An open-ended look at contemporary art – both inside the Walker and out – as framed by our Visual Arts curators.
JoAnn Verburg. Photo: Jim Moore To commemorate the year that was, we invited artists, designers, and thinkers across disciplines — from painter Matt Connors and ebook publishers Badlands Unlimited to design firm Experimental Jetset and writer Greg Allen — to share a list of their most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects of 2013. See the […]
To commemorate the year that was, we invited artists, designers, and thinkers across disciplines — from painter Matt Connors and ebook publishers Badlands Unlimited to design firm Experimental Jetset and writer Greg Allen — to share a list of their most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects of 2013. See the entire series 2013: The Year According to .
While the challenges of life can be difficult, JoAnn Verburg said on Twin Cities Public Television’s MN Original last May, we’re not alone: “Yet, at the same time, you’re the only one that looks at things the way you do. I think everything I’m doing comes out of that: the fact that we’re alone and we’re not alone.” As a photographer, Verburg has used her lens to examine this seeming paradox — of intimate connection and individual experience. As MoMA curator Susan Kismaric put it when Verburg’s MoMA-organized survey Present Tense came to the Walker in 2008, Verburg’s photos are “grounded in an attention to human interaction — between the people in her pictures, and between her work and its audience — which keeps both artist and viewers perpetually approaching a threshold between searching and finding.”
Verburg took time from her schedule — which includes preparing for a show this fall at Pace/MacGill Gallery of new work shot at Italy’s Fonti del Clitunno (see below) — to share some of her “searching and finding” from the past year in a best-of-2013 list. Many of her picks show an exploration of what connects us across geography, race, religion, and time — from the pages of Richard Wright’s 1940 novel Native Son to a predawn listening session overlooking Moroccan rooftops, an artistic mashup about loving kindness at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts to a posthumous exhibition of works by Mike Kelley, her friend and studio neighbor when she first arrived in Minneapolis in 1981.
Best rehearsals and performances
One of my favorite moments of the year was experiencing Robert Wilson’s The Old Woman in a 17th-century theater in Spoleto, Italy (traveling to BAM this summer). When I see direction (“notes”) being given to an actor or the crew, it feels like an X-ray into the mind of the director. Of course, in theater, it is never as simple as one person — Bob Wilson, in this case. Articulation is the word that comes to mind to describe how Willem Dafoe and Mikhail Baryshnikov — dressed alike, in matching white face paint, campy clothes, and plastic windblown wigs — used their bodies. Brilliantly. For us, the lucky audience. The story isn’t much more than a device that allows Wilson, via Dafoe and Baryshnikov, to stimulate and hold our attention with nonstop stunning visuals and weird sounds. By the way, why is Defoe’s tongue that color? From far up above the stage, on the ceiling of the theater, a super precisely focused red spotlight is shining on it.
Most surprising sound
In Fez, Morocco, not really knowing why, I was obsessed with the idea of making sound and video recordings of the call to prayer. So one night, before the sun rose, I climbed up to a rooftop terrace above the city with my equipment. I can’t describe how beautiful it looked. I waited and recorded for about an hour, and finally I had to leave when my fingers were too cold to work. Here’s what I heard: I must have had the time wrong for the call to prayer, but as black night turned to the dark grays and browns of predawn, a lone rooster called out, sounding both ecstatic about life and and disappointed at not to be able to explain it. After many cock-a-doodle-dos, a second rooster cried out, then another, and another, etc., until countless invisible sound-points defined, almost visibly, the broad bowl shape of the ancient city below.
Best architecture/installation combo
Next time you’re in Paris, head for the Institut du Monde Arabe, the sister-building of the Guthrie Theater, by architect Jean Nouvel. The exterior entrance wall sets the tone. It’s a grid of intricately patterned circles, apertures lauded for their photosensitive responsiveness, opening and closing with the sun. Inside, the installation of the exhibition is astonishing, especially the entry hall of floor-to-ceiling mirrors alternating with floor-to-ceiling video projections of daily life in various neighborhoods in the Arab world. Someone is buying spices in Cairo as you see yourself walking. It pulls you in confusingly, beautifully and instantly.
