share a list of the most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects they encountered in 2015. See the […]

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Adam Pendleton   Photo: Peter Ross

To commemorate the year that was, we invited an array of artists, writers, designers, and curators—from graphic designer Na Kim to filmmaker Tala Hadid, painter Jack Whitten to the Black Futures project—to share a list of the most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects they encountered in 2015. See the entire series 2015: The Year According to                                 .

Adam Pendleton is a New York–based artist. Pendleton’s work was exhibited at the Walker Art Center as a part of Radical Presence: Black Performance in Contemporary Art.




2015-01

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America is Hard to See at the new Whitney

The exhibition featured many great works and meaningful juxtapositions, but it may be the title that grabbed me the most. The language framed a perpetually compelling question: What is America?




2015-02

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The Republican Presidential Primary

We’ve gotten some insight into the question above from a rather raucous and disturbing group of presidential contenders.




2015-03

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Black Lives Matter/Student Protesters

And then something decidedly hopeful.




2015-04

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Above: Kwame Anthony Appiah

George Yancy, New York Times, Opinionator Blog

I’ve turned many times to Yancy’s conversations on race with philosophers throughout the year. The last one was just published on December 10th: bell hooks: Buddhism, the beats and Loving Blackness. Yes.




2015-05

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Judith Butler

Butler was one of the philosophers who spoke with Yancy stating, “One reason the chant “Black Lives Matter” is so important is that it states the obvious but the obvious has not yet been historically realized.” And then she published Notes Toward a Performative Theory of Assembly. Get a copy.




2015-06

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Tangerine (2015), written and directed by Sean S. Baker and Chris Bergoch

Tangerine

What’s next for Mya Taylor and Kitana Kiki Rodriguez? I’ll be there.




2015-07

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Alicia Hall Moran

Heavy Blue, Alicia Hall Moran

My favorite album of the year. Nate Chinen got it right when he wrote in the New York Times: “The singing is deeply assured and pliable in its effect: Ms. Hall Moran has a bell-like tone and impeccable control, but she understands what a bit of ragged intensity can do.”




2015-08

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Material Vodka

My favorite new vodka. Now drinking really does support the artistic process.




2015-09

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Karl Holmqvist at Gavin Brown’s enterprise

I wish I could squeeze one of those big sculptures into my backyard.




2015-10

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James Richards in Cut to Swipe at MoMA

Not Blacking Out, Just Turning the Lights Off was one of the best pieces I saw in a museum all year. This is how I want to look at images.

2015: The Year According to Jack Whitten

Jack Whitten. Photo: Gene Pittman To commemorate the year that was, we invited an array of artists, writers, designers, and curators—from artist-musician C. Spencer Yeh and choreographer Trajal Harrell to filmmaker Tala Hadid and theater director Daniel Fish—to share a list of the most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects they encountered in 2015. See the […]

2015-header

Jack Whitten. Photo by Gene Pittman.

Jack Whitten. Photo: Gene Pittman

To commemorate the year that was, we invited an array of artists, writers, designers, and curators—from artist-musician C. Spencer Yeh and choreographer Trajal Harrell to filmmaker Tala Hadid and theater director Daniel Fish—to share a list of the most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects they encountered in 2015. See the entire series 2015: The Year According to                                 .

2015 was a momentous year for Jack Whitten. A 50-year retrospective of his work was shown in three cities—San Diego, Columbus, and Minneapolis (its Walker presentation closes January 24), and he witnessed the publication of his first book, the catalogue for Jack Whitten: Five Decades of Painting. But, as he notes below, it was noteworthy in so many other ways as well. Here, he recaps the year that was in a list that ranges from hedgehogs to quantum mechanics, Picasso sculptures to an exhibition of art he says contains “every fragment of ancient memory buried deep in my psyche.”

2015-01

LewisN760px A Mentor Remembered

Sunday November 29, 2015: My New York Times is delivered every morning at approximately 7 am. I stepped out of the elevator in my bathrobe, picked up the newspaper, took off the blue plastic protective cover, and saw Norman Lewis on the front page! That made my day. What a joy for me to see one of my mentors on the front page of the New York Times.

2015-02

ex2015jw_ins Visual Arts; Exhibitions; installation views. Jack Whitten - Five Decades of Painting, Target and Friedman Galleries, September 13, 2015 - January 24, 2016. Organized by the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego.
Curator: Kathryn Kanjo, Chief Curator, Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego; Walker coordinating curator: Eric Crosby, Associate Curator, Visual Arts.

A Career Chronicled

The opening of my 50-year retrospective at the Walker Art Center and the publishing of my first book: Jack Whitten: Five Decades of Painting. Perseverance, hard work and dedication is starting to pay off, I’m still alive and working at age 76. Not bad, eh?

