Blogs Untitled (Blog) Olga Viso

Olga Viso is director of the Walker Art Center.

Olga Viso’s 2012 Highlights in Twin Cities Culture and Beyond

In 2012, Walker executive director Olga Viso traveled across the state and around the world, from Minneapolis, New York, and Kassel to Gwangju and Beijing. Reflecting here, she shares her highlights from the year that was. The Merce Cunningham Dance Company’s final performance at the New York Armory, with set designs by Daniel Arsham, launched my […]

In 2012, Walker executive director Olga Viso traveled across the state and around the world, from Minneapolis, New York, and Kassel to Gwangju and Beijing. Reflecting here, she shares her highlights from the year that was.

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The Merce Cunningham Dance Company’s final performance at the New York Armory, with set designs by Daniel Arsham, launched my new year at midnight January 1, 2012. It was an unforgettable night of great dance, poignant emotion, and heartfelt tribute to one of the great choreographers of our time.

Jim Hodges, Untitled (2012)

Jim Hodges, Untitled (2012)

The arrival of Jim Hodges’ boulders on the Walker’s green space commenced the spring season, creating a new destination for visitors atop the Walker’s hill. Hodges will be the subject of a retrospective at the Walker in 2014.


Philip Glass’ surprise solo piano performance in honor of Walker Director Emeritus Martin Friedman at Martin’s tribute organized by New York’s Madison Square Park Foundation. Glass was among an assembly of artists, including Chuck Close, Frank Stella, and Claes Oldenburg, who joined me and Whitney director Adam Weinberg in toasting Martin’s legacy.

Pierre Huyghe, Untitled (2012)

Pierre Huyghe, Untitled (2012)

Pierre Huyghe’s unmonumental outdoor project for dOCUMENTA(13) in Karlsaue Park in Kassel, Germany stands out as one of the most potent public projects in recent memory. Huyghe’s commission embraced the themes of documenta like no other work in this sprawling international survey that happens every five years.

Still from Wim Wenders' Pina (2011)

Still from Wim Wenders’ Pina (2011)

The screening of Wim Wenders’ Pina inaugurated the Walker’s newly renovated Cinema and its new 3-D capabilities, made possible by a major gift from the Bentson Foundation.

Matt Bakkom, Fair Oaks (2012)

Matt Bakkom, Fair Oaks (2012)

Matt Bakkom’s project in which he repurposed benches in the public park across the street from Minneapolis Institute of Arts. Bakkom painted nearly 40 benches, each inspired by the color schemes of original art works from the MIA’s collection. Labels for individual works appear on each bench. Go explore!

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China’s Terracotta Warriors: The Emperor’s Legacy at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts was one of the Twin Cities’ exhibition highlights this season–a beautifully designed exhibition with breathtaking objects and impressive scholarship.

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My visit with Chinese artist Ai Weiwei in his Beijing studio to discuss ongoing work for a potential commission on the Walker campus.

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Minneapolis mayor RT Rybak’s rallying tweet during the world’s first Internet Cat Video Festival (and the Republican National Convention) that welcomed 10,000 people (and some celebrity cats) to the Walker’s Open Field.

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“Lowercase P: Artists & Politics,” a series of interviews published on walkerart.org (edited by Paul Schmelzer) to coincide with the US presidential election cycle of 2012.

Jasper Johns' set elements for Walkaround Time (1968) at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

Jasper Johns’ set elements for Walkaround Time (1968) at the Philadelphia Museum of Art hover above musicians performing a work by John Cage, December 2, 2012

Jasper John’s set design for Merce Cunningham’s Walkaround Time (1968)–borrowed from the Walker’s collections–serving as the centerpiece of the current exhibition Dancing Around the Bride: Cage, Cunningham, Johns, Rauschenberg and Duchamp at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

rolu for rosemary

During its Open Field residency ROLU staged a reading of James Lee Byars’ 100 questions from The Black Book in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden in memory of the Walker’s late librarian Rosemary Furtak and created in collaboration with MoMA PS1 curator Peter Eleey.