Best sacred space
In July, I went back again to make pictures at the Fonti del Clitunno, sacred headwaters of the Clitunno, where it is said that Jove mated with a mermaid. I’ve been using the idea of the park as a point of departure for an installation of photos, sound, and videos. Parks and exhibitions are both places where strangers come, walk around, look at the sights, maybe feel inspired, maybe have a conversation, and leave. I wasn’t sure what direction to go next with my shooting, but Ping Chong was teaching nearby at La Mama, Umbria, and was willing to model. I guess I don’t have language for what happened next, but the connection between stories of past visitors and our present-tense hot summer day, and also the layered feeling of earth, blue sky, cold water, human nature, conversation, ducks quacking, swans floating, trees, and so on did feel magical, if not part of something sacred. There was something about the moment his toe touched the water, sending out ripples…
Best classic novel
Richard Wright’s Native Son (1940) was on the required reading list for one of my sociology classes in college, but I didn’t read it until 2013. It is a tragic and too too relevant story about America.
Best movie Q&A
Steve McQueen at the Walker. I’d been intrigued by comments made by the actors in 12 Years a Slave. For example, given how unmitigatingly horrific most of the film is, that McQueen says that for him, it is a film about love. Love? Love. Yes, and that the actors felt trust and support and safety, and thus, were able to go deeply — even into their darkest selves — to perform their roles. Seeing McQueen in person at the Walker was a glimpse into the mind — the man — who needed to create extreme and obsessive hate, desire, and shame in 12 Years a Slave (and his movie Shame) and who, as a visual artist, had developed the discipline and skill to do it. Thank you to the Walker and other Minnesota institutions for bringing our artists into town: our artists dealing with our ugly problems and the exquisite beauties, too, of this moment.
In Destiny Disrupted, Muslim author Tamim Ansary walks his readers through the origins of two different world views: Western and Islamic. To oversimplify his simplification, what we Westerners think of as “world history” has remained remarkably distinct from Islamic versions of what’s been happening within the same boundaries during the same 1,500 or so years. While our seafaring, sea-trading ancestors were developing and spreading our religions and ideas from port to port, a second set of religions and attitudes was simultaneously developing along overland trade routes. Certainly, there were points of overlap, but the mountains and other geographical barriers to travel and trade were overwhelming enough that surprisingly distinct cultures have survived. When many of us woke up on 9/11 with the questions “Is this really happening?” and “Why?” it was without much understanding of Islam, Islamic governments, or Islamic attitudes about science, individualism, human rights, and so on. For a long time — for other reasons — I’ve wanted to travel to Turkey, and this book pushed me over the edge. Jim and I just got back from two trips to Istanbul and Morocco.
Mary Stucky’s journalism class in Rabat, Morocco. Fifteen American journalism students partnered with as many English speaking Moroccan journalism students. After weeks of immersion and training, each pair ferreted out a story idea and interviewed Moroccans ranging from a 21-year-old man with AIDS to a sub-Saharan woman trying to escape the sexual slave trade, not to mention the only woman competing as a break dancer in a hajib (scarf). It’s thrilling to see hopeful brave optimistic American kids open themselves up to the big world, bonding with their new Moroccan partners, stumbling through language barriers, absolutely game. And lucky me, I got to listen.
Best saddest exhibition
Mike Kelley’s retrospective at PS1. Mike and I both moved to Minnesota in 1981 for one-year positions as visiting artists at MCAD, the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. For that year, we had side-by-side classroom/studios and spent a lot of time looking at each other’s work, photo-ing (me), creating performances (him), going to see visiting filmmakers at Film in the Cities, and taking day trips to funny Minnesota places in my car. Mike’s performances were unique and ugly and powerful. In 2013, I kind of had to drag myself to Queens to see his post-suicide retrospective. It is worse than painful that Mike got himself into a corner he couldn’t gracefully exit, and it was impossible for me to see his exhibition without that filter. The drawings and videos from our shared year in Minnesota held such promise. He established his voice and his career. He was so dear and funny and ironic and pissed and sad, and I’m glad all those qualities live on in the work, but what a waste. Oh, and we had done a collaboration, a triptych of him as the Banana Man, but I’d never seen the finished video, which for about an hour, wonderfully brought him back to me.
