Blogs Untitled (Blog) Paul Schmelzer

Nine-year editor of Walker magazine (1998-2007), Paul returned to the Walker as web editor in September 2011. A freelance writer and blogger, he writes on art, media, and activism for publications including Adbusters, Artforum.com, Ode, Utne, Cabinet, Raw Vision and at his personal site, Eyeteeth. Award-winning former editor of the Minnesota Independent, his interviews with architect Cameron Sinclair, artist Rirkrit Tiravanija and activist Winona La Duke appear in the book Land, Art: A Cultural Ecology Handbook (Royal Society of Arts). @iteeth

“Completely Punk Rock”: Cindy Sherman’s (Nearly) Forgotten History with Babes in Toyland

“Cindy Sherman is totally, completely punk rock.” Lori Barbero has some credibility in making that assessment. Not only was she drummer of the late, great Minneapolis-based alt-rock band Babes in Toyland (1987-2001), but she and the band had deeper ties to Sherman. The artist’s photographs are on the covers of two Babes albums, her imagery […]

BITL twintone Fontanelle Painkillers

“Cindy Sherman is totally, completely punk rock.” Lori Barbero has some credibility in making that assessment. Not only was she drummer of the late, great Minneapolis-based alt-rock band Babes in Toyland (1987-2001), but she and the band had deeper ties to Sherman. The artist’s photographs are on the covers of two Babes albums, her imagery was featured on stage banners created to accompany the band on the road (revealed below for the first time in nearly two decades), and the artist herself had a cameo–as doppelganger of lead singer Kat Bjelland–in a music video made during the band’s heyday.

Cofounded by Barbero and Bjelland in 1987, Babes in Toyland quickly racked up critical and popular success: They were asked by legendary British DJ John Peel to record with him; they were invited by Thurston Moore to tour with Sonic Youth in Europe in 1990 and at the Reading Festival a year later; they played Lollapalooza and got on-air props from the eponymous characters on MTV’s Beavis & Butthead, to name a few. But before all that, they released their debut album, Spanking Machine (Twin/Tone, 1990), which hinted at the band’s Shermanesque interests. “On our very first record cover, we’re all laying on our backs with all these icky dolls all around us,” Barbero recalls. Presaging later covers that featured doll imagery by Sherman, the shot played off the band’s name, while capturing Barbero’s interest in dolls. “I never had dolls when I was a kid. I just felt they were creepy,” she said. “Now I think they’re creepy and cool.”

Babes In Toyland: Lori Barbero, Kat Bjelland, Maureen Herman

Babes in Toyland: Lori Barbero, Kat Bjelland, Michelle Leon (bassist 1987-1992). Photo: Pat Blashill

She shared that she used to collect broken doll parts–pieces of antique dolls, particularly the bisque arms and legs–so, naturally, her favorite photos by Sherman are ones where Sherman is using prosthetic body parts. But the covers of Babes in Toyland’s Fontanelle (Reprise, 1992) and the EP Painkillers (Reprise, 1993) didn’t bear those images: they focused on dolls instead.

Barbero shared how the band met Sherman: “Tim Carr, who signed us to Reprise, is friends with all the New York City artists. He hooked us up with different artists.”

Barbero remembers meeting Vito Acconci in New York and Diamanda Galás coming to one of their gigs. She says she hung out with Robert Longo during a Babes tour stop in Paris. And Cindy Sherman would occasionally end up at their New York shows, including one Barbero recollected at CBGBs.

“She really liked us,” Barbero told me. “She came to see us  a few times, and I ended up hanging out with her at the end of the night. To be quite honest, I knew about her art, but after meeting her I really got into it.”

Through those conversations, an invitation came to visit Sherman’s SoHo studio to select artwork for use on album covers. “She opened a whole wall of drawers. I don’t know how many dozens we looked at,” she said. “I actually have six or eight photographs she gave me. She scribbled on the back, stuff like ‘This is a little too dark. I’d lighten it up,’ or whatever. Little notes.” Then, laughing, she added, “They’ve literally been in an envelope in a cupboard in my house until a year ago.”