2015-03

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Atopolis at Mons

My participation in Atopolis, an exhibition honoring the ideas of Édouard Glissant in Mons, Belgium, was a beautiful experience. I knew Glissant, and his books have been helpful to me. I especially liked Lawrence Weiner’s installation mounted on the front of the gallery: “We are ships at sea, not ducks on a pond.” Somehow, this summed up the whole show in terms of the significance of place.

2015-04

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Picasso at MoMA

Clem Greenberg was asked what did he think of Jean-Michel Basquiat? Clem sardonically answered, “No one can have that much freedom.” Viewing the Picasso Sculpture show at MoMA, my reaction was how is it possible for anyone to have that much freedom? The man did whatever he wanted with totally unabashed freedom. He was a master! Personally, this show came at the right time for me and sent me a powerful message: Just Do It!

2015-05

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Melvin Edwards at the Nasher

Mel Edwards’ retrospective at the Nasher Sculpture Center was the best installation of his work ever. Mel’s control of molten steel in binding diverse elements taken from an infinite variety of sources directed at a specific symbol reveals the hand of a master. This was one of the best shows of the year.

2015-06

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Thanksgiving

Family Thanksgiving dinner at cousin Tom Tryforos’ home was especially celebratory this year. We had several bottles of Brunello di Montalcino from different vintages and different producers. All were superb! Turkey has never tasted better.

2015-07

Quantum Moment_978-0-393-06792-7 (1)The Quantum Moment

Science is one of my main sources of inspiration it triggers my imagination. Our age is defined by science and technology and I believe that for art to qualify as significant form it must signify the age in which it is made. Most of my reading is philosophy and science, and The Quantum Moment: How Planck, Bohr, Einstein, and Heisenberg Taught Us to Love Uncertainty by Robert P. Crease and Alfred Scharff Goldhaber opened up my mind tremendously and gave me another level of consciousness.

2015-08

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Hedgehog Visitation

My woodcarving studio is shaded by a large fig tree, and in August, when the figs are ripe, they attract a large variety of birds and animals that gorge themselves senselessly. My memory of this hedgehog is especially potent, he would eat so many figs that his stomach was extended like a balloon! It doesn’t get any cuter than this.

 

2015-09

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Trump Exposed

I thought that Sarah Palin was the ultimate political comic book character until Donald Trump entered the scene. How much worse can it get? The good thing is that Donald Trump and people like him expose the loophole in our Capitalist Democracy. Freedom of speech works both ways; everything is possible in America.

2015-10

PJ-CD468_kongo_G_20150921173550Kongo at the Met

The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s exhibition Kongo: Power and Majesty sums up the season for me. These works contain every fragment of ancient memory buried deep in my psyche. I identify so much to the Nkiski. Without a doubt, they are a major influence in my thinking about art.

 

In the Studio with Lee Kit

On May 12, 2016 the Walker Art Center will open the first solo museum exhibition in the US by Lee Kit, a Hong Kong artist based in Taipei. Lee (b. 1978) creates subtle object-based installations that are fashioned from quotidian forms/materials (soap, towels, cardboard boxes, plastic containers, and other domestic wares and products associated with […]

leekit4On May 12, 2016 the Walker Art Center will open the first solo museum exhibition in the US by Lee Kit, a Hong Kong artist based in Taipei. Lee (b. 1978) creates subtle object-based installations that are fashioned from quotidian forms/materials (soap, towels, cardboard boxes, plastic containers, and other domestic wares and products associated with personal hygiene) that he transforms through subtle gestures of painting, drawing, video, as well as placement. Lee frequently imparts political commentary in his work. His repetitive use of foreign products and English words makes reference to the presence of market capitalism and Hong Kong’s sociopolitical history. Conceived as a site-specific installation, the Walker’s exhibition will feature a selection of paintings, drawings, objects, and video drawn from the last five years of the artist’s production, including an ambitious 13-channel video installation acquired by the Walker, I can’t help falling in love (2012).

leekit1Lee Kit’s studio is also his home. It’s spare but warm and personal. The rooms are filled with Danish furniture, and surfaces are mostly bare save a few travel-sized hygiene products (lotion, toothpaste, matchbooks) collected during his travels. His art is tacked up casually on the wall, as well as images that inspire him: classical sculpture, found imagery, and hand gestures. The apartment is in the Xinyi neighborhood of Taipei, where the Hong Kong artist has lived since 2012. I just returned from a visit there, where Lee and I spoke about his upcoming exhibition, his interest in hands, and his attachment to hygiene products. He and I concluded an interview that will appear in the exhibition catalogue for his presentation at Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele Kunst Gent (SMAK) in May 2016. Here are some excerpts from the conversation.

leekit2Misa Jeffereis: When you were in Minneapolis earlier in the year we talked about depictions of hands in art. We were at the Minneapolis Institute of Art looking at religious paintings and you said you always pay attention to the hands. In your work there’s a specific recurring image of hands, and you also made that piece called Scratching the table surface (2006–2009), in which you scratch a table with your fingers until a hole forms, and the installation Something in My Hands (2012). What’s the fascination?

