Blogs Untitled (Blog) Acquisitions

Cataloguing Performance

On Nov. 4, presenters, curators, archivists, and researchers from around the country will come to the Walker and spend the day together talking about what it means to catalogue performance. In preparation for it, I’ve interviewed University of Coventry professor Sarah Whatley about her experience cataloguing the contemporary performance practice of British choreographer Siobhan Davies. Whatley collaborated with Davies on the UK’s first digital dance archive, Siobhan Davies Replay, which at the moment entails over 500 moving images, nearly 2,000 still images, 300+ text files.

Meredith Monk and Ann Hamilton, Songs of Ascension, 2008. Photo: Walker Art Center.

When artists such as Tino Sehgal, Meredith Monk, Danh Vo, Trisha Brown, or Merce Cunningham enter the Walker Art Center’s collections, some vexing issues arise when it comes to cataloguing their often ephemeral, multidisciplinary, and indiscrete works.

On Nov. 4, presenters, curators, archivists, and researchers from around the country will come to the Walker and spend the day together talking about what it means to catalogue performance. We will revisit questions that have existed since the 60s but have become pressing of late: why do it, for whom is it done, what is captured and how, what is discarded and why, what is updated and when, and whose perspective is it… The workshop, led by Philip Bither, McGuire Senior Curator of Performing Arts, and Robin Dowden, Director of New Media Initiatives, will inform design and development for cataloguing the Walker’s 50-year history of performance art commissions.

Abi Sebaly, Cunningham Fellow, catalogs the costumes Robert Rauschenberg designed for Merce Cunningham's Antic Meet (1958). Photo: Gene Pittman.

In preparation for it, I’ve interviewed Coventry University professor Sarah Whatley about her experience cataloguing the contemporary performance practice of British choreographer Siobhan Davies. Whatley collaborated with Davies on the UK’s first digital dance archive, Siobhan Davies Replay, which at the moment entails over 500 moving images, nearly 2,000 still images, 300+ text files. Their team worked together for 30 months before the project launched online in 2009. We spent an hour or so talking about documenting and publishing information on living artists’ performance work.

Homepage for Siobhan Davies Replay.

Some excerpts of our conversation:

Brooke Kellaway: The question of how much to involve the artists is definitely on my mind. It’s their work the catalogue is representing and we want their input—pragmatic and creative. At the same time, with hundreds of artists in the Walker’s collection, we’re trying to construct some sort of coherency and consistency in the catalogue entries. Were you really open to the project evolving in collaboration with Siobhan Davies, or did you from the start have a set structure in mind?

Sarah Whatley: It was very much working in collaboration with the artist, from the beginning. And that was not without its challenges, as you can imagine. In a way, the artist is thinking—understandably and rightly so—about her representation through the online, which is very different from how they’re represented either through what is understood as being the past, and surely the live present if they’re still making work. But of course when you’re building something that has to be robust and stable as an online resource, in a way we had to manage quite carefully their engagement with the nuts and bolts of the backend—to try and get them focused on the more aesthetic frontend part of it. But that could be quite tricky. I think it’s about managing that collaboration so the artist feels really involved and has a real sense of ownership, but on the other hand not permitting them to have too much control. It’s not an easy balance, and we struggled with it—it was all really healthy, all those tensions are ultimately really productive, but there are tensions.

Brooke Kellaway: In making these kinds of new web-based resources, what is your stance on selection in terms of publishing material also accessible elsewhere (such as early press reviews), or focusing more on material that’s otherwise quite difficult for researchers to access, or both?

Electrical diagram for Trisha Brown Company’s Glacial Decoy (1979) at Walker Art Center, 1979. Credit: Walker Art Center.

Sarah Whatley: This is a really important question. Of course the notion of an archive sort of suggests that it’s everything you can possibly get your hands on. And in a way I think the value of something which is archival in nature is in a way the user finds the meaning and connections so it doesn’t become overly curated or selected or edited in putting content up there. But there’s a pragmatic approach as well, which is to say, what can we really achieve in a timeframe that’s going to make this feel like a really full collection? Ultimately I think it comes down to what we can achieve. My advice from the experience we’ve had is to try to include as much as possible, because even if it’s already in the public domain, it won’t be in the same way in the public domain if it’s online because people are making connections that they wouldn’t make when they’re seeing a different copy. On the other hand, once you give people some content, then they’ll be intrigued to find out more content. So it’s a gateway to what else is available. The online means that you’ve got that wonderful environment in which you can put out a lot of stuff that otherwise would not be seen…it might never make it into the public any other way, such as rehearsal material and so on, and that seems to be really valuable from a user point of view, it’s information they really can’t get otherwise.

