Blogs Untitled (Blog) Bartholomew Ryan

Bartholomew Ryan is assistant curator in the visual arts department of the Walker Art Center

A Table of Curious Elements: Jay Heikes on Filthy Minds

In Studio Sessions, our ongoing web series, the 15 artists in the Walker-organized exhibition Painter Painter respond to an open-ended query about their practices. Here Minneapolis-based artist Jay Heikes discusses his contribution to the show with co-curator Bartholomew Ryan. As he’s traveled from studio to studio, Minneapolis-based artist Jay Heikes has carried a wall of […]

Jay Heikes, We lead healthy lives to keep filthy minds (2013), installed in Painter Painter. Photo: Gene Pittman

Jay Heikes, We lead healthy lives to keep filthy minds (2013), installed in Painter Painter. Photo: Gene Pittman

va_2012_painterpainter_bug_alpha[1]In Studio Sessions, our ongoing web series, the 15 artists in the Walker-organized exhibition Painter Painter respond to an open-ended query about their practices. Here Minneapolis-based artist Jay Heikes discusses his contribution to the show with co-curator Bartholomew Ryan.

As he’s traveled from studio to studio, Minneapolis-based artist Jay Heikes has carried a wall of tools composed of electric drills, hammers, and saws that he uses in making his work. Always interested in transformation, he began to think about how the tools we use determine the things we make, or more abstractly tie us into certain ways of thinking. Asking himself whether changing the tools could also change the work, Heikes began to invent new implements constructed out of the detritus of the studio: found materials with peculiar provenance, pigments, dyes, fabrics, or negative throwaway forms from previous works. In making We lead healthy lives to keep filthy minds (2013), his work in Painter Painter, he was inspired by the history of the avant-garde, and specifically the manifesto as a mode of address, and looked to groups such as the Suprematists, Futurists, or even the Shakers, who used new language to create new realities.

As Heikes assembled his constructed “tools” on a studio wall, he began to think of them as a form of painting. While painters–including Gerhard Richter and Jack Whitten — have long created tools as a means to bypass previous ways of working and arrive at a different kind of mark-making or application, here Heikes’ instruments themselves become the marks — they delineate the paintings’ borders and are the motifs of composition. A number of elements seem poised to be used in some elaborate way, evolving in more recent works toward a greater level of formal abstraction. As the project develops, the usefulness of a tool is situated in its openness to possibility within painting, in its ability to be free of bounded real-world utility. Ultimately, it seems as if Heikes may be shaping a proposition about abstraction as something necessary, to be used and valued as much as anything else.

Jay Heikes with The "ear" in Jay Heikes' We lead healthy lives to keep filthy minds (2013). Photo: Gene Pittman

Jay Heikes with the “sea ball” in We lead healthy lives to keep filthy minds (2013). Photo: Gene Pittman

Bartholomew Ryan: Almost everything in We lead healthy lives to keep filthy minds seems to involve ready-made materials that you have cut, grafted, painted, dyed, and generally manipulated into something that seems simple and somehow inevitable: Like, “Of course that thing should exist (even though it hasn’t heretofore).” One exception is the little furry ball that hangs near the top right. You called it a sea ball, but what is it? Where did you get it?  Did you do anything to it? Is it still alive?

Jay Heikes: I’m not sure what it is exactly. I found it by the sea in the coastal village of Acciaroli in the south of Italy. The beach was littered with them, and they were just so perfect in their natural state. I had been thinking for a long time of something that is non-narrative and decided that nature is the one thing that doesn’t tell a story, that we put a narrative on to it by living within it. But then I realized how off that conclusion was, because it was casting itself in fossils and petrified wood and sculpting things like “sea balls.” At times, it feels like a clown nose or a mole, which satisfies my desire for the work to be both creepy and beautiful, although within the larger composition I think it becomes another tool wrapped up in the romantic fate of the readymade. It was there in front of me and made me jealous, in using the tides of the Mediterranean to make a sculpture of dead and dried plant matter.

Ryan: Let’s move from the clown nose to the wax ear in the exhibition. Ears, of course, are about listening. Are you interested in listening? In a certain kind of receptivity?

Heikes: The “basics” are something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately. I get sucked into these structuralist texts from the 1960s with titles like Alchemy: Ancient and Modern or Asbestos: The Silk of the Mineral Kingdom and find myself understanding the cosmos in a much more personal way. When a text tells me that gold is related to perfection and leads to sin, I immediately get seduced by the passing on of elemental investigations from the old world and try to understand if we are still engaged in the same kind of listening or associative behavior. Are we listening to the materials? At times, I don’t think we are. There’s a hopeless divorce from the knowledge of where things actually come from, how they are mined and then presented to us as objects or products.

I’m getting away from the question, though. Am I interested in listening? I would say that I want to absorb, which includes listening. As for a receptivity, I look to a time when the limits of knowledge were more naive and up for grabs. When mystical thought and the charlatan were still very persuasive. We live in a time when Science is winning, but people have historically done unexpected things against better judgment. It was not that long ago when people were playing with a handful of mercury like it was a curious toy. You could say that through these mistakes we’ve built a better, safer world, and I would agree, but my fear is that when the earth has had enough of our tinkering we will be left in a state of complete elemental amnesia. Maybe amnesia is the wrong word because the knowledge was never there in the first place. Maybe this is all ether hiding a “back to the basics” objective on my part, but what I’m realizing is that I don’t know what the basics are myself, so I’m trying to create a set of tools that will in turn find their own undecided function.