Lee Kit: In paintings from the Renaissance or even earlier religious Italian and Flemish paintings, the artists all paint these hand gestures that are very symbolic, and everybody understands their meaning. They don’t question the gesture or why they understand it. And now we’ve lost this feeling or sensation or sensibility—somehow we lost it. I don’t want to bring it back, but I’m curious about it.

leekit6Lee: And also, hands do things and touch things. I think hands are the most honest language. I don’t mean sign language. For example, when people feel nervous, it’s a pure feeling and your hands shake. It’s something you cannot control. So it is a super honest language, but it can be very intimate as well. For example, when you love someone, you hold each other’s hand, and you are the only one who can feel it. You cannot explain it to someone else, and even the person whose hand you’re holding will have a different experience than you. On the other hand, if you hate somebody and you want to kill them, you also use your hands.

I just cannot get rid of this fascination. When I look back on my art practice, since day one when I started making art, there were hands: the picnic photographs and scratching video. It’s about hands, I realized.

Jeffereis: In your earlier work you were making hand-painted cloths that you then washed by hand and infused wear and use into the fabric before incorporating the picnic blankets, tablecloths, and curtains in your daily activities.

Lee: Yes, exactly. When I touch things, I experience something I cannot describe. And even if I could describe it, you won’t get it. And going back to my belief is that if I can understand something clearly, then I don’t need to make work.

leekit7Jeffereis: In the movie Chungking Express, by Wong Kar-wai, there’s a scene in which Tony Leung is moving around his apartment and speaking to his belongings, giving pep talks to his hungry soap bar, crying dish cloth, lonely shirt, and hopeless stuffed animal. The intimate moment in the film reminds me of your works that incorporate personal hygiene products like Nivea and Vichy lotions, and domestic wares like worn tablecloths and sheer curtains. There’s an intimacy and softness to these works. Wong Kar-wai is also from Hong Kong—a very populated city with small, isolated living spaces. Do you think that there is a desire to connect more deeply to things and people, rather than just buy and consume products? Maybe it’s a rejection of the hyper-capitalist nature of the city.

Lee: When I was younger, I did tend to talk to objects. It’s simple if you think of it like this: Who is seeing me naked, and who is in the bathroom with me? Johnson & Johnson. Nivea. And while taking a shower, a lot of people talk to themselves, or are deep in thought. That moment is very intimate, and some of these conversations you just don’t want to share with other people. It’s so intimate and you’re naked, and you’re cleaning yourself like animals. No one’s around but all these bottles—I mean, they are looking at me. Since you don’t have enough physical space, you are forced farther into your mental space. You talk to yourself, you talk to objects. You have no privacy; the only privacy you have is the moment you talk to yourself.

leekit3Lee: When Chungking Express first came out in theaters, I went to see it. The audience didn’t understand this artistic side of Wong Kar-wai—they wanted his gangster action movies. They threw things at the screen; they “booed.” But I felt a connection to the film, because, like him, I talk to bottles. I project my thoughts onto these objects. I think we all have this kind of projection. You see a cup and you might associate something with it, and that’s part of our nature.

Jeffereis: We’re constantly evaluating things around us and gauging our relationship to them. Your art-making process begins with a curiosity for the things that you don’t know or understand, and you seem to work toward expressing inexpressible feelings.

Lee: Yes.

Jeffereis: Thank you for speaking with me, Kit. We’re looking forward to your show at the Walker next May.

leekit8Over the last several years, Lee Kit’s work has received increasing attention in Asia and in Europe. In 2013 he was shortlisted for the Hugo Boss Asia Art Award, awarded by the Rockbund Art Museum in Shanghai (2013), and represented Hong Kong in the 2013 Venice Biennale. He has exhibited his work at the Sharjah Biennial (2015), Staatliche Kunsthalle in Baden Baden (2014), the Liverpool Biennial (2012), and Museum of Modern Art (2012), and has held solo exhibitions at Mother’s Tankstation in Dublin (2015), Minsheng Art Museum in Shanghai (2012), Western Front in Vancouver (2011), and Para/Site in Hong Kong (2007). Lee’s work is held in the collections of the Walker Art Center, M+ in Hong Kong, S.M.A.K. in Ghent, and The Hong Kong Museum of Art. He is represented by Vitamin Creative Space in Guangzhou, Aike-Dellarco in Shanghai, Jane Lombard Gallery in New York, and ShugoArts in Tokyo.