Brooke Kellaway: Did Siobhan Davies maintain her own archive before you started this project? Did she organize a lot of her content in advance?

Sarah Whatley: No. Well, the Company had a bit of a system—they had quite a lot of it neatly filed, but there was a lot that was still in boxes, and in paper bags, and plastic boxes, and unorganized, and stuff that she thought she owned and she didn’t, and we had to go in and find who owned the rights to things, and so forth…

One of the things that she’s absolutely brilliant about now as a Company, is that every time she does anything she gets sign off for everybody that’s involved in the performance. And this has been really important. Because her practice has shifted a bit, I mean she isn’t making work for theaters anymore, she’s making work in gallery spaces, she’s making installation work, and she’s working with major visual artists. She’s also now collecting like mad, collecting traces of the work, so, whereas some of the earlier works have got very little content—just a few videos, some photographs, and a bit of text—now she’s generating hundreds of images and hundreds of traces of her work, which is in itself quite demanding because we have to add the content. So essentially yes, the company collects everything and then we—the university—put it on the site.

But, it’s an interesting question…I must just ask you about Eiko & Koma’s wonderful website  that is sort of archival in a way.

Brooke Kellaway: This is the perfect example. They’re so completely excited about the Walker presenting this history of their work with the Walker, and at the same time, they already have this beautiful and very rich archive of their own. I’ve been wondering how much our content should overlap—would we be using our resources most wisely if we present a certain amount of the same information? I’m not sure. Of course, as you mentioned earlier, users will make different connections based on the way the material is presented on the Walker’s site, vs. on Eiko & Koma’s site, and elsewhere, and our standards will differ, etc.

Homepage of eikoandkoma.org

Sarah Whatley: It could work very well – users who use yours may jump off onto their website and vice versa. I don’t think it as a problem of duplication, because in a way they are quite different things.

When I was over in the States last year, Eiko & Koma came into a Network meeting that we were having and I was just fascinated by their discussion of Naked, and it’s presence on their site. It was very interesting how they bring their experiences as artists into that space. For example, of course the work is really slow and it takes a long long time to unfold. And they were saying things like, “We had to make it read online…there’s no point of having 17 minutes of doing nothing….” So they shrunk the screen and they changed the time span of the work, and that sort of thing, and they were of course coming at it from a choreographer’s perspective, they were thinking of it from a dance maker’s perspective, which is incredibly valuable. But when it’s their own content in their space, they can do that, they can be sort of playful. So I think it’s just about being careful about how those negotiations are carried through, because you will need to take ownership of what it is you’re doing but also respond to them as an artist thinking, “Well, actually our work reads very differently online.” So of course it’s about a healthy dialogue and a healthy negotiation, but it’s also I think from your point of view being very clear about what your purpose is and what you’re creating, and how does the artist come into that space of your creation, because it is your creative space in a way.

Brooke Kellaway: Absolutely. And I think it’s so important to communicate that dialogue and that negotiation to the user so they come into the site and they really understand our impetus, and our process, and our relationship with Eiko & Koma. To either see it as a collaboration with the artist or not, or something in between. And that’s really important to convey to researchers.

Sarah Whatley: Yes, to make the lens through which they’re meeting the work is extremely important.

Brooke Kellaway: How have researchers responded to your project?

Sarah Whatley: Generally really positive. I mean, inevitably, with something which is a bit pioneering in the sense certainly there’s very little else in the UK which is archival like this, of course they say, “Well now we want the same for all these other choreographers!” So it kind of sets the bar and all of that. But generally, I think one of the things researchers appreciate is the immediate, quick, one-click access to a lot of different material so they can make connections as I mentioned earlier, so they can see very quickly a span of work, they can see how work shifted and changed over time, so they can make quick connections between text-based material and visual material. And we‘ve got the scrapbook tool which is a really easy tool, which means the user can collect those searches and thoughts in a very easy and trackable way.

Also, Davies is not really an artist who goes outside of the UK very much, but a lot of people across the world are now coming into her work, either because they’re intrigued about the archive as an archive or because they’ve found her material and then are seeing her work. So in a way it’s a new way of generating audiences.

Brooke Kellaway: Do you keep it updated with new material that is found?

Sarah Whatley: Yes we do, and that’s really challenging!

Brooke Kellaway: How many people are working on this?

