Blogs Untitled (Blog) Behind the Scenes

International Women’s Day: Leading Ladies in the Walker’s Collection

With registrar Joe King and registration technician Evan Reiter we took a trip to art storage to see the first 5 works by women to enter the Walker’s collection.                     June Corwine Still Life (1945) Oil on canvas Accessioned May, 1946           […]

With registrar Joe King and registration technician Evan Reiter we took a trip to art storage to see the first 5 works by women to enter the Walker’s collection.

"Still Life" (1945) by June Corwine.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

June Corwine
Still Life (1945)
Oil on canvas
Accessioned May, 1946


Joe King, the Walker's Registrar, with "Rose Planes" (1945) by Irene Rice Pereira.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Irene Rice Pereira
Rose Planes (1945)
Oil on parchment
Accessioned September, 1946


Evan Reiter, the Walker's Registration Technician, with "Rocking Chair Gossips" (1945) by Clara Mairs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Clara Mairs
Rocking Chair Gossips (1945)
Oil on composition board
Accessioned December, 1947


"The Door" (1947) by Evelyn Raymond.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Evelyn Raymond
The Door (1947)
Mahogany
February, 1948

 

"Der Tod im Wasser" (20th century) by Käthe Kollwitz.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Käthe Kollwitz
Der Tod im Wasser (Death from Drowning) (20th century)
lithograph on paper
Accessioned December, 1949

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.

Documenting the Drops: Part 1

This past week, the McGuire Theater has been occupied with the unpacking, photographing, and re-rolling of many of the Cunningham backdrops.  The drops came to the Walker folded down and packed in portable touring -friendly hampers and bags (imagine a large sleeping bag in a small scrunch sack).  But now that they are here to stay, they are being rolled […]

This past week, the McGuire Theater has been occupied with the unpacking, photographing, and re-rolling of many of the Cunningham backdrops.  The drops came to the Walker folded down and packed in portable touring -friendly hampers and bags (imagine a large sleeping bag in a small scrunch sack).  But now that they are here to stay, they are being rolled flat on long cardboard cylinders, to eliminate creases and stabilize their condition. Although we have already hung several of the drops in theater in preparation for the exhibition Dance Works I: Merce Cunningham / Robert Rauschenberg, this is the first time that any of the drops are being formally photographed by the Walker’s photographers Gene Pittman and Cameron Wittig. 

The Merce Cunningham Dance Company’s Production Director Davison Scandrett has also been on site, documenting some of the drops and other set pieces for the company’s dance capsules.  The Merce Cunningham Trust’s dance capsules will facilitate the licensing and recreation of some of Merce Cunningham’s existing dances, so that even though the company has disbanded, educational institutions and other dance companies can still present Merce’s work. 

The artists represented in this first batch of backdrop photos include Jasper JohnsAfrika, and Marsha Skinner.  The photographers also documented drops by William Anastasi and Robert Rauschenberg, which will be featured in another upcoming post.  

MCDC Production Director Davison Scandrett pulling the Exchange (1978) drop out of the bag. Photo: Abigail Sebaly

 

The unfurling of the Exchange drop, designed by Jasper Johns. Photo: Abigail Sebaly

 

Davison with WAC Registrar Joe King, in front of the Exchange drop. Photo: Abigail Sebaly

 

The backdrop for August Pace (1989), designed by Afrika (Sergei Bugaev). Photo: Abigail Sebaly

 

The August Pace drop coming down. Photo: Abigail Sebaly

 

Photo: Abigail Sebaly

 

Backdrop for Change of Address (1992), designed by Marsha Skinner. Photo: Abigail Sebaly

 

Joe King helping the WAC photographers set up their shots. Photo: Abigail Sebaly

 

Installation—Frank Gaard: Poison & Candy

Minneapolis-based artist Frank Gaard is here this week installing Frank Gaard: Poison & Candy, his first Walker solo show since 1980’s Viewpoints. Opening Thursday night, the exhibition spans more than four decades and features Gaard’s unique perspective on the world as illustrated through paintings, zines and drawings. His content veers from wry commentary on the […]

Minneapolis-based artist Frank Gaard is here this week installing Frank Gaard: Poison & Candy, his first Walker solo show since 1980’s Viewpoints. Opening Thursday night, the exhibition spans more than four decades and features Gaard’s unique perspective on the world as illustrated through paintings, zines and drawings. His content veers from wry commentary on the art world to renderings of placid ponies, references to revered philosophers and artists to overtly sexual themes–all presented in Gaard’s trademark DayGlo paint. Here’s a sneak peek of the exhibition as it’s being installed.

