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Pop Virus: Shigeko Kubota and International Pop

International Pop exhibition view. the Walker Art Center.
Kubota 1989.262.1-.11_opened

Shigeko Kubota, Flux Medicine, 1966/1968. Collection of the Walker Art Center. © Shigeko Kubota/VAGA, New York, NY

On July 23, 2015 Shigeko Kubota—a seminal Japanese female figure in the international Fluxus collective—passed away. But it is not too late to take a dose of her Flux Medicine (1966/1968). The Walker’s extensive Fluxus collection includes Kubota’s iconic multiple of this title, comprising a plastic box with a label depicting a small white tablet with the word “FLUX” engraved on it. The contents are Kubota’s medicinal concoction: one white ball, one empty capsule, one Styrofoam disk, a clear bottle of unidentified liquid, an eye dropper, crushed eggshells, packages of Alka-Seltzer, Calcium-Lactate, and Neo-Synephrine, accompanied by a plastic tube and a needle for injection. Like most Fluxus multiples, Flux Medicine can be read as either an absurdist, apolitical gesture or a radical renegotiation of the role of the artist and art object in our commodity culture. This slippage between commerce, art, and life epitomized the zeitgeist in which artists from the 1960s and early 1970s were working, as exemplified in the exhibition International Pop (closing August 29). Kubota’s “Flux-formula” presents art that can be injected, an aesthetic “supplement” for transforming art—and  perhaps the role of the artist—into a consumable commodity. International Pop posits “Pop” as a pill—akin to Kubota’s Flux Medicine—that was being popped by artists across the globe.

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Modeling with Merce

For the past two weeks, eleven Minneapolis-based dancers have spent their days at the Walker Art Center playing dress-up in Merce Cunningham Dance Company costumes. Nearly a hundred costumes from more than fifty different dances were documented–forming a representative sample of the thousands of costumes in the Merce Cunningham Dance Company Collection. The resulting images […]

Photo: Mary Coyne

Photo: Mary Coyne

For the past two weeks, eleven Minneapolis-based dancers have spent their days at the Walker Art Center playing dress-up in Merce Cunningham Dance Company costumes. Nearly a hundred costumes from more than fifty different dances were documented–forming a representative sample of the thousands of costumes in the Merce Cunningham Dance Company Collection. The resulting images will soon be featured on the Walker’s Collections website.

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A Visit with Carmen Herrera

I recently had the pleasure of visiting artist Carmen Herrera at her home/studio in New York, where she has lived for the last 40 years. It was June 4, just a few days after she’d celebrated her 100th birthday (May 31) at a local restaurant with a small group of colleagues, family, and friends. While […]

HerreraViso

I recently had the pleasure of visiting artist Carmen Herrera at her home/studio in New York, where she has lived for the last 40 years. It was June 4, just a few days after she’d celebrated her 100th birthday (May 31) at a local restaurant with a small group of colleagues, family, and friends. While I regrettably had to miss the festivities, we shared tea and birthday cupcakes I’d brought her from Magnolia Bakery.

We were accompanied by Carmen’s longtime friend and neighbor, the painter Tony Bechara, a passionate champion of Herrera’s art since the 1990s and the man the artist’s late husband, Jesse Loewenthal, entrusted with preserving and promoting Herrera’s art. Although based in New York on and off since the mid-1950s and working in close proximity to American painters Leon Polk Smith (a friend) and Barnett Newman, Herrera and her art remained in relative obscurity until 1998. That year, New York’s El Museo del Barrio, where Bechara served on the board, organized a small exhibition of black-and-white paintings from the 1950s. Shortly thereafter, prescient collectors Agnes Gund and Ella Cisneros began to acquire and exhibit Herrera’s paintings. The story of Herrera selling her first painting in 2004 at age 89 has been the subject of innumerable stories and profiles since then, including a recent article focused on elder women artists who found recognition later in their careers (published in the New York TimesT Magazine this spring).

The centenarian’s career is now markedly on the rise. Subject of a new documentary, The 100 Years Show by film director Alison Klayman (premiered at Toronto’s Hotdocs festival this April), Hererra’s career will be highlighted in a survey exhibition, organized by Dana Miller, at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 2016. Represented by the Lisson Gallery in London since 2012, Herrera’s works are now in the collections of the Walker Art Center, the Whitney, the Museum of Modern Art, Tate Modern in London, and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C.

I was first introduced to Carmen Herrera in the mid-2000s through Ella Cisneros, the Miami-based collector and founder of CIFO Foundation, on whose curatorial advisory counsel I sat at the time. It was in Ella’s foundation office that a painting by Herrera caught my eye. Shortly thereafter I arranged the first of several visits to the painter’s studio, and in 2007 I acquired a painting directly from the artist for the collection of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, where I was the director. The Hirshhorn’s Rondo (Blue and Yellow) (1965) is a circular painting—one of a handful of tondos from the period with characteristically crisp flowing lines that define volumes of geometry and space in perfect counterbalance. I installed the painting in the Hirshhorn’s collection galleries in the company of other American painters of the 1950s and ’60s, including Ellsworth Kelly, with whom her works have strong association. Indeed both artists spent their formative years in the late 1940s and early 1950s in Paris, each maintaining a commitment to hard-edge abstraction at a time when other American artists were exploring the more gestural approaches of Abstract Expressionism. Upon returning to New York in the mid-1950s, Ellsworth Kelly and his paintings took some time to capture the art world’s imagination, while Herrera found little or no support as a woman in an art world less hospitable to female artists. It was a revelation to see Herrera’s canvas hanging in the Hirshhorn’s galleries in dialogue so fluidly with an unacknowledged peer.