Sarah Whatley: Well, theoretically nobody! No, I’m joking a certain part—because you get funding, and you build the thing, and you put it out in the world, and you kind of go “that’s it,” and of course it’s never “that’s it” because every time the artist makes something new it needs to go up. We want to keep the site fresh, so we do little tweaks with the color palette and things like that, and all of those kinds of things have real costs associated. The University in effect is still managing the updating. But it’s not easy, because again you’re managing an expectation of an artist who keeps making really different work. So of course she’s now saying, ‘”Oh but I want the archive to look different because I’m doing really different work,” and we’re saying, “But we can’t change the back end! The architecture for the archive is the architecture.” We can do some fairly low cost updates but we can’t do anything major.

Brooke Kellaway: Will the project continue indefinitely?

Sarah Whatley: We do have an agreement in place, which is 3 years, which we will then review, and see whether or not the partnership is productive and working for us. Inevitably funding is a big issue in that because it’s really hard to think in terms of how we continue to sustain the archive other than simply adding content. We’ve got licenses in place with a lot of our contributors and we’ll need to renegotiate those at some point, and all of those have costs involved, such as annual server costs, and all of those sorts of things. There are the staffing costs, and staff time. It’s a bit of a myth that once you build an archive it’s done and it’s finished. Of course the technology evolves as well, and already what we’ve started off with 3 years ago is already sort of ancient technology.

Brooke Kellaway: What are your most important pieces of advice for the kind of project we’re doing?

Sarah Whatley: Get as rich information as you possibly can from the artist—such as where exactly did this happen, who was in it—so that you can get as much knowledge about the performance. Because that in a way is what’s most useful for the user—they’re looking for extensive information, and the only people who can probably provide that are often the artists. That’s really important knowledge, it’s really critical knowledge. We thought we were going to be deluged with content, and actually we had to work quite hard to get information out of people. So at times you have content there but you might not have all the information about the content, so ask the artists as much as possible.

And the other thing is to test it, get it out there and prototype, get users in to test it and to tell you what it is they find useful or difficult, and what’s there that they want more of and need. Interestingly, with Davies, she was really not that happy to test it before she felt like it was finished, complete. For us, it was really important to get it out when it was still really a bit scratchy and unfinished. We didn’t try to finish something before users told us what was working and wasn’t working. So go through a series of user testing, it’s really important because ultimately that’s your audience and your user community.

Brooke Kellaway: Thanks so much Sarah.

Sarah Whatley: It sounds very exciting. And I wish you the very very best of luck.

***

If you’re interested in further reading on the topic of cataloguing/archiving performance, here’s a list of sources extracted from a larger bibliography I’ve been composing while working on the Walker’s new collection catalogue (to launch on collections.walker.org sometime next year).

Allender, Paul, Ross Varney, and Sarah Whatley. “Digitizing Siobhan Davies’ Dance.” Body, Space & Technology, 7 (2) (2008): 1-13.

Clarke, Paul. “Performing the Archive: the Future of the Past.” Draft of the talk by Paul Clarke for research project, Inside Movement Knowledge. October 31, 2009.

Edmunds, Becky. “Creating Digital Documentation of Performance.” Video compilation of workshop for JISC Digital Documentation and Performance seminar, September 23-35, 2009, organized by JISC Digital Media and University of Bristol.

Heydenreich, Gunnar. “Documentation of Change – Change of Documentation.” In Inside Installations, edited by Tatja Scholte and Glenn Wharton, 165-171.  Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2011. **Heydenreich presented his paper in 2010 at the International Symposium Contemporary Art Who Cares?

Hoffmann, Jens, Klaus Biesenbach, RoseLee Goldberg, Robert Wilson. Artistic Production | Collecting Performance. Recorded 11 June 2009, Art Basel, Basel, Switzerland.

Hölling, Hanna. “On the Afterlife of Performance.” Essay for symposium, The Manifold (after) lives of Performance, November 13-15, 2009, coproduced by DeAppel and STUK Kunstencentrum.

Inside Movement Knowledge: a two-year collaborative, interdisciplinary research project into new methods for the documentation, transmission and preservation of contemporary choreographic and dance knowledge.

MAP (Media | Archive | Performance): a research project on media, art and performance.

Mulready, Thomas. “Performance Art Festival+Archives.Permanence Through Change: The Variable Media Approach, by Alain Depocas, et al. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and the Daniel Langlois Foundation for Art, Science, and Technology, 2003.

Potts, Alex. “The Artwork, the Archive, and the Living Moment.” In What is Research in the Visual Arts?, edited by Michael Ann Holly and Marquard Smith, 119-137. Williamstown: Sterling and Francine Clark Institute, 2008.

Siobhan Davies Replay: online archive of British choreographer, Siobhan Davies. 