To be more direct about the object itself, the “ear” is made from those little Laughing Cow cheeses, which are covered in a combination of paraffin and micro-crystalline wax. The dirt and shavings pressed into the wax are from my studio floor, and I inserted these map tack heads to look like a trail of piercings running up the side of the ear. It made me think of the severed ear of Vincent van Gogh and the gesture of being out of bounds or doing something crazy — the moment when you cross a line and physically enter the realm of hallucination. A hallucination that, with van Gogh, could have easily been brought on by the paints he was using, so again an elemental cloud is present.

The "ear" in Jay Heikes' We lead healthy lives to keep filthy minds (2013). Photo: Gene Pittman

The “ear” in Jay Heikes’ We lead healthy lives to keep filthy minds (2013). Photo: Gene Pittman

Ryan: The painter going crazy in his elemental cloud. When I visited your studio recently, you were breaking out in hives, and we suspected it was a reaction to one of the many odd materials you were using or perhaps mold from a work that was caught in a gallery basement during Hurricane Sandy. In a short text I recently wrote on your work, I considered the alchemical nature of your practice, this kind of magical thinking that allows you to play with all kinds of elements and formulas, to arrive at specialized materials that you use in many of your works. Let’s talk about the piece you call the wand, at the top left of the composition: a wooden rounded pole with a strand of copper wire at one end. I do like to think of you with a wand, although the notion is faintly embarrassing, because magic is not exactly associated with rigorously critical thinking in contemporary art. But I think one of the things I’ve always liked about your work is that it is prepared to lay itself bare in some way, to take the plunge into the possibility of a simplistic and reductive read from a public, while also entering terrain that feels very fertile. This is something that attracts me to a lot of artists working today. A re-embrace of the unknown, which some could say is a retrograde step in that it privileges the metaphysical over the material nature of existence, allows for a kind of mythologization of art. I think there is something quite authentically engaged within the way you work, like a sense that you really are searching for possibilities. Another way to look at the tools is to see them as iconographic for different possibilities, from science to magic, from the domestic to the industrial, from the deeply subjective to the objective. This might account for the way in which many people who are engaged in language, writers and poets, etc., seem to really be affected by this piece, or fascinated by it; because they see it as constructing a language or a system of thought. Do you see the wand as an indicator of one in a range of possible approaches to something? Or are you really dedicated to magic?

Heikes: I can only dream of the day when my work gives people hives. That would be true magic. Like figuring out how to trigger a build-up of histamines without a transfer of fluids or allergens, just a painting or sculpture that creates hives. For a moment, I thought about filling a gallery space with the sulphurlike scent that’s added to natural gas known as tert-Butylthiol to simulate a gas leak. There’s nothing like the instant thought of possibly exploding to put everyone on edge. In the end, I decided against it. It’s silly to talk about some of these ideas, but it gets to the heart of what I think about in the studio and with the wand specifically. I started making work in a performative way about 10 years ago, using existential theater and the work of Jean-Paul Sartre as inspiration for the compulsion that art has in its desire to reject stasis. Sartre talked about spilled treacle, an uncrystalized syrup made during the refining of sugar, as a metaphor for life and the viscosity of all things. It’s a substance that is both liquid and solid and denies our basic understandings of material properties. When I’m in that breakthrough moment making something, I think about treacle and try to let the materials be magical to see if an essence reveals itself, even though a lot of my work could melt away in a rainstorm.

The "wand" in Jay Heikes'

The “wand” in Jay Heikes’ We lead healthy lives to keep filthy minds (2013)

But magic is ultimately funny and I approach it with suspicion, just as any religion or belief system makes me question the presence of invisibility. So with the wand, I’m playing with the irony of using copper in a wand that is not connected to anything so it wouldn’t conduct electricity. But I’m not concerned with it conducting electricity per se, just that there is a leap from what could physically conduct. As if a magician was holding the thing that could actually move energy without knowing it. It’s a recurring problem for me in addressing things as varied as cosmological background radiation to reincarnation. Do I always have to search for unexplored possibilities or can I just present a kind of deadpan futility that acts as satire? Maybe I’m just an existentialist in denial.

Ryan: Let’s talk about the snaking form to the top right of the work. I bring it up because I know you began designing these tools with use as an actual possibility, and this is one of the few that was used in the construction of another work. It was used in one of your paintings from last year that was constructed through layering paper and dried ink, creating an almost stonelike surface, which you then monoprinted with the texture of animal hides. In the painting Filthy Minds (2012), there are these hatchings that go up the side that come from using the snake to apply the print. So you have these virtually primitivist paintings that are also composed through these new, distinctly handmade tools. You gave an earlier group of that series titles from various caves around the world, such as Ear of Dionysus (2011), which came into the Walker’s collection last year. The titles conjure some faintly ridiculous, near pompous classical sensibility, but the works aren’t totally ironic. Are these tools meant for use in terms of an applied nature? Or have they become useful for the way in which they help as formal motifs that contribute to the composition of the work on the wall through how they are arranged?