At the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, a beautiful large wood sculpture of a bodhisattva is the only visible artwork (although it wasn’t originally made as art) in a darkened room. There are benches, so it is possible to sit and contemplate this beautiful transporting figure. And there’s more. Local artist Jan Estep has created an audio piece of voices reciting the loving kindness meditation. It’s an extraordinarily effective example of putting two artworks together in such harmony that neither one detracts or distracts from the experience of the other. In fact, for me, the sculpture focuses my seeing, and the rhythmic sound keeps my mind from wandering. I can’t wait to go back.
For more on the artist, read the September 2012 interview “JoAnn Verburg on Newspapers as Portals to the Political.”
To commemorate the year that was, we invited artists, designers, and thinkers across disciplines — from conceptual painter Matt Connors and ebook publishers Badlands Unlimited to design firm Experimental Jetset and photographer JoAnn Verburg — to share a list of their most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects of 2013. See the entire series 2013: The Year […]
To commemorate the year that was, we invited artists, designers, and thinkers across disciplines — from conceptual painter Matt Connors and ebook publishers Badlands Unlimited to design firm Experimental Jetset and photographer JoAnn Verburg — to share a list of their most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects of 2013. See the entire series 2013: The Year According to .
Artworld polymath Greg Allen is best known to many of us as the man behind the blog greg.org: the making of, published since 2001. But the Washington-based writer wears many other hats: filmmaker, author (he’s been published in Cabinet, the New York Times and WALKER magazine, for which he profiled Minneapolis-based furniture making, blogging, and landscape design team ROLU), and exhibiting artist (last year he showed at apexarts and 601Artspace). And he’s also found himself serving the role as experimental publisher.
In 2011, after blogging regularly about the Prince v. Cariou copyright infringement case, he realized that Richard Prince’s seven-hour grilling on the stand — under oath — was probably the longest interview the artist’s ever done — and that many people were interested in reading it. He compiled and printed a volume filled with transcripts, affidavits, artwork, and related images, and made it available for sale. It’s since been expanded in a new, 375-page version. Its full title: Canal Zone Richard Prince YES RASTA: Selected Court Documents from Cariou v. Prince et al, including the Videotaped Deposition of Richard Prince, the Affidavit of Richard Prince, Competing Memoranda of Law in Support of Summary Judgment, Exhibits Pertaining to Paintings and Collages of Richard Prince and the Use of Reproductions of Patrick Cariou’s YES RASTA Photographs Therein, and the Summary Ass-Whooping Prince Received at the Hand of The Hon. Judge Deborah A. Batts, as compiled and revised by Greg Allen for greg.org: the making of in April 2011. In 2013, he published a book of documents related to the case’s appeal, as well as the Standard Operating Procedure, which includes the force-feeding protocols used by military doctors at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Here’s the ideas, moments, and events that most stood out for him in 2013.
The Embroidery Trouble Shooting Guide
At the Sewing & Embroidery Warehouse, an error in the web page’s HTML code, invisible to Microsoft users, causes the text to grow so big the letters become illegible abstractions.
America Over There
Even without getting on its gender rollercoaster, US military contractors in Afghanistan making a shot-for-shot remake of the Miami Dolphins cheerleaders’ cover version of Carly Rae Jepson’s “Call Me, Maybe” reminds me those forward operating bases are America, too.
Rob Pruitt’s Flea Market eBay Shop
I have no idea if including an autographed photo [“Perfect for framing.”] of each item transforms the junk Rob Pruitt’s selling into art. But I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the panda tchotchkes — which look most like his trademark paintings — consistently go for ten times more than anything else.
The stuff Jayson Musson sold online
Musson’s stuff, meanwhile, wasn’t even his. He threw himself on the capitalist mercies of his social media followers last spring by creating found-object sculptures on the streets of New York City, photographing them, and putting them up for sale on Instagram. Then he was stuck waiting until someone showed up to close the deal. [DISCLOSURE: I bought the first one after six hours, for $20.]