The Cataloguing Performance workshop is supported by the Institute for Museum and Library Sciences’ grant-funded project, “CollectionSpace: Cultivating Shared Software Solutions Among Communities of Practice.” Attendees by invite only. Please check back mid-November for outcomes of the event.

Relaxing the Folds

One bonus of working at the Walker is the proximity to primary resources. One minute you can be sitting at your desk, in total office mode, and a few stairs and hallways later you are in the theater, or a gallery space, or art storage, face to face with the actual objects of your study. Around every […]

A view from the grid: Mark Lancaster's backdrop for Rune (1982) being hung in the McGuire Theater.

One bonus of working at the Walker is the proximity to primary resources. One minute you can be sitting at your desk, in total office mode, and a few stairs and hallways later you are in the theater, or a gallery space, or art storage, face to face with the actual objects of your study. Around every corner there are visual reminders of why you do what you do. As the Walker begins to unpack some of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company’s backdrops, the primary resources don’t get much bigger.

Most stage backdrops are around 30 feet high by 60 feet wide. The Cunningham drops arrived folded down into squares, an origami that needs to be reversed in order to eliminate creases and to assess conservation needs. Currently onsite, the Walker is processing drops by Robert Rauschenberg, Mark Lancaster, John Cage, and William Anastasi. Before being wound onto storage rolls, each of the drops are being hung in the McGuire Theater for a week, pulled taut by heavy piping that is inserted into the bottom of the fabric.

When it comes time to exhibit the pieces, their physical scale presents a logistical and curatorial challenge: How do you adapt a stage backdrop to gallery proportions?  How do you allow viewers to take in the entire piece? Is it a misrepresentation of the work to display only a small detail of it? What happens when you foreground a work that is meant to have moving bodies in front of it?

Robert Rauschenberg's backdrop decor for Summerspace (1958). Photos by Abigail Sebaly.

L-R: John Cage's backdrop, Ryoanji, and a close-up of William Anastasi's design for Points in Space (1986). Photos by Abigail Sebaly.

A curious thing happened to me when I was standing in front of the backdrops in the McGuire, and I observed it happening to others, as well. When the drops were unfurled, the initial reaction was to get close to them, to inspect the patterns and details.  But the subsequent impulse was to turn away from the pieces and look out over the theater seats, to orient oneself to the performer’s perspective.  Rather than merely experiencing the backdrops visually, it’s instinctive to want to position oneself within them.

A visit to the Midwest Arts Conservation Center. Photos by Abigail Sebaly.

Walker registrar Joe King and I also recently visited the Midwest Arts Conservation Center (MACC), where Rauschenberg’s wooden wheeled platforms for Cunningham’s dance Travelogue (1977) are being restored. MACC is housed within the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, and is a resource for both museums and private collectors. In the instance of Rauschenberg’s wooden platforms, the scuffs and smudges that one might casually try to scrub off with Windex and a paper towel are instead painstakingly treated with Q-tips and various solvents.

 

Philosophical Chili

In order to pack in some primary research, last week I visited the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, and the Cunningham Dance Foundation.  The building that houses the Rauschenberg space used to be an orphanage (St. Joseph Mission of the Immaculate Virgin), and it retains traces of this almshouse in […]

The "chapel" space at the Rauschenberg Foundation in New York. Photo by Abi Sebaly.

In order to pack in some primary research, last week I visited the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, and the Cunningham Dance Foundation.  The building that houses the Rauschenberg space used to be an orphanage (St. Joseph Mission of the Immaculate Virgin), and it retains traces of this almshouse in its broad wooden stair cases, the behemoth cast iron stove in the kitchen, and the multi-story “chapel” in the back of the building.  It’s hard not to have a transformational experience when you’re in this cavernous room by yourself, looking high up through a large skylight, experiencing a sense of quiet that is otherwise totally unnatural to the beast that is Manhattan.  The Rauschenberg staff was extremely helpful, in spite of the fact that it was sunny and everybody probably wanted to be at the beach.  It was particularly exciting to explore a batch of files that had just come up from Captiva, Rauschenberg’s Florida home. Among my findings, Bob’s instructions for making chili:

RAUSCHENBERG’S CHILI (also published in M Magazine in April 1986)
“I think chili is a philosophy.  A sophisticated dish built out of scraps.  My refrigerator is not sociologically, organically regional enough to prevent me from shopping a couple of days for my leftovers.  Hot is paramount.  A variety of meats in taste and texture are necessary to give that second-day awareness: ground meat, chopped gizzards and calf livers, chicken.  Start with onions and chilis.  Cook them in oil until they are soft.  Start adding other stuff; green peppers, meat, stock or water, and more hot peppers.  Cook for density and add spices (chili powder, oregano, cumin) to make the initial encounter seem tolerable.  Don’t add tomatoes or beans.  Sour cream and naturally cooling guacamole can be used as first aid.  Serve frozen mango, watermelon, and key lime pie for dessert.”