Detail of We lead healthy lives to keep filthy minds (2013)

The “snaking” in Jay Heikes’ We lead healthy lives to keep filthy minds (2013)

Heikes: I used the snaking on a painting at a moment when I thought I was moving toward using the tools in a performative Gerhard Richter kind of way. In this case, I used it as a stamp, inking it and then applying pressure to the face of a painting that I quickly titled Filthy Minds, which differed from all of the paintings that I had titled after existing caves up to that point. It was an important precursor to what became We lead healthy lives to keep filthy minds, which is included in Painter Painter, and became the symbol of what I didn’t want the tools to become. There was a feeling that they shouldn’t play a bit part, that they should be the focus, so by making the painting I realized I had used them in a way that I had hoped to resist. Afterwards, I concluded that the stamp was the content instead of the mark it had made because my focus from the beginning was how to challenge the structure of language at its most primitive starting point. When I was making the tools, I thought about cave people sitting around sculpting because it was the only available language. I guess grunting and gesturing too, but in the end I saw the painting as a mistake that helped me get to the wall of tools. As for the formal aspects of the snaking, I saw it as a form that could anchor the composition. So yes, the tool had become a motif and held within in it a kind of crooked beauty, but it also reminded me of a jester’s leggings, which is maybe an aside from years of thinking about the role of the artist.

Jay Heikes, _Filthy Minds_, 20XX. Photo: Jason Wyche

Jay Heikes, Filthy Minds (2012). Photo: Jason Wyche

I guess it’s funny now that I’m making less interesting tools that are leading to more interesting drawings, so the thing I had resisted and the process that the painting hinted at has reversed itself completely. The new drawings feel like musical scores for minor planets, renegotiating how sheet music could look for something so abstract, that of a lifeless floating rock full of possibilities. They’re spacey and psychedelic and owe a lot to David Reed, John Cage, and the Japanese avant-garde of the 1960s. But I haven’t abandoned the tools completely, they’re just becoming less tool-like and more autonomous as wall sculptures that seem more direct and symbolic, like a dirty palette instead of a table of curious elements.

Dianna Molzan: Voguing its Structure

In Studio Sessions, our ongoing web series, the 15 artists in the Walker-organized exhibition Painter Painter respond to an open-ended query about their practices. Here Dianna Molzan presents a visual diary of the making of her painting Untitled (2010-2013).   Dianna Molzan lives and works in Los Angeles. She received a BFA from the School […]

In Studio Sessions, our ongoing web series, the 15 artists in the Walker-organized exhibition Painter Painter respond to an open-ended query about their practices. Here Dianna Molzan presents a visual diary of the making of her painting Untitled (2010-2013).

 

Dianna Molzan lives and works in Los Angeles. She received a BFA from the School of the Art Institute, Chicago, 2001 and an MFA from the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, 2009. Recent exhibitions include Grand Tourist, ICA Boston, 2012; Bologna Meissen, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 2011; Overduin and Kite, Los Angeles; Vilma Gold, London; and the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles.

Painting as Score: Sarah Crowner on Format

In Studio Sessions, our ongoing web series, the 15 artists in the Walker-organized exhibition Painter Painter respond to an open-ended query about their practices. In this edition, New York–based artist Sarah Crowner discusses the spreads in her recent artist book, Format, published by Primary Information. Primary Information is a nonprofit run by James Hoff and […]

Sarah Crowner in her studio, September 2012. Video still by Eric Crosby

In Studio Sessions, our ongoing web series, the 15 artists in the Walker-organized exhibition Painter Painter respond to an open-ended query about their practices. In this edition, New York–based artist Sarah Crowner discusses the spreads in her recent artist book, Format, published by Primary Information.

Primary Information is a nonprofit run by James Hoff and Miriam Katzeff. Its mission has been to reprint and make available books that aren’t accessible to a wide audience today. Kids today might now know about Avalanche magazine or the Great Bear Pamphlets or Lee Lozano’s sketches because of Primary Information’s efforts. They’ve just started working with contemporary artists as well. Their mission is to get the books out to the public as cheaply as possible, so the cost is quite low—they’re not fancy monographs.

They invited me to do a project about a year ago, and we’ve been working on it since then. What’s really great is to be able to synthesize your ideas into a book format. It’s helped me think about painting. It’s become reference material, in a way. I like the idea that if anyone is interested in my painting, I can hand them this book and they might understand without me rambling on for hours about it. This explains in visual terms, rather than words, what my practice is about.

One of the things I am interested in is how painting can engage the body. I have a highly physical way of creating paintings. The way I make paintings involves a lot of stretching, a lot of muscle, a lot of “body”–cutting, taking apart, dealing with the material. I think of painting as a collection of mediums, which might be oil paint, and also linen and canvas and different kinds of cloths. The way I construct something is to make a collection of materials that engage each other physically rather than making an image that is flat.

The title of the book is Format. It’s about the format of the book itself, but also form and formalism. A lot of the way these pages are laid out is thinking about repeating forms from everyday life, and forms from painting’s history. Building the forms together, and making a narrative with shapes.