Andrea Büttner and the Aesthetics of Humility

Despite the bright blue fabric walls that, at first glance, seem to make a bold declaration of sorts, Andrea Büttner is an exhibition that operates at a quieter level. It is an exhibition that seems to ask for little more than patience, curiosity, and close looking, and in placing such a premium on the activities […]

ex2015ab_ins Visual Arts, Exhibitions, installation views. Andrea Büttner, November 21, 2015 – April 10, 2016, Burnet Gallery. The Walker presents the first US solo exhibition of the work of German artist Andrea Büttner (b. 1972), including a newly commissioned installation. Büttner’s work often creates connections between art history and social or ethical issues, with a particular interest in notions of poverty, shame, value, and vulnerability, exploring and challenging the belief systems that underpin them. Curator: Fionn Meade

Installation view of Andrea Büttner at the Walker Art Center. Photo: Gene Pittman

Despite the bright blue fabric walls that, at first glance, seem to make a bold declaration of sorts, Andrea Büttner is an exhibition that operates at a quieter level. It is an exhibition that seems to ask for little more than patience, curiosity, and close looking, and in placing such a premium on the activities of the viewer, confers an equal footing to artistic production and reception. Perhaps not in the sense of calling for an active form of looking, as in the need for the viewer to “activate” the piece (the works are all of a passive nature, and I mean this with the greatest regard), but rather her practice seems to respond to a careful and thoughtful type of looking. It is in this realm of psychological safety, where the artist trusts the viewer and the viewer trusts the artist, that Büttner inserts supposedly small or shameful subjects into the space of the gallery. From mosses that grow close to the earth (humus in Latin) to beggars who also lower themselves to the ground in supplication, Andrea Büttner offers a meditation on the aesthetics of humility.

ex2015ab_ins Visual Arts, Exhibitions, installation views. Andrea Büttner, November 21, 2015 – April 10, 2016, Burnet Gallery. The Walker presents the first US solo exhibition of the work of German artist Andrea Büttner (b. 1972), including a newly commissioned installation. Büttner’s work often creates connections between art history and social or ethical issues, with a particular interest in notions of poverty, shame, value, and vulnerability, exploring and challenging the belief systems that underpin them. Curator: Fionn Meade

Installation view of Andrea Büttner with Limestone with moss (2015). Photo: Gene Pittman

Limestone with moss (2015) is a limestone rock covered in a variety of mosses native to Minnesota. Moss, as the artist points out in an adjoining work, was deemed a “lower plant” among early botanists (in comparison to “the higher, or perfect, flowering plants”). In fact, it is still widely considered a primitive plant form, as evidenced by the fact that it is often described by what it lacks: flowers, fruits, seeds, roots, and apparently any basic internal vascular system that would enable it to conduct water. Yet, by placing a moss-covered rock in the middle of the gallery, Büttner prompts the viewer to bend down and appreciate the multi-faceted beauty of mosses—the fine threads of these tangled green tapestries, the softness and sponginess that seem to demand touch, or simply that a living, breathing organism currently resides in the white cube of the museum. Moss, in Büttner’s hands, becomes not something to discard or trample on, but rather something with which to engage, or at the very least, take notice of.

ex2015ab_ins Visual Arts, Exhibitions, installation views. Andrea Büttner, November 21, 2015 – April 10, 2016, Burnet Gallery. The Walker presents the first US solo exhibition of the work of German artist Andrea Büttner (b. 1972), including a newly commissioned installation. Büttner’s work often creates connections between art history and social or ethical issues, with a particular interest in notions of poverty, shame, value, and vulnerability, exploring and challenging the belief systems that underpin them. Curator: Fionn Meade

Installation view of Andrea Büttner with two woodcuts, both titled Beggar (2015), in the background. Photo: Gene Pittman

Similarly, two large-scale woodcuts of hooded beggars introduce the perhaps shameful act of seeking charity into the gallery. Fittingly, the German expression “Ohne Moos nichts los,” or “without moss you don’t get anywhere,” connects the two works in question (moss serving as a metaphor for money). Here, Büttner introduces another supposedly dirty concept into the space of the gallery—money or the solicitation thereof. Yet, the brown inked background of one of the woodcuts evokes the brown habit associated with St. Francis of Assisi, a frequent reference for the artist, who renounced his wealth and imbued poverty with a spiritual virtuousness. In Büttner’s presentation, then, the beggars suggest a holy dignity as opposed to an earthly desperation.