Screengrab from the online interactive timeline for Tokyo 1955–1970: A New Avant-Garde

Screengrab from the online interactive timeline for Tokyo 1955–1970: A New Avant-Garde

One of the most memorable and important shows I saw in 2012, Tokyo 1955-1970: A New Avant-Garde at the Museum of Modern Art–curated by Doryun Chong, it opened in November–brings fascinating new research to light. Walker audiences will recognize works by Tetsumi Kudo, Genpei Akasegawa, and artists from Gutai in this show that is a visual feast.

Still from Joshua Oppenheimer's The Act of Killing (2012)

Still from Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Act of Killing (2012)

Joshua Oppenheimer’s unforgettable world premiere of The Act of Killing at the Telluride Film Festival. This film forever re-imagines the form of documentary filmmaking by having the perpetrators of war crimes in Indonesia (now elderly) personally re-enact their stories for the camera.

Signage at the entrance of Andy Ducett's Why we do this. Photo: Flickr user starfive, used under Creative Commons license

Signage at the entrance of Andy Ducett’s Why we do this. Photo: Flickr user starfive, used under Creative Commons license

Andy DuCett’s ambitious “Why we do this” project at the Soap Factory in Minneapolis created an interactive exhibition and stage set for public performance.

Mediacity Seoul 2012: Olga Viso’s Top Picks

While in South Korea for the 2012 Gwangju Biennale, I visited the main venue of the 7th Seoul International Media Art Biennale — Mediacity Seoul 2012 — at the Seoul Museum of Art. The title of this installment was Spell on You, which was meant to conjure the deluge of media and its effects we […]

While in South Korea for the 2012 Gwangju Biennale, I visited the main venue of the 7th Seoul International Media Art Biennale — Mediacity Seoul 2012 — at the Seoul Museum of Art. The title of this installment was Spell on You, which was meant to conjure the deluge of media and its effects we are witnessing in contemporary culture. This theme, set by artistic director Jinsang YOO, professor of Kaywan School of Art and Design, seemed apt in a digital media city like Seoul defined by its commitment to advancing technology and myriad technological industries in the country.

My top picks, out of the 49 participating artists from 20 countries.

1. Zbyněk Baladrán’s diagrammatic lecture Model of the Universe, 2009

2. Till Nowak’s digital creations of impossible amusement parks

Till Nowak, High Altitude Conveyance System, 2011. Photo: Framebox.de

Till Nowak, The Centrifuge Brain Project, 2011. Photo: Framebox

3. Akram Zaatari’s melancholic typewritten love story on film Tomorrow Everything Will Be Alright, 2010

4. David Claerbout’s  black and white montage of 600 different views of the same “happy moment” on an Algerian rooftop

David Claerbout, The Algiers’ Sections of A Happy Moment, 2008. Courtesy the artist and Yvon Lambert

5. Dennis Feser’s absurd performance before the camera, staged on a rooftop overlooking Frankfurt using tape and celery

Dennis Feser, Vertical Distractions, 2010. Photo: Dennis Feser

6. 3D video installations by Robert Lepage, Sarah Kenderdine, and Jeffrey Shaw that create a projected theatrical space that visitors can experience in the round

7. Donghee Koo’s melancholic quest on camera as a man searches for a manmade stream using a divining rod

Donghee Koo, Under the vein; I spell on you, 2012. Photo: Mediacity Seoul

8. Ryota Kuwakubo’s hypnotic shadow installation, The Tenth Sentiment (2010), created using a child’s train set and light

9. Hong Seung-Hye’s minimal projections of rectangles on the wall and floor

Hong Seung-Hye, The Sentimental 8_Complementary Installation, 2012. Photo: Mediacity Seoul

10. Zimoun’s audio recording of 25 woodworms consuming a piece of wood

11. Daito Manabe & Motoi Ishibashi’s mesmerizing installation Particles involving an 8-spiral rail with animated balls of LED lights

12. Robert Overweg’s haunting still photographs of the precipitous edges of landscapes in video games

Robert Overweg, The end of the virtual world 4, Modern warfare 2, 2010. Photo: ShotbyRobert.com

Curatorial Journal: Olga Viso Visits the Gwangju Biennale

On a recent trip to Seoul, South Korea, where I was invited to participate on a panel at the National Museum of Contemporary Art about the role of museums in the 21st century, I had the opportunity to travel three hours south to the Korean city of Gwangju to see the ninth installment of the […]