For the last few years, I’ve kept a studio wall where I collect references and source material. Everything from a scraps of particular colors that I found in a fabric store, pages from art magazines, posters, or a postcard someone sent me from home that is really weird and has interesting visual elements. Maybe a Xeroxed copy of a drawing I’ve kept in my wallet for months.

I wanted to dive into these source materials with the cover, so the photograph on the right is of layers and layers of these sources glued together or stacked on top of each other. I found this picture of a work by Swiss artist Verena Loewensberg from the 1940s. She was part of the Concrete Art movement with Max Bill among others. It’s basically a composition that’s made out of circles, layered circles. It’s a really pure abstract work, but to me it has a great sense of humor, as if they’re thought bubbles.

I reversed the image and placed it on the back of the book. I’m interested in a book as an art form and what book-objects can do to images. I like to think about gutters, leaves, and bleeds, and the physicality of an art book.

Last March, while I was in Sweden, I was introduced to the work of the painter Sigrid Hjertén (1885–1948). She is quite well-known there. Sigrid was also a mother, and one painting I love is a picture of herself in her studio with her family distracting her. As a mother who has a three-year-old always distracting me, I felt a personal connection here. You can’t help but let your life come into your art. I did some research at the MoMA library and found some great books on her, and I made some copies. I don’t read Swedish, but I love the image. I also found a photograph from a Guy de Cointet performance in the 1970s with this woman. I don’t know whether she’s putting up, taking down, or caressing this painting. It looks to me like she’s installing it. Not quite.

I played with spot varnishing elements on some of the pages, such as the pink squares here. The printer sort of paints a gloss varnish on top of the page after it’s been printed. This way I can liven up this black-and-white fuzzy image a little. I did it several times within the book in other instances where you have this glossy painted object sitting on top of something that’s very historical. It’s a way of inserting myself into this already digested historical content.

Somebody sent me this postcard on the right of a Liubov Popova painting that became a part of a collage in my sketchbook. Sometimes these collages happen by chance. Sometimes they’re half chance, half composed. At the time, I wondered what would happen if we got these artists together and we all had a party? What would the conversation be with Popova and Guy de Cointet, and Hjertén and her husband, Isaac? I like the narrative it implies.

The images are of Sonia Delaunay’s clothing designs and a detail of an Yves Klein painting. The artists obviously have very different ways of approaching painting and the body. Yves Klein’s paintings were really beautiful, but he used a woman’s naked body like a paintbrush, like a tool. You think of Delaunay, the way she was thinking about painting and the body, in a different way. She turned her paintings into patterns that people could wear. She painted an automobile at one point. She did these stage designs, too. She was bringing abstraction into everyday life. Asking, “Can abstraction be a tool? Can it have a use? Can if have a function?” She was really doing that. It makes you think about painting in functional terms rather than pure fine art terms.

She’s always interested me for those reasons. The same way that Sophie Taeuber-Arp interests me, and a lot of the early avant-garde artists. Truly bringing art into life, with a kind of humor. This contrasts with the distanced spirituality of Klein’s paintings. They’re not even his gestures. It’s the woman’s body print but he’s calling it his own. She has to be naked. That’s like the first thing, right? I don’t know. It’s ridiculous. But at the same time they’re beautiful paintings.

This woman’s wearing an Hélio Oiticica Parangolé. It’s this human body interacting with fabric and color and making a geometric form, moving in the real world. I wanted to see what would happen if I reversed it. Some of my paintings also have this symmetry. I was narrowing in on this orange geometric form that she’s creating. Because it’s a reproduction, no longer an object, it’s just flat: it’s a picture of something. Reversing that, you then see what happens when you place the two parts together. I also love this guy in the middle. He’s sticking his arm out. The spread very intentionally has his arm creeping out. That’s something that could only happen in a book because the way you hold a book has this dimensionality, this curve, so he appears to be falling in. He’s looking really relaxed about falling into the gutter!

This is one of the paintings that I’ve loved for a long time—Picasso’s La femme-fleur (1946). I love how it’s a portrait of a woman reduced to geometric forms: lines, circles, and wedge-type shapes, but then it’s also a plant. The Picasso is very Picasso, but then there is this Leni Riefenstahl photographic still with the woman balancing on top of the painting. It was another object on my studio wall. You see how the stem is extending into this pole-type thing? She’s an acrobat or she’s a line that’s engaging with this painting, which is already a painting of a woman. There are two representations of women, and they’re both stuck onto a little drawing of mine behind.

On the left is an Alexander Calder acoustic ceiling in Caracas from 1952. These wedge shapes are reminiscent of the leaf shapes in the Picasso painting, so there’s a nice rhythm there. Also, she seems like she’s flying through air and there’s this great space in the amphitheater photograph, so it’s as if she’s soaring through that space. It’s a circular thing that’s happening. That gestural line connecting the Picasso and the Riefenstahl is a watercolor line from a drawing that I had covered up, which look like beans or lips.