At the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, I explored Cunningham-related materials that have already been housed there.  As the Cunningham company comes to a close, its administrative files, photographs, films, and other similar materials will take up residence there.

And finally, I spent a day at Merce Cunningham Dance Company’s home on the far west side, on what is verifiably one of the city’s windiest streets.  The dancers were rehearsing for their upcoming Mexico City tour, and everyone else was equally purposeful and busy in their work.  Most of my time was spent in the archives, grasping as much information as I could from archivist David Vaughan, who has been steadfastly chronicling the company’s history since its early beginnings.

L: Photographing materials at the Rauschenberg archive. Photo by Matt Magee. R: Rauschenberg's design for Springweather and People (1957) costumes. Photo by Abi Sebaly.

 

Archivist David Vaughan at the Cunningham Dance Foundation. Photo by Abi Sebaly

Hi Res with the House Lights Up

As the Cunningham Collection continues to be catalogued, here are more close-ups of the aquisition items.   This week’s images focus on Antic Meet (1958), a piece that the Merce Cunningham Dance Company will present as part of their Farewell Legacy Tour at the Walker’s McGuire Theater this November 4/5/6.  Robert Rauschenberg costumed the piece with both his own designs and loot gathered from the New York second […]

L: Sunglasses from Antic Meet (1958). R: Detail of the 4-armed, no-neck Antic Meet sweater that Merce knit himself.

As the Cunningham Collection continues to be catalogued, here are more close-ups of the aquisition items.   This week’s images focus on Antic Meet (1958), a piece that the Merce Cunningham Dance Company will present as part of their Farewell Legacy Tour at the Walker’s McGuire Theater this November 4/5/6.  Robert Rauschenberg costumed the piece with both his own designs and loot gathered from the New York second hand stores of the day.   When Merce was creating a dance, he rarely discussed backstory and structure with Rauschenberg.  But in a rare 1958 letter to Bob, he writes of Antic Meet, “I hope it’s dazzling rather than willy-nilly… it’s like a series of vaudeville scenes which overlap…This all comes from Dostoevsky.” (from Changes: Notes on Choreography, by Merce Cunningham, 1968)

If you could turn a costume inside out, crawl underneath a set piece, press your nose up against a Rauschenberg backdrop, this is what you might see…

L: Detail from Merce's Antic Meet (1958) chair. R: Merce Cunningham in Antic Meet (1958). Photo by Richard Rutledge.

 

L: The under carriage of Merce's Antic Meet chair. R: Merce's initials, sewn by Rauschenberg into Antic Meet's corduroy cape.

 

R: MCDC in Antic Meet (1958). Photo by Matthew Wysocki. Note Merce in the background, wearing the notorious sweater. L: The 4-armed, no-neck sweater that Merce knit himself.

 

Let Them Eat Cage Cookies

We wouldn’t be doing the Cunningham acquisition justice if we didn’t have at least one story about food. Here is a short anecdote and recipe for John Cage’s almond cookies, a treat that made the rounds through the Merce Cunningham Dance Company establishment and its friends. Cage and Cunningham were introduced to a macrobiotic diet by Yoko Ono, and the cookies reflect those healthy precepts. Merce was particularly fond of these, and now you can make them, too.

John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Robert Rauschenberg, London 1964. Photo by Douglas H. Jeffery

We wouldn’t be doing the Cunningham acquisition justice if we didn’t have at least one story about food.  Here is a short anecdote and recipe for John Cage’s almond cookies, a treat that made the rounds through the Merce Cunningham Dance Company establishment and its friends.  Cage and Cunningham were introduced to a macrobiotic diet by Yoko Ono, and the cookies reflect those healthy precepts.  Merce was particularly fond of these, and now you can make them, too.

THE SHORT HISTORY:   Laura Kuhn [now director of the John Cage Trust] and John Cage were at the house of Teeny Duchamp, in France. John decided to make them his cookies. Teeny, her cook, et al, were put off by the idea of health food cookies, but the cook got the ingredients together. John, with Laura, made the cookies.  When they were done, John offered them around, and everyone reluctantly took one. But shortly after eating their first one, they each took another…


THE RECIPE:

 Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a food processor, grind:
1 c. raw almonds
1 c. raw oats
Combine almonds and oats in a large bowl.  Stir in:
1 c. whole wheat flour or brown rice flour (if you want a gluten free option, you may need to add slightly more than the 1 c. brown rice flour, so that you are later able to form balls with the dough)
Add ground cinnamon to the dry mixture.
To the dry mixture, add:
1/2 c. almond oil (other nut oils work as well)
1/2 c. real maple syrup (no Aunt Jemima!)