Contrasts in Korea: Seoul’s new City Hall and Gyeongbok Palace, first built in 1395 and reconstructed in 1867. Photos: Olga Viso

On a recent trip to Seoul, South Korea, where I was invited to participate on a panel at the National Museum of Contemporary Art about the role of museums in the 21st century, I had the opportunity to travel three hours south to the Korean city of Gwangju to see the ninth installment of the Gwangju Biennale. I was joined by Walker senior curator Clara Kim and MoMA curator Doryun Chong (formerly of the Walker) to see ROUNDTABLE, which closes November 12. This sprawling global survey, with a strong focus on artists from Asia and the Middle East, includes works by more than 92 artists, artist groups, and temporary collectives from 40 countries around the world and encompasses multiple city venues, including the main Gwangju Biennale Hall, Cinema Gwangju, Temple Mugaksa, Daein Market, and several other off-site locations around the city. Some 45 commissions and 15 artist residencies were realized in ROUNDTABLE.

Curated by a six-member team of Asian curators, all women, the show uses the metaphor of the roundtable as a locus for nonhierarchical exchange and the intersection of divergent perspectives and urgencies. Despite best efforts to hold in balance a multiplicity of contradictory world views, artistic sensibilities, and curatorial approaches, the spirit of the roundtable seemingly devolved during the show’s organization and, the result was an unfortunate hodgepodge of an exhibition with very mixed results and uneven curatorial selections and positions.

As is always the case in these massive biennial exhibitions, individual artists and works stand out to make the journey and research worthwhile. For me, the highlights were:
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Olga Viso: Highlights of Manifesta, TRACK, and Beyond

Walker executive director Olga Viso shares snapshots and notes from her late July 2012 trip to European art exhibitions and venues. In addition to dOCUMENTA (13) in Kassel–which she reviewed this week–she visited Antwerp, Genk, and Ghent. Here are some of the works that stood out. Kendall Geers’ flaming tire sculpture outside the entrance of […]

Walker executive director Olga Viso shares snapshots and notes from her late July 2012 trip to European art exhibitions and venues. In addition to dOCUMENTA (13) in Kassel–which she reviewed this week–she visited Antwerp, Genk, and Ghent. Here are some of the works that stood out.


Kendall Geers’ flaming tire sculpture outside the entrance of Manifesta, the roaming European Biennial which took place this year in Genk, Belgium. (more…)

Olga Viso: Highlights of dOCUMENTA (13)

Yesterday, Walker executive director Olga Viso shared her review of dOCUMENTA (13), the art exhibition that occurs in Kassel every five years. As a supplement, here’s her top picks from her July trip. Coming soon, her highlights from Manifesta and TRACK. 

Yesterday, Walker executive director Olga Viso shared her review of dOCUMENTA (13), the art exhibition that occurs in Kassel every five years. As a supplement, here’s her top picks from her July trip. Coming soon, her highlights from Manifesta and TRACK. 

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The Lament of Untitled (12th Istanbul Biennial) 2011

“Our emotional environment is poor and dangerous. Artistic work can’t change it, but it can transcribe it. It can also give an opinion, which we are never asked for.”           –From Claire Fontaine’s Requiem for Jean Charles de Menezes, a work in the 2011 Istanbul Biennial After my recent visit to the 12th installment of […]

Kris Martin, Obussen II (2010)

“Our emotional environment is poor and dangerous. Artistic work can’t change it, but it can transcribe it. It can also give an opinion, which we are never asked for.”

          –From Claire Fontaine’s Requiem for Jean Charles de Menezes, a work in the 2011 Istanbul Biennial

After my recent visit to the 12th installment of the Istanbul Biennial, which closes November 13, I was struck by the overwhelming sense of nostalgia and lament that pervades this major survey of international contemporary art. Curated by Jens Hoffmann, a U.S.-based curator from Latin America, and Brazilian curator Adriano Pedrosa, the exhibition takes on the age-old debate between form and content — an art world polemic that predictably resurfaces in urgent times when formal and aesthetic concerns seem less relevant in the face of economic and sociopolitical turmoil.

