Blogs Untitled (Blog)

John Szarkowski: The perfect photo

Best known as a photographer and the 29-year director of MoMA’s Department of Photography (1962–1991), John Szarkowski’s long career has lesser known origins in these parts. Born in Ashland, Wisconsin, and educated at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, his first job out of college was managing the Walker’s photo studio. And his first show as a […]

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Best known as a photographer and the 29-year director of MoMA’s Department of Photography (1962–1991), John Szarkowski’s long career has lesser known origins in these parts. Born in Ashland, Wisconsin, and educated at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, his first job out of college was managing the Walker’s photo studio. And his first show as a solo artist, a series of self portraits, took place at the Walker in 1949. (His MoMA exhibition Mirrors & Windows: American Photography Since 1960 was exhibited here in 1979.) Retired from administrative duties, Szarkowski is focusing on his photography (he has a solo show at Peter Fetterman Gallery in Santa Monica through January) and apparently has more time to talk. In a new LAWeekly interview, he discusses the history of photography and, mentioning a “perfect picture” by Sheron Rupp in the Getty’s show Where We Live (on view until February 25), what he thinks makes an exceptional image:

In a bad photograph, a lot of the time, the frame isn’t altogether understood — there are big areas of unexplained chemicals. It’s especially difficult as the picture gets bigger. If it’s small, a little piece of black can look like a dark place, right? But as it gets bigger, eventually it just turns into a black shape. And you look at the surface of the picture and it reminds you of the chemical factories on Lake Erie, creating pollution problems by making synthetic materials out of soybeans and petroleum derivatives. And you don’t want that. The basic material of photographs is not intrinsically beautiful. It’s not like ivory or tapestry or bronze or oil on canvas. You’re not supposed to look at the thing, you’re supposed to look through it. It’s a window. And everything behind it has got to be organized as a space full of stuff, even if it’s only air.

Some photographers think the idea is enough. I told a good story in my Getty talk, a beautiful story, to the point: Ducasse says to his friend Mallarmé — I think this is a true story — he says, “ You know, I’ve got a lot of good ideas for poems, but the poems are never very good.” Mallarmé says, “ Of course, you don’t make poems out of ideas, you make poems out of words.” Really good, huh? Really true. So, photographers who aren’t so good think that you make photographs out of ideas. And they generally get only about halfway to the photograph and think that they’re done.

Above: St. Albans, Vermont, one of Sherron Rupp’s photos in the exhibition Where We Live.

The Road-Side Giant Book Project

When you walk through one of Thomas Hirschhorn‘s massive installations, like Cavemanman, it’s hard to miss his philosophical influences: Bataille, Foucault, Kant, de Toqueville, Sartre, Mann, Locke. Less obvious, however, are the decidedly lower-brow influences on his gigantic works — “Road Side Giants” including the Jolly Green Giant statue in Blue Earth, Minnesota; Sphinx Realty’s […]

bena1.jpgWhen you walk through one of Thomas Hirschhorn‘s massive installations, like Cavemanman, it’s hard to miss his philosophical influences: Bataille, Foucault, Kant, de Toqueville, Sartre, Mann, Locke. Less obvious, however, are the decidedly lower-brow influences on his gigantic works — “Road Side Giants” including the Jolly Green Giant statue in Blue Earth, Minnesota; Sphinx Realty’s Los Angeles namesake; and the gigantic muskellunge that is Bena, Minnesota’s Big Fish Supper Club. Reveling in the “pointless disproportion” of these characters/structures, Hirschhorn remarked in a letter to curator Philippe Vergne how he loved that one could “enter and confront their disproportion”:

I love this “pragmatic” dimension. To enter into the sculpture, into the monument, to enter into the publicity, into an image. To enter the contents, I love that you can enter its meaning.

In 2004, Hirschhorn was invited to create just such an “enterable” project in Minneapolis as part of Walker without Walls, the series of programs we presented around town during construction of our new facility. He came up with a Road Side Giant of his own — a 50-foot tall replica of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari’s book A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. The massive tome was to be installed along Lake Street in south Minneapolis and would’ve housed a library of philosophy texts, the production center for a daily philosophy newspaper he and philosopher Marcus Steinweg were to create, a meeting and exhibition space, and, outside, a cafe. The project unfortunately outgrew its budget and was never realized, so here, for the first time publicly, are plans for The Road-Side Giant Book Project.