Stir mixture until you are able to form one-inch balls.  Place on ungreased cookie sheet.  Flatten slightly, and press a small dollop of your favorite jam or preserves (jelly is too thin) into the center of each cookie.  Bake for 15-20 minutes, turning the pan once, halfway through the baking process.  Cookies are done when light golden brown.  They store well in the fridge.

On the Walker’s acquisition of the Merce Cunningham Dance Co. collection

Last week the Walker announced its acquisition of a comprehensive collection of some 150 works from the Merce Cunningham Dance Company: set pieces, costumes, painted drops, and props, created over several decades by artists such as Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol, Frank Stella, and John Cage, Cunningham’s longtime partner. As director Olga Viso notes, “The […]

Robert Rauschenberg created the "parachute" costumes and other set pieces for "Antic Meet," 1958 Cunningham work.

Last week the Walker announced its acquisition of a comprehensive collection of some 150 works from the Merce Cunningham Dance Company: set pieces, costumes, painted drops, and props, created over several decades by artists such as Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol, Frank Stella, and John Cage, Cunningham’s longtime partner.

As director Olga Viso notes, “The acquisition of these works is groundbreaking for the Walker and for the museum field at large, affirming our longstanding commitment to bringing together diverse artistic practices to form a cross-disciplinary blend of programs. We enjoyed a lasting relationship with Cunningham beginning in the early 1960s and look forward to inspiring future generations with programs, exhibitions, and new scholarship devoted to his legacy of innovation and collaboration.”

Read all the details about the acquisition in our press room — as well as the excellent coverage at the New York Times, the Star Tribune, at Minnesota Public Radio, and elsewhere.

The Art of the Getaway: Winter trips featuring work by Walker artists

In the spirit of the season, when various media outlets take to recommending more or less extravagant “winter getaways,” we suggest basing a trip on some favorite recent additions to the Walker collections. If you enjoyed swaying in the hammocks that were part of the Hélio Oiticica and Neville D’Almeida’s CC5 Hendrixwar/Cosmococa Programa-in-Progress, on view […]

In the spirit of the season, when various media outlets take to recommending more or less extravagant “winter getaways,” we suggest basing a trip on some favorite recent additions to the Walker collections.

If you enjoyed swaying in the hammocks that were part of the Hélio Oiticica and Neville D’Almeida’s CC5 Hendrixwar/Cosmococa Programa-in-Progress, on view at the Walker last summer … 

… then book a flight Los Angeles, where you can plunge into the artists’ psychedelic swimming pool: 

 162548.CA.1202.swimm#731A98

The Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA)  has just opened Suprasensorial: Experiments in Light, Color, and Space, described as “the first museum exhibition to situate pioneering Latin American artists among the international canon of those working with light and space.” Its highlight is Cosmococa-Programa in Progress, CC4 Nocagions (above), which, according to the LA Times’ Culture Monster blog, was never realized during Oiticica’s lifetime. But at MOCA, this 90-centimeter-deep pool even comes with a lifeguard and a changing room. Bring your own suit, or buy a disposable one on site. (On view through February 27, 2011.)

It’s hard to see in the image above, but the pool in Cosmococa-Programa in Progress, CC4 Nocagions is surrounded by projections of images from a book by John Cage; that composer’s work is also featured in a stunning installation by Tacita Dean that just opened at the Walker December 16: Merce Cunningham performs STILLNESS (in three movements) to John Cage’s composition 4’33” with Trevor Carlson, New York City, 28 April 2007 (six performances; six films):

loading image

Fans of this work may wish to jet off to Glasgow for an experience quite the opposite of an L.A. swimming pool. Do as Guardian UK arts blogger Charlotte Higgins did: Trudge through a picturesque snowy park to a “small and exquisite exhibition” of Dean’s work at a gallery intriguingly named The Common Guild, whose attentive staff may even welcome you with a cup of hot tea. It includes the work below, part of the series ‘Painted Kotzsch Trees’ I- VI (Through February 5)

http://www.thecommonguild.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/TD_KotzschI_low-res-359x428.jpg

 

For something rather more monumental from the British artist, wait until October and go to London. That’s when the Tate Modern will unveil Dean’s installation in the cathedral-esque Turbine Hall, which follows Ai Wei-Wei’s current installation of 100 million hand-made porcelain sunflower seeds.