Taking inspiration from the influential work of Felix Gonzalez-Torres (1957–1996), the curators pay homage to the late American artist of Cuban descent, whose sculptures and installations of the 1990s provide an ideal lexicon of artistic practice to address the current moment. Indeed, Gonzalez-Torres was an artist whom Hoffmann and Pedrosa contend “successfully negotiated the personal and the political while maintaining an extremely sophisticated formal vocabulary, utilizing an aesthetic language drawn in part from post-Minimalism, Conceptualism and in part simply from everyday life.”

Organized into five sub-exhibitions, the biennial took as its point of departure five iconic works by Gonzalez-Torres, among them a history dateline piece, a candy pile totaling the ideal weight of his deceased lover Ross, a minimal grid from the “bloodwork” series (in which the artist charted the declining T-cells of his HIV-ridden immune system), and several paper stacks — one comprised of images of the sky printed in the form of passports and the other of posters memorializing the number of deaths in the U.S. by gunfire during a violent  week in 1989. These works provided the organizing principle for the biennial around the potent themes of Gonzalez-Torres’ art: abstraction, history, identity, violence, and loss. To further reinforce this artistic tribute, the curators titled the biennial Untitled (12th Istanbul Biennial), appropriating Gonzalez-Torres’ own titling convention in which he would leave his works untitled (save for a short subtitle) to privilege both his subjectivity and that of his audience.

Ryue Nishizawa's architecture for the biennial

Although no original works by Gonzalez-Torres were included in the exhibition, they were repeatedly evoked throughout the installation, which filled two former naval hangars adjacent to the Istanbul Modern Museum, which is situated along the Bosphorus River. The curators’ desire to organize and thematize viewer experience through the show was complemented by the architecture of Ryue Nishizawa, who was commissioned to design a wall system to house the exhibition. Ryue created a metaphorical village that evoked the notion of parallel neighborhoods.

The exhibition included works by well-known and unfamiliar artists from around the world with notable emphases on artists from Latin America and the Middle East. Among my favorite works in the biennial were Kris Martin’s installation Obussen II (2010), a glistening pile of more than 700 polished Howitzer shells from World War I that evoked the human casualties of war; Simryn Gill’s haunting photographs of abandoned houses outside Kuala Lumpur; William E. Jones’ film archiving hundreds of “killed” negatives from the U.S. Farm Security Administration (shown in the Walker exhibition The Spectacular of Vernacular; Milena Bonilla’s Stone Deaf (2009), a film that records all variety of insects crawling along the crack across Karl Marx’s grave; and Alessandro Balteo Yazbek & Media Farzin’s wry “Cultural Diplomacy” project, which finds curious and striking parallels between the development of modern art and global politics. These were among the few works in the exhibition that captured the spirit of Gonzalez-Torres and his approach to balancing the “personal” with the “political.”

Installation view of biennial sub-exhibition Untitled (Passport), with Rivane Neuenschwander's At A Certain Distance (Public Barriers) (2010)

The rest of the exhibition unfortunately suffered from an explicit and often far too literal illustration of central themes, specific content, and the formal and conceptual qualities of Gonzalez-Torres’ art. Nicolás Bacal’s appropriation of Gonzalez-Torres’ pivotal work featuring two wall clocks, Perfect Lovers (1991), went too far for my taste. By far, the strict avoidance of color in the palette of the art works chosen was at times unrelenting.  Frustrated visitors during my visit described the exhibition as “cold,” “clinical,” and unnecessarily “oppressive.”

As I journeyed through the show, I could not help but at times feel as if I had been transported back to 1996, the year that Felix Gonzalez-Torres died, when Dave Hickey was still completing his infamous essays on beauty and the debates about form and content were raging in the contemporary art world. It was a time when global consciousness was an imperative in the mainstream art world and many of the artists of Latin America, Africa, Asia and the Middle East — like Gonzalez-Torres, Mona Hatoum, Lygia Clark, Leonilson and others presented here — were just starting to be championed in an array of international venues, including the Istanbul Biennial. All this was happening just as geo-political borders around the world were dramatically shifting and the internet was about to explode.