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Max Andrews, a visual arts fellow at the time and now an independent curator/editor in Barcelona, described the project:

[H]is project will function not only as a mega-sculpture, but as an ambitious center for philosophy. Deleuze and Guattari’s book is a landmark of continental thought, one that explodes philosophy by exploring it in terms of a host of other disciplines: from popular film and music to genetics and ecology. Hirschhorn will create his provocatively large book-structure in this spirit of bringing philosophy to life, compelling the community to question what role philosophy plays on the street. The artist will be on site every day of the project to animate a series of challenging lectures, produce and distribute a daily newspaper, and invite the participation of the community. As a giant bookkeeper, he will create a library and a “Galazy of Philosophy” exhibition in a room inside the book, as well as host a community run café right outside. “It’s a project for the love of art in Minneapolis,” Hirschhorn says, and The Road-Side Giant Book Project, while far too large to be flying off the shelves and far too heavy to be “unputdownable,” promises to deliver a profound thud on the Lake Street doormat this summer.

Hirschhorn laid out his plans for the 36′ x 16′ x 50′ piece in hand-drawn documents, diagrams, and photocopies of roadside attractions, marked up with alternate names (Colossus Book? Jumbo Book?). He created a crude mock-up of what the center might look like, using a color xerox of the area–just east of the then-vacant Sears complex on Lake–pencil markings, and tape.

The artist described the project as “an obscene gift. An affirmation that philosophy, that art can conquer a space in the mind of the public… Art and philosophy are not the same thing, but they can do the same thing: summon something that isn’t there.” By engaging the neighborhood–a diverse, mixed-income, urban area–with questions about philosophy’s place in urban existence, Hirschhorn realized his work would face graffiti and damage over its two-month installation–all risks, he says, that are integral to a project he alternately called an experiment, an affirmation, and a confrontation.

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Closing: Cameron’s Cave

The day after Thomas Hirschhorn’s tape, foil, and cardboard cave opens in Heart of Darkness, the exhibition Cameron Jamie closes, darkening another cave, Jamie’s Maps and Composite Actions. Well worth a visit–the show closes October 22–the gallery-sized installation is a steep path through a landscape made from chicken wire embedded with clay (sold only in […]

ex2006cj_ins_095.jpgThe day after Thomas Hirschhorn’s tape, foil, and cardboard cave opens in Heart of Darkness, the exhibition Cameron Jamie closes, darkening another cave, Jamie’s Maps and Composite Actions. Well worth a visit–the show closes October 22–the gallery-sized installation is a steep path through a landscape made from chicken wire embedded with clay (sold only in Europe, it is used to make curved walls in housing construction, says Walker assistant curator Yasmil Raymond). The path is dark and so narrow that only one person, carrying a lantern, can experience it at a time. The entry and exit to this cave are the same, and at the bottom of the twisting, bumpy walk are drawings and collages of a distinctly Halloween flavor.

The work’s label explains that it’s part of an ongoing project by Jamie that started with a series of late-night performances in which the artist, dressed as a vampire, rode a horse through California’s San Fernando Valley or visited bars, strip clubs, and 24-hour convenience stores, picking fights with strangers:

There is no visual record of these actions, only the verbal testimonies of his accomplice, which were transcribed into text. This series of drawings, inspired by extracts from those unverifiable accounts and made by the artist in collaboration with a Parisian street-portrait artist and Dutch cartoonist Erik Wielaert, gives form to a ‘myth’ in the making.

The work is one of most arresting–thanks to the disorienting walk along a trail none to easy to navigate, and the eerie sense of discovery when you hold a lantern up to images mounted on precariously leaned boards–in a show that’s sparked a range of great responses (notably, the wide-ranging and thoughtful review “We Can Be Heroes” by Minneapolis sculptor Jeffrey Kalstrom). Did you experience it? If so, what did you think. If not, get to the Walker before Sunday to walk the winding path.

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Coming soon: An audio interview with Thomas Hirschhorn on his immersive work Cavemanman, which can be previewed Friday night.

Installing Cavemanman

A hybrid of dorm room, al-Qaeda cave, hermit’s lair, philosopohical nerve center, and subterranean beer-drinking hideout, Thomas Hirschhorn’s installation Cavemanman is taking shape in Galleries, 4, 5 and 6 for next weekend’s opening of Heart of Darkness: Kai Althoff, Ellen Gallagher and Edgar Cleijne, Thomas Hirschhorn. Nearly complete, the winding tunnel–made of wood, cardboard, and […]