Hand-painted Babes in Toyland stage banner based on Cindy Sherman's artwork. Photo courtesy Lori Barbero

Hand-painted Babes in Toyland stage banner based on Cindy Sherman’s artwork. Photo courtesy Lori Barbero

Equally hidden away were three stage banners that were based on Sherman’s cover photos. Sherman confirms that she gave the OK for the images to be hand-painted on a large stage banner and two scrims, but she states she never saw the final result. Few did: Barbero says the large size of the banners–somewhere around 25 x 40 feet for the largest–prohibited their use in winds above 5 mph, which is most days during outdoor concert season. “They stayed immaculate because they’re in this giant Anvil case,” she said. “That was ’92, and I just took them out two years ago.” (Barbero had enlisted her friend, Minneapolis gallerist Suzy Greenberg, to take a look at the artworks before Greenberg passed away in 2012.)

Stage scrims based on the Cindy Sherman photos on the Fontanelle and Painkillers album covers. Photo courtesy Lori Barbero

Stage scrims based on the Cindy Sherman photos on the Fontanelle and Painkillers album covers. Photo courtesy Lori Barbero

Sherman also appears in the video for the band’s 1991 single “Bruise Violet,” which, as Sherman herself reveals, includes footage shot in her old SoHo loft. In the video, Sherman and Bjelland wear matching white dresses and wigs, part of the “kinderwhore” aesthetic Bjelland is credited with creating. The video culminates with Bjelland choking Sherman’s character on a stairwell. The song and video have been interpreted as referencing the feud between Bjelland and Courtney Love, who was briefly a member of Babes in Toyland before going on to form the band Hole and popularizing the “kinderwhore” look. The song includes the lines, “You got your stories all twisted up in mine / You got this thing that follows me around.(Neither Bjelland nor Maureen Herman, Babes bassist from 1992 to 1996, responded to voicemail requests to discuss the band and its relationship with Sherman.)

Sherman was a natural during the video shoot, Barbero said. “Her just putting on the wig and looking like someone else, that’s what she does for living, so that was, to her, like making toast.”

Born in Minneapolis, Barbero left town in 2008–she’s now bartending and playing in various bands in Austin, Texas–so she won’t have the chance to see the Cindy Sherman exhibition in her hometown. But she still feels an affinity for the artist, and she suspects the feeling is mutual.

“That’s why I think all her walls were down, because I think she felt some kind of sisterhood,” she said. “Kindred spirits. I think that, just from observation, she thought it was cool that we didn’t get all dolled up. Kat was Kat, but you know, we is what we is. I think she was like that.”

The exhibition Cindy Sherman closes at the Walker on February 17, 2013.

Online Screening: Kim Beom’s Yellow Scream (2012)

After discussing his assembled materials–a primed canvas, oil paint mixed with turpentine, a size-3 flat hog-bristle brush–the video’s instructor begins: “The technique to this painting is to incorporate the sound of screams into the brush strokes.” Dressed in a pressed gray dress shirt and pleated pants, he explains to the camera, “A brush stroke done […]

Still from Kim Beom’s Yellow Scream (2012)

After discussing his assembled materials–a primed canvas, oil paint mixed with turpentine, a size-3 flat hog-bristle brush–the video’s instructor begins: “The technique to this painting is to incorporate the sound of screams into the brush strokes.” Dressed in a pressed gray dress shirt and pleated pants, he explains to the camera, “A brush stroke done with screaming is very different from a normal one. … The effect of the screams is recorded with the brush strokes.” He then dips his brush in a dab of lemon yellow paint, leans into the canvas, and lets out an anguished wail as he makes his first stroke: “Aaaaaaaaagh!”

Characteristic of the Seoul-based artist Kim Beom’s humor, the 31-minute video Yellow Scream (2012)–recently acquired by the Walker Art Center and shown for a limited time in its entirety on the Walker Channel–takes its inspiration from instructional television programs. The piece, the artist states, “is like the typical painting lessons of Bob Ross. What I was feeling in the theme of this video is the existential nature of contemporary art (and culture) as well as of artists. There are dynamics of many elements such as absurdity, the bizarre, intelligence, form, seriousness, and creativity.”