I love this picture, the Vasarely painting on the left, with a fashion model from the ’50s sporting a new look with her tiny waist. I was thinking, “Is the painting the whole thing, the experience of this red coat in front of these black and white forms?” I’ve had this fascination with Vasarely for such a long time. Vasarely was considered the first Op artist before Bridget Riley, and in his early period he made some really interesting paintings that were very proto-Op. Before he got all psychedelic, he made these great hard-edged geometric paintings that began to trick the eye, but were not explicitly giving you a headache or making you dizzy. It was this great moment in the early ’50s. The first paintings that I made, which were made with a sewing machine and paint, were appropriated or borrowed from Vasarely’s compositions. And since then, I’m always Googling “Vasarely1953” or “1952” to see what I can find.

I’ve been looking at René Daniëls for a few years. He did this whole series of bow tie paintings around 1986 or 1987. His bow ties are just simple geometric forms: two triangles with a square in the middle, say, or sometimes it’s a triangle and a triangle. But what’s more complex about it is that he thinks of the bow tie as a representation of the exhibition space, so it’s also an architectural drawing of a space. He’s thinking about the placement of paintings in museums or galleries while he’s making the paintings. I like that on the one hand Daniels is making geometric abstraction, but on the other hand there is also something much wider and connected to life or the world.

I paired them together because I was looking at the black and whiteness of both paintings. But then the high-class formality of the bow ties with the model’s evening wear appealed to me also.

I couldn’t find any high-resolution image of the Vasarely on the Internet, so I printed this low-res version out, then I scanned it at 600 dpi, knowing that it would be printed at 300 dpi and hoping that it would not become too pixilated. The only nice paper I could find at that moment happened to have a paint smudge on it. I had one piece of paper left. I stuck it through. So this page is not a photograph anymore; it’s something taken from the Internet, inkjet printed, scanned, rescanned, blown up, it’s taken down, and then you’ve got paint on it. It’s become something new.


This image of the choreographer Eliot Feld and dancer Edmund LaFosse comes from this great book that I found called America Dances. It’s from the ’70s, this period of big hair and bell-bottoms and leg warmers, which I love on a personal level. I was born in the ’70s. I always loved the movie Fame. But then I really love the color palette, those dirty brown monochromes of ’70s New York. I can’t say how it directly relates to my paintings—perhaps in this last body of work, where I’ve been thinking a lot about dance and looking at the aesthetics of modern dance, like Trisha Brown, as well as the circus and acrobats, jugglers, bodies in motion. I love the way he’s leaping out of the gutter and seems to be balancing on this cane. It creates a great composition visually. You’ve got these two acute triangles pointing up toward his hands. Then you’ve got the ball of his Afro, the curve of his rear, and then the backs of these giant thighs. I think it could be a beautiful abstract painting, if you think about it in formal terms. I kept this page dog-eared in my library for a while.

The page to the right of that is another layering from my studio wall. The abstract shapes in black and white in the background come from a theater curtain that I was inspired by from Maria Jarema. Next to that, the great image in red and pink, is a rug advertisement from World of Interiors magazine. I love its palette, and I love the way its forms resonate with Maria’s. These two images become a backdrop, and then on top is something I grabbed from the New York Times with these great silhouettes onstage. The silhouette of the woman with the arm on her hip comes from one of Cecil Beaton’s scrapbooks. I carried it around for a long time in my wallet, so it’s pretty rough and tumbled. Basically here are silhouettes of bodies on top of abstract backgrounds, but it’s me thinking aloud again what if abstract painting could be a backdrop, and then suddenly you have LaFosse jumping out of the gutter.


This one is funny. It’s the only time one of my paintings appears in this book and it’s in the context of Greek Vogue. I had an exhibition in Athens a couple of years ago. Somebody bought a painting and placed it in his house. This house was then styled with ridiculous bunnies and kitties, and then the photographer took a picture of this model wearing shoes that match my painting. She was eating a lollipop. It’s the stupidest thing, but I like it. I didn’t know if I should put it in the book, but it’s not really a picture of the painting. I didn’t ever expect it to end up on top of this cat.

So, she’s looking across the gutter at this other page and having a laugh. This one man is juggling these two striped balls and the striped balls are related to the lollipop. I’ve been looking at all these books on acrobats and thinking of these stretching bodies. I love these two women forming a “T.” It’s amazing that the human body can do that.


We’re still with the jugglers and acrobats. This man on the far right is juggling these flying plates that become white discs, and then the white discs fly over to the other page, which features this crazy Alexander Calder wallpaper from 1949. He also wallpapered the ceiling. You have the light sources looking like the plates, so it’s as if the plates are flying over to the next page.

The wallpaper could have been printed on a fabric and then stuck on the wall somehow. It’s really ugly, but I like what he’s trying to do. I’ve always loved Calder because he was always pushing out of painting and sculpture. He did so many different things. He painted airplanes, and he made tapestries and rugs and the circus wire sculptures that we all know, and jewelry. And there didn’t seem to have be a hierarchy among the practices.

With many of these artists that I’ve been mentioning, it’s their open, almost generous way of working that I’m interested in. Sonia Delaunay might have said, “I’m an artist and this is one way that I work.” Thinking about painting as a part of life, what if a painting can be furniture? What if a painting can be something we walk on? Can it surround us everyday? A lot of artists have thought about these ideas throughout time.