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A hybrid of dorm room, al-Qaeda cave, hermit’s lair, philosopohical nerve center, and subterranean beer-drinking hideout, Thomas Hirschhorn’s installation Cavemanman is taking shape in Galleries, 4, 5 and 6 for next weekend’s opening of Heart of Darkness: Kai Althoff, Ellen Gallagher and Edgar Cleijne, Thomas Hirschhorn. Nearly complete, the winding tunnel–made of wood, cardboard, and packing tape–is lit by blinding fluorescent lights and decorations including posters of Che Guevara and a topless Pamela Anderson, wall clocks showing time zones in various cities, videos showing other caves, and filled trash bags. The installation completely transforms a gallery where just a few weeks ago Diane Arbus’ photography appeared in a clean, solemn, museum-y space. The effect, even half-finished, as I experienced it today, is remarkable. As the Village Voice commented when the artist installed the piece in 2002:

There’s a primal satisfaction in walking into a haughty, high-stakes, white-cube Chelsea gallery to find that you’ve entered a messy, makeshift cave. The cavernous labyrinth of lumpy tunnels, nooks and crannies, rocky pathways, and culs-de-sac, all clumsily made of cardboard, aluminum foil, and miles of shiny mud-brown wrapping tape, is preposterous, slapdash, sort of womb-like, and vaguely intestinal. Its bumpy ground is littered with very fake rocks. Cans of Sprite and Coca-Cola litter the floor and overflow from gold foil garbage cans. Xeroxed pages from books about justice and democracy are taped to the walls. And in addition to us transient viewers, stumbling along its paths disoriented and bemused, the five-room cave is inhabited by clusters of aluminum foil figures and foil-wrapped shopwindow mannequins, who are linked by foil cords to make-believe explosives or books. Hostages or terrorists, throwbacks to the past or refugees from the future, these figures also evoke, quite by chance, the recent episode in a Moscow theater, but Cavemanman was in the works long before that site of cultural production was overtaken or stormed. The slogan scrawled repeatedly on the cave’s walls, “1 man = 1 man,” has to do not with terror but with absolute equality.

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Hear Hirschhorn speak at a free gallery talk tonight, and while you’re here don’t miss our other cave, a winding hilly path only wide enough for one lantern-bearing visitor to navigate at a time, installed in the exhibition Cameron Jamie (closing October 22).

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Cameron Jamie: Misandrist or lost boy?

Minneapolis painter Frank Gaard, who last shared his perspectives on the Walker Expansion and our Kiki Smith exhibition, returns to guest-blog on Cameron Jamie. This is very a strange exhibition. At first I was put off by the touchie-feely faux Pierre Alechinsky drawings–so many of them, too. My companion tells me that Jamie is based […]

6127600.jpgMinneapolis painter Frank Gaard, who last shared his perspectives on the Walker Expansion and our Kiki Smith exhibition, returns to guest-blog on Cameron Jamie.

This is very a strange exhibition. At first I was put off by the touchie-feely faux Pierre Alechinsky drawings–so many of them, too. My companion tells me that Jamie is based in Paris but comes from Los Angeles, which is a good clue given the huge cultural disparity betwixt the two locations. The wrestling video put me off: more men are bad, men are stupid etc. Misandristry, it’s like the layup rather than the three pointer. Men as a gender have been taking a beating for decades, and in general some of us deserve it, but short of Paul McCarthy I haven’t seen this much man-bashing in a while. And, too, the ethnocentricity of the work (forgive me for being so 90’s), I think it would be nice to leave Joseph Beuys and his crew forgotten for a time, leave the hares be and let the dead painters have their delusions.

It’s not to say that I didn’t find things in the exhibition that were entertaining and beautiful; it may just be I’m getting old and less hip. (Hey, I still think Mike Kelley is a young artist!) Besides who am I to question the wisdom of the cognoscenti who deem Mr. Jamie the flavor of the moment? I do like the Cave which has to be the creepiest sculpture I’ve ever experienced–the darkess and the texture of that plastic building material–ugh!–and those creepy bird pics. It’s that Gothic thing that Paris has in spades, all those spikey gargoyles and the whole sort of Baudelairian dankness. Icky, I felt great urgency to get out of that thing and back to the sweet comfort of the black guard who gave me the too-dim lantern in the first place. I wanted to warn some children but, hey, if mom and dad want them to experience something that weird, it’s none of my business. But I have to admire Jamie’s chutzpah to make such an unhappy sculpture. This is one of the cases where I really understand why I am so puzzled by sculpture. It’s good sick fun but is that all there is, mon ami?

The outsourced portraits, created at Jamie’s direction by street artists, of course, I found just sweet as rhubarb pie. And the Goth photos? I do my vacuuming with Marilyn Manson’s music. It’s a genre that’s hard to resist and you know you are listening to something that Dick Cheney thinks is sick. And that maybe the point is that sickness isn’t such an awful thing if it’s cultural rather than physical. The way Los Angeles hits people can be an indicator of an aesthetic proclivity. Many of my most favorite artist comrades are based in Los Angeles; as dystopias go, LA has everything one needs to create an otherness that is still home and horror both. Jamie brings together some very contradictory elements sometimes, as with the big film poster they really kick ass.