Carmen Herrera, Untitled, 1971 Art at the Center: 75 Years of Walker Collections, October 16, 2014 – September 11, 2016 Galleries 4, 5, 6.  Installation views from Gallery 5, October 15, 2014.

Carmen Herrera’s Untitled (1971), as installed in Art at the Center: 75 Years of Walker Collections

Shortly after arriving at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, I similarly sought to bring one of Herrera’s impressive structuras (structures) into the collection. I thought that one of the artist’s painted wood constructions would forge a powerful dialogue with the minimalist paintings and sculptures that are core to the Walker’s collection of abstract and minimalist works of the 1960s. In 2010, Untitled (1971) entered the Walker’s collection along with three related works on paper from 1966. The freestanding blue construction is currently featured in the Walker’s Art at the Center: 75 Years of Walker Collections, where it  is installed in the company of Frank Stella, Ellsworth Kelly, Donald Judd, as well as British painter Bridget Riley, where it equally commands the galleries.

First conceived in 1966, Herrera realized the Walker’s blue structura in 1971 with the support of the Cintas Foundation, a Cuban American private philanthropic foundation that supports Cuban artists living and working in the US since the late 1950s. With this modest grant, Herrera found a carpenter to help her produce a group of wall- and floor-bound works in relief, including the Walker’s Untitled (1971). The funds also allowed her to help a family member leave Cuba in the years immediately following the Cuban Revolution. Affixed to the floor, the piece is comprised of two separate hollow wood-framed panels. The top panel sits on top of the bottom panel and swivels forward ever so slightly. When lit with gallery lights from above, the top panel casts a defining shadow across the bottom panel to give it its signature shape and form. While Herrera intended to make complementary pieces in red and green based on the related drawings in the Walker’s collection, only the blue structure was realized. More recently Herrera fabricated the red structure based on the Walker’s drawing and may realize others.

Carmen Herrera, Untitled, 1966

Carmen Herrera, Untitled, 1966

While in New York I also visited the Whitney Museum and was delighted to see Carmen Herrera featured in the museum’s opening installation with a large painting from 1959, which recently entered the Whitney’s collection. This work is one of Herrera’s signature “green and white” paintings that have been a staple of her career. Installed next to Ellsworth Kelly, this striking juxtaposition reinforces Herrera’s pioneering import in the history of American abstract painting and affirms that her reinsertion in the history of this art is now complete.

At age 100, Herrera doesn’t quite know what to make of all the recent attention, which at once seems gratifying and enervating. The recognition is long overdue for an artist who has never wavered in her practice or commitment to her vision, which has remained consistent for more than 70 years. To this day, Herrera continues to make a painting at her window each and every morning, working with her assistant Manuel to scale up her drawings into larger canvases. As she expressed during my visit, “This is when everything is most clear.”

This Day in Pop: Jasper Johns Visits Japan

In conjunction with the exhibition International Pop we’re presenting a regular feature that will highlight events in Pop art history. Look forward to curated posts featuring archival images, exhibition installation views, excerpts from catalogs, artist ephemera, and behind-the-scenes stories. In May of 1964, Jasper Johns was invited to visit Tokyo under the auspices of the […]

In conjunction with the exhibition International Pop we’re presenting a regular feature that will highlight events in Pop art history. Look forward to curated posts featuring archival images, exhibition installation views, excerpts from catalogs, artist ephemera, and behind-the-scenes stories.

Jasper Johns posing with Kojima Nobuaki’s Standing Figures, Tokyo, 1964 Photograph by Jun’ichi Takeishi; courtesy Tsubouchi Kazutada

Jasper Johns posing with Kojima Nobuaki’s Standing Figures, Tokyo, 1964.  Photo: Jun’ichi Takeishi, courtesy Tsubouchi Kazutada

In May of 1964, Jasper Johns was invited to visit Tokyo under the auspices of the Minami Gallery for a two-month artist’s residency, facilitated by Tōno Yoshiaki. Tōno took Johns to the Tsubaki Kindai Gallery to see a number of Kojima Nobuaki’s Standing Figure (1964) works, which, like many of Johns’s own works, used the American flag. Johns returned to the gallery the following month to view the Off Museum exhibition. There he met Shinohara Ushio and saw the latter’s imitation of Johns’s Three Flags (1958), which replicated the painting’s composition but substituted its colors with their opposites on the spectrum. This in turn influenced Johns to borrow from Shinohara’s palette for a painting he would show in the 1965 Whitney Annual Exhibition in New York.