This is the “Romy” spread. At the top left, you can see the “thought bubbles” from the same Verena Loewensberg painting that I use on the cover. We were trying to make sense of the cover and I kept cutting it and cutting it and cutting it up, and it wasn’t working formally. The more I cut it, the more the image was ruined, so I stuck it on this page in my sketchbook, which had Romy Schneider already there. My daughter’s also named Romy. I’ve always loved Romy Schneider as an actress. I found this picture of her smoking a cigarette with her shirt off, lying there. It’s like she’s smoking and the bubbles are becoming smoke bubbles, maybe. Or that these could be her thought bubbles. I juxtaposed them with the back of a Sophie Taeuber-Arp art book from Basel in the ’40s.

I like the formal rhythm of history. I kept thinking back to this idea, “What if we all sat down to dinner at a party? What would we say to each other, Sophie, Verena, Romy, and me?” I had these imaginary conversations. It’s another way of humanizing this found material, this very formal abstraction. If you look at the Sophie cover art, this is very formal, reductive. It’s very beautiful, but then there’s also something humorous about it when you place it with these other things. I don’t know why, but I always laugh a little bit when I see Sophie’s piece. It has an innate a sense of humor somehow. She had also made some woodcuts that looked like this drawing. They were made by cutting out the negative shapes from other forms. You can see that one’s a negative and one’s a positive. Then I imagine she shook up the forms in a box frame. This is a chance arrangement of forms, which is nice and maybe why it feels so light and less rigid and composed.

Earlier this year I made a backdrop, a curtain for a performance of a 1983 score called Perfect Lives by the composer Robert Ashley. I used a lot of the same approaches I use in my paintings to make a curtain that would function for this score, which was originally presented with electronic music. But I don’t have any schooling in electronic music, and to me it was important to recognize my own point of view in reinterpreting his score, visually.

And, thinking about the idea of a score, and painting’s history: what if this book, or a painting, is a score and you as a viewer can interpret it any way you want, or you as an artist can interpret it any way you want? You can reverse it. You can flip it. You can cut it up. You can treat artwork as something that can be engaged with, and manipulated, examined, and then physically worked with, rather than something that’s fixed, stuck, and dusty on your bookshelf, but something that we can revitalize. Art history as a score.

Sarah Crowner lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. She received a BA from the University of California, Santa Cruz in 1996 and an MA from Hunter College in 2002. Crowner was included in the Whitney Biennial 2010, and has participated in exhibitions at White Columns, New York; Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis; Museum of Contemporary Art, Detroit; de Appel, Amsterdam; Culturgest, Lisbon (2010), and DAAD Galerie, Berlin (2008), amongst others. Recently, Crowner designed the scenography for a revival of Robert Ashley’s Perfect Lives, which travels to Marfa, Texas and then on to venues in Europe.

All photos by Gene Pittman

Yesterday’s Newspaper: November 7, 2012

Here’s how Dave McKenzie’s ever-changing artwork Yesterday’s Newspaper, part of The Living Years: Art after 1989, looks in the galleries today, the day after a historic election, and here’s how it looked yesterday. Hear McKenzie discuss his work at the Walker on November 8, 2012.

Congratulations, Mr. Vo

It was great to see that Danh Vo was named the winner of the 2012 Hugo Boss Prize 2012 on November 1. The short list included some very strong artists, including the wonderful Trisha Donnelly, who was an important part of our 2009 exhibition The Quick and the Dead and whose work is in the Walker’s permanent collection. Having said that, […]

It was great to see that Danh Vo was named the winner of the 2012 Hugo Boss Prize 2012 on November 1. The short list included some very strong artists, including the wonderful Trisha Donnelly, who was an important part of our 2009 exhibition The Quick and the Dead and whose work is in the Walker’s permanent collection. Having said that, I’m a bit biased on this one as I’m working with Danh on 9 Artists, a group show that opens here in the fall of 2013. His work is also one of the most recent additions to the Walker collection: Last summer his Tombstone for Phùng Vo (2010) was installed in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, where it remains on view today. It’s a beautiful and complex work that we will likely be talking about more during next summer’s Minneapolis Sculpture Garden 25th Anniversary celebrations.

For more on Vo, watch my conversation with him or read an article on his ambitious project We the People–a life-size cast of the Statue of Liberty, presented in unassembled fragments–currently on display at The Art Institute of Chicago and University of Chicago.

Introducing the Interdisciplinary Work Group

In September 2011 a group of Walker staffers convened under the umbrella of the Interdisciplinary Work Group (IWG). Largely drawn from the institution’s various programming departments, the group was charged with examining on both a pragmatic and more theoretical level how the Walker approaches and thinks about the interdisciplinary in its work. The IWG emerged […]

In September 2011 a group of Walker staffers convened under the umbrella of the Interdisciplinary Work Group (IWG). Largely drawn from the institution’s various programming departments, the group was charged with examining on both a pragmatic and more theoretical level how the Walker approaches and thinks about the interdisciplinary in its work. The IWG emerged out of a desire first expressed in a 2009 Bush Foundation grant application titled Expanding The Rules of Engagement with Artists & Audiences to “develop new internal systems, planning mechanisms, and infrastructure to foster greater institutional integration, cross-departmental collaboration, and interdisciplinary experimentation in programs and collections that can be sustained in the future…”