Other work: the Halloween photos are so abject that you want to run upstairs to the Arbus show to see what Halloween was really like! But Jamie’s young and when he’s on he’s really a pisser. A small group of photos (what we once called snapshots) of a Michael Jackson impersonator wrestling is a case in point. To me the piece was fabulous–beautiful color and some suspension of ego, like, yes, this is art and I get pleasure here. So what can I say? He’s the sum of his influences, and maybe he has a while to go before he outstrips those influences, but hey that’s just my opinion an artist who works a different beat, who just isn’t all that interested in culture that seems to be marginal by design. After all I have my own technicolor nightmares to contend with. Bon Apetit, it’s what we used to call an acquired taste only I think it’s more raw than cooked.

Open-Ended Interview: Doryun Chong on Rirkrit Tiravanija

“Duchamp and Joseph Beuys and Marcel Broodthaers, all these figures are not like statues of Lenin or Saddam that need to be toppled, but are instead more like living spirits that [Rirkrit Tiravanija] communes with.” – Doryun Chong, curator In the recent Walker exhibition OPEN-ENDED (the art of engagement), curator Doryun Chong faced a challenge: […]

“Duchamp and Joseph Beuys and Marcel Broodthaers, all these figures are not like statues of Lenin or Saddam that need to be toppled, but are instead more like living spirits that [Rirkrit Tiravanija] communes with.”

– Doryun Chong, curator

In the recent Walker exhibition OPEN-ENDED (the art of engagement), curator Doryun Chong faced a challenge: how to present the Walker’s history of artist residencies and do it while engaging community in new ways. With a panel of Walker staff members from all departments, he set out to open up the gallery–literally and metaphorically–and who better to help than Thai artist Rirkrit Tiravanija, who was a resident artist here in the mid-90s? Tiravanija recreated and modified Viennese architect Friedrich Kiesler‘s Raumbhne, a spiral stage–or “space stage”–that illustrated his idea of correalism, a “theory of the endless and multidimensional correlation between the human being, the arts and the space.” Tiravanija’s “demo station” was a launchpad for a variety of activities during the run of the exhibition, from karaoke battles and a teen fashion show to performances and music events. Chong recently discussed Tiravanija’s art and the stage that became the locus of activity in this unusual and free-form show.

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Tiravanija’s untitled (demo station no. 5), during “a moment of stasis, in between moments of complete chaos.”

PS: Rirkrit once told me, “I often work against ways of being museologized, or being dead in a sense.” That’s a good starting point for discussing the installation in OPEN-ENDED. For a guy who doesn’t want to be museologized, going to an art museum is an interesting choice. The premise of this show seems to resonate with his work, which is to have work activated or “completed” by its users. How did this work?

DC: When I expressed the objectives of this show to Rirkrit, it was natural to him. After my long spiel [about residencies and audience engagement], he simply said, “So what you’re trying to do is create a community in your gallery?” The way the Walker has been interpreting civic engagement is: we need to go out and meet with all kinds of neighborhoods and work with people. Rirkrit simply inverted that idea and said that, well, what you want is communities to form inside the gallery and you want to create some kind of catalyst in the space.

He didn’t pull something completely new out of the hat to provide that catalyst. He immediately saw that what he was interested in at the moment could also serve the function we wanted, and that was Friedrich Kiesler’s Raumbhne. He wanted to re-embody it or re-enact it. He started with this very particular historical architecture, an icon of both modernist architecture and modernist theater, but he wasn’t fixated on the idea of recreation. Obviously, it’s been scaled down, and the materials are different. And when I proposed to him that another project within the exhibition–Spencer Nakasako’s video booth–be incorporated into the space, he had no qualms about it whatsoever. He was actually intrigued by it. He has a very loose–in a very positive sense–interpretation of it, and maybe that’s one way he skirts being museologized. That work isn’t meant to be a precious piece of art.

PS: The materials seem to play into that: it’s plywood 2 x 4’s, not marble.

DC: Or steel. The original Kiesler stage, its main scaffolding and trusses were made out of steel. We made changes to fit the space and the budget and to build in Spencer’s project. He was completely open to all those suggestions, and he was perfectly happy with it.