In that vein, the instructor, played by an actor, gives a deadpan course on technique, from priming canvases to color theory, while occasionally advising about the Zen-like quality of painting, from visualizing a balanced composition to controlling breath: “Now relax and try to feel your breathing, because screaming is part of breathing.” He then demonstrates his method, treating different types of utterances as if they’re artistic media or hues of paint. His brush strokes are variously accompanied by “a long scream that sounds like when you’re hurt, as if someone yanked your arm behind you or pulled you by the hair”; “a scream induced by psychological pain”; and “a more pained, wronged, and regretful scream.” Nearing the painting’s completion, he advises, “Let’s mix a bit of permanent green and add some refreshing hope and pleasure to the screams of joy.” The final work, he says, achieves a symphonic melding of color and emotion–a “clear, resonating chorus” of yellow.

Yellow Scream premiered at the Gwangju Biennale this fall and screened exclusively on the Walker Channel only from December 6–18, 2012. It will be presented on-site at the Walker in early 2013.

Kim Beom Painting yellow scream7Kim Beom Painting yellow scream8Kim Beom Painting yellow scream6Kim Beom Painting yellow scream2

Amaryllis and the 100th Anniversary of Tony Smith’s Birth

On the centennial of Tony Smith’s birth, Big Red & Shiny looks at the Minimalist sculptor’s 1965 work Amaryllis, a version of which was reinstalled last week outside the Wadsworth Atheneum. The 7,000-pound sculpture, made of painted Cor-Ten steel, was created in an edition of three: the Wadsworth and the Met each own one, while […]

Tony Smith and Martin Friedman, Walker director from 1961 to 1990, pose with Smith’s Amaryllis (1965/1968) in front of the former Guthrie Theater building, 1970. Photo: Walker Art Center

On the centennial of Tony Smith’s birth, Big Red & Shiny looks at the Minimalist sculptor’s 1965 work Amaryllis, a version of which was reinstalled last week outside the Wadsworth Atheneum. The 7,000-pound sculpture, made of painted Cor-Ten steel, was created in an edition of three: the Wadsworth and the Met each own one, while the Walker owns the third, which is on view in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. BR&S’s John Pyper describes the work:

If the flower is to be found in this sculpture, it hides its petals well. The Amaryllis is a cold weather flower that blooms readily and is associated through Ovid with devotion. Emerging out of the solid base (metaphorically its bulb), this metallic flower curves, possibly towards the sun. Created of strong triangular shapes, some truncated, the sculpture seems stable and solidly connected on the ground at some angles and balanced on a knife’s edge from others. The raised surface steadily grows out of its base. Depending on the angle, it forms an optical illusion, where it can seem shorter or taller as you circle it.

Born September 23, 1912, Smith passed away in 1980, but his legacy can be witnessed both with Amaryllis in the garden and in the galleries. He was patriarch of a creative family: his wife Jane was an opera singer, and two of his daughters, Kiki and Seton, are visual artists. Kiki Smith’s Kitchen is currently on view in the exhibition Midnight Party.

Tony Smith, Amaryllis, 1965/1968

Yesterday’s Newspaper: November 8, 2012

For the past two days–Election Day 2012 and the day after–we’ve been posting images of Dave McKenzie’s work Yesterday’s Newspaper as it appears in the exhibition The Living Years: Art after 1989. Changing daily, the work, as senior curator Clara Kim has written, “bridges the distance between events and times—between what is happening now and […]

Dave McKenzie, Yesterday’s Newspaper, 2007
T. B. Walker Acquisition Fund, 2012 Photo: Gene Pittman

For the past two days–Election Day 2012 and the day after–we’ve been posting images of Dave McKenzie’s work Yesterday’s Newspaper as it appears in the exhibition The Living Years: Art after 1989. Changing daily, the work, as senior curator Clara Kim has written, “bridges the distance between events and times—between what is happening now and what happened yesterday—to reinforce how yesterday’s news may still live within the present moment and how the present may affect the future.” Above, the piece as it stands in the galleries right now.

Hear McKenzie discuss his work tonight at 7 during a free talk as part of Target Free Thursday Nights.

