Blogs Untitled (Blog)

Simon Starling: Tiepolo and Duchamp

Simon Starling’s Three Day Sky (2004-08), which will be included in The Quick and the Dead exhibition at the Walker next spring, begins in the Tabernas Desert in Andalucia, Spain. The only true desert in Europe, it is a small area of undulating terrain bounded to the North East by the Sierra de Los Filabres […]

Simon Starling’s Three Day Sky (2004-08), which will be included in The Quick and the Dead exhibition at the Walker next spring, begins in the Tabernas Desert in Andalucia, Spain. The only true desert in Europe, it is a small area of undulating terrain bounded to the North East by the Sierra de Los Filabres and to the South West by the Sierra Nevada, though it is growing in size each year due to climate change and poor land management. The Tabernas is home to both the film studios where Sergio Leone made many of his most celebrated Spaghetti Westerns, and to the Solar Platform of Almeria, a research facility developing the use of solar energy for the desalination of sea water – a possible way to stem the tide of ‘desertification’ in the region.

Three Day Sky uses convoluted means and a great deal of time to create a simple painting, relocating, as it were, a “piece of sky” from the desert onto the gallery ceiling. In the first part of this piece, two large solar panels were used to harness energy over a period of three days in September, just outside the secure confines of the Solar Platform of Almeria. This “stolen” energy from the sunniest place in Europe has been transported to the Walker in two large batteries, which we received last week, and on this occasion I spoke with the artist about the project. He will use the batteries to run a spray gun at the Walker in April, crudely recreating the sky over the Spanish desert in a section of the exhibition galleries; the three days of desert sun captured in the batteries will allow for just over one hour of spraying time. The Walker will be the third venue for this on-going work that has previously been installed at the Modern Institute, Glasgow and the Museum for Contemporary Art, Basel, each time using the same batteries.

Solar panels, Tabernas desert, Spain, 2008. Photo Uffe Holm, courtesy Simon Starling.

Solar panels, Tabernas desert, Spain, 2008. Photo Uffe Holm, courtesy Simon Starling.

How long does it take to fully charge the battery on this journey?

It can be done in 3 days of full sunshine. Inevitably the amount of energy varies depending on the cloud cover etc. The more blue sky in Spain the more blue sky in Minneapolis – it’s a very simple equation.

Does the quality of the light in different parts of the world have any effect upon the energy that is stored in solar cells, or the speed with which it they are charged?

I like the idea that the energy stored is in some sense culturally specific. The Tabernas is the home of the Solar Platform of Almeria, a European research initiative, chosen of course for its sunshine hours. It’s no coincidence in the work that the Tabernas Desert served as an ersatz ‘wild west’ for Sergio Leone – a cheap and cheerful Arizona. I was originally drawn to the Tabernas desert when working on Kakteenhaus at Portikus in Frankfurt – its there I found the cereus cactus I transported to Frankfurt in my Volvo estate car.  I once gathered solar energy in Suriname to use to power a boat around the canals of Amsterdam – on the equator batteries charge up very quickly, I filled battery on a 2 day boat trip from Paramaribo to the Afobaka Dam.

So you could quite easily charge this at home in Copenhagen, right? In other words, there isn’t anything special about the light in this part of Spain, is there?

Where’s the drama in that? It’s exactly that questionable ‘belief’ in the specificity of light that gives the work its absurdist sense. It’s as much about the journey as anything – this notion of the repeated ‘pilgrimage’ I’ve talked about in the past.

Likewise, how similar to the Spanish sky is the blue color you’ve chosen for the paint that will be sprayed in the gallery?

The first time a went to the desert to store energy, I took a series of color swatches (from a collection developed for a paint manufacturer by Le Corbusier in fact) I held a lot of these up to the midday sky and selected the closest match – that then become to color for ‘Three Day Sky’.

What works of yours do you think have the most in common with this piece?