Standing (left to right): Jenny Jones, Rock the Garden coordinator, Visitor Services; Michèle Steinwald, assistant curator, Performing Arts; Dean Otto, associate curator, Film/ Video; Deborah Hay, choreographer; Susanah Shouweiler, writer; Susy Bielak, associate director, Public and Interpretive Programs; Yesomi Umolu, curatorial fellow, Visual Arts; Eric Price, new media designer. Seated: Emmet Byrne, design director; Abi Sebaly, Cunningham research fellow; Brooke Kellaway, Getty research fellow. Photo: Bartholomew Ryan

The group set about asking some very basic questions: As a multidisciplinary arts organization that has expanded in size considerably over the last decades, how are we prepared to respond to the ever more interdisciplinary ways in which artists are working? Given that the institution has Design, Education & Community Programs, Film/ Video, New Media, Performing Arts, and Visual Arts departments – all of which actively create programs — are we not innately interdisciplinary? Or, must we be engaged in cross-departmental projects to really achieve that goal? Are such projects de facto interdisciplinary? Or can they simply mean that one department is acting as a logistical consultant for another which is working in a format they don’t conventionally use? Each discipline has a different relationship to time, space, and language. When is this a good thing? Where can the tensions between different ways of working and looking at the world be turned into productive means of exploration? And just what is it about that term, “interdisciplinary” that is so desirable in the first place? Is it the idea of each participant entering something where they can’t predict the outcome? And if so, how can a large institution with multiple competing needs – from work flow to scheduling and budgeting constraints – remain open to such a philosophy of practice?

Rather than jump to conclusions, the group agreed to engage in a period of research and invite a variety of people to visit the Walker and talk about their work. The desire is to step outside the day-to-day institutional needs of the Walker and get a sense of how different people in different fields are working on and thinking through some of the same broad questions. The visits started in the Spring of 2012, and will end by January 2013, at which time the group will begin to craft its thinking around interdisciplinary questions, and will work to deliver a report that outlines some of its findings and ultimately also attempts to deliver some practical tools to guide interdisciplinary projects into the future.

Each event takes on a different structure depending on the member of the group who is organizing it and their conversations with the participants. Some are intimate seminars, for example the visit by choreographer Deborah Hay that occurred in May 2012. Others involve the participation of a larger group, as with the visit of design futurist Julian Bleecker, which included the Design and New Media departments. Writer Susannah Schouweiler has been invited to attend each event and deliver an account from her own perspective, as a way to informally document the proceedings and to create a record that the IWG can use into the future. Over the coming weeks and months, Susannah’s texts will be posted on the Walker blogs, introduced by the event organizer. As an accumulation of different perspectives, we hope these posts serve to sample the range of the IWG’s research, and that they prove useful material for others who are engaged in similar questions.

Events:
Deborah Hay, May 05, 2012
Julian Bleecker, June 05, 2012
Lisa Yun Lee, September 18, 2012
Eyal Weizman, October 4, 2012
Stanford Makishi, November 29, 2012
(More updates soon)

Introducing Untitled (Blog)

It’s been seven years since we launched the Walker Blogs, and with the release of our new homepage back in December we thought it was finally time for a refresh. You’ll notice that the design has changed to align with our new website and we’ve used the opportunity to rebrand each of our core blogs, […]

It’s been seven years since we launched the Walker Blogs, and with the release of our new homepage back in December we thought it was finally time for a refresh. You’ll notice that the design has changed to align with our new website and we’ve used the opportunity to rebrand each of our core blogs, focus our offerings, and give readers a better sense of what they’ll find inside. Don’t worry though, the name might have changed, but this is still the blog of the Visual Arts department, and we’re committed to using it to amplify and give insights into visual arts programming, exhibition making, and the Walker’s collections. The blog’s moniker, Untitled (Blog), is a play on the open-ended qualities of contemporary art, something we hope will be reflected in the nature and variety of postings in the coming years. Enjoy!

Karl Marx and Adam Smith Drop in on Occupy Wall Street

Last week Karl Marx and Adam Smith, two of the stars of the Pedro Reyes exhibition/video series Baby Marx, made an impromptu trip from the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis to Occupy Wall Street in New York’s Financial District. The artist had been tracking the protests and decided the puppets should check them out. Among other activities, Marx interviewed OWS protesters, while Smith set up the first Occupy Wall Street bank.


Adam Smith launches the First Occupied Bank. Photo: Natalia Nakazawa

Last week Karl Marx and Adam Smith, two of the stars of the Pedro Reyes exhibition/video series Baby Marx, made an impromptu trip from the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis to Occupy Wall Street in New York’s Financial District. The artist had been tracking the protests and decided the puppets should check them out. Together with the director of photography Vicente Pousso and the Minneapolis-based puppeteers Janaki Ranpura (Smith) and Marc Berg (Marx), Reyes shot several new scenes. Among other activities, Marx interviewed OWS protesters, while Smith set up the first Occupy Wall Street bank.

Normally museums don’t let their art objects go on field trips during an exhibition. For one thing, they might get damaged. But Pedro’s idea was so obviously in tune with the project as a whole — exploring as it does the intersections of art, ideology and entertainment, not to mention the clash between Marxist and capitalist theory — that the registrars and curators worked out a way to make it happen and released them back into the world. Visitors to the Walker last week saw two empty stands where Karl and Adam normally hang out, plus labels letting them know that they would return soon.