 

 
 

Adieu, Sigmar Polke

  “Sigmar Polke, an artist of infinite, often ravishing pictorial jest, whose sarcastic and vibrant layering of found images and maverick, chaos-provoking painting processes left an indelible mark on the last four decades of contemporary painting, died yesterday in Cologne, Germany.” — from the New York Times‘ Arts Beat blog The Walker enjoyed a long history […]

 

Polke with his artwork at the Walker, May 1995. Photo by Glenn Halvorson

“Sigmar Polke, an artist of infinite, often ravishing pictorial jest, whose sarcastic and vibrant layering of found images and maverick, chaos-provoking painting processes left an indelible mark on the last four decades of contemporary painting, died yesterday in Cologne, Germany.”
— from the New York Times‘ Arts Beat blog

The Walker enjoyed a long history with Polke, whom former Walker chief curator Richard Flood called “probably the closest thing we have to a history painter in the latter part of the century.” In 1994, it acquired a comprehsive archive of the artist’s prints and other editioned works spanning the first thirty years of his career. This collection continued to grow and today comprises a remarkable body of work: prints, photographs, three-dimensional constructions, artist’s books, and other special publications.  

Flood organized the 1995 retrospective Sigmar Polke: Illumination, which featured Frau Herbst und ihre zwei Töchter (Mrs. Autumn and Her Two Daughters) (pictured below), the huge 1991 painting whose combination of fanciful, almost surreal imagery, gorgeous abstraction, and translucent fabric has made it a Walker favorite. 

 

Flood said of Polke’s innovation with this work: 

“… you have this meta thing and, then, you put it on a transparent surface, this totally permeable skin, that is accepting light and at the same time dealing with the notion of illusionistic space, but in a very real architectural way, just lifting it off the wall, allowing you to see the support structure through it. I think his contribution is bigger than I’m describing. At the same time, it’s amazing that people did not think of this earlier. It’s kind of astounding. All of these things look quite simple. Was that a big idea? Actually, yes, it was a big idea. But did the big idea have to be complicated? Not really. I take great heart in that as well.”

A  key early work from Polke — Apparat, mit dem eine Kartoffel eine andere umkreisen kann (Apparatus Whereby One Potato Can Orbit Another) — goes on view August 12 as part of a new exhibition, A Shot in the Dark, in the Medtronic gallery.

Roberta Smith’s obituary at the New York Times

Apparat, mit dem eine … on ArtsConnected.org

Sigmar Polke in the Walker collection at ArtsConnected.org

A Shot in the Dark (opens August 12)

 

Polke, circa 1960s

Bits & Pieces

Reports on the burning of Hélio Oiticica’s work have been somewhat exaggerated: The artist’s work is not a quite a near-total loss. Stories a couple of days ago cited that “90%” of the work made by Oiticica, a major figure of the Brazilian avante garde in the late 1960s and early 1970s, had been destroyed […]

Reports on the burning of Hélio Oiticica’s work have been somewhat exaggerated: The artist’s work is not a quite a near-total loss. Stories a couple of days ago cited that “90%” of the work made by Oiticica, a major figure of the Brazilian avante garde in the late 1960s and early 1970s, had been destroyed in a fire at the home of Oiticica’s brother César in Rio de Janeiro. Now César and others been able to look more closely at the damage, reporting that a number of works were spared and for others, restoration is possible. No word yet on how such devastation could occur — reportedly the storage spaces had humidity control, sprinklers, and fire alarms — but no doubt more is yet to come with this story. In related and bittersweet news, Oiticica’s CC5 Hendrixwar Cosmococa, acquired by the Walker in 2007, goes on view here on February 27, 2010.

chuck close

"Big Self-Portrait," Chuck Close, collection Walker Art Center

The man who brought us (Chuck) Close: A recent story in the Akron Beacon Journal delves into the history of Linda, a Chuck Close portrait that’s considered a key piece in the collection of the Akron Art Museum. Turns out that Rosenkrantz’s husband, Christopher Finch, is not only a former associate curator at the Walker, but according to the Beacon Journal story, Finch is responsible for Close’s Big-Self Portait becoming a key piece in the Walker’s collection: “in 1968 [he] had persuaded the museum to buy a Close, which, as it happened, was the first Close to go into a public collection.”

Take the “Collector Challenge”: This nifty game at PBS.org tests your eye based around the collection of Dorothy and Herbert Vogel—the librarian and postal worker who became renowned for amassing a hugely important collection, mostly of conceptual and minimalist works. Now they’ve dispersed that collection to 50 museums in 50 states; the Vogels selected the Weisman Art Museum in Minnesota. To Have it About You: The Dorothy and Herbert Vogel Collection opens there this Friday.; you might also want to check out the documentary film Herb and Dorothy.