It of course relates to the other works using solar energy  that I’ve mentioned already, things that I’ve been doing since 1998, but further than that it could be seen to relation to other more directly sculptural works like ‘Work, Made-ready, Kunsthalle Bern’ (1997) which involved making a bicycle out of a chair and a chair out of a bicycle. The metal in this case takes on a sense of specificity. I always think of this work in relationship to the ‘bad science’ in Flann O’Brien’s ‘The Third Policeman’ in which atoms transfer from a bike to its rider and vice versa. Slowly the bike takes on human characteristics and its rider starts leaning against walls. I would also think that ‘One Ton II’ has a very close relationship to ‘Three Day Sky’. This involved a journey to South Africa to photograph one of the largest platinum mines in the world. One of these images was then printed as many times as possible using the platinum that can be extracted from one ton of ore – five 20 x 24 inch prints were made.

A significant thread throughout modern art is the shift from illusionism to literalism, from making a nice painting of something, say, to just calling that something art. Is this an illusionistic piece–a painting of the sky in Spain at a particular moment–or an effort to give us something of the sky itself?

It’s a more generic piece of sky – more of a sign than a specific moment or place. I’m not a painter in that sense. It’s more Greek Taverna than J.M.W. Turner.

Do you think more about Tiepolo’s painted heavens or Duchamp’s bottle of Parisian air?

Tiepolo for form. Duchamp for concept.

Take our blog survey, win an iPod Shuffle

Every so often we like to take a survey of our readers to see what you think. Our last survey was in March of 2007, so it’s time for a new one. The questions are focused on the blogs and a little demographic information, which you can skip if you like. We’re sweetening the deal […]

Every so often we like to take a survey of our readers to see what you think. Our last survey was in March of 2007, so it’s time for a new one. The questions are focused on the blogs and a little demographic information, which you can skip if you like.

We’re sweetening the deal this time. If you take the survey, you can enter your name into the pool and we’ll select one person to win a 1GB iPod Shuffle.

Take the survey.



Photo by bluetsunami.

Meet Museo aero solar: Free First Saturday

Snapshots from the Art Lab at 10 am… Museo aero solar is a solar-powered air balloon made from hundreds of reused plastic bags, with new sections being added each time it is reassembled in different cities. After traveling to Milano, Sharjah, Medellin, Lyon, Rapperswil, Tirana, Ein Hawd, Museo aero solar is now in Minneapolis until […]

Snapshots from the Art Lab at 10 am…

work in progress...

work in progress...

assembling line...

assembling line...

Museo aero solar is a solar-powered air balloon made from hundreds of reused plastic bags, with new sections being added each time it is reassembled in different cities. After traveling to Milano, Sharjah, Medellin, Lyon, Rapperswil, Tirana, Ein Hawd, Museo aero solar is now in Minneapolis until October 12. Participate by bringing old plastic bags to our temporary studio located at 1250 Hennepin Avenue, Minneapolis, from Monday, October 6 through Thursday, October 9 from 10 am – 5 pm.

No Bag Left Behind: Museo aero solar

Last year around this time, Toms Saraceno visited the Twin Cities to install his sculpture Flying Garden/Air-Port-City/32SW in the group exhibition Brave New Worlds. During his stay in Minneapolis we talked about some of his interests-a huge range that includes the work of R. Buckminster Fuller, the 50th anniversary of the Sputnik launch by the […]

Last year around this time, Toms Saraceno visited the Twin Cities to install his sculpture Flying Garden/Air-Port-City/32SW in the group exhibition Brave New Worlds. During his stay in Minneapolis we talked about some of his interests-a huge range that includes the work of R. Buckminster Fuller, the 50th anniversary of the Sputnik launch by the Soviets, and his fascination, in general, with the sky.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1bp8YiHvREc[/youtube]

That’s when I learned about his project that brings together all of these interests. Museo aero solar is a flying museum’ powered by solar energy and made from huge quantities of used plastic bags that are taped together to create a massive balloon. Saraceno embarked on this project in 2006, during his visit to Isola Center for the Art in Milan (Italy), and the balloon keeps expanding – both in its scale (it is now the size of a basketball court) but also in the nature of its collection’ as it travels to different cities.

isola

In the past two years, Saraceno and his friend, the Italian writer Alberto Pesavento (who he met at Isola Center) have taken their flying museo to Sharjah (United Arab Emirates), Medelln (Colombia), Lyon (France), Rapperswil (Switzerland), Tirana (Albania) and most recently Ein Hawd (Israel).