The videos of the visit should be ready in the next few weeks and posted online, in the meantime here are a few snapshots:


Marx prepares to interview a protester at Occupy Wall Street. Pictured: Michele Fiedler, Pedro Reyes, Karl Marx, Vicente Pousso and Marc Berg. Photo: Natalia Nakazawa

Marx is not so happy with Smith’s new profit-making scheme. Photo: Natalia Nakazawa

Walker Loading Dock: Puppeteer Marc Berg returns puppets to the Walker’s Assistant Registrar for Exhibitions, Pamela Caserta. Photo: Bartholomew Ryan

Walker Receiving Area: Adam Smith is doing OK after his trip to New York, according to a condition report that reflects any changes. Photo: Bartholomew Ryan

Karl and Adam in situ at the Walker. Photo: Gene Pittman

UPDATE: Here’s video of the Occupy Wall Street segment from Baby Marx.

Join Alec Soth’s “From Here To There” Flickr Project

To accompany From Here to There: Alec Soth’s America, which opens here at the Walker Art Center on Sunday, September 12th, Alec Soth is creating a series of Flickr group projects that are linked to his photographic process. Anyone can take part, and we hope you do.  Alec will be commenting  and writing here and […]

To accompany From Here to There: Alec Soth’s America, which opens here at the Walker Art Center on Sunday, September 12th, Alec Soth is creating a series of Flickr group projects that are linked to his photographic process. Anyone can take part, and we hope you do.  Alec will be commenting  and writing here and on his own blog over the run of the exhibition, and we will be posting some of your photographs here also.  Check out the project on his Flickr page, or read about it below:

From Alec:

Assignment #1: The Treasure Hunt

A trick I use to find pictures is to create a list of things I’m curious about that then go and beat the bushes. Even if I don’t find what I’m looking for, it gets me out the door and moving around in the world.

For our first Flickr Project, I’ve created a list of 10 items to photograph. Shoot as many as you can and post them in our group pool, and then check out our “Discussions” pages to talk about your work. I’ll post some of my favorite images on the Walker Art Center Visual Arts blog. On October 1st I’ll pick my favorite treasure hunter and send them a signed copy of the From Here to There catalogue. You can check out an interview with me from this book here.

Here’s the list:

Pilots
Amateur Paintings
Unusually Tall People
Museum Guards
Sleeping Children
Neighborhood Bars
Supermarket Cashiers
Sheep
Sedans
Suitcases

Happy Hunting,

Alec

P.S. You’ll get extra points for combining pictures—I’d love to see an unusually tall museum guard holding a suitcase.

Dismantling My Career: A Conversation with Alec Soth

The exhibition From Here to There: Alec Soth’s America opens here on September 12th, 2010 and we are starting the install this week. I thought now would be a good time to post this conversation I had with Alec last winter. It also appears as one of several texts in the exhibition catalogue, which has been […]


Alec Soth stills from the video slide show The Democratic Labradoodle 2009

The exhibition From Here to There: Alec Soth’s America opens here on September 12th, 2010 and we are starting the install this week. I thought now would be a good time to post this conversation I had with Alec last winter. It also appears as one of several texts in the exhibition catalogue, which has been printed and will be arriving in the next few days!  There are a lot of interviews with Alec out there and he is always very engaging. Siri Engberg, the exhibition’s curator, and I were wondering what we could do to make this contribution special, and we decided that it would be good to concentrate on Alec’s new body of work, Broken Manual and also on other pursuits that inform  his photography practice such as blogging and book publishing. One of the most interesting things about Alec is that he is a fine art photographer who is also a member of Magnum Photos, traditionally a photojournalist cooperative. I wanted to explore that a little, the feedback loop between working on commission, and producing self-authored bodies of work.

Broken Manual came out of a book project that Alec worked on with the writer and artist Lester B. Morrison who had written a manual on how to disappear. Lester is a regular contributor to Alec’s blog, and his work is featured in the current Soap Factory exhibition, A Theory of Values, a biannual survey of Minnesota-based artists curated by the Walker’s own Scott Stulen and Kris Douglas of Rochester Art Center. I was at the opening on Saturday and bumped into Morrison for the first time, here he is chatting with Alec.

There will be more Soth related posts over the coming weeks, so check back!

Bartholomew Ryan:
In 2007 you were invited by the High Museum of Art in Atlanta to make new work for its Picturing the South photography series, a commission that concluded with a recent exhibition there.<1> But this project expanded very soon into Broken Manual.

Alec Soth:
These last couple of years have been about taking apart everything I know—Broken Manual. The reason it’s broken has a lot to do with the fact that I can’t escape all these outside pressures. It did start as this commission, but then I started dismantling the project.

Just yesterday I was doing an online interview. One of the questions was: “What’s the project that has the most meaning for you?” And if I were just going to answer off the top of my head, it would be Sleeping by the Mississippi because there’s just nothing like that first time where you don’t know what you’re doing. You’re neck-deep into the work. What I’ve been trying to get back to—and in a funny way, what I am now at this moment getting back to—is that newness.

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