Also:

  • While in Japan Johns corresponded with his gallerist, Leo Castelli, about various business matters, including an exhibition with Robert Rauschenberg. The Smithsonian Archives of American Art have digitized one of the letters he sent while traveling and made it available in their online collection.
  • On May 1, 1928, Oswald de Andrade published the Manifesto Antropófago or Cannibalist Manifesto. It would become a foundational text for Brazilian modernism and introduced the concept of “cultural cannibalism” that would influence intellectuals and artists for decades.

 

This Day in Pop: The 1964/65 World’s Fair Opens in New York

In conjunction with the exhibition International Pop we’re presenting a regular feature that will highlight events in Pop art history. Look forward to curated posts featuring archival images, exhibition installation views, excerpts from catalogs, artist ephemera, and behind-the-scenes stories. With a theme of “Peace through Understanding,” the third world’s fair to be held in New […]

In conjunction with the exhibition International Pop we’re presenting a regular feature that will highlight events in Pop art history. Look forward to curated posts featuring archival images, exhibition installation views, excerpts from catalogs, artist ephemera, and behind-the-scenes stories.


Roy Lichtenstein designed the cover for the April 1964 issue of Art in America, depicting a "pop panorama" of the New York World's Fair

Roy Lichtenstein designed the cover for the April 1964 issue of Art in America, depicting a “pop panorama” of the New York World’s Fair. Image courtesy Walker Art Center Library and Archive

With a theme of “Peace through Understanding,” the third world’s fair to be held in New York opened fifty-one years ago this week. The fair would run two six-month seasons between 1964 and 1965, and celebrated achievements in culture and technology, presenting a particularly optimistic view of the future. Mid-century modern architecture dominated the grounds, while international pavilions represented nations ranging from Vatican City to Thailand. American industry took center stage, with Ford and General Motors each claiming their own buildings and Disney contributing to multiple entertainment areas.

Although the grounds featured a fine arts building and several dedicated exhibitions of contemporary and modern art, popular consensus was that the most successful artistic interventions at the 64/65 fair were incorporated into the architecture and displays of other buildings. The Spanish pavilion was lauded for featuring works by Goya, Picasso, and Miró, while the Better Living Center received strong reviews for its inclusion of works by Sargent, de Kooning, and Pollock. Contemporary American art was most notably represented in the Phillip Johnson–designed New York State building. The architect commissioned murals for the building’s facade by several Pop artists, among them Robert Indiana, Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg, and James Rosenquist. Controversy ensued just two weeks before the fair when Warhol’s mural, Thirteen Most Wanted Men, was mounted and revealed to feature 22 mugshots of fugitives screen-printed onto masonite. Under pressure from government officials including Governor Nelson Rockefeller, Johnson requested that Warhol revise the mural or remove it from the building. The artist responded by suggesting that he replace the mugshots with portraits of Robert Moses, the head of the World’s Fair Corporation. Johnson refuted the idea, and Warhol’s work was quickly painted over with aluminum house paint. Although the original work was never exhibited as a public mural, Warhol reused the silkscreens for a series of prints that same year. More than five decades later Thirteen Most Wanted Men and the ensuing scandal continue to prompt discourse around Warhol’s position within mainstream popular culture.

Also:

  • Following the fair’s conclusion in 1965, two of the murals from Phillip Johnson’s New York State pavilion moved to Minnesota. The works, by Roy Lichtenstein and James Rosenquist, were donated to the Weisman Art Museum in 1966.
  • In April of 1960 French critic Pierre Restany introduced the Nouveaux Réalistes—a group he founded and named—through his manifesto “The Nouveaux Réalistes’ Declaration of Intention.”

Performance Thoughts: Stephen Petronio Company RainForest

Stephen Petronio Company in Merce Cunningham's “RainForest"
Pictured: Davalois Fearon and Gino Grenek
Photo: Yi-Chun Wu
Stephen Petronio Company in Merce Cunningham's “RainForest" Pictured: Davalois Fearon and Gino Grenek Photo: Yi-Chun Wu

Stephen Petronio Company in Merce Cunningham’s “RainForest”
Pictured: Davalois Fearon and Gino Grenek
Photo: Yi-Chun Wu

Last week I visited the Joyce Theater in New York to see the Stephen Petronio Company perform Merce Cunningham’s RainForest (1968). It was a rare opportunity to see Cunningham’s choreography performed live: following his death in 2009, the Merce Cunningham Dance Company ceased to perform consistently following a two-year Legacy Tour. Dancers from the former company continue to pass on Cunningham’s choreography and technique through weekly classes at the Merce Cunningham Trust, and work with museums, institutions, and dance companies—yet performances of Cunningham’s choreography are opportunities that do not come often (The Juilliard School presented Cunningham’s BIPED this past March under guidance of the Merce Cunningham Trust).

The program opened with an homage to Cunningham. Although Petronio himself never danced with the Cunningham Company, the inspiration is evident in the rapid, complex choreography of unexpected, technically challenging movement broken by extended moments of stillness. Locomotor and Non Locomotor, works that premiered a few days before my visit, converse both with each other and with Cunningham’s own work. More closely aligned with Cunningham’s later work, of the 1990s and 2000s, both dances are at once impersonal, avoiding outward emotion, but at times incredibly sensual. The dancer’s personalities and unique styles of movement come to the fore as they perform similar movement vocabularies seemingly in isolation or in pairs. As did Cunningham, Petronio relies on communication between bodies rather than in the face. Expression and connection between the dancers is minimal other than the responses of their bodies  in the dance. The seven dancers entered and exited the stage circuitously, a choreographic structure resulting in a feeling of being witness to only one view of on ongoing movement sequence. 

