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Frank Gaard: 10 Things About Marcel Duchamp

“The trip I took into the mystic was inspired by Duchamp,” says Minneapolis-based painter Frank Gaard, subject of an early 2012 solo show at the Walker, “as was my sense that language was a medium for visual artists.” In commemoration of today’s 125th anniversary of Marcel Duchamp’s birth, Gaard shares ten musings on the man. […]

“The trip I took into the mystic was inspired by Duchamp,” says Minneapolis-based painter Frank Gaard, subject of an early 2012 solo show at the Walker, “as was my sense that language was a medium for visual artists.” In commemoration of today’s 125th anniversary of Marcel Duchamp’s birth, Gaard shares ten musings on the man.

 
Marcel Duchamp, Étant donnés: 1° la chute d’eau, 2° le gaz d’éclairage… (Given: 1. The Waterfall, 2. The Illuminating Gas…), 1946-66, and The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass), 1915-1923, via the Philadelphia Museum of Art

1. Étant donnés:  I saw this in Philly in 1984; went there to see it, but what really pulled my chain was The Large Glass, which is in the same space. The glass is huge, thick and the images on it look like they are turned to crispy cellophane. The glass is cracked in both the top and bottom sections in the same pattern it was broken in a truck on the way to Brooklyn. Duchamp was cool with that–he was a master of chance.


Marcel Duchamp, In Advance of the Broken Arm, 1964, via MoMa; Frank Gaard, Minneapolis Society of Fine Arts Snowshovel, 1969, courtesy the artist

2. The Snowshovel Stories, In Advance of A Broken Arm When I left Chicago in 1967 I thought I’d never shovel anymore fucking snow! The first thing I remember about landing in Minneapolis was getting a snowshovel from my landlord. The Minneapolis Society of Arts–which was the parent organisation for the MIA children’s theater and the Minneapolis School of Art, my employer–gave me their snowshovel emblazoned with their name in perfect Jasper Johns stenciled majesty! We took a photo of said snowshovel at that time, 1969. A readymade from the landlord!


Marcel Duchamp, Eau & gaz a tous les étages, 1958, via toutfait.com

3. Eau & gaz a tous les étages: A common sign for renters in Paris (days bygone), it reads, “water & gas on every floor.” To wit, modernity, running water, and gas lights in your apartment or studio rental. Paris is wet, dark, and cold in winter.  Jack Burnham, a professor at Northwestern University (Lisa Lyons, ex-WAC curator, studied with Jack ), was a frequent contributor to Artforum magazine, and in the mid-1970’s his essays on Duchamp and mysticism were quite a sensation in the art world. I met him in 1974 and had some correspondence after that time about Duchamp and kabbalah, etc. And, yes, about Duchamp and madness and the Beast (madness, insanity,psychosis), as well. Jack and I both lost our minds in those days. Water and gas for Jack Burnham were two legs of the chair of elements .


Marcel Duchamp, Tu m’, 1918, via the Yale University Art Gallery

4. T um’(1918): Arturo Schwarz–the publisher of the editions of readymades that first were produced in 1964–asked Duchamp if their was a readymade that was a corkscrew (like the image in the painting T  um’). Duchamp said the readymade was not the corkscrew, but rather the corkscrew’s shadow as in the aforementioned painting. This little bit made me feel that uplift only insight gives us–that this shadow of a corkscrew was a readymade, a modern work of art made of a shadow.


Kay Bell Reynal, Marcel Duchamp playing chess in his studio, 1952, via the Smithsonian’s Archive of American Art

5. The whole thing about chess?  Duchamp, like Cezanne before him, wanted art that appealed to the intellect.  As for chess, it’s the battle of wits, non?


Alfred Jarry, undated photo, via Wikipedia

6. Alfred Jarry: I have learned that influence is what creates immortality for an artist. Duchamp’s influence dominated advanced art since at least the 1960’s as Picasso’s influence waned as Duchamp’s star rose. Alfred Jarry is one of the most important influences on Duchamp. You should look into it, mon ami. And Raymond Roussel!

7. The anti-retinal dialectics: Duchamp came of age in the backwash of impressionism and was influenced by it and made young work in various versions of post-impressionist styles. His contempt for retinal art comes after the on set of high modernism. But the dogwaste palette of the cubists became the domain of the non-retinal groups especially Dada and Surrealism. Some of the anti-painting rhetoric originates in the bias against primary and secondary colors in favor of black, grey, and Calvin Klein beige du jour.

Marcel Duchamp, Paysage fautif [Faulty Landscape], 1946, via Artnet

8. Paysage fautif: This is a self-portrait he made for his lover in South America with whom he had a daughter. The medium is semen on book ends.