When it was unfolding in real time on Twitter as a piece of durational performance art, Jay Z’s “Picasso, Baby” gallery stunt sounded like the shallowest, most obvious celebrity-worshipping trap imaginable. It turned out to be a music video, and a depressing percentage of the New York art world walked right into it.
From the documents produced in the growing flurry of lawsuits from disgruntled buyers, it appears that the last decade of its 165-year existence, the primary source of profits for New York’s Knoedler Gallery was derived from the sale of forged Abstract Expressionist masterpieces. As prosecutors unwind the case, I now find myself looking at every Pollock, Kline, and Motherwell with a bit of suspicion.
Salvaging Costa Concordia
On September 16, Titan Salvage uprighted the scuttled cruise ship Costa Concordia in the largest parbuckling effort in history. Reuters livestreamed the entire 19+ hour process, and it was incredible. GiglioNews, a local Italian media outlet, has preserved the feed in four-hour chunks on YouTube.
I get chills every single time I hear former Sotheby’s auctioneer Tobias Meyer’s 24-second rumination on Andy Warhol’s Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster), which he would soon sell for $105 million.
Trevor Paglen has an uncanny ability to understand and present the invisible. Which is why his essay on the NSA and “Turnkey Tyranny” felt so urgent and outraging.
Cameras and other recording devices were banned from the military courtroom for PFC Bradley/Chelsea Manning’s trial, which makes Molly Crabapple’s eyewitness sketch reportage for The Paris Review all the more important. She also drew her report on the inmate hunger strike at Guantanamo Bay.
To commemorate the year that was, we invited artists, designers, and thinkers across disciplines — from painter Matt Connors and ebook publishers Badlands Unlimited to design firm Experimental Jetset and musician Greg Tate — to share a list of their most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects of 2013. See the entire series 2013: The Year According […]
To commemorate the year that was, we invited artists, designers, and thinkers across disciplines — from painter Matt Connors and ebook publishers Badlands Unlimited to design firm Experimental Jetset and musician Greg Tate — to share a list of their most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects of 2013. See the entire series 2013: The Year According to .
To many, Chris Larson’s best known for torching a modernist home last summer. In Celebration/Love/Loss (2013), a sculpture and performance work created for the all-night Northern Spark festival, Larson built and then burned to the ground a full-scale replica of a Marcel Breuer–designed house built on a St. Paul bluff in 1962. But before that high-profile project, Larson was well known in the Twin Cities for a range of art projects — many equally large in scale and vision. Part of the Walker’s 1998 exhibition Sculpture on Site, the St. Paul–based artist and musician created a wooden, fort-like structure in the Walker’s Cargill Lounge for a 2011 show, and a pair of mini-golf holes he made with students in his University of Minnesota class were part of last year’s Artist-Designed Mini Golf course. His works of Insecure Architecture were featured in the 2012/2013 McKnight Visual Arts Fellowship Exhibition at MCAD, and his video work, Heavy Rotation, will be included in 2014 Whitney Biennial.
As part of our series reflection on the year 2013, Larson offers this list of “ten top things that kept me. In order of appearance.”
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In my continued interest in rotating, spinning and revolving, images of Cyclone Haruna in February of 2013 held my attention for some time. This cyclone produced widespread flooding, which produced perfect conditions for a catastrophic locust infestation in Madagascar. Tragic.
As above, so below. In 2013, an extraordinary video of a sinkhole was caught in action by a park emergency official in Assumption Parish Louisiana.
(Images of the 2010 sinkhole in Guatemala continue to hold my attention and still tops my personal top-10 list for 2011.)
2013, the first year no one asked for a friend request.
Cooking with acorns
Free, easy to gather and a great source of protein. Acorns are bitter; make sure to bake and boil out the tannins before eating. Check for worm holes: avoid these or black acorns. White oak is the best source. I eat acorn pancakes with birch syrup: delicious.
This summer at the Poor Farm in Wisconsin, I learned how to make tea and lemonade from sumac. Another free and easy way to eat and drink off the earth. Gather the sumac berries in mid-August, before the heavy rains (rain will wash away the flavor and acid). Berries should be ripe with a sharp lemon flavor and have a deep red color. Harvest the berries, soak them in water for an hour or so, strain the liquid with cheesecloth to get rid of the tiny hair and berries. Serve over ice.