In both instances, moss and beggars seem to languish in the spotlight. The moss curls into itself, as if shielding itself from the bright light of the gallery (a far cry from the damp, darkened spots in which it prefers to flourish). The beggars, too, fall to the ground, pulling their hoods entirely over their heads. Yet, despite the urge to hide, both maintain a level of vulnerability out of a necessity, if you will: the moss, though naturally conditioned to roll inward due to the absence of moisture, exposes its green shoots, as if asking for water, and the cloaked beggars with their bare forearms, money. Whether seeking water or money—or, more broadly, patience and time—Büttner’s work seems to ask another party, the viewer, for mercy.

ex2015ab_ins Visual Arts, Exhibitions, installation views. Andrea Büttner, November 21, 2015 – April 10, 2016, Burnet Gallery. The Walker presents the first US solo exhibition of the work of German artist Andrea Büttner (b. 1972), including a newly commissioned installation. Büttner’s work often creates connections between art history and social or ethical issues, with a particular interest in notions of poverty, shame, value, and vulnerability, exploring and challenging the belief systems that underpin them. Curator: Fionn Meade

Installation view of Andrea Büttner with Benches (2012). Photo: Gene Pittman

Seen in this light, the bright blue walls, which hug one another at a perpendicular angle, can be attributed to another gesture of generosity—specifically, that of bringing attention to an often overlooked part of a room, the corner. Nestled into this corner are three Benches (2012) constructed of planks of wood placed atop plastic crates. These benches offer the weary museum-goer a moment of respite, a place to rest her feet. In the case of Andrea Büttner, then, mercy is reciprocal—between artist and audience, production and reception—ultimately demonstrating Büttner’s tacit acknowledgment that symbiosis (as in the relationship of moss to nature, or beggars to society) is a necessary, and welcome, condition of art making.

Announcing Galleries, a Digital Home for Walker Exhibitions

I’m excited to unveil a new initiative of the Walker’s Visual Arts, New Media, and Design departments: Following the recent launch of the Cinema page for our Moving Image department and Stage for Performing Arts, the Walker’s Visual Arts department is excited to launch Galleries, a new landing page that offers visitors an augmented presentation of the in-gallery experience at […]

Screen Shot 2015-12-11 at 12.06.57 PMI’m excited to unveil a new initiative of the Walker’s Visual Arts, New Media, and Design departments: Following the recent launch of the Cinema page for our Moving Image department and Stage for Performing Arts, the Walker’s Visual Arts department is excited to launch Galleries, a new landing page that offers visitors an augmented presentation of the in-gallery experience at the Walker Art Center.

Screen Shot 2015-12-11 at 12.07.30 PMWith eleven spacious galleries, the Visual Arts team mounts between eight and ten exhibitions per year of contemporary, historical, group, monographic, thematic, and media-specific shows. Beginning with the last year and a half of exhibitions, this new slideshow format will showcase a virtual walk-through of our gallery spaces and exhibitions on view. From the first US solo exhibition of work from Andrea Büttner and the retrospective Jack Whitten: Five Decades of Painting, to the art historically layered and multi-faceted Hippie Modernism: The Struggle for Utopia and Art at The Center: 75 Years of Walker Collections, this new page will provide a dynamic level of in-gallery presence for audiences. This will be ongoing as we continue to go back and add select exhibitions from over the years, offering visitors not only a closer look at the curatorial approach for each individual show currently on view but also a visual understanding of the Walker’s history of presenting innovative and multidisciplinary exhibitions.

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Becoming Zira: Coco Fusco Transforms into an Ape Psychologist

Next week, artist Coco Fusco will again undergo a transformation a few of us at the Walker were lucky enough to witness a year ago: she’ll become—outwardly, at least—Dr. Zira, the chimpanzee psychologist from the 1968 film, Planet of the Apes. The in-costume talk Observations of Predation in Humans, A Lecture by Dr. Zira, Animal […]

Coco Fusco performs

Coco Fusco performs Observations of Predation in Humans, A Lecture by Dr. Zira, Animal Psychologist at the Walker Art Center, November 6, 2014. All photos by Gene Pittman, © Walker Art Center

Next week, artist Coco Fusco will again undergo a transformation a few of us at the Walker were lucky enough to witness a year ago: she’ll become—outwardly, at least—Dr. Zira, the chimpanzee psychologist from the 1968 film, Planet of the Apes. The in-costume talk Observations of Predation in Humans, A Lecture by Dr. Zira, Animal Psychologist was presented at the Walker November 6, 2014, as part of the exhibition Radical Presence: Black Performance in Contemporary Art, and on November 18, 2015, Fusco will reprise the piece at New Jersey’s Monmouth University. In honor of Zira’s return, we decided to share some of what went on in the green room last year, as Fusco—her voice occasionally muffled as she underwent her simian change—shared her thinking about the performance.pa2014rp_Dr.Zira-makeup_008