Now the Walker is hosting Museo aero solar‘s first visit to the U.S., from October 1-12, and I want to invite you to join us in this collective effort. Tell your friends and participate by bringing your collection of plastic bags–any size and color–to the Walker Art Center on Saturday, October 4 from 10 am to 3 pm and add your section to the Museo aero solar.

If you can’t help on October 4, you can participate by donating old plastic bags in advance at drop-off bins stationed all around town: the Minneapolis College of Art and Design – 2501 Stevens Avenue, Minneapolis, the Green Institute – 2801 21st First Avenue South, Minneapolis, Rondo Community Outreach Library – 461 N. Dale Street Saint Paul, and Amazon Bookstore, 4755 Chicago Ave. South, Minneapolis.

You can also participate in a series of open studio conversations that Saraceno and Pesavento will be having with students from the Aerospace Engineering and Mechanics (AEM) Department at the University of Minnesota and MCAD, please visit http://air.walkerart.org/index.wac or call 612.375.7550 for location and hours.

girls

Image captions:

1. Launch of Museo aero solar in Medellin, Colombia, 2007

2. Building Museo aero solar at Isola Art Center, Milan, 2006. Photo courtesy the artist

3. Museo aero solar in Rapperswil, Switzerland, 2008. Photo courtesy the artist

How to Rally a Band of Queers

Sharon Hayes, ‘In the Near Future, London, 2008′, Multiple-slide-projection installation, 3 actions, 3 projections; 243 slides, Courtesy Tanya Leighton Gallery, Berlin As some of you might know, the Walker Art Center is a local partner, with the Unconvention, in Creative Time’s presentation of Sharon Hayes’ participatory performance project, Revolutionary Love 2: I am your best […]

when-is-this-going-to-end_brixton.jpg

Sharon Hayes, ‘In the Near Future, London, 2008′, Multiple-slide-projection installation, 3 actions, 3 projections; 243 slides, Courtesy Tanya Leighton Gallery, Berlin

As some of you might know, the Walker Art Center is a local partner, with the Unconvention, in Creative Time’s presentation of Sharon Hayes’ participatory performance project, Revolutionary Love 2: I am your best fantasy, which will take place at the State Capitol Grounds at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul on September 1, 2008. To organize this mass-effort, Sharon has made several trips to the Twin Cities to get to know our community and has been in contact with many of the individuals who have volunteered to participate in her performance. The conversations have been both insightful and inspiring. Sharon recently sent an email to people who have shown an interest in her project. I’m pleased to share this correspondence with you and encourage you to join us in this exercise of free speech, political and gender equality, and love.

Hi there. I’m Sharon Hayes.

Thank you for your beginning interest.

It is strange to be working in a city that is not my own, inviting people, from afar, to come out onto the street with me and speak a text that I’m writing. I hope that this letter will begin a conversation between me and you all and hopefully, begin to explain where I am coming from in this work:

Revolutionary Love 1 & 2: I am Your Worst Fear, I am Your Best Fantasy.

The practicals you may know already but in case not:

The piece is a two-part piece that will take place in Denver, Wednesday, August 25th on the occasion of the DNC (the Democratic National Convention) and in St. Paul, Monday, September 1st on the occasion of the RNC (the Republican National Convention).

I am inviting 75-100 people to come out onto the street and to speak an 8-12 minute text in unison. The text will be written by me and will address gay power, gay liberation, love and politics. I am asking people to “ dress their best” in the style of dressing up for Pride, dressing your most queer, your most outrageous, your most yourself.

This particular project comes, in part, out of the work that I’ve been doing recently. [See my website, www.shaze.info for more information. In particular, the two projects: Everything Else Has Failed! Don't You Think It's Time for Love? and I March in the Parade of Liberty but as Long as I Love You I'm Not Free.] In this recent work, I stood on the street in New York City and spoke a love letter to an anonymous “ you.” I stand on the street, in one piece, with a microphone and a small amplifier and, in the other piece, with a bullhorn. I look like I’m doing “ public speech” but I’m speaking to a lover who I’ve been separated from for some reason that the texts don’t quite explain. While I’m talking about love and desire, I am also bringing up the war and the way in which the war interrupts and doesn’t interrupt our daily lives, our activities, our desires, our love. For me, this work attempts to speak about certain intersections between love and politics that aren’t so often talked about.