We now find ourselves in a vastly different place and time, one inexorably wrought by the advances, ideals, obsessions, and failures of the prior two decades. Yet, rather than mine this fertile territory of the recent past to understand the exigencies of artists in the present, the curators of this year’s Istanbul Biennial seemed weighted down by their overwhelming nostalgia for the past and their lament for an impotent present.

This lament of the present was also visible in the 2011 installment of the Venice Biennale, which I wrote about in June. Yet, what registered for me in Istanbul was a lament of a different order. This lament was one specifically focused on art produced outside the mainstreams of contemporary art, and in particular on art made in Latin America and the Middle East. The lament I heard was twofold — that the contemporary arena has sadly only marginally advanced since Gonzalez-Torres first emerged on the global stage and that most of these artists, as well as a host of others we don’t know, still need to be given significant voice and championed.

While I undoubtedly share in this lament, what I still find lacking in the 2011 Istanbul Biennial is acknowledgement anywhere in the exhibition (save for in the uncontainable canvases of Mark Bradford) of the qualities that even the most politically engaged and challenging works of Gonzalez-Torres still possess — an indefatigable spirit of generosity and faith in the potential of art to not only transcribe the exigencies of the present moment but transcend them too.

The Complex of National Identity at the 54th Biennale di Venezia

Of the Venice Biennale exhibitions I have attended throughout my years as a museum professional, the most recent installment fell especially flat. This was true of the main exhibition ILLUMInazioni, organized by veteran Swiss curator Bice Curiger, and the myriad national pavilions curated independently by participating countries and located in the Giardini and many off-site […]

Of the Venice Biennale exhibitions I have attended throughout my years as a museum professional, the most recent installment fell especially flat. This was true of the main exhibition ILLUMInazioni, organized by veteran Swiss curator Bice Curiger, and the myriad national pavilions curated independently by participating countries and located in the Giardini and many off-site venues throughout Venice.

Philippe Parreno’s slight and almost pathetic marquee of lights over the entrance to ILLUMInazioni seems to announce it all: a Biennale in malaise, full of deflated artistic gestures and impotency. The sense of “artistic stultification” — to appropriate language used in the Biennale’s exhibition guide to describe Maurizio Cattelan’s hundreds of taxidermy pigeons that line the ceiling and rafters of the Arsenale — was pervasive.

That said, Cattelan’s installation is one of the few highlights, along with other familiar works by many established artists, including Urs Fischer, Sigmar Polke, Rosemarie Trockel, Monica Bonvincini, and Christian Marclay. Marclay presented The Clock, the 24-hour epic film work that follows the appearance of time in thousands of sampled films, each clip corresponding to the real time of the audience viewing it. The work recently commanded lines around the block when it was exhibited in New York and London. In Venice, a visitor can sit comfortably on couches and be lost for hours uninterrupted in the orchestrated cacophony of Marclay’s edit. I was especially fortunate to arrive at precisely high noon.

Installation view of Maurizio Cattelan's "The Others"

On the journey home, I found myself continuing to contemplate the 2011 Biennale with curiosity and intrigue. Was my overall impression a generational one? Did my memory of past biennales that had more impact reflect a sense of nostalgia not relevant to the current moment? Still,what stood out for me were not those few signature works in the main exhibition but rather the general impression derived from my tour of the national pavilions, especially those situated in the Giardini. There I found successive examples of artists who reflected in their entries a decided ambivalence—even dismay—about what it means to represent one’s country in such a highly visible international arena.

This ambivalence displayed itself in a variety of ways, including anger, frustration, and an abiding sense of powerlessness, as well as marked restraint. In the Romanian Pavilion, a collective of intergenerational artists spray-painted statements of protest along the interior walls of the pavilion, and on the exterior scrawled lists of reasons for or against participating in the biennale, ranging from the grandiosely political (“Venice Biennale Is A Choking-On-Money Mercantilist Fossil”) to the banal and personal (“We Have Nothing to Wear To The Opening”). The Egyptian Pavilion commemorates the new media artist Ahmed Basiouny, considered a martyr of the revolution in Egypt as he was killed while demonstrating against the Mubarak  regime on January 28. The pavilion shows documentation of Basiouny’s 30 Days of Running in the Place, which the artist made in 2010, before anyone could have anticipated the revolution. He measured the sweat he produced while running on the spot and transformed that information into code visually represented on large screens — a kind of a metaphor for the power of motion and digital forces to activate movement and change. This footage is combined with video the artist himself shot of the early days of demonstrations in Cairo’s Tahrir Square and elsewhere.