Over the course of nearly three hours, a professional makeup artist turned Fusco into Zira, the scientist who studied human behavior in the 1960s and ’70s film series. Using film industry makeup, costumes, and prosthetics, the transition involved adhering facial features, a mane of human hair, and tufts of fur to Fusco’s knuckles. But getting into character mentally and intellectually took much longer—starting with a request from the Studio Museum in Harlem to re-perform a past work for the New York presentation of the CAM Houston-organized Radical Presence show in 2013.

pa2014rp_Dr.Zira-makeup Visual Arts; Performing Arts. Artist Coco Fusco becoming Dr. Zira for her performance of: Observations of Predation in Humans: A lecture by Dr. Zira, Animal Psychologist. November 6, 2014, Walker Cinema. Part of Radical Presence: Black Performance in Contemporary Art, Target and Friedman Galleries, July 24, 2014 - January 4, 2015. Join artist Coco Fusco for her performance of Observations of Predation in Humans: A lecture by Dr. Zira, Animal Psychologist. Fusco will personify Dr. Zira—a chimpanzee psychologist who studies human behavior in the 1968 movie Planet of the Apes—taking a look at economic violence from an evolutionary perspective.

Her initial reaction to that request: “I’m not Marina Abramović! I don’t do that. I’m not gonna get in a cage again!”—a reference to her performance with Guillermo Gomez-Peña, Two Undiscovered Amerindians Visit the West (1992–1994), in which the duo appeared in a cage. As the Walker’s Mia Lopez wrote last October, citing the work’s 1992 presentation in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden:

During the performance Gomez-Peña and Fusco presented themselves as members of the fictional Guatinaui tribe, inhabitants of an uncolonized island in the Gulf of Mexico. Wearing leopard print loincloths and artificial feathers while contained in a gilded cage, the artists told stories in a made up language, performed fictionalized ritual dances, and ate bananas fed to them by docents/zookeepers. Despite exaggerated theatrics and outlandish costumes and props, many museum visitors believed the performance to be authentic and reacted accordingly.

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Fusco sees a deep link between her depiction of Dr. Zira and that early work with Gomez-Peña. “For Two Undiscovered Amerindians, I researched how the scientific discourse of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries contributed to popular understanding of non-Europeans as subhuman; I was exploring the boundary between humans and other animals,” she told Elia Alba, writing for Art 21. “That returns in Zira’s monologue. Zira studies humans through the lens that humans use to study nonhuman primates.”

But not wanting to rehash a work from two decades ago, Fusco proposed a new piece. She had been teaching undergraduate classes on race, science fiction, and Afrofuturism and noticed that whenever she’d show films from The Planet of the Apes series, students would deeply connect. “I had this realization: damn, these films—there’s a lot of material in here to work with,” she recalled. “And the one book that I used with the students about it had to do with the connections between the race riots and the Apes films, and it underscored how there’s so much overlap. So, this works, I thought, and also, you know, what is the most overused stereotype of blacks? It’s that they’re like monkeys, right? So, I was like: OK! A talking ape in the Studio Museum is a pretty radical presence.”

pa2014rp_Dr.Zira-makeup Visual Arts; Performing Arts. Artist Coco Fusco becoming Dr. Zira for her performance of: Observations of Predation in Humans: A lecture by Dr. Zira, Animal Psychologist. November 6, 2014, Walker Cinema. Part of Radical Presence: Black Performance in Contemporary Art, Target and Friedman Galleries, July 24, 2014 - January 4, 2015. Join artist Coco Fusco for her performance of Observations of Predation in Humans: A lecture by Dr. Zira, Animal Psychologist. Fusco will personify Dr. Zira—a chimpanzee psychologist who studies human behavior in the 1968 movie Planet of the Apes—taking a look at economic violence from an evolutionary perspective.

What also appealed to her about the original movies—for her use as an educator and for this performance—was that they contained “full-on social commentary about that time—a really strong anti-nuke message, anti-war message, all about race relations.”

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To develop her embodiment of Dr. Zira, Fusco says she did hours upon hours of research. She watched nature shows, online lectures by scientists like Stanford primatologist and neuroscientist Robert Sapolsky and documentaries like Project Nim (2011) and Koko: A Talking Gorilla (1978). “I would look for films about primatology, science—National Geographic–style stuff—and just watch the people talking about them. Jane Goodall, of course. But she’s so particular. She has this combination that’s kind of like Zira, of being very arch and very superior on the one hand and then very excited on the other. When she starts imitating the chimps, she starts going, ‘Oh ooh ooh ooh!’ and all that, and you can see that she’s all happy that she gets to play with chimps.” (See an excerpt from Observations of Predation in Humans.)