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A scene from the un-Prom fashion show

PS: That openness matches Rirkrit’s definition of art as simply a “space for possibilities.” When I spoke to him about The Land (the sustainability community/art experiment he co-founded in 1998 outside of Chiang Mai), he used the metaphor of a table: that the land is an empty table top that people bring various projects to. They bring things to it, use the top, leave things there or take them away, but it’s basically an empty table. It seems like a fitting way to talk about his work in general, because even though this particular piece looks like a table, he creates structures, literal and metaphorical, for people to operate on.

DC: Another metaphor that lends itself is not just an empty table, but a messy table! That’s the sense you get at the land. Of course, it’s a “utopian” community and whatnot, but when you go there, things are now pretty decrepit in this subtropical climate. And some of the projects are specifically about that. Structures like Francois Roche’s Hybrid Muscle, which is on one hand architecture that generates power using water buffaloes that live on the premise, but on the other hand, the materials are now rotting and falling apart, just like organic beings. I think that’s an important notion in Roche’s theory of architecture, architecture that is not about permanence and monumentality, but growth and degeneration.

PS: It also fits Rirkrit’s idea of utopia as “ being able to exist in chaos, to live within a chaotic structure.” He says, “ Chaos is, for me, is life, is change, is moving. We’re always living within it.” In that way, this stage, with its fashion shows and activist displays, was pretty chaotic.

DC: Right. Some events were very quiet and orderly: one artist, Abinadi Meza, did a sound performance on top of the stage, and his response to the architecture’s circular structure. And Matt Bakkom’s project of teaching people how to play Anagram was a very simple and elegant response to the space and how people can experience it. Some of them were obviously much more dynamic and really challenged the space: Gulgun Kayim’s Skewed Visions project, and the fashion show where models ran up and down the round ramp with the band on top of the stage.

His stage, when there’s nothing happening in it, looks impressive and beautiful and structured and ordered. But that’s a moment of stasis, in between moments of complete chaos. And I was really nervous each time as these large events were happening or about to happen. I kept trying to have control over the crowd and people’s behavior, but then realized I can’t really control them. When people get together, somehow they create a structure within that. Structure is always built into chaos and vice versa. Through the realization of this project as part of the larger exhibition, it taught me something about curatorial practice. It’s not about complete control, but sometimes it’s about letting go of the control and impart your faith and confidence in people, your audience. Still, because of habit and inertia, every time we held an event I would think, “What would Rirkrit think about the craziness happening on stage?” In the end I realized he doesn’t really mind.

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Karaoke battle, with replica amp and inflatable guitars

PS: I’m never sure what Rirkrit’s intent is, but I think the result is that he subverts some of our sacred cows of the art world. When I spoke to him about this idea, he said: in a culture where everyone rigidly holds onto everything so much, letting go is subversive.

DC: For me, subversiveness is a problematic term because it’s one of those kinds of words we use habitually. I think that’s just the legacy of modernism. Impressionists were the first generation of modernists. Before them, the Realists, like Courbet, were completely subversive. In a sense, Modernism is a history of successive subversions: Impressionists followed by Fauvists and then Dada and Fluxus. It’s also a kind of a patricidal, Oedipal kind of struggle, that you always have to subvert what comes before you. As this history of subversion accumulates like geological strata, at which point can you not subvert any more? At which point do you come back to the original point? I like to think that Rirkrit’s work is completely aware of all the subversions that have happened and tries, perhaps, to swim in it. There’s an incredible amount of respect and admiration in it, but it’s on a very personal and intimate level. Duchamp and Joseph Beuys and Marcel Broodthaers, all these figures are, in a sense for him, not like statues of Lenin or Saddam that need to be toppled, but are instead more like living spirits that he communes with.

PS: So, maybe subversion isn’t the word, but his work does seem to have the effect of giving us a little pinch–“Well, why can’t we cook in the galleries? Why can’t we have plywood in the gallery? Yeah we can!” It’s a tweak rather than a toppling.

DC: On the one hand it really kind of awakens you, but on the other, it’s a gentle reminder that all these actions have already happened. It’s a reminder of history, of our shared heritage and tradition.

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Gulgun Kayim’s Skewed Visions project

PS: There’s that Buddhist idea that you can never step in the same stream twice, that it’s a flow. He said that about his work; he could revisit his earlier projects today and they’d be totally different. In one interview, he touched on this idea that there are a lot of great ideas out there that need to be explored. Maybe we don’t need new ideas all the time. Maybe we need to bring back Kiesler’s stage. With the land, maybe we need to see which ideas are good ideas, and rather than just coming up with new ideas, perhaps we need to test and develop.