Also known as Heavy Rotation-Center Pivot Irrigation, circle farming is an irrigation process in which a watering systems rotates around the crops. One rotation usually takes three full days. The central pivot farms in Kansas are captured in some incredible images, thanks to map images on the worldwide web. In September 2013, Japan’s ALOS satellite shot some beautiful photos of crop circles in southeastern Libya.
“Art 665b Unraveling”
Jim Hodges’ 2013 MFA sculpture course at Yale University School of Art. I would go back to school to take this class.
Shortly after he completed Friend Me/Follow Me: Graze Anatomy (2012)–the mixed-media installation just inside the Walker’s Hennepin Avenue entrance–we asked Ely, Minn.–based artist Andy Messerschmidt to share some of the visual and conceptual influences behind his work. He responded with a series of images–from a French visionary environment cobbled together by a French postman to a […]
Shortly after he completed Friend Me/Follow Me: Graze Anatomy (2012)–the mixed-media installation just inside the Walker’s Hennepin Avenue entrance–we asked Ely, Minn.–based artist Andy Messerschmidt to share some of the visual and conceptual influences behind his work. He responded with a series of images–from a French visionary environment cobbled together by a French postman to a Hindu pilgrimage–plus a few “lines for elucidation/’hallucidation'”: (more…)
Thatcher. Guantanamo. Iraq. If you were following our Art News From Elsewhere feed on the Walker homepage last week you probably noticed a decidedly more political slant to the section. London-based art duo Karen Mirza and Brad Butler took over curation of the news from April 15 to 19 as part of their just-opened Walker exhibition The […]
Thatcher. Guantanamo. Iraq. If you were following our Art News From Elsewhere feed on the Walker homepage last week you probably noticed a decidedly more political slant to the section. London-based art duo Karen Mirza and Brad Butler took over curation of the news from April 15 to 19 as part of their just-opened Walker exhibition The Museum of Non Participation: The New Deal, on view through July 14, 2013. As this is the first time we’ve welcomed guest curators of Art News From Elsewhere, we hope to hear from Mirza and Butler about the experience–what themes emerged, how they approached the idea of using an institutional channel to share issues of personal concern to them, what they learned along the way, etc. But in the meantime, here’s a recap of their five days at the helm of ANFE. (more…)
Current events underpin much of the work of London-based artists Karen Mirza and Brad Butler. Their notion of “non-participation” stems in part from an experience in 2007 when they witnessed protests by the Pakistani Lawyers’ Movement outside the Supreme Court in Islamabad. Viewing from within the National Gallery as the event–culminating with violence against demonstrators […]
Current events underpin much of the work of London-based artists Karen Mirza and Brad Butler. Their notion of “non-participation” stems in part from an experience in 2007 when they witnessed protests by the Pakistani Lawyers’ Movement outside the Supreme Court in Islamabad. Viewing from within the National Gallery as the event–culminating with violence against demonstrators by government authorities–unfolded outside, they began to consider the ways that museums and the broader art world are cut off from contemporary social and political realities.
From April 15–19, 2013, in preparation for the April 18 opening of their Walker exhibition The Museum of Non Participation: The New Deal, the artists will take over Art News From Elsewhere, the section of the Walker homepage that aggregates news and views from the art world and beyond. Along with their stint as guest news editors, the pair agreed to share a list of their favorite ten online news sources. These publications suggest the global, ethical, and aesthetic vantage point–and possibly the actual news sources–that will guide their first-of-a-kind takeover of our curated news feed.
IanRobertDouglas.com: A Cairo-based writer, editor, and professor of politics, Ian Robert Douglas is a member of Executive Committee of the BRussells Tribunal, coordinator of the International Initiative to Prosecute US Genocide in Iraq, and cofounder of the Centre for Global Geostrategic Analysis.
Socialism and/or Barbarism: “Notes on a once & future nightmare,” artist, author, and theorist Evan Calder Williams’ blog for The New Inquiry.
Mute: A London-based online magazine and biannual publication dedicated to “exploring culture and politics after the net.”