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Were zoos part of her research? A bit, yet, but more for Two Undiscovered Amerindians than Observations of Predation in Humans. “Zoo animals are depressed. They’re not very active. So it’s more instructive to watch science films about them in the wild, to see them interacting in the wild.”

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pa2014rp_Dr.Zira-makeup Visual Arts; Performing Arts. Artist Coco Fusco becoming Dr. Zira for her performance of: Observations of Predation in Humans: A lecture by Dr. Zira, Animal Psychologist. November 6, 2014, Walker Cinema. Part of Radical Presence: Black Performance in Contemporary Art, Target and Friedman Galleries, July 24, 2014 - January 4, 2015. Join artist Coco Fusco for her performance of Observations of Predation in Humans: A lecture by Dr. Zira, Animal Psychologist. Fusco will personify Dr. Zira—a chimpanzee psychologist who studies human behavior in the 1968 movie Planet of the Apes—taking a look at economic violence from an evolutionary perspective.

This close observation underscored the similarities between humans and chimpanzees (geneticists say there’s only a 1.2 percent difference between the two species’ genomes). “Even without recognizing the DNA, you can see it,” says Fusco. “When you see them interacting with each other—having sex, playing with their kids, feeding each other… There’s really practically nothing separating us from these other animals.”

pa2014rp_Dr.Zira-makeup Visual Arts; Performing Arts. Artist Coco Fusco becoming Dr. Zira for her performance of: Observations of Predation in Humans: A lecture by Dr. Zira, Animal Psychologist. November 6, 2014, Walker Cinema. Part of Radical Presence: Black Performance in Contemporary Art, Target and Friedman Galleries, July 24, 2014 - January 4, 2015. Join artist Coco Fusco for her performance of Observations of Predation in Humans: A lecture by Dr. Zira, Animal Psychologist. Fusco will personify Dr. Zira—a chimpanzee psychologist who studies human behavior in the 1968 movie Planet of the Apes—taking a look at economic violence from an evolutionary perspective.

And that—grappling with the animal in the human—is one of the main reasons Fusco has repeatedly undergone her transition into Dr. Zira. As she told Artforum in 2013:

Studies of animal behavior often focus on aggression and predation. We tend to think of predation usually in terms of the hunt for prey—carnivores attacking other animals to feed themselves. But in a broader sense predation means “to plunder,” and in animal psychology it is understood as goal-oriented aggression for the accumulation of resources. Dr. Zira comes from the future and focuses on our species’ drive for status, territory, and material. These are aspects of behavior that humans share with primates and many other animals.

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Zeitgeist Traps: Jack Whitten and Michael Goldberg

Three islands are observed from the air—the blue and white sea radiates outward from them as the underwater reefs surrounding the islands allow us to visually penetrate the clear water. Jack Whitten’s Zeitgeist Traps for Michael Goldberg (2009) is not a landscape, or a abstraction of the Greek Islands off Crete, where Whitten has spent […]

Jack Whitten, Zeitgeist Traps, For Michael Goldberg, Zeitgeist Traps for Michael Goldberg 2009 acrylic on canvas

Jack Whitten, Zeitgeist Traps, For Michael Goldberg, 2009 acrylic on canvas, collection of Jeff and Leslie Fischer                                                                                     

Three islands are observed from the air—the blue and white sea radiates outward from them as the underwater reefs surrounding the islands allow us to visually penetrate the clear water. Jack Whitten’s Zeitgeist Traps for Michael Goldberg (2009) is not a landscape, or a abstraction of the Greek Islands off Crete, where Whitten has spent every summer since 1968. Zeitgeist Traps for Michael Goldberg (2009), part of Jack Whitten: Five Decades of Painting, isn’t a map; the work instead functions more as an abstract collaged homage to Michael Goldberg, an New York abstract expressionist with whom Whitten would have interacted after moving to New York in 1960. (more…)

Jack Whitten and the Philosophy of Jazz

“The person who got me trapped in all of this was John Coltrane.” By this artist Jack Whitten refers to his fifty-year commitment to exploring the possibilities of paint, as demonstrated in Jack Whitten: Five Decades of Painting at the Walker. An artist who has steadfastly held onto canvas and acrylic paint for most of his […]

ex2015jw_ins Visual Arts; Exhibitions; installation views. Jack Whitten - Five Decades of Painting, Target and Friedman Galleries, September 13, 2015 - January 24, 2016. Organized by the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego.
Curator: Kathryn Kanjo, Chief Curator, Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego; Walker coordinating curator: Eric Crosby, Associate Curator, Visual Arts.