The national pavilions that I saw which best present artists who successfully navigated the complex terrain of the representation of nationhood are the U.S. and Poland. Both countries include new works by artists familiar to Walker audiences, including Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla, who represent the U.S. with a series of performative installations titled Gloria, and Yael Bartana, an Israeli/Dutch artist who represents Poland with a trilogy of films made between 2007 and 2011 titled …and Europe will be Stunned. At the Walker, Allora’s and Calzadilla’s was a part of the 2003 exhibition How Latitudes Become Forms: Art in a Global Age (curated by Philippe Vergne with Douglas Fogle and Olukemi Ilesanmi), and the following year they undertook a micro-broadcasting project, Radio Revolt: One Person, One Watt; Yael Bartana was one of 16 artists included in 2007’s Brave New Worlds (another global survey curated by Doryun Chong and Yasmil Raymond).

The 60-ton overturned military tank of Allora and Calzadilla’s Track and Field is positioned dramaticallyin front of of the U.S. pavilion building. The sculpture is outfitted with a functional treadmill that a U.S. athlete periodically runs on, activating the tank’s treads and resulting in a clanging and screeching that dominates – superpower like — the Giardini. The strategy of ironic juxtaposition—between military prowess, money, and athleticism—carries through other works in Gloria. Among the most poignant is Half Mast/Full Mast, a video installation which captures well the Biennale’s mood of quiet disdain and resounding ambivalence about the political realities and policies impacting our world.

The boldest entry by far is Yael Bartana’s three-screen film installation. Her controversial entry marks the first time a non-Polish national has represented the country. Tackling the complex subject of Jewish identity in the post-World War II Europe and Poland, Bartana (of Polish descent and the grandchild of Holocaust victims) creates a disturbing filmic narrative that traces the rise and fall of the fictitious leader of the Jewish Resistance Movement in Poland, a political group that calls for the return of 3.3 million Jews to the land of its forefathers. Appropriating the symbols and rhetoric of different forms of national and political extremism, Bartana draws parallels between aspects of Zionist and Third Reich propaganda  and alludes to current tensions in the West Bank and throughout the Middle East.

These entries bring the complex structure of national representation at the Venice Biennale squarely into question. While the declaration of nationhood may have made sense at the inception of the Biennale di Venezia over 100 years ago, are such distinctions necessary, productive, or even relevant to artists now? Bice Curiger’s impulse to create “Para-Pavilions” — that is, temporary pavilions throughout the main exhibition, which were designed by artists to host the works of other artists of varying national origins and practice — provides an intriguing alternative to the tradition of national pavilions. It is my hope that in the future a new model such as this will be further developed to keep this massive international survey relevant as a barometer of the complex times in which we live, and artists’ responses to an aggressively dynamic world.

Arts Institutions: Cathedrals, Town Squares—or Both?

Over the past few years there has been increasing discussion in the arts and cultural community about the shifting roles and expectations of audiences, and how they impact the creation of art as well as the relationship of cultural institutions with their audiences. Last year, for example, ARTnews published “Reshaping the Art Museum,” a story […]

Over the past few years there has been increasing discussion in the arts and cultural community about the shifting roles and expectations of audiences, and how they impact the creation of art as well as the relationship of cultural institutions with their audiences. Last year, for example, ARTnews published “Reshaping the Art Museum,” a story that covered myriad strategies that arts institutions are experimenting with to attract and engage audiences. In that article I mentioned the Walker’s ongoing experiments with the presentation of its collections and the desire of our staff to advance more relational forms of engagement that invite increased viewer participation.

More recently, the Wall Street Journal’s story, “No More ‘Cathedrals of Culture’,” reported on changes that a new and younger generation of museum directors are making. (The writer, Judith Dobrzynski, also wrote a post on her blog at Arts Journal, “Why Must Our Cultural Cathedrals Be Replaced by Town Squares?”)