It is a similarly complicated intersection between love and politics that I’m interested in in the piece I’m hoping you’ll be apart of.

In November 2007, MIX, the experimental queer film festival in New York City, asked me to put sound to 33 minutes of silent footage of the 1971 Christopher Street Liberation Day Parade and Gay-In. The footage was shot by the Women’s Liberation Cinema, a group that included Kate Millet, Susan Kleckner, Robin Mide, Lenore Bode and others, but it had never been cut into a film. Kate Millet still lives in New York and I contacted her and asked her if I could record her commenting on the footage she and the WLC shot over 30 years ago. The footage is familiar in many ways, a band of queer people walking together up a street, strutting, hugging each other, blowing kisses to the camera. But it was also very interesting to see the scene through Kate’s eyes. At one point she said, “ It was a very different parade then, in those days. I mean we were very afraid. We didn’t know what would happen to us.” They didn’t know if they would make it to Central Park, she said.

And I found myself thinking about “ Gay Power.”

It was reported that people in the crowd outside of Stonewall started yelling “ Gay Power”…taking up the language of resistance used in the Black Power movement. Weeks after the riots in June 1969, a group of activists came together as the group, Gay Liberation Front, describing themselves as “ a militant coalition of radical and revolutionary homosexual men and women committed to fight the oppression of the homosexual as a minority group and to demand the right to self-determination of our own bodies.” In the name Gay Liberation Front, the group aligned themselves not only with active liberation struggles inside the U.S. but also with the national liberation front in Vietnam. Gay Liberation began in the midst of the Vietnam War.

I always thought of “ Gay Power” as being about visibility and in that, it always seems a little “ power-lite”. I didn’t think about it in terms of the “ power” of Black Power or liberation movements, I saw it as pride and in that it seemed useful for the day but perhaps not too much longer. Black Power seemed to have teeth, Gay Power a kind of posing. But looking at that footage from 1971 made me understand more clearly that the nascent tribe of liberationists, gay liberationists, was also constructing new set of relations between love, sex and politics. Because the expression of love, sexual desire, queer sexuality was under constraint, love, sexual desire, the expression of queer sexuality was a tool of our resistance. Fucking was not ancillary to our politics, not a libidinal excess to the liberation work, it was totally integral to it. Living this queer love was a strategy toward being able to be and live as “ our true selves” and also a strategy toward overthrowing the violent oppression of heteronormativity. That is why those bodies taking to the streets in 1971 were so particularly threatening and vulnerable.

When I looked again at those images of that vulnerable becoming-tribe that wasn’t quite sure if it would make it to the end of the event, to Central Park, I realized how wisely they exerted their precise power to fuck and to love, to chant about loving and fucking, to dress one’s best, to look beautiful, to strut and twirl and shake and kick, to seduce the camera, seduce the public, seduce the homophobe.

It is this relationship between love and politics that I am interested in re-inserting into the current dialogue about queerness and politics in 2008.

SO…not the whole story but a beginning point so you know a bit more about where I’m coming from. Thank you a ton for being game to join a little band of queers to make/re-make a little revolution!

Best,

Sharon

nyc_2_12_frf.jpg

Sharon Hayes, ‘In the Near Future, New York’, 35mm slide installation, detail, 2005

To become a participant in Revolutionary Love 2: I Am Your Best Fantasy at the State Capitol Grounds in St. Paul, Minnesota on September 1, please visit:

http://www.creativetime.org/rnc/

Philippe Vergne: A Tribute

by Betsy Carpenter, Doryun Chong, Peter Eleey, Siri Engberg, and Yasmil Raymond, visual arts curators Philippe Vergne is a brilliant curator and that rare combination of sparkling intellect, humor, and grace. He has an infectious love of art and an incredible, innate gift for working with artists–understanding them, connecting with their creative process, and communicating […]

by Betsy Carpenter, Doryun Chong, Peter Eleey, Siri Engberg, and Yasmil Raymond, visual arts curators

Philippe with JudyPhilippe Vergne is a brilliant curator and that rare combination of sparkling intellect, humor, and grace. He has an infectious love of art and an incredible, innate gift for working with artists–understanding them, connecting with their creative process, and communicating that to audiences in fresh, sensitive, and unexpected ways. He absolutely believes that a contemporary art center can and must keep the artist at the core of its thinking, a vision that has gone far in shaping our department, our exhibitions, our collection, our institution, and has had significant impact on artists themselves. He also fiercely believes that a museum is a place where artists and their audiences share, around works of art, their uncertainties and dreams and has strove to make and protect an environment at the Walker where, on scales large and small, everyone could experiment.