The BRussells Tribunal: Founded by artists and intellectuals in 2003, this think tank, activist group, and antiwar organization “tries to be a bridge between the intellectual resistance in the Arab World and the Western peace movements.”
Militant Esthetix: “Esther Leslie and Ben Watson plunge the into theory and art conspired into existence by the praxis of Walter Benjamin, T.W. Adorno, Kurt Schwitters,” and others.
ArtLeaks: Like Wikileaks for the artworld, this online platform for international artists, curators, art historians, and intellectuals aims to document and expose “the abuse of their professional integrity and the open infraction of their labor rights.”
Precarious Workers Brigade: A UK-based organization/campaign formed to “demand, create and reclaim” equal pay, free education, democratic workers, and the Commons.
ArtTerritories: A platform, presented in English and Arabic, where artists, thinkers, researchers and curators can “reflect on their art practice and engage in critical exchange on matters of art and visual culture in the Middle East and the Arab World.”
Bring In Take Out Living Archive: An evolving laboratory, exhibition, and public archive of women artists and feminist art, with editions so far in Zagreb, Ljubljana, Sarajevo, and Vienna.
A bit of deconstruction preceded the installation process for Abraham Cruzvillegas: The Autoconstrucción Suites: Prior to the Mexico City–based artist’s arrival, all the non-load-bearing walls in the Target and Friedman galleries–including the one separating the two spaces–have been removed. It’s the first time since the Walker expansion opened in 2005 that the galleries have been […]
A bit of deconstruction preceded the installation process for Abraham Cruzvillegas: The Autoconstrucción Suites: Prior to the Mexico City–based artist’s arrival, all the non-load-bearing walls in the Target and Friedman galleries–including the one separating the two spaces–have been removed. It’s the first time since the Walker expansion opened in 2005 that the galleries have been opened up into one, creating a massive, 9,500 s.f. exhibition space. Cruzvillegas, who traveled to Minneapolis with his wife and daughter, has been on-site the past two weeks preparing the exhibition for Friday night’s preview party and its public opening Saturday. Gene Pittman and Olga A Ivanova of the Walker photography department have been tracking the installation process, capturing the space as it changes and the artist as he works.
In anticipation of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden’s 25th anniversary this summer, a new winter-themed work has just been installed, Gary Hume’s Front of Snowwoman (2002). On loan until this fall from the collection of Peggy and Ralph Burnet, the cast-bronze snow-being temporarily replaces Jacques Lipchitz’s Prometheus Strangling the Vulture II (1944/1953), which has been on […]
In anticipation of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden’s 25th anniversary this summer, a new winter-themed work has just been installed, Gary Hume’s Front of Snowwoman (2002). On loan until this fall from the collection of Peggy and Ralph Burnet, the cast-bronze snow-being temporarily replaces Jacques Lipchitz’s Prometheus Strangling the Vulture II (1944/1953), which has been on view on the easternmost edge of the park since its opening in 1988. Here’s a few shots from the deinstallation of Lipchitz’s work last week and Hume’s snowwoman on Wednesday.
Continuing #OpenCurating, its series of interviews and events exploring the ways Web 2.0 and social media technologies are informing new practices in art, the curatorial office Latitudes hosted an event in Barcelona recently with Dia Art Foundation curator (and former Walker curator) Yasmil Raymond. As #OpenCurating’s content partner, the Walker has participated in these conversations, both […]
Continuing #OpenCurating, its series of interviews and events exploring the ways Web 2.0 and social media technologies are informing new practices in art, the curatorial office Latitudes hosted an event in Barcelona recently with Dia Art Foundation curator (and former Walker curator) Yasmil Raymond. As #OpenCurating’s content partner, the Walker has participated in these conversations, both through an interview with our web team that launched the project in September 2012 and through publishing key pieces from the project on our recently redesigned homepage. Held February 19 at the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona, the event focused on Raymond’s work with Dia, where she’s been employed since 2009, and her current projects, including the forthcoming Gramsci Monument, a project by Swiss artist Thomas Hirschhorn that launches in July. In this excerpt from the full interview, Raymond fields questions on “curation,” including one from former Walker chief curator Philippe Vergne:
Latitudes: Philippe Vergne, the Director of Dia Art Foundation. Philippe’s questions are great but tough: “It seems today that everybody is a curator, that ‘curator’ is the new ‘DJ.’ How do you see the evolution of your own profession? Is there a different way to work with artists? And is Dia a place that has embodied proto-curatorial practices (in the 1970s) and post-curatorial practices (now)?”