Oscar Bailey, Merce Cunningham, Barbara Dilley, and Albert Reid in RainForest,  performance at State University New York at Buffalo College, Walker Art Center, Merce Cunningham Dance Company Collection, Gift of Jay F. Ecklund, the Barnett and Annalee Newman Foundation, Agnes Gund, Russell Cowles and Josine Peters, the Hayes Fund of HRK Foundation, Dorothy Lichtenstein, MAHADH Fund of HRK Foundation, Goodale Family Foundation, Marion Stroud Swingle, David Teiger, Kathleen Fluegel, Barbara G. Pine, and the T. B. Walker Acquisition Fund, 2011

Oscar Bailey, Merce Cunningham, Barbara Dilley, and Albert Reid in RainForest, performance at State University New York at Buffalo College, March 1968. Walker Art Center, Merce Cunningham Dance Company Collection

The Petronio Company worked for months with the Cunningham Trust to embody the technique, which appeared more natural to some (Gino Grenek, who danced Merce Cunningham’s role) and slightly more of an effort to others. As it typically took a few months of intensive work, or even a few years for Cunnningham’s own dancers to fully embrace the movement, it would be unfair to expect the same from dancers who have been trained differently. This unconscious response of comparison is one of the difficulties for companies who take on Cunningham’s work. There are dozens of dancers who have embodied roles throughout history—Margot Fonteyn’s Juliet, Vaslav Nijinsky‘s Faun, Suzanne Farrell as Dulcinea—that each dancer after them will forever face that comparison. Cunningham’s vision for his company involved dedication to a new form of training, molding dancers that were uniquely equipped to perform the often unnatural and formerly untaught ways of moving. Over months and years of this training, the movements looked natural, effortless. Rainforest’s original 1977 cast, is almost incomparable in that Carolyn Brown, Merce Cunningham, Barbara Lloyd, Sandra Neels, Albert Reid, Gus Solomons Jr. embodied their roles, and completely became the personas of the choreography. Cunningham created roles around and for the his company member’s individual personalities and styles of movement. He would famously become upset when a dancer left the company, for that meant re-inscribing his or her parts onto another body—one for which it was not created.

I held these concerns going into the performance, questioning how much a few months of classes in Cunningham technique could do. Petronio’s dancers quickly soothed these concerns, in the premiere works they established they could not only take on Cunningham movement, but make it their own. It is important to remember that although Cunningham created for choreography for individuals, he also valued the way other dancers interpreted the work. This “realization of the personal and imperfect””1 is what makes re-performances of the the company’s repertory so special. As the Cunningham Company of the 2000s tackled the choreographer’s repertory from the previous fifty years, the Petronio dancers used the training as an a method through which to approach the movement without being imitative.  

Joshua Tuanson in Rainforest, Joyce Theater, New York, 2015. photo: Mary Coyne

Joshua Tuason in Rainforest. Stephen Petronio Dance Company, Joyce Theater, New York, April 2015. Photo: Mary Coyne

RainForest is a signature Cunningham work—his single collaboration with Andy Warhol (at the invitation of artistic director Jasper Johns) and perhaps one of the more character-driven works in his repertoire. RainForest has been described as the closest that Cunningham would get to Martha Graham, and in its exotic, even fantastical nature, this is true. However the movement is uniquely Cunningham: although we gather glimpses of characters, there is no narrative. The mood is set—a primordial rainforest, the dancers somewhere between creature and human, but we are left with this mood. Warhol’s Silver Clouds, replacing foliage or more organic scenery, float untethered across and out from the stage. In several movements in the choreography a dancer will make running leaps into the Clouds, almost playfully sending them bouncing into the audience.

As the amused audience continued to bat the stray Silver Clouds back onto the stage (or back over each other) the Fluxus-inspired sense of play that is rarely mentioned in descriptions of the work. Warhol and Cunningham would have, of course been aware of, and embraced the unfixed nature of the props, even as the flying helium-filled clouds at times obscured the dance. The childlike joy of sending a balloon bouncing into the air, shared by the audience as a whole, was a rare moment of connection between the audience members turned participants and the dancers on stage. 

Audience members depart the theater among Andy Warhol's Silver Clouds (reproduction copies), Joyce Theater, New York. photo: Mary Coyne

Audience members depart the theater among Andy Warhol’s Silver Clouds (reproduction copies), Joyce Theater, New York. Photo: Mary Coyne

As Petronio seeks to build on this homage to Cunningham by performing works over the next few seasons from seminal postmodern dance makers, Steve Paxton, Yvonne Rainer, Anna Halprin, Lucinda Childs, and Trisha Brown (the latter of whom Petronio had studied and danced). The Bloodlines initiative seeks to both challenge his own dancers to embody the very unique styles of each of these choreographers, but also to so closely compare one’s own style with that of the formative choreographers of the past fifty years. What does it mean to re-perform their work alongside one’s own? Or to reform the work of living choreographers? These are interesting questions as we present work by contemporary and historical choreographers and artists, often side by side. I like to think that this is, in part, behind Petronio’s choice to present RainForest. In being associated with Cunningham’s time as a young dancer with the Martha Graham Company, the performances by the Petronio Company creates a choreographic mise en abyme of past, history and present.