In the "cathedral": Guillermo Kuitca installing his survey at the Walker, June 2010

As director of the Walker, I was quoted briefly in both stories, but I thought I would take the opportunity here on our blogs to present my views on the subject in greater detail. On a fundamental level, it seems unnecessary to create such a strict dichotomy between the idea of arts institutions as “cathedrals” or “town squares.” This need not be an either/or proposition, in my view, particularly if you think back historically to the adjacency of the cathedral and the town square in the heart of any city center. Located facing the main public plaza and proximate to open air markets, cathedrals were often at the hub of community life. In addition to their public convening function, they were also centers for the recording of history, the preservation of culture and the commissioning of art, as well as scholastic centers for the dissemination and debate of knowledge.

Not to take the metaphor too far, but our dual mission at the Walker—to serve as “a catalyst for the creative expression of artists and the active engagement of audiences”—does reflect the importance of these kind of adjacencies in a community, and also the rather fluid boundaries that I believe should exist between them. Just as many contemporary artists are increasingly developing communal art-making practices and activating new kinds of relationships with audiences, the Walker too has been finding innovative ways to offer greater access to a broader range of visitors, to create increased points of entry, and to help them feel more engaged and invested in the Walker as an institution. These kinds of efforts have been most prominent in the current Open Field program taking place right outside our Vineland Place entry. In this summer-long experiment, we have not only invited the Twin Cities community at large to activate our “backyard” but have also partnered with a range of community groups and artist collectives from around the country to curate events and programs.

In the Walker galleries, we are also showcasing a significant number of the contemporary artists who have been directly or indirectly engaging with the public, and doing so for decades. Take two large-scale installations by Hélio Oiticica (from 1973) and Rirkrit Tiravanija (2006) currently on view in the Burnet Gallery, which both require audience participation; or The Talent Show, an exhibition that just closed, which examined complicated relationships that have emerged between artists, audiences, and participants over more than 40 years. One of its most popular works, by Peter Campus, was first installed at the Walker in 1971.

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

As contemporary artists seek to activate new relationships with their audiences, museums and arts institutions help to foster these kinds of conversations. I’m proud to say that the Walker is uniquely positioned in this regard, not only as a platform and as a convener, but also as an instigator and catalytic voice. Indeed, we remain deeply committed to our mission and to developing our core, committed audiences while also seeking to broaden and diversify them.

The Walker’s efforts to encourage a “town square” atmosphere—in certain contexts and at appropriate times—does not signal an a priori abandonment of the institution’s commitment to quality, scholarship, stewardship, and presenting timely exhibitions of important artists and artistic movements (the traditional role of a “cathedral of culture.”) Currently on view is Guillermo Kuitca: Everything—Paintings and Works on Paper, 1980-2008, a survey and catalogue that find new meanings in this artist’s singular painting practice. The Walker has also organized From Here to There: Alec Soth’s America, the first U.S. survey of work from this contemporary photographer, opening next month; and co-organized Yves Klein: With the Void, Full Powers, the first U.S. retrospective for this artist in nearly 30 years, opening in October. (The Walker has also published catalogues for both of those exhibitions.)

At the "town square": Kuitca and other participants at the Walker's Drawing Club

And yet, even as Kuitca was helping to install his exhibition inside the Walker, he enthusiastically participated in Drawing Club, a weekly “town square” event outdoors, which brings together artists and others to make collaborative art works. As an avid draftsman, he was happy and even eager to meet fellow artists and non-artists at this convivial gathering. Soth, who is always interested in engaging with his audiences, is creating an online photography project for the public in conjunction with his exhibition.

In short, arts institutions need not make either/or choices when it comes to the cathedral vs. town square metaphor. They can – indeed, I believe they must – take a both/and approach, and strive to have these roles converge in bold, imaginative ways that not only extend creative practice but also include the public in the creative economy. Embodying the notion of a town square does not have to involve pandering or diminishing the loftiest ideals about art, arts institutions, or the intimacy of the experience of art for the public; it’s simply making room for everyone, and making efforts to welcome them.

I hope that more voices will join in this ongoing conversation. Please share your thoughts and comments in the box below.