Philippe excels at the basic, but difficult, art of installation, and organized some of the most essential Walker exhibitions of the last decade. The highlights include: Let’s Entertain: Life’s Guilty Pleasures (2000), How Latitudes Become Forms: Art in a Global Age (2003), Shadowlands: An Exhibition as a Film (2005), House of Oracles: A Huang Yong Ping Retrospective (2005), Cameron Jamie (2006), and Kara Walker: My Complement, My Enemy, My Oppressor, My Love (2007). If there is a trademark to his exhibitions, it is that they consistently invite us to see the familiar in a new light, and make the unknown positively beguiling. In his tenure here, he has been able to keep sight of both the Walker’s edge and its rich history; its reputation as a veritable petri dish for young artists, filmmakers, and performers; and its extraordinary collection, which has at its core a mandate to form relationships with artists for life. He immeasurably enriched the Walker’s collection by bringing important young and emerging as well as established and historical artists’ works, from around the world.

His aspirations, however, were always broader than whatever single project or acquisition he worked on, because they involved those of the larger institution. The ambitions of his staff became his own. He embodied so many aspects of the work we do, and the values that underscore that work. In the trust he bestowed upon his colleagues, the respect he accords his audiences, the faith he places in artists, and the vigor of his curiosity, he set a simple and powerful example. All of this he did with a remarkable degree of modesty, an incisive wit, and a spirit of generosity.

Philippe has been the perfect mentor, colleague, and friend for all of us over the past years. He encouraged us to take greater and greater creative risks and keep “ gambling” to build upon the Walker’s legacy of risk-taking and experimentation. At the same time, we have relished his ingenious and adventurous mind, hilariously quirky and unashamedly egalitarian view of the world. It is obvious that we are “ not dancing” (as he often says) about his departure, nor can we express our appreciation by making him a knight. The French government already did so in 2004 when it honored him with the medal of the Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters. What he will forever have from us is our respect, admiration, gratitude, and love.

Photo: Philippe Vergne with Judy Dayton, long-time Walker supporter

An Army of Lovers Cannot Fail

As Minneapolis inaugurates the third largest annual Pride Festival in the country this weekend, New York based artist Sharon Hayes is visiting the Twin Cities to launch Revolutionary Love 2: I Am Your Best Fantasy, a public performance that will involve 70-100 local participants coming together to publicly demonstrate the relationship between love and politics […]

As Minneapolis inaugurates the third largest annual Pride Festival in the country this weekend, New York based artist Sharon Hayes is visiting the Twin Cities to launch Revolutionary Love 2: I Am Your Best Fantasy, a public performance that will involve 70-100 local participants coming together to publicly demonstrate the relationship between love and politics during the 2008 Republican National Convention (September 1-4).

In the spirit of Stonewall-era gay liberation movements, Hayes plans to intervene at both the Democratic National Convention in Denver, CO, and the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis, MN by instigating readings of texts that address the relationship between political and personal desire, and queer issues, by 75 to 100 people in unison. Blending the techniques of performance art and political rallies, her work addresses the complex historic construction of love and politics.

This weekend and throughout the summer Hayes will be recruiting volunteers to take part in the performance this September. Please tell your friends, relatives, gaybours, and anyone this sounds right for – it’s an ambitious project and we need a lot of people to realize it. On one day during the Convention (September 1-4), approximately 70-100 people will speak a text about love, politics, gay power, and gay liberation, written by Hayes for the occasion. We are looking for volunteer performers to recite (as a chorus) a 10–15 minute text, repeated multiple times over a period of approximately two hours. The performance will take place in a public space in proximity to the Convention (Creative Time will send you more details once the site is confirmed).