Footnote
1 Silas Reiner (former Cunningham dancer) in conversation with Abigail Sebaly, February 14, 2013.

Michelangelo Pistoletto: A Reflected World, Again

"Man on a Balcony" Michelangelo Pistoletto: A Reflected World, Walker Art Center, April 1966

Michelangelo Pistoletto: A Reflected World, installation view with Seated Woman

The Walker now holds three large reflective works by Michelangelo Pistoletto, thanks to the recent gift from John and Sage Cowles of Man on a Balcony (1965), which is currently on view in 75 Gifts for 75 Years. The other works are Three Girls on a Balcony (1962–1964, on view in International Pop) and Seated Woman (1963). All three pieces entered the Walker’s collection separately over several decades, but they were all together years ago—during the 1996 Walker-organized one-man show Michelangelo Pistoletto: A Reflected World, the artist’s first exhibition in North America.

"Man on a Balcony" Michelangelo Pistoletto: A Reflected World, Walker Art Center, April 1966

Man on a Balcony as seen in the 1966 Walker exhibition Michelango Pistoletto: A Reflected World. All images courtesy Walker Archives

The young Italian artist captured the attention of Walker Director Martin Friedman in the mid-1960s. It was around the time Pistoletto began working on his reflective paintings and in March 1964, Ileana Sonnabend Gallery, Paris presented an exhibition of his new paintings. At the same time, Ettore Sottsass Jr. wrote an article on Pistolettos’s work for Domus (published in 1964, it was entitled “Pop e non Pop, a propsoito di Michelangelo Pistoletto”). The Walker assembled 30 of these new paintings for the spring of 1966.

Installation view of Michelangelo Pistoletto: A Reflected World," with "Seated Woman" center, Walker Art Center, April 1966

Installation view of Michelangelo Pistoletto: A Reflected World, with Seated Woman at center

Pistoletto made the paintings from tissue paper on stainless steel. The life-size figures float in the shiny reflected surface of the steel that captures the world outside of the painting. As one looks at the paintings it produces the affect of gazing into the space with the figures. The spectator and all he sees becomes part of the canvas. Many of the paintings are seen in mundane poses like Seated Woman. Some, like Three Girls on On A Balcony and Man on a Balcony, are seen from behind and one is left to wonder what they, or you, are gazing at. The paintings are very contemplative, as Pistoletto explained, “The world that surrounds me is really the inner world. … Everything is within me just as everything within the figures I paint is an interior reality.”

"Three Girls on a Balcony" installation view from "Michelango Pistoletto: A Reflected World," April 1966

Three Girls on a Balcony in Michelango Pistoletto: A Reflected World

The Walker’s 1966 presentation also included an element of fun, as WCCO-TV’s footage demonstrates, showing Public Relations Director Peter Georgas and the news crew on a tour through the galleries.

At the close of the show in May 1966 several of Pistoletto’s works remained in Minneapolis including the three now reunited in the Walker’s collection. Although Pistoletto could not attend the Minneapolis show he was quite pleased with the result. He wrote to Martin Friedman, “I feel quite pleased to have a personal exhibition at Walker Art Center and I am specially proud of your personal interest.”

Installation view "MIchelangelo Pistoletto: A Reflected World," April 1966

Man on a Balcony in A Reflected World

This Day in Pop: Pop Art and the American Tradition

In conjunction with the exhibition International Pop we’re presenting a regular feature that will highlight events in Pop art history. Look forward to curated posts featuring archival images, exhibition installation views, excerpts from catalogs, artist ephemera, and behind the scenes stories. On April 9, 1965 the Milwaukee Art Center opened Pop art and the American tradition, a month-long […]

In conjunction with the exhibition International Pop we’re presenting a regular feature that will highlight events in Pop art history. Look forward to curated posts featuring archival images, exhibition installation views, excerpts from catalogs, artist ephemera, and behind the scenes stories.


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On April 9, 1965 the Milwaukee Art Center opened Pop art and the American tradition, a month-long exhibition that contextualized artists such as  Rosalyn Drexler, Roy Lichtenstein, Marisol, and Ed Ruscha within the history of “American artists’ interest in the common and the banal.” Eighty-six artists were included in the exhibition, which also featured late 19th- and early 20th-century painters including Paul Cadmus, Marsden Hartley, and Reginald Marsh. Although the exhibition focused exclusively on American art, the curatorial premise of Pop having an ancestry in sign painting, commercial art, and Dada correlates with contemporary perspectives on international influences on Pop artists.