Yesterday’s Newspaper: Election Day

Dave McKenzie’s Yesterday’s Newspaper, now on view in The Living Years: Art after 1989, is so simple it runs the risk of being overlooked. A copy of yesterday’s local paper lays on a walnut slab the way it might sit on your front doorstep. But the humble work captures a monumental gap: between news that’s […]

Dave McKenzie, Yesterday’s Newspaper, 2007
T. B. Walker Acquisition Fund, 2012 Photo: Gene Pittman

Dave McKenzie’s Yesterday’s Newspaper, now on view in The Living Years: Art after 1989, is so simple it runs the risk of being overlooked. A copy of yesterday’s local paper lays on a walnut slab the way it might sit on your front doorstep. But the humble work captures a monumental gap: between news that’s happened and news that hasn’t, what we know and what we don’t, yet. For the next two days, we’ll present images of this ever-changing work. Here’s how the piece—featuring the November 5 issue of the Minneapolis Star Tribune–looks today, the day before we find out the results of another historic election.

Hear McKenzie discuss his work at the Walker on November 8, 2012.

Hito Steyerl: Is the Museum a Battlefield?

At last week’s Creative Time Summit in New York–an annual conference on the intersections of art and social justice–an array of presenters took to the podium, including artist Steve Lambert, philosopher/cultural critic Slavoj Žižek, filmmaker (and just-named MacArthur “genius”) Laura Poitras, artist and organizer Jeff Chang (who discussed his book Total Chaos: The Art and […]


At last week’s Creative Time Summit in New York–an annual conference on the intersections of art and social justice–an array of presenters took to the podium, including artist Steve Lambert, philosopher/cultural critic Slavoj Žižek, filmmaker (and just-named MacArthur “genius”) Laura Poitras, artist and organizer Jeff Chang (who discussed his book Total Chaos: The Art and Aesthetics of Hip-Hop at the Walker in 2007), among many others. But from my vantage point, one of the most intriguing was by Hito Steyerl. The Berlin-based filmmaker and artist–whose work Red Alert (2007) was recently brought into the Walker collection, and who’ll be part of the exhibition 9 Artists, opening a year from now–addressed the question, “Is the museum a battlefield?” (more…)

Negative Space: Mungo Thomson Approaches the Void with New Walker Mural

“My work has been about negative space, in some respects: The overlooked, the void, emptiness,” said artist Mungo Thomson during a September visit to Minneapolis. “I had this idea to take that literally and make negative images of outer space.” The result is the Walker’s new acquisition, the 93-foot-long mural Negative Space, recently installed outside the Vineland Place entrance. The piece reflects Thomson’s interest in what he calls “the dumb idea”–something simple blown up to grand proportions.

Mungo Thomson, Negative Space (STScI-PRC2012-10a), 2012. Photo: Gene Pittman

“My work has been about negative space, in some respects: The overlooked, the void, emptiness,” said artist Mungo Thomson during a September visit to Minneapolis. “I had this idea to take that literally and make negative images of outer space.”

The result is the Walker’s new acquisition, the 93-foot-long mural Negative Space, recently installed outside the Vineland Place entrance. The piece reflects Thomson’s interest in what he calls “the dumb idea”–something simple blown up to grand proportions. In this case, he found a public domain photo taken by NASA’s Hubble telescope and using a basic Photoshop command inverted it. “Just click Apple-I,” he said of the work that’ll be on view for the next six months. “It takes two fingers.”

But like all conceptual art, the simplicity of the gesture can be deceiving. (more…)

Sit-Specific Art: Darsie Alexander on Franz West’s Sittable Sculptures

Franz West, The Ego and the Id, 2008 “The failings of the body were never lost on Franz,” Walker chief curator Darsie Alexander wrote in late July in remembrance of Vienna-based artist Franz West, who passed away July 25. “He devoted much of his career to thinking about the oddities and wonder of the physical […]


Franz West, The Ego and the Id, 2008

“The failings of the body were never lost on Franz,” Walker chief curator Darsie Alexander wrote in late July in remembrance of Vienna-based artist Franz West, who passed away July 25. “He devoted much of his career to thinking about the oddities and wonder of the physical realm. How people walk, interact, make love, snore in public, and do other intimately human and occasionally embarrassing things was a theme in much of his art.”