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To be part of the project you need to submit the following information by email to rnc@creativetime.org:

1. Contact information: Phone (home/cell) & e-mail address

2. Do you have any additional resources that you would like to bring to the project?

3. Are you affiliated with any organizations that would be interested in spreading the word?

4. Do you have any technical or stage management skills?

As a participating performer, we are asking that you:

  1. Attend one rehearsal to practice delivering the spoken text with other performers, to be held approximately 3-4 days before the performance and directed by Hayes. (Note: you will be given a choice of multiple rehearsal dates/times, and asked to attend the one that best fits your schedule.
  2. Memorize the 10-15 minute text in advance of the first rehearsal.
  3. Agree to be recorded and depicted in video, sound, and photographic documentation of the project (you will be asked to sign an image release form).

Sharon Hayes has produced challenging work in performance, video, and installation for over a decade. Staging protests, delivering speeches, and organizing demonstrations, she creates interventions that highlight the friction between collective activities and personal actions. Employing the artistic and academic methodologies of theater, film, anthropology, linguistics, and journalism, Hayes has made work that engages history, politics, and public space. She was an artist in PERFORMA05 and her work has been shown at the New Museum, P.S. 1/MoMA, Art In General, Artists Space, Parlour Projects, Andrew Kreps Gallery, Dance Theater Workshop, Performance Space 122, the Joseph Papp Public Theater, and the WOW Café in NYC. In addition she has shown at the Tate Modern in London, Museum Moderner Kunst and the Generali Foundation in Vienna, at many other national and international exhibition spaces, as well as in 45 lesbian living rooms across the United States. Her collaborative piece, 9 Scripts from a Nation at War, showed in Documenta 12 in Kassel, Germany this past June.

For more information on Hayes’ work, please visit www.shaze.info.

More information on Hayes’ project and Democracy in America is available at www.creativetime.org/rnc .

Revolutionary Love 2: I Am Your Best Fantasy is the second in a two-part project by Hayes taking place at both the Democratic and Republican National Conventions. The first performance, which will take place at the DNC, is titled Revolutionary Love 1: I Am Your Worst Fear.

Revolutionary Love 2 is presented by Creative Time with the Walker Art Center and the UnConvention as part of Creative Time’s 2008 national public art initiative Democracy in America: The National Campaign.

Questions?

Please contact rnc@creativetime.org or 212.206.6674 x214

A Chinese Homecoming

In the dawn of the Walker blogs, I had the privilege of writing the first post on the Visual Arts site. Some of you, our faithful readers, may remember my little adventure in the Mojave Desert in search of a used airplane part. You may also remember the very slow march of the elephant sculpture […]

Installed in Galleries 4, 5, 6, Walker Art Center Installed in Galleries 4, 5, 6, Walker Art Center

In the dawn of the Walker blogs, I had the privilege of writing the first post on the Visual Arts site. Some of you, our faithful readers, may remember my little adventure in the Mojave Desert in search of a used airplane part. You may also remember the very slow march of the elephant sculpture down the Hennepin Avenue through the Walker’s main entrance, down the sloping Hennepin Lounge, then up the stairs into Gallery 4. Both of these rather unusual manoeuvres were accomplished in preparation for the 2005 exhibition House of Oracles: A Huang Yong Ping Retrospective, which the Walker chief curator/deputy director Philippe Vergne and I organized. In the last two years since the end of its run in January 2006, I’ve been often approached by our local audiences, who told me that it was one of their favorite exhibitions at the Walker (despite the fact that they knew nothing about the Chinese-born, Paris-based artist).

Mass MOCA Mass MOCA Vancouver

You may be surprised to learn that the exhibition is still on view. The airplane cockpit, the elephant, and other works have traveled to three subsequent venues, rather slowly but surefootedly, across the North American continent then crossed the Pacific Ocean: first, the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (Mass MoCA) in North Adams, then the Vancouver Art Gallery, Vancouver, BC, and finally the spanking new Ullens Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing, opening on March 22, 2008. Yes, that’s right–Beijing, China. Founded by Guy & Miriam Ullens, dedicated Belgian collectors of Chinese contemporary art who long dreamed of bringing their collection to the country of its origin, the Center is an ambitious institution that strives to bring international art to the heart of the emerging superpower and also to give in-depth treatment to the important contribution Chinese artists have made to global art in the last three decades or so. The center opened its doors in last November, and House of Oracles is only the second exhibition. The magnificent exhibition space was remodeled from a former ceramics factory in an East German-built industrial complex known as 798, now also known as the Dashanzi Art District.