DC: Just as the history of the avant-garde is a succession of subversions, we can’t forget that what drove that history was originality and authorship. We’re still so caught up in that idea. “Where’s the originality? Oh, that’s been done!” That’s the most dismissive comment you can make, right? But just to calmly realize that there are no more new ideas, but not in a pessimistic or self-defeatist kind of way, but that all the good ideas are already there, just as the bad ideas are all there.

PS: As a culture, how did we get so entranced with “the new”? Is it just a product of a consumerist mindset ? We don’t seem to ask what “new” means to me, but it’s marketed as inherently better.

DC: That’s what capitalism does, but in a larger sense, that’s what modernity does. By definition, modernity is the new. It’s always relational. I don’t want romanticize Rirkrit’s Buddhist background, but there is a different understanding of time as nonlinear. It’s circular, it’s karmic, and nothing is new in a sense. It regenerates itself, but it’s already been there.

PS: Critics often speak of Rirkrit’s work in terms of the concept of “ relational aesthetics” (the relationships that are sparked by the art) or the work’s of “use-value”–both ideas that predate Rirkrit’s work.

DC: Perhaps that idea of art for use, art that has functional purposes, needs reinforcement and needs to be returned to periodically. From Duchamp’s readymades to Beuys’ conception of art as conversations and teaching, there have been various iterations of the idea of art forming relations throughout history. But maybe it disintegrates a bit or becomes precious. It turns into objects and becomes “museumized.” Each generation of artists needs to reinvent that idea with a slightly different terminology. And, in a sense, the museum’s role is to preserve those lessons. We’re still an object- and image-based society, and that’s what a museum is, ultimately. All of these radical notions and practices become objectified and archived and collected. So each generation has to reinvent that a bit. It’s not an antagonistic relationship. It’s a complementary relationship that the museum and artists have. In a sense, again, there are no new ideas. There’s one idea and multiple iterations of it. And in the process, museums evolve and artists’ practice evolves. But when I say evolution, I don’t really like to think of it like we continue to reach higher and higher to this final utopian point. It’s a more circular process.

Anything but perfunctory.

When the Walker expansion opened in April 2005, a familiar mural had found a new home: Sol LeWitt‘s Four Geometric Figures in a Room (1984) moved from the first level of the Edward Larrabee Barnes-designed building to Gallery 8 Cafe several floors up (you can see it during lunch hours, Tuesday through Sunday). In preparation […]

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When the Walker expansion opened in April 2005, a familiar mural had found a new home: Sol LeWitt‘s Four Geometric Figures in a Room (1984) moved from the first level of the Edward Larrabee Barnes-designed building to Gallery 8 Cafe several floors up (you can see it during lunch hours, Tuesday through Sunday). In preparation for an article on the mural for the September/October issue of Walker, I interviewed senior registration technician Dave Bartley on the complex installation of the mural. The work, owned by the Walker, exists in the collection as a certificate that outlines in exacting detail how the work is to be recreated without the aid of the artist. In the Walker’s collection catalogue, LeWitt is quoted as saying that

“when an artist uses a conceptual form of art, it means that all the planning and decisions are made beforehand and the execution is a perfunctory affair. The idea becomes the machine that makes the art.”

Hearing Dave recount the installation–precision taping followed by nine layers of paint applied painstakingly over two weeks with folded-cloth “buns” and supervised by LeWitt’s installer–suggests that the process was anything but perfunctory.

Here’s a photographic chronicle of one wall of the mural:

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All photos: Dave Bartley, except the top one, by Cameron Wittig

The binoculographer.

Alec Soth Falls 34 2005 Several years ago, photographer Wing Young Huie’s Lake Street Project, a series of photos taken in the neighborhoods abutting this south Minneapolis street, was displayed on billboards and store windows the length of the six-mile avenue. Walking the route, past tiendas, Vietnamese nail salons, and Mexican restaurants, I’d stop and […]

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Alec Soth Falls 34 2005

Several years ago, photographer Wing Young Huie’s Lake Street Project, a series of photos taken in the neighborhoods abutting this south Minneapolis street, was displayed on billboards and store windows the length of the six-mile avenue. Walking the route, past tiendas, Vietnamese nail salons, and Mexican restaurants, I’d stop and pore over images of people who, if I moved a foot to the left to look into the hairstylist’s shop where the photo was displayed, might not be so fond of such wanton peering. That experience came to mind last month when I was interviewing another Twin Cities-based photographer, Alec Soth. In the course of our discussion, Soth talked about life after his inclusion in the 2004 Whitney Biennial, his new project Niagara, and the art of looking. In this Walker blog exclusive, that’s where we pick up the conversation:

Alec: I just think about how wonderful it is to be a photographer, because it’s this permission slip that you’re given to go into the nail salon or to walk up to that person at the bus stop and say, “ Can I stare at you for 30 seconds?” It’s an incredible luxury. We could do this without a camera, but it’d probably be even more awkward… I used to joke that I was going to become a “ binoculographer.” I’d just go around staring at people with binoculars. Kind of performance art… I feel like a large part of photography is like a performance. And the photograph is like a document of this performance, of this encounter with the world.