Scanned book page, courtesy Frank Gaard

9.  His obsession with marriage. The bride and the bachelors: My favorite photo is Duchamp’s first bride, an heir to a motor car fortune who was rather plump. Duchamp’s pals were quite amused that thin-as-a-pencil Marcel had taken a fat, rich wife. It didn’t work out too many chess games.


Marcel Duchamp, Fountain, 1917, via Wikipedia

10. The late reception: The show in the Pasadena Art Museum organized by Walter Hopps (1963) was the largest show of his work to that moment. The influence of Duchamp on the artists in the LA Basin was huge. Think about all that follows from his art there and elsewhere. And his modesty! In some ways it seemed as if he didn’t fully appreciate the stir he caused. I remember my father seeing R. Mutt for the first time in the Art Institute of Chicago, laughing, his laugh echoing through the huge galleries. Maybe we art types should remember that a good laugh is a good thing!

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.

Martin’s Loft and Stumpy

Minneapolis painter Frank Gaard, who has a solo show opening at Flanders Contemporary Art April 1, continues guest blogging with his perspective on the architecture of the new Herzog & de Meuron Walker expansion. I remember an artist in Soho calling the then-new Barnes Walker, “Martin’s Loft,” after former Walker director Martin Friedman. When you […]

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Minneapolis painter Frank Gaard, who has a solo show opening at Flanders Contemporary Art April 1, continues guest blogging with his perspective on the architecture of the new Herzog & de Meuron Walker expansion.

I remember an artist in Soho calling the then-new Barnes Walker, “Martin’s Loft,” after former Walker director Martin Friedman. When you take a look at those seven galleries you can easily conceptualize them as lofts, with all the amenities necessary to institutional architecture, of course. So not only does Mr. Barnes square the Guggenheim of Mr. Wright, but he adds the space once found on Spring Street in the days before Prada and Gucci took over Soho.

My thesis: each half of the new Walker represents different epochs in the history of contemporary art, much as the towers of the famed Chartres Cathedral were built in two different styles three centuries apart. The Barnes Walker gives us the certainty of Minimalism and formalism whilst the Herzog Walker gives us the diversity and uncertainty of the field today. The tower of the Barnes building is very Apollonian, and the stumpy Herzog tower our Dionysiac structure, with a vertiginous theater inside (Dionysus being the G-d of theater and wine). What the blending of these two structures yields is a short Cliff Notes version of where we came from and where we are going.

I like to call contemporary art from Don Judd to Paul McCarthy the post-Pee-Wee’s Playhouse Era. Herzog built a museum for such uncertain times. At first seeming like a movie set (German Expressionist style or a Wagnerian opera set), the Herzog Building is very theatrical. Watching Kara Walker talk with Mssr. Vergne from the highest balcony in the new theater, you do know you are in a tower, a tower within another tower like an egg in a nest. Myself, I feel like I have a destination, a place I feel at home and at sea in this place. The future is never exactly like the plans we made for it. Martin Friedman gave us a sort of Manhattan Walker, very Uptown, very I-got-drunk-with-Marcel-Duchamp-and-Marty-Friedman, etc. (lofts).

This new Walker combines the flat Walker (RECTANGULAR) and the new bumpy Walker, and in between you get the passages where the architects negotiate the relationships between the two buildings. The street facing Hennepin now is a giant window on the first level. The back connection, near that brown staircase (for nudes to descend natch) is a glass wall too. This connecting point is what gives the building its form: two larger structures separated by their linkage.

The gallery where the Sigmar Polke painting of Autumn and her daughters hangs is the fulcrum of the whole complex, it’s the connection between the galleries but it’s also the most beautiful room to see contemporary art in the area, it’s neutral aesthetic space where Charles Ray and Anselm Kiefer dwell. I think it’s best when towers are at a distance from once another, this space is where the soup is made. This is the mixing spot. But that purple-brown brick staircase at the back of the gallery of minimalist art is a thing to enjoy. No, I just think it’s hard to make a and b get along.

And the gardens are yet to come. The building was designed to have the landscaping visible at certain sites, like a background or a spectacle outside the windows. This Herzog does windows, mon ami. So the new Walker is still a work in progress. But we are lucky to have this place, this dreamy realm we give many names, this new meta-Walker will outlive its critique.

The new galleries based on Barnes’ galleries are slightly taller and finish at the floor more sweetly. I noticed the height looking at some of those enormous vertical silkscreen paintings of Andy Warhol. The walls do seem so white, like church. But we do love these things, like the Warhols or just that the circus has a brand new bigger tent.

Beauty is half the value of its utility, the second half is invention. If something works, it becomes more beautiful. One function of architecture is to build structures that will also be useful to the future occupants. …..of the Walker’s new tower, its humility, its humor and its humanity–its shiny stumpy splendor.