My first visit to 798 was a little more than two years ago, in November 2005. The district had been in existence for a couple of years by then, and the future Ullens Center was a cavernous, evacuated space, with a soaring (I’m guessing, about 50-60 feet-high) ceiling and a now defunct industrial kiln/chimney. The on-site engineer explained to me how the space will be remodeled–a big exhibition hall here, a smaller gallery there, the office up there, etc.–which I, while nodding politely and sympathetically, could not really visualize. Many things had happened between the 2005 visit and when I attended the opening of the Center in November 2007. Certain things were still the same, or more and more of the same–for instance, the acrid yet strangely fragrant, hallucinogenic smell of burning coals and leaded gas that hover over the sprawling metropolis. And the proud capital city of People’s Republic of China keeps on expanding in a clearly measurable way but with a mind-blowing velocity. Beijing is one of the most centralized and organized cities I know of (I realize that that sounds totally paradoxical), with the Forbidden City and the Tian’anmen Square at the dead center and concentric circles of “ring roads” rippling out into yesterday’s suburbs and surrounding villages and quickly turning them into today’s peripheral hubs. In late 2005, the area around 798, which is located on the northeastern corner of the city between the Fourth and the Fifth ring roads, still felt a bit sparse. In late 2007, it was as busy as any other business districts far closer to the city center. Trying to recall what things were like a month ago in China these days is a completely futile exercise. I digress.

Beijing-Tokyo 2008

Late night on March 17, I arrived again in Beijing after a 15-hour-long flight from Minneapolis via Tokyo. The next morning, I walked from my hotel to the Ullens Center. All looked very familiar since I had been there only four months prior. Except that a giant sand storm engulfed the city–something that happens in the Northern part of China as winter changes into spring. Brutal. At the Center, the installation of “ House of Oracles” had been going on for almost two weeks, with the artist and two of our veteran exhibition technicians, Phil Docken and Bob Brown. I have to admit that I was a little worried when I first saw the Ullens’ spectacular main gallery, which had been left more or less intact from the original structure, because a lot of space with a high ceiling isn’t necessarily a good thing for showing art. That is, even when art is the size of an airplane. It was rather ironic that even Huang’s “ Bat Project 4”–the sculpture that actually incorporates the used airplane cockpit we found in Northern California–seemed dwarfed by the hangar-like space. Yes, their gallery is that big. Nonetheless, Huang is a master at dealing with spaces (as anyone who saw the exhibition at the Walker or at any other subsequent venues would know). He designed a couple of enclosed rooms inside the mammoth hall, and I was immediately struck by the incredible sightlines he was ingeniously creating with various combinations of works in the exhibition.

Beijing-Tokyo 2008 Beijing-Tokyo 2008 Beijing-Tokyo 2008

Thus I was reminded of how fortunate and privileged I was to be part of the incredible journey of this project. I got to see the enormous “ Bank of Sand, Sand of Bank”–a scaled replica of the 1920s’ colonial Beaux Arts-style building in Shanghai made out of a mixture of sand and cement–going up four times, and slowly crumbling each time, as a regenerative metaphor of the enduring legacy of colonialism. In Beijing, thanks to the ample space we had, we were finally able to erect this 20-ton work completely in the round (in the three previous versions, the backside had to be against an existing wall of the building). I got to see “Python,” a more than 50 feet-long wood skeleton of a cosmic serpent, rising and falling, dancing up and down in four different spaces. And I got to see four reincarnations of “Theater of the World,” a gladiatorial arena filled with insects and reptiles left to their own devices that sparked at-times heated exchanges between our blog readers (the piece was shut down by the British Columbia SPCA on the day of the exhibition’s opening in Vancouver).