Paul: What about–I guess the question is: what makes a good photographer, but I don’t really want you to answer that because I think it’s too big (and too subjective) of a question…

AS: It’s a corny question, but it’s a good one. And suddenly I have an answer. I think what makes a good photographer is being willing to explore what you really want to explore. If you really want to photograph furry kitties, just do it. It’s ok

PS: But what about the in-the-moment nature of shooting? Is the good photographer–whatever that means–the one who just knows: this is something I want to photograph? Does it happen for you […] that there’s a surprise when you develop?

AS: There’s plenty of discovery along the way. The fun part is discovering what it is I’m attracted to. I recently heard an interview with a writer who said, and you’ve heard this a million times in different ways, that they write to find out what they’re going to write. I’m interested in photographing to find out what I’m attracted to photographing. You end up learning something about yourself in that process.

PS: If you’re starting a new project, how does that work? Do you just start shooting and see where it takes you?

AS: No. I did this project recently in Niagara Falls, and it started before I’d ever been to Niagara Falls. I had these pictures in my head of things I’d hoped to find. I have a list of things I want to shoot. One thing is “ men in pajamas.” I’ve yet to find a man in pajamas, but it’s something I’m looking for. Why is that? That’s the way I go out into the world, is looking for certain things.

PS: Do you have a picture of a man in pajamas in your head? Do you think visually like that?

AS: Yeah. This is totally corny, but the way I think about it is I really close my eyes and I try to imagine an exhibition of pictures and see what kind of pictures–what is it I really want to look at?–and then go try to make those pictures. You never make those pictures, because they just don’t emerge that way, but it takes you on a path. Recently, I was in Georgia and it was the beginning of a commission. What did I want to photograph? Like, I’m interested in hermits. So I do a little Google search on “ hermits,” “ Georgia.” And I find this Greek orthodox monastery in rural Georgia, and I go there and have this amazing encounter with these people. Those pictures weren’t in my head–Greek Orthodox monks–but something developed and it took me on this crazy path.

PS: Keeping lists suggests that, yes, art is about innate talent and being visionary, but also research and process and development.

AS: And just going out and doing it. It’s easy to make the lists, but the hard part is actually going out. And it’s scary. Driving up to the monastery in the woods, I was horrendously nervous about what’s going to take place and just trying to relax and go with the flow and seeing where you end up.

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Alec Soth Mother and Daughter, Davenport, Iowa 2002

PS: I love this photo [above]. It’s just a fragment, but it’s rich with narrative. What were their stories?

AS: This was in a sort of massage parlor, or what have you. A lot of the people I photograph, I ask them what their dreams are, and I have them write it down on a sheet of paper. “ ‘My dream is to be an RN,’ wrote Aja. Her mother, Julie, said that she had given up dreaming a long time ago.” I give these little nuggets of information discretely–these little footnotes for those who want it. I love that she wants to be an RN. It’s hopeful.

PS: It’s such a bodily picture–there’s so much flesh there, which connects to the RN thing in a way, in a more wholesome way, perhaps.

AS: This picture, large, you can really stare at them, really stare at their flesh in a way that’d be highly uncomfortable in real life. It’s really that simple… We all like people watching. It’s just a sensual pleasure. Flesh is a sensual pleasure. It’s really that simple. One needn’t write essays about it.

Change of Plans

The exhibition Sharon Lockhart: Pine Flat opened this weekend, and the show looks beautiful. But those of you who read this blog will notice something missing from the exhibition gallery: the Windsor settee. The floorplan of an exhibition is developed over a period of several months to a year, depending on the complexity of the […]

The exhibition Sharon Lockhart: Pine Flat opened this weekend, and the show looks beautiful. But those of you who read this blog will notice something missing from the exhibition gallery: the Windsor settee.

The floorplan of an exhibition is developed over a period of several months to a year, depending on the complexity of the exhibition. Curators begin by working in 2d, with a floorplan of the gallery and scale cut-outs of each artwork. (We go through a lot of removable tape in this period.) The wizards in our Program Services department have even figured out how to make cut-outs featuring the image of the artwork, which is incredibly useful when you’re dealing with an exhibition like Chuck Close: Self-Portraits, 1967-2005 in which a large number of works are untitled. Sometimes the curators move on to 3d models. As you can imagine, curators are by nature visually oriented and the models allow them to more easily visualize the relationships between artworks or the various views a visitor will see as he/she moves through the galleries.