Kiki Smith by Frank Gaard, Walker non-employee

Kiki Smith Kourai 2005 Frank Gaard‘s long history with the Walker began with his first solo show, Viewpoints–Frank Gaard: Paintings in 1980. Represented in the permanent collection by five paintings and a series of notebooks, his most recent involvement includes a 2004 commission to create a billboard in downtown Minneapolis. He agreed to share his […]

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Kiki Smith Kourai 2005

Frank Gaard‘s long history with the Walker began with his first solo show, Viewpoints–Frank Gaard: Paintings in 1980. Represented in the permanent collection by five paintings and a series of notebooks, his most recent involvement includes a 2004 commission to create a billboard in downtown Minneapolis. He agreed to share his thoughts on the new exhibition Kiki Smith: A Gathering, 1980-2005.

I once heard of a collector who only collected things that were colored black. All the most famous artists had black works in their collections; indeed, when hard times came they made even more black-colored art. The painter who told me this story was an abstract painter who has horses to feed and has made quite a lot of black paintings. This is a preface to the Kiki Smith show at Walker, which is very black (and white), and it’s sculpture of a personal type, but still obviously well financed (bronze even, oi!).

I enjoyed the show and the company of my dearest love, Pearly, who tells me her dreams. As here with Ms. Kiki Smith, I was taken with a dreamy work at the very back of the exhibition. Five nude women carrying wolves over their shoulders, the piece is flat on paper from Nepal and is partly collaged and drawn with a marker of an indeterminate type (perhaps a felt-tip?). The images are curious, as they open a Pandora’s box of imaging. The image most Early Christians would have recognized as Jesus The Good Shepherd (a clothed man with a lamb on his shoulders ), this was how the Christ image was coded, and the reverse is true in the piece named Kourai where the shepherds are nude females and decidedly Pagan (check out the girl fur twixt these women’s legs, exquisite drawing, worthy of Georgia O’Keefe) and the animals are wolves not lambs or calves (as with Greek Kourai).

The return to the pagan world, the Pre-Christian era, is also in other art: Matisse and Picasso made hay on this conception of a Mediterranean new paganism. But Kiki Smith’s work herein speaks to an even earlier utopia, the Greece where the nude human figure appears as an ideal boy (or girl), (boys first because they were the ones most desired for fucking by the ancient Greeks), and where better to see these sculptures than in New York at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (recently redecorated)? Maybe there were five women in the piece? The thing is, it’s a brilliant statement about the culture we arise from, i.e. Greek, and the paganism that has returned as terror. The destructive maelstrom of our world at this moment on a cold night in February, this work is the image of a truer past for our culture born of women and the wolf who becomes our/her child. In some ways this work is brilliant, utterly, even if the artist only sees my p.o.v. as an alternative interpretation; for me, it’s this idea of an alternative culture myth of origin that is exciting. What if instead of a sweet adolescent Jew with an errant lamb upon his shoulder, the new image was several nude women with wolves? Different outcomes from different myths of origin. Maybe we do inherit the wind and the poison of our war-making and our development model! Maybe every art work is a scream and a laugh; a pre-christian era–think about it, good spot for artists–invented architecture, painting, sculpture, theater, philosophy. All we are saying is give art a chance.

Kiki Smith is an artist who makes fabulous things and things more perplexing. Oddly it reminds me of myself (minus the color); this sort of genius or yo-yo, who can say? But my suspicion is when she’s on (insert musical metaphor here), she’s genius incarnate. But when she not, she’s not. This goes to an idea I think is rather in the mix of late that art-working is, as W.B. Yeats once suggested, a fragile mood, that what it is that makes creative action is delicate. And this runs through the work, this mood of creation (carving a pelvis from stone!). I like to see an artist, in this post-minimalist time, who has courage and let’s her feelings flow–and doesn’t depend on sentimentality; that’s where a lot of us fail. We get too obsessed with mortality, when it’s better to dance on the devil in the pale moonlight.

The black everywhere in the show is a key measure of the artist as sculptor. It’s not that she besmirches the Walker’s wedding-dress white walls but rather that she’s making the most of that whiteness. Kiki is smart; the woman thing was there for her at the beginning. That’s how I first saw her images in Avalanche (I think) but all the artists who liked Eva Hesse’s art, myself included, saw the other myth of creation, the juicy one, Babylon and the fires in Baghdad. De Sade is a philosopher as much as a fiction writer, and maybe the world is tumbling towards a new Babylon? Kiki Smith creates discourse, she opens the windows and lets in possibilities. Her limits are shown in the presence of her genius, she’s so fucking human. And she’s not finished; hell, she’s younger than me by 10 years.

Postscriptus: Hmmm, I don’t like sculpture very much (I’ve been painting since 1960). For a while I ran an organization called The Anti-Sculpture League. I’m just telling you this since the artist herein, Ms. Kiki Smith, is primarily a sculptor. I don’t hold it against her that she’s a sculptor, but I think it’s better to make flat things. They are easier to store. I guess I just don’t get sculpture. Why make a crow when they are everywhere already?