Also this week:

  • On April 4, 1966 the Walker opened the first U.S. exhibition of the artist Michelangelo Pistoletto.  This short film shows footage of Michelangelo Pistoletto: Reflected World, which was curated by former Walker Art Center Director Martin Friedman.
  • On April 6, 1967 Nova Objetividade Brasiliera (New Brazilian Objectivity) opened at the Museum of Modern Art in Rio de Janeiro. The exhibition featured artists including Lygia Pape, Nelson Leirner, Rubens Gerchman, Lygia Clark, and Hélio Oiticica. Oiticica’s contribution, the environment Tropicália, was particularly influential and gave its name to the emerging Tropicalia movement.

Radical Presence Looking Back: Holding Court

“Strangely enough these artists were hiding in plain sight. They’ve always been here, they’ve just never been presented or recorded in this way.” —Valerie Cassel Oliver, curator of Radical Presence: Black Performance in Contemporary Art Theaster Gates’s installation See, Sit, Sup, Sip, Sing: Holding Court was included in Radical Presence: Black Performance in Contemporary Art, and […]

“Strangely enough these artists were hiding in plain sight. They’ve always been here, they’ve just never been presented or recorded in this way.” —Valerie Cassel Oliver, curator of Radical Presence: Black Performance in Contemporary Art

Theaster Gates’s installation See, Sit, Sup, Sip, Sing: Holding Court was included in Radical Presence: Black Performance in Contemporary Art, and was an important forum for the six months it was on view at the Walker Art Center. Artists—Ralph Lemon, Benjamin Patterson, Coco Fusco, and Gates himself—activated the piece with their stories and ideas. I had the pleasure of curating a concurrent series of community-generated conversations with partners who have produced works of art and created community-based institutions that serve the hearts, minds, and movements of people that have been here all along but were hidden in plain sight.

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Theaster Gates, See, Sit, Sup, Sip Sing: Holding Court (2012)

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Robert Smith III introducing Theaster Gates’s Holding Court to Macalester College students at the Radical Presence opening-day performances and reception, July 24, 2014

Holding Court: Tell Me Something Good and Northside Pop-Up Museum

Northside Pop Up Museum

Artwork by E. Raelene Ash, Ariah Fine, Donyelle Headington, Amoke Kubat, and Keegan Xavi, Holding Court: Tell Me Something Good and Northside Pop-Up Museum, October 4–5, 2014

Artist, writer, and community organizer Amoke Kubat has lived and worked in North Minneapolis for almost thirty years and wants you to know something about it—something good. In early October, the Walker hosted Tell Me Something Good and Northside Pop-Up Museum, a two-part program she curated and has toured around the city. Over three days, storytellers, musicians, filmmakers, activists, and visual artists brought a slice of the Northside to Lowry Hill, two Minneapolis neighborhoods that are geographically near but socioeconomically worlds apart.

The Tumblr blog Judgmental Maps, founded by a Denver-based comedian, called the neighborhoods that make up the area the “Compton of the North” and “too scary to investigate” compared to Lowry Hill’s “art snobs” and “millionaire Democrats.”[1] Although meant to be tongue-in-cheek send-ups of everyday thinking, these maps hit close to home.[2] Named after the 1974 Rufus and Chaka Khan record of the same name, Tell Me Something Good is a storytelling program meant to challenge these predominant narratives about North Minneapolis and provide an alternative story to those posed by the evening news.[3]

“This project is important to me because I believe it is becoming a movement—the movement away from being isolated and redefined and red-zoned,” Kubat said.

The Northside Pop-Up Museum challenges isolation with its flexibility as a portable gallery for the work of artists from North Minneapolis. A diverse set of Northside artists–including Keegan Xavi, Phira Rehm, E. Raelene Ash, Ariah Fine, and many others–showed collage, sculpture, drawings, photography, multimedia works, and literature, while others exhibited the material culture of everyday life, including an artist’s inclusion of her late father’s trusty guitar. Rather than activating Holding Court through embodied performance, the artwork and artifacts of the Pop-Up Museum used the platform to hold court, tell stories, and provoke questions from insiders and surprise passersby alike.

For Kubat, this project recalled another artwork-cum-platform in Radical Presence, Satch Hoyt’s installation Say It Loud (2004), in which hundreds of books about the African Diaspora are stacked around a stair case. The installation is topped with a live microphone and set to the James Brown classic “Say It Loud (I’m Black And I’m Proud).” Kubat said that the piece posed a set of vital questions to her community:

“What if we have a stack of knowledge? We have a knowledge base and we decide to ease out one piece of it – Does it collapse or fall or make a difference? And that’s how our presence has been in art and history and literature and everything. We don’t know if we’ve been eased in or pulled out half the time.”

 

Holding Court: Andrea Jenkins

“This Holding Court opportunity came to me at the same time that I was in the midst of an artist residency at the Kulture Klub Collaborative, so I was able to incorporate the young people, most of whom were or have experienced homelessness, into my performance. They were so delighted, and I believe inspired, by the opportunity to see a Transgender Woman of Color presenting at the Walker Art Center.” – Andrea Jenkins

Dressed in gown, sash, gloves, tiara, and heels, Andrea Jenkins performed as Miss Trans Life for the evening. Jenkins entered the room escorted by a young minder, a member of the Kulture Klub Collaborative, who carried a wooden picture frame around her face, recalling Lorraine O’Grady’s 1983 performance and photographic series Art Is… (1983/2009), featured in Radical Presence. Photographers and videographers, professionals and iPhone-wielding amateurs, sent the glare of flashbulbs across the room.