Beijing-Tokyo 2008

The opening of this Beijing presentation, I can say, was a truly historic occasion, because this was not only the first Walker-organized exhibition to go to China (in fact, Asia), but also the first full-scale retrospective exhibition of a Chinese artist to take place in China. Thanks to the incredible commitment on the part of the Ullens, the comprehensive monograph the Walker published to accompany the exhibition was translated in full into Chinese–another first for us. I don’t want to sound too self-congratulatory here, but this exhibition and tour has been a truly special event of which Philippe and I couldn’t be more proud.

At the same time, I feel a little bit sad. Perhaps it’s only natural. Having witnessed the exhibition’s evolution over more than four years, I was seeing its final arrival in perhaps where it all started and where it always meant to come back to. And I was able to this in the company of a remarkable artist–the most generous and wise soul I know of. (Most Chinese audiences who came to the exhibition’s opening called him “ Huang Laoshi,” i.e., “ Master Huang.”) But you can’t have too much of a good thing. All good things must come to an end. So I bid you farewell, Master Huang.

à bientt.

Zai jian!

Spatial Voodoo

Last week I met someone who, upon learning I’m a curator, asked me what I do at work every day–a reasonable question. Right now, I’m currently finishing up installing the exhibition Trisha Brown: So That the Audience Does Not Know Whether I Have Stopped Dancing with our esteemed crew. (The show opens Thursday nightwith a […]

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Last week I met someone who, upon learning I’m a curator, asked me what I do at work every day–a reasonable question. Right now, I’m currently finishing up installing the exhibition Trisha Brown: So That the Audience Does Not Know Whether I Have Stopped Dancing with our esteemed crew. (The show opens Thursday nightwith a live performance drawing by the artist: http://calendar.walkerart.org/event.wac?id=4323)

Putting a show together is what I might describe as the spatial voodoo part of what we do. It can often feel like trying to decorate a house while you are still designing it, or building a musical instrument that you can’t try to get a sound out of until all the pieces have been assembled. It becomes easy to obsess over the tiniest details. This is because–as one of my colleagues put it–there are an infinite number of choices you can make, and at the same time, really only a few right ones.

Laying out the posters

The most difficult section of the show to hang has proven to be a large wall of archival posters from Trisha’s performances over the past three decades, which is the first thing visitors will see when they walk into the gallery. In order to visualize it, we marked off the wall dimensions on the floor, and figured out the configuration within that area. Periodically, I went up in a small lift to get a better view down onto the posters. In the course of about 24 hours, I probably tried three or four different approaches, and each one felt almost right to me. But the best solution eventually made itself clear.

As curators we often have ideas about how to install an artist’s work (whether by itself or with other things) to emphasize different aspects of it, or to best express certain ideas. But when it’s up against the wall, the art tends to tell us what it wants to do, refining its own image in our minds. The voodoo element of our jobs, I suppose, is everything up until that moment.

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Installation photos by Gene Pittman

The Death of the Artist

British artist Angus Fairhurst committed suicide on Saturday, March 29, 2008. He was 41 years old. This tragedy is a tremendous loss to the art world, and of course to those who knew him. As one of the “Young British Artists” who brought international attention and excitement to a much quieter London art scene in […]

The Birth of Consistency, Angus FairhurstBritish artist Angus Fairhurst committed suicide on Saturday, March 29, 2008. He was 41 years old. This tragedy is a tremendous loss to the art world, and of course to those who knew him. As one of the “Young British Artists” who brought international attention and excitement to a much quieter London art scene in the early 1990s, Fairhurst was perhaps not as well known as his contemporary Damien Hirst. But Fairhurst’s extraordinarily smart, inventive and often provocative works spoke with a louder voice than his own.

In the obituary published in the New York Times today, Hirst called Fairhurst a great artist and friend: “He shone like the moon and as an artist he had just the right amount of slightly round the bend. I loved him.”

What is “slightly round the bend” about his work is what makes it so great–a puckish dark humor situates it on the line between comedic good fun and unapologetic existentialism.

The Walker first exhibited Fairhurst’s work in “Brilliant!” New Art From London in 1995, and owns several of his works including The Birth of Consistency (2004), a bronze and stainless steel sculptural rendering of a gorilla gazing narcissistically into a mirror, currently on view in the Fiterman Garden Gallery just up the stairs from the Levitt Hennepin Lobby.

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