Yasmil Raymond: As to how I see the evolution of the profession, I’ve only been in this profession for eight years — one year in dog years! But I do see an evolution in that the curators of the past like Harald Szeemann were so concerned with their authorship. Then we have great curators like Hans-Ulrich Obrist or Hou Hanru, Lynne Cooke or Catherine de Zheger, Ann Goldstein or Elisabeth Sussman, a whole generation of curators who I admire for their boldness and rigour on some levels, their scholarship and playfulness, their poetry. Some of them are phenomenal authors, they curate as if they were writing a book. I’m not interested in authoring in that way. When I write a text I am an author, but when I am working with an artist I’m not. I’m more interested in being a host. I look at it from the point of view of politics. I am the one that has to defend the work, first of all to my colleagues inside the institution, and to convince them that this is an exhibition that we need today, an artist we need to support today. Then we all have to convince the visitor. Winning those battles with enthusiasm and knowledge gives me real satisfaction. I’ve never thought of myself as a DJ, I’m not interested in playing to an audience in order to entertain. I am hostess, I make sure that the experience is unforgettable for the artist.
The artist Alejandro Cesarco recently gave a powerful talk at Dia about On Kawara, and it was like an artwork lecture, a homage to the great work of On Kawara. The next day I called him to thank him and he said to me that the experience of preparing the talk, of going to the archives, meeting the registrar, and so on, had really humanised his experience of the institution. I thought that was great. I’m a humanist and I want to insist on being humane, and for caring for the one-on-one, the face-to-face. So yes, I do think that Dia is gearing towards the post-curatorial in the sense that I don’t think artists need to be curated, I think artists need to be supported, enabled. And Dia means that, the word “dia” in Greek means “through,” and we have always said our mission is to facilitate, to be a conduit. So perhaps I’m not a real curator, I’m something else, an enabler, a vessel, and soon I’ll add ambassador to that list.
Latitudes: Let’s quickly move to the final questions. [Independent critic and curator] Maja Ćirić has asked, “What are the ‘cutting edge’ curatorial practices in United States today (spaces, agents, projects, exhibitions)?” And Agustín Pérez Rubio [Director, MUSAC, León, 2009–2013] asks, “As a curator with a Latin American background, how do you perceive the situation of Latin American art in the US, and more specifically in relation with Dia? Some of the most important Latin American artists lived or live in New York, from Felix Gonzalez-Torres to Luis Camnitzer… what is the relation with them?”
Raymond: “Cutting edge,” what is that? Well, I mentioned before The Artist’s Institute in New York, Anthony [Huberman] is asking very interesting questions about format, methodology and duration through his model of curating exhibitions. To answer Agustín, one of the founders of Dia in 1974, Heiner Friedrich, was a German art dealer who represented many of the artists than ended up entering the collection. There has been a few gifts since the 1970s but it is not like there was ever a plan or a committee deciding what to acquire, and we would need to have enormous resources today to commission or acquire large-scale projects in the same way as he did in the 1970s. So the idea of going back – not just to Latin America, but to any context – and to try to collect in depth a whole room of an artist such as Lygia Clark, it is just not possible. There is simply not enough work available to be able to go and buy a whole room now. Perhaps the situation is different with Felix Gonzalez-Torres. But in terms of this relating to my background, I don’t really work in that way. Perhaps my Latin gene is only active in my personal life. I’m interested in the energy of really extraordinary art, whether than happens to be made by Luis Camnitzer, or Gonzalez-Torres, or whoever, it doesn’t matter. But there is always a question of urgency. Gonzalez-Torres transformed what we understand today as art. But his work has been the subject of really important recent exhibitions and we need to weigh our priorities knowing that Dia cannot do it all. Perhaps one day, but not at the moment, we’ve made commitments to artists for the next four years.
“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 […]
“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.”
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 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 CBGB.
“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.”
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.)
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 moved 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.