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Holding Court: Andrea Jenkins, November 20, 2014

Lorraine O’Grady’s iconic series of performances as art-party-crashing persona Mlle. Bourgeoise Noire called attention to racial exclusion in the 1980s art establishment and the mainstream feminist movement’s elision of race and class concerns. Like Mlle. Bourgeoise Noire, Miss Trans Life demanded our attention to her body and to the exclusion of trans people more generally, especially transgender women of color, from privileged cultural spaces, while also drawing attention to the violence they face in the wider world. Deeply inspired by O’Grady’s career, Jenkins said she “attempted to incorporate some of the tropes that she employed by creating a spectacle and using the empty frame to highlight the notion that the body itself is a work of art.” To figure Miss Trans Life, a black transgender beauty queen, as a work of art was a powerful and poignant assertion. Transgender women bear the brunt of hate and biased violence against LGBTQ people. According to a 2014 report by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, 72 percent of LGBTQ homicide victims in 2013 were transgender women and 89 percent of those victims were people of color.[4] It was a fitting celebration of life for an event held on International Transgender Day of Remembrance, the annual memorial for those who have been killed due to anti-transgender violence.

Repetition was a key motif of the performance. Miss Trans Life read Andrea Jenkins’ poem eighteen three times—once, alone, atop Satch Hoyt’s installation Say It Loud and twice in unison with the audience of fifty. In joining the poet in the reading, audiences embodied the poem about trans bodies surrounded by traces of black bodies. The collaborative recitation of the poem over and over and over took on a trance-like quality with many voices commingling in the imperfect unison of a classroom’s daily Pledge of Allegiance. This time, however, it was a pledge to honor the lives of the dead by confronting present prejudice. eighteen is built on repetition—the repetition of the title, of the psychic stresses of survival, of the names of notable activists in the movement, of the institutions that regulate the lives of trans people, and of nascent progress. Between each reading, Miss Trans Life led her followers through the galleries as a queen might show off her collection to envious courtiers. The juxtaposition of the royal air of Miss Trans Life with Jenkins’ somber verses was stark.

“18 candles on Transgender Day of Remembrance, 18 Trans women of color murdered
And not always by those who hate them, but by men who have made love and shared
Love with them, but want to keep those secrets in the dark” — from eighteen, Andrea Jenkins

After a final reading in front of Daniel Tisdale’s aptly titled Transitions, Inc. (1992), Miss Trans Life led participants, now her fellow performers, to Holding Court for a conversation about passing, inter-sectionality, and, importantly, resistance. Jenkins uses her poetry to show that transwomen of color are not simply victims but are fighting back. Reina Gossett, Janet Mock, Laverne Cox, CeCe McDonald, and many others, all mentioned by name in eighteen are working to turn the tide through their activism, organizing, literature, and performance.

On December 13, 2014 hundreds of artists and activists gathered in downtown Minneapolis under the banner “Million Artist Movement” to protest police killings of unarmed black men, including Michael Brown and Eric Garner. Joining dozens of other artists at the microphone in People’s Park, Jenkins rephrased the mantra of the current movement against racism and police brutality: #TransLivesMatter.

“18 Trans women of color gathering
for an out pouring of self love,
sistas are doing it for themselves” — from eighteen, Andrea Jenkins

 

Holding Court: Students Hold Court

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Students from University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse, Walker Teen Arts Council, Penumbra Theatre Company, and the African American Registry, Holding Court: Students Hold Court, November 22, 2014

Holding Court is made up of tables, chairs, and chalkboards salvaged from a public elementary school on the South Side of Chicago. The installation has since travelled from those humble origins to international art fairs and to museums around the United States. Much of the power of the work is the way that it plays with context, changing white-walled galleries into classrooms, chalk dust and all. Given the origin of the installation’s materials, it was only fitting to activate Holding Court with students and young people while it was on view at the Walker. Students representing the University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse, the African American Registry, Penumbra Theatre Company, the Walker’s own Teen Arts Council, and others participated in a wide-ranging discussion that used works in Radical Presence as a springboard for talking about the here and now. In the spirit of the installation, students generated their own questions and posed them to each other. A key question interrogated the title of the exhibition Radical Presence: Black Performance in Contemporary Art. Why “radical”? Why “black”?

Participants ably debated the complexities of calling out race in the art world. One student argued in favor of naming race in the title of the exhibition as a crucial signal to audiences. If the everyday viewer assumes that the producer of contemporary art, especially the abstract or the conceptual, is white, isn’t it important to disrupt that assumption by marking that the work was indeed produced by black artists? Art historian Darby English’s book How to See a Work of Art in Total Darkness and recent statements by artist Adrian Piper present challenges to race-based curatorial projects and to “black art” as a category more generally. Perhaps without knowing it, these students recapitulated these important debates. This is hardly a surprise as these are pressing questions in public life, as we continue to grapple with the significance of the Obama presidency and debate the rise of what have been termed post-racial ideologies, which are increasingly called into question by the cries of #BlackLivesMatter—some by these very teens—emanating from the nation’s streets.