How we use our bodies — particularly how and where we sit — was a key interest for West, and one of the motivating ideas behind Sitzwuste, the Walker’s trio of metal sculptural benches, which Alexander has called West’s “ode to the human ass.” Alexander, who curated a 2008 West retrospective at the Baltimore Museum of Art, discussed West’s life and art with Modern Art Notes‘ Tyler Green on this week’s MAN Podcast. (more…)

About That F#@%ing Frank Gaard T-Shirt…

One day in early 2005, I spotted Frank Gaard getting off the bus on Hennepin Avenue. Toting a pink-painted plank under his arm, he was headed my way, to the temporary offices Walker staff was occupying during construction of the new expansion. We greeted, and he showed me what he had: a going-away present for […]

Frank Gaard, I Love the Fucking Walker, 2005. Collection Philippe Vergne and Sylvia Chivaratanond

One day in early 2005, I spotted Frank Gaard getting off the bus on Hennepin Avenue. Toting a pink-painted plank under his arm, he was headed my way, to the temporary offices Walker staff was occupying during construction of the new expansion. We greeted, and he showed me what he had: a going-away present for Philippe Verne, then senior curator and Visual Arts department head. It was a sign that read, “I love the Fucking Walker.”

Vergne, who is now director of the Dia Art Foundation in New York, had invited Gaard to participate in a billboard project in downtown Minneapolis; Gaard’s work was part of a series that included pieces by Matthew Barney, Takashi Murakami, Yoko Ono, and Laylah Ali.

In an email, Vergne says Gaard submitted the original art for the project, but the billboard company rejected it. He jokes:

The billboard company did not want to print it and install it because of the word “love.” They thought the word was offensive and might shock young sensibilities. As we all know, love is a dangerous, uncontrollable emotion that leads people to behave in ways that might disrupt social order.

It smells too, at times.

But Gaard says the piece wasn’t his submission for the billboard project. Vergne, he remembers, was set to leave to head up an art center in Italy (it ultimately fell through, and he returned as chief curator), and Gaard wanted to present him with a parting gift. Painted on a “a piece of wood [he] found in a dumpster,” Gaard says it was “inspired by Philippe’s ability to see the Walker both ways, as an impediment and as a thing that can provide solace to people.”

While the piece isn’t in the Walker’s current Gaard show, it is in the Shop, reproduced on t-shirts:

Gaard says Vergne wanted to have the artwork appear on shirts years ago, but it wasn’t to be. “I think I signed a permission slip,” Gaard remembers. But now that they’re made, what’s Vergne’s response?

He emails: “I love this Fucking T-shirt.”

Frank Gaard: Poison & Candy is on view through May 6, 2012.

St. Vincent Video Takes Inspiration from Ron Mueck

The newest video by St. Vincent, who performed here in October, has a distinctly Walker vibe. Set in a white-walled gallery, singer Annie Clark is presented as a gigantic and uncannily realistic sculpture, one the video’s director, Hiro Murai, says is inspired by the work of Ron Mueck, whose Crouching Boy in Mirror is in […]


The newest video by St. Vincent, who performed here in October, has a distinctly Walker vibe. Set in a white-walled gallery, singer Annie Clark is presented as a gigantic and uncannily realistic sculpture, one the video’s director, Hiro Murai, says is inspired by the work of Ron Mueck, whose Crouching Boy in Mirror is in our Lifelike exhibition. Pitchfork caught up with Murai and asked about the link to Mueck and about why he set the video in a gallery:

Pitchfork: Were you inspired by the artist Ron Mueck?

HM: Yes! People have a natural tendency to read emotions out of faces, so when you see a face that is hyperreal but without the life behind the eyes, it’s really off-putting and intriguing. Mueck’s sculptures are amazing, but the weirdest part was how all these people were huddling around and looking at them. It created this weird dynamic: The sculptures are three or four times bigger than everyone else in the room, and they feel like they have a lot of power, and yet they’re always vulnerable-looking. It felt very voyeuristic and weird.

Pitchfork: Is there something about the gallery context you wanted to translate?

HM: I love museums, but I always thought there was something funny about a group of strangers silently staring at works of inanimate objects together. Each person is having a very personal and maybe even emotional experience, but it’s in the confines of an extremely quiet and sterile room. From a visual standpoint, I liked the idea of setting a video in a space that was like a blank slate.

Pitchfork: What’s the role of the onlookers in the gallery?

HM: I like the idea of reading into people’s faces when they’re not emoting. Some people are fascinated, some are sympathizing. We had some amazing faces in that video. The narrative of the video was about setting up this oppressive dynamic between her and the audience.

Watch “Cheerleader” by St. Vincent:

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