Miroslaw-Balks-How-It-Is-001

Photograph: David Levene, via The Guardian UK

“It embraces you with a velvet chill”: So says the Guardian about How It Is, Miroslaw Balka’s new installation in the Tate Modern’s cavernous Turbine Hall, which is basically a gigantic, raised steel box that visitors can walk under—or inside (see video here). The latter choice means you get swallowed by darkness — unless giggling youths illuminate the interior with their cell-phone cameras. Is that the equivalent of ignorant theater-goers interrupting a performance when their cell phones ring?

Remembering visual arts curator Robert Murdoch: Back in 1965, he was the Walker’s first curatorial intern to serve in a program supported by the Ford Foundation, and he returned here from 1983 to 1985 as chief curator. In the ‘70s, as the first curator of contemporary art at the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, Murdock organized the first solo museum show for Richard Tuttle. Read more in the New York Times’ obituary, and in this Star Tribune piece. Annie Murdock, Robert’s daughter, wrote to us to note that his family has made arrangements for donations in his memory to be made to the Pollock-Krasner Foundation. “This is the first time that the foundation has done anything like this,” she said, “and we hope it will result in building a fund for Emerging Artists in Robert’s memory.”

1. Reports on the burning of Helio Oiticica’s work have been exaggerated (but, sadly, only a little): Stories http://greg.org/archive/2009/10/18/fire_destroys_90_of_helio_oiticicas_work.html a couple of days ago cited that “90%” of the work made by Oiticica, a major figure of the Brazilian avante garde in the late 1960s and early 1970s, had been destroyed in a fire at the home of Oiticica’s brother in Rio de Janeiro. Now Cesar and others been able to look more closely at the damage, reporting that a number of works were spared and for others, restoration is possible. (Greg.org) <http://www.artinfo.com/news/story/32990/fire-destroys-brazilian-artist-helio-oiticicas-works/>

Related and bittersweet news: Oiticica’s CC5 Hendrixwar Cosmococa goes on view here at the Walker on February 27.


2. The man who brought us (Chuck) Close: http://www.ohio.com/news/63970597.html — A recent story in the Akron Beacon Journal delves into the history of Linda, by Chuck Close – which, as Big Self-Portrait is to the Walker, is considered a key piece in the collection of the Akron Art Museum. Turns out that Rosenkrantz’s husband, Christopher Finch, is not only a former associate curator at the Walker, but according to the Beacon Journal story, “in 1968 had persuaded the museum [the Walker, that is] to buy a Close, which, as it happened, was the first Close to go into a public collection.”

3. Take the “Collector Challenge” – this nifty game at PBS.org tests your eye based around the collection of Dorothy and Herbert Vogel—the librarian and postal worker who became renowned for amassing a hugely important collection, mostly of conceptual and minimalist works. Now they’ve dispersed that collection to 50 museums in 50 states; in Minnesota, the Weisman Art Museum was the lucky recipient. To Have it About You opens there this Friday. – link to show at Weisman—http://www.pbs.org/independentlens/herb-and-dorothy/collector-challenge.html

4. It embraces you with a velvet chill”: so says the Guardian about Miroslaw Balka’s How It Is, a gigantic, raised steel box in the Tate Modern’s cavernous Turbine Hall that visitors can walk under—or inside. The latter choice basically means you get swallowed by darkness, a perhaps welcome sensation as Halloween approaches. See The Guardian’s video here. http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/video/2009/oct/12/miroslaw-balka-tate-modern (Closer to home, for Minnesotans at least, is the Soap Factory’s Haunted Basement.)



5. Remembering visual arts curator Robert Murdoch: Back in 1965, he was the first curatorial intern to serve in a program supported by the Ford Foundation, and he returned here from 1983 to 1985 as chief curator. In the ‘70s, as the first curator of contemporary art at the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, Murdock organized the first solo museum show for Richard Tuttle. Read more in the New York Times’ obituary, and in this Star Tribune piece < http://www.startribune.com/obituaries/64461777.html?elr=KArksUUUoDEy3LGDiO7aiU>. Annie Murdock, Robert’s daughter, wrote to us to note that his family has made arrangements for donations in his memory to be made to the Pollock-Krasner Foundation < http://www.pkf.org/ >. “This is the first time that the foundation has done anything like this,” she said, “and we hope it will result in building a fund for Emerging Artists in Robert’s memory.”

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