 

Holding Court: Choreographers Hold Court

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Deneane Richburg, Kenna-Camara Cottman, Deja Stowers, and Kendra Dennard, Holding Court: Choreographers Hold Court, November 30, 2014

New York Times film critic A.O. Scott asked readers last fall: “Is our art equal to the challenges of our time?” He went on to say, “Much as I respect the efforts of economists and social scientists to explain the world and the intermittent efforts of politicians to change it, I trust artists and writers more. Not necessarily to be righteous or infallible, or even consistent or coherent; not to instruct or advocate, but rather, through the integrity and discipline they bring to making something new, to tell the truth.”[5]

Kenna-Camara Cottman, curator of November’s Choreographers’ Evening, answered Scott’s call with a resounding yes. The urgent program of dance that she assembled was followed up by a dynamic conversation with the Evening’s performers who held court to discuss contemporary dance making alongside the pressing contemporary questions of race, place, resources, and power in the Twin Cities.

With its intended use as a forum for questioning institutions, Holding Court lends itself to self-reflexive conversations about location, space, and context. In this case, participants discussed the complexities of presenting their work in the Walker. As an artist-centered institution, the Walker made its resources, staff expertise, facilities, and publicity available to carry out the vision of the curator and dance makers. In the context of this particular presentation, however, the dance makers noted some of the byproducts of that support—a largely white audience when nearly all performers were of color; ticket prices that were out of reach of some members of the desired audience; and the performance’s limited run. This conversation really points to some of the ongoing challenges of genuine inclusion and equity in the arts. As many of the dance works at Choreographers’ Evening made clear, long histories have produced our present quandaries.

The limits of the broader dance community came to the fore as well. Many dancers and choreographers voiced their experiences of not feeling at home in the Twin Cities dance community. Some choreographers couldn’t tell the stories they wanted to tell without skilled black dancers, while others felt that they needed to leave the area for larger cities in order to have a fair shot at success. Still others are putting down roots here in the Twin Cities to build institutions that train and present the work of black choreographers and dancers to make this set of problems a thing of the past.

 

Holding Court: Congressman Keith Ellison

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Holding Court: Congressman Keith Ellison, with guest panelists: Rose Brewer, Pierce Canser, Chrys Carroll, Elliot James, Andrea Jenkins, Tricia Khutoretsky, Nicole Smith, Hawona Sullivan Janzen, and Gregory Rose, December 6, 2014

Eric Garner died in Staten Island, New York, at the hands of a police officer who put him in a chokehold during an arrest. Garner, a father of six, had been accused of illegally selling loose cigarettes. On December 3rd, the officer, Daniel Pantaleo, was not indicted by a grand jury. The following day, Congressman Keith Ellison, an outspoken supporter of the recent Black Lives Matter protests, joined a standing room only crowd to activate Holding Court one final time at the Walker. Garner’s death was top of mind.

Congressman Ellison immediately injected class and economic inequality into a conversation that had been largely structured around race. Garner’s hustle was a sign of economic precariousness that many families have always faced, now with the heightened effects of the recent recession. Pointing to the ways in which race and class have been historically linked in the United States—and are particularly visible in the death of Eric Garner—Ellison foregrounded the racial and class politics of the art which surrounded us.

A key question was the efficacy of what might be called activist or political art to foment social change. The global art market’s profit motive circulates objects, at times despite their original context or potential meaning, as one of a number of valuable commodities. This circulation in galleries, museums, and auction houses creates conversation about the work but does this circulation subordinate other concerns to economic ones? In other words, a theme of discussion was whether a “radical” object on a collector’s wall makes a sound?

Another important conversation was more a self-reflexive one: What did it mean for the Walker to host this conversation in its galleries and in the context of Radical Presence? Even as the exhibition and the programming held at Holding Court offered a way forward, it also raised ever more questions: What is the relationship between institutions, their desire to survive and grow, and the broader community? What are the challenges to building inclusive and equitable institutions? When and how do we start our own institutions and hold court where we already do?

 

[1] http://judgmentalmaps.com/post/48615076593/Minneapolis

[2] http://www.startribune.com/lifestyle/205142031.html

[3] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S9uZOCEl7v0

[4] http://avp.org/storage/documents/2013_ncavp_hvreport_final.pdf

[5] http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/30/arts/is-our-art-equal-to-the-challenges-of-our-times.html

2014: The Year According to Fionn Meade

2014 brought a new face and a new position to the Walker: Fionn Meade became our new senior curator of cross-disciplinary platforms, a job that acknowledges the “shifting terrain” of artmaking today, when artists fluidly traverse media and presentation spaces, from gallery to stage and beyond. In conjunction with 2014: The Year According to   […]

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2014 brought a new face and a new position to the Walker: Fionn Meade became our new senior curator of cross-disciplinary platforms, a job that acknowledges the “shifting terrain” of artmaking today, when artists fluidly traverse media and presentation spaces, from gallery to stage and beyond. In conjunction with 2014: The Year According to                                 , our series of artist best of-2014 lists, Meade shares his own perspective on the year that was. For more on the Walker’s curatorial perspective, read 2014: The Year According to Olga Viso, featuring top picks from the Walker’s executive director.
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