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Huang Yong Ping made his own 3d model for House of Oracles: A Huang Yong Ping Retrospective

photo courtesy the artist

The final stage in the development of the floorplan happens as installation is progressing. The curator, often with the artist at his/her side, may decide at the last minute that there just isn’t enough room for visitors to move safely around an object, or that a particular artwork doesn’t really go with the others in the room. In the case of Kiki Smith: A Gathering, 1980-2005, for example, the artworks were unpacked and placed in the galleries based on the floorplan that the curator (Siri Engberg) and the artist had prepared. Then Siri and Kiki experimented with various combinations of the artworks, rearranging some and ultimately pulling some from the exhibition completely.

Kiki Smith and Siri Engberg checking out the viewing angles

Siri Engberg and Kiki Smith checking out the viewing angles

photo: Cameron Wittig

As for Sharon Lockhart: Pine Flat, several adjustments were made once the walls were built and the artworks hung. Too much indirect light was entering the film room from the windows, so some of the white walls were repainted grey to minimize reflections. The wall on which the film is projected was repainted black to heighten contrast. And it became clear that there wasn’t enough room for the settee in the area where it was to sit. There is still some seating in the film rooms, so those seeking out a place to rest will still find it. But – with apologies to Tyler Green and the rest of you who would like a chance to chill – there will be no settee. Ah well, c’est l’art.

A meandering walk with Kinji Akagawa.

Kinji Akagawa with a scale model of Garden Seating, Reading, Thinking Photo: Cameron Wittig Sculptor Kinji Akagawa‘s relationship with the Walker goes almost to his first days in Minneapolis more than three decades ago. Commissioned to create a work to inaugurate the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden in 1988, he also worked to transform the art lab […]

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Kinji Akagawa with a scale model of Garden Seating, Reading, Thinking

Photo: Cameron Wittig

Sculptor Kinji Akagawa‘s relationship with the Walker goes almost to his first days in Minneapolis more than three decades ago. Commissioned to create a work to inaugurate the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden in 1988, he also worked to transform the art lab into a Japanese studio for the exhibition Tokyo Form and Spirit in 1986. Currently, he is designing a Peace Bridge with artist Jerry Allan to be installed at Minneapolis’ Peace Garden at Lake Harriet. In the April issue of Walker, we ran a brief interview with him on our membership page; his ideas about getting lost and the “meandering walk” of art are worth repeating here.

Your contribution to the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, called Garden Seating, Reading, Thinking (1987), is a bench, but it’s more than that. How did it come to be?

When I got the commission, I said, “ If the bench is just for physical rest, you can buy one through a catalogue. Catalogue number five, OK, order the bench.” Martin [Friedman, former Walker director] was kind enough to say: “ Well, give me something else.” So I made the piece, but not just as a bench for physical rest. Intellectually, you have to rest within that kind of context; emotionally, you have to rest looking at all the sculpture. I included a reading lectern and used familiar, Midwestern materials: fieldstone and basalt from St. Croix. The bench provides psychological rest, intellectual rest, and physical rest.

You’ve said that the Garden extends the idea of art into the social and natural realms. Do you think the new Walker’s architecture expands on those ideas?

My idea of gardens from my Japanese background is the importance of a meandering, aimless walk. There are surprises, with rocks and water and sky and reflections and shadows. The Minneapolis Sculpture Garden is very formal in the European aesthetic sense; maybe the idea of garden has to expand a little bit more. Besides the formality, trees are growing, and 10 years later, it’s another experience. The new Walker has elements of this meandering and surprises. We experience narrowness, openness, height, and all these physical sensations.

With those winding hallways, it’s easy to get lost–which is a bit like your meandering walk.

Giving us the opportunity to get lost is, I think, part of the museum’s job. You have to get lost. When you’re lost, you really pay attention to look again. The sense of being lost physically is to reexamine one’s own position, and no longer just assume a relationship to one’s surroundings or the architecture. That’s a very important part of life.

You have a work in the Garden, and you’re an art professor at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. You’re already kind of an art insider. Why does a guy like you need a Walker membership?

[Laughs] We all are interdependent. Because of the Walker, a lot of my students, my generation, my culture have been supported. That’s a wonderful thing. It’s not membership as in “I’m a member” or in terms of belonging, nor is it about financial contributions. It’s being supported and being supporting. That’s just community.

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Garden Seating, Reading, Thinking Kinji Akagawa 1987 granite, basalt, cedar

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