Installation view of Jack Whitten: Five Decades of Painting at the Walker Art Center. Photo: Gene Pittman

“The person who got me trapped in all of this was John Coltrane.” By this artist Jack Whitten refers to his fifty-year commitment to exploring the possibilities of paint, as demonstrated in Jack Whitten: Five Decades of Painting at the Walker. An artist who has steadfastly held onto canvas and acrylic paint for most of his career, Whitten falls into the art historical narrative following Abstract Expressionist painters Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, Mark Rothko, and Barnett Newman (whom he met at the Cedar Bar in Greenwich Village), and African American artists Romare Bearden, Jacob Lawrence, and Norman Lewis (whose studios he visited uptown). However, it was the jazz musicians (take a look at Whitten’s all-time favorite jazz records below) and the conceptual underpinnings of their sound, or what he calls the “philosophy of jazz,” that had a direct influence on the development of his distinct visual style.

As a young art student entering New York City’s Cooper Union in the fall of 1960, Whitten quickly became entrenched in the city’s jazz scene. On KFAI’s “Mostly Jazz” he recently shared his recollections:

My introduction to New York was Birdland uptown on 52nd Street, the Five Spot downtown on Bowery, the Jazz Gallery on St. Mark’s Place, the Half Note, the Village Vanguard, the Village Gate, and later Slugs’ Saloon—anybody from New York in the ’60s will remember the Slugs. Within the history of jazz in New York City, Slugs’ Saloon was the place to be. A lot of great people played there, including Sun Ra. Sun Ra was a staple there. Down on the lower east side in Manhattan—hell of a place.

During the 1960s, Whitten struggled with his desire to simultaneously embrace and reject the vocabulary of Abstract Expressionism—in particular, the aggressive and gestural application of paint that had come to signify the canvases of de Kooning (“Following a devastating critique by an older Abstract Expressionist painter who said, ‘Kid, you got some good de Koonings here!’ I knew I had to make a move in my work,” he says).

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Jack Whitten, NY Battle Ground, 1964. Courtesy the artist; Alexander Gray Associates, New York; Zeno X Gallery, Antwerp; © Jack Whitten/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

It was at the turn of the 1970s that Whitten, informed by the cool jazz sensibility of Miles Davis and others, began to cool off and slow down. The feverish intensity that dominates the surfaces of his earlier works gives way to a more meditative approach in his so-called Drag paintings that seems to indulge in and explore the material and expansive qualities of paint.

In a nod to Coltrane, whose cascading notes were famously dubbed “sheets of sound,” Whitten began to experiment with what he calls “planes of light.” Pouring layer upon layer of paint to form an acrylic “slab” often up to a half inch thick, followed by dragging a 12-foot long T-shaped tool across the surface in a single motion, Whitten established a process akin to the way in which jazz musicians of the day seamlessly moved between composition and improvisation—the composition remaining essentially unchanged from performance to performance, and the improvisation, specific to a particular time and place. Take Chinese Sincerity (1974): the pooling of gallons of paint to create the acrylic slab, or foundation, can be seen as the compositional aspect of Whitten’s process, and the act of pulling the tool across the canvas, the instance of improvisation. In fact, the spontaneous gesture that ruptures the surface, revealing the multitudinous layers of color underneath, produces a certain musicality, or optical vibrations in the acrylic medium—according to the artist, it is precisely in this moment of the three-second gesture, that the painting is made.

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Jack Whitten, Chinese Sincerity, 1974. Courtesy the artist; Alexander Gray Associates, New York; Zeno X Gallery, Antwerp; © Jack Whitten/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

This willingness to experiment with different conceptual and technical modes of expression, or the aesthetics of jazz, informs Whitten’s visual practice from the Drag series of the 1970s on. As you walk through the galleries, take note of the use of “disruptors” (found objects such as a piece of string or a bent wire placed beneath the canvas) that create peculiar dissonances in the poured and leveled paint, evoking the jarring sounds of Thelonious Monk and the other jazz musicians.

Listen to Whitten’s all-time favorite jazz records:

Miles Davis
Kind of Blue 
Miles Davis Live at the Plugged Nickel (Chicago)
Bitches Brew 

John Coltrane
Blue Train 
Giant Steps
Traneing In 

Ornette Coleman
The Shape of Jazz to Come 

Cecil Taylor
Unit Structures

Charlie Parker
The Essential Charlie Parker

Thelonious Monk
Mysterioso

Sun Ra
Visions

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