Crew member Emily Lyman ponders a wall installation in progress.

Gaard considers the placement of a work that bears a quote by Friedrich Nietzsche: “We have need of lies in order to conquer this reality, this ‘truth,’ that is in order to live. That lies are necessary in order to live is itself part of the terrifying and questionable character of existence.”

Assistant Registrar Jessica Rolland catalogs work beneath a wall of Gaard’s portraits.

A detail of Gaard’s Untitled (Bottlecaps).

Art world references frequently make their way into Gaard’s work. One portrait of Christi Atkinson, former head of Walker Teen Programs and program director at the Soap Factory, features panties emblazoned with the names of those art organizations.

Gaard’s 1999 piece The Time Painting awaits hanging in the galleries.

Karl Marx and Adam Smith Drop in on Occupy Wall Street

Last week Karl Marx and Adam Smith, two of the stars of the Pedro Reyes exhibition/video series Baby Marx, made an impromptu trip from the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis to Occupy Wall Street in New York’s Financial District. The artist had been tracking the protests and decided the puppets should check them out. Among other activities, Marx interviewed OWS protesters, while Smith set up the first Occupy Wall Street bank.


Adam Smith launches the First Occupied Bank. Photo: Natalia Nakazawa

Last week Karl Marx and Adam Smith, two of the stars of the Pedro Reyes exhibition/video series Baby Marx, made an impromptu trip from the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis to Occupy Wall Street in New York’s Financial District. The artist had been tracking the protests and decided the puppets should check them out. Together with the director of photography Vicente Pousso and the Minneapolis-based puppeteers Janaki Ranpura (Smith) and Marc Berg (Marx), Reyes shot several new scenes. Among other activities, Marx interviewed OWS protesters, while Smith set up the first Occupy Wall Street bank.

Normally museums don’t let their art objects go on field trips during an exhibition. For one thing, they might get damaged. But Pedro’s idea was so obviously in tune with the project as a whole — exploring as it does the intersections of art, ideology and entertainment, not to mention the clash between Marxist and capitalist theory — that the registrars and curators worked out a way to make it happen and released them back into the world. Visitors to the Walker last week saw two empty stands where Karl and Adam normally hang out, plus labels letting them know that they would return soon.

The videos of the visit should be ready in the next few weeks and posted online, in the meantime here are a few snapshots:


Marx prepares to interview a protester at Occupy Wall Street. Pictured: Michele Fiedler, Pedro Reyes, Karl Marx, Vicente Pousso and Marc Berg. Photo: Natalia Nakazawa

Marx is not so happy with Smith’s new profit-making scheme. Photo: Natalia Nakazawa

Walker Loading Dock: Puppeteer Marc Berg returns puppets to the Walker’s Assistant Registrar for Exhibitions, Pamela Caserta. Photo: Bartholomew Ryan

Walker Receiving Area: Adam Smith is doing OK after his trip to New York, according to a condition report that reflects any changes. Photo: Bartholomew Ryan

Karl and Adam in situ at the Walker. Photo: Gene Pittman

UPDATE: Here’s video of the Occupy Wall Street segment from Baby Marx.

Members Making Trouble!

Walker members have more fun taking advantage of A Think & A Drink: Member Events. Last Friday, after most of the museum shut down, we toured the exhibition Absentee Landlord, curated by John Waters. Almost 60 of our favorite members were in attendance to celebrate the arbiter of trash!

A Think & A Drink: Troublemaker

Walker members have more fun taking advantage of  A Think & A Drink: Member Events.  Last Friday, after most of the museum shut down, we toured the exhibition Absentee Landlord, curated by John Waters.  Almost 60 of our favorite members were in attendance to celebrate the arbiter of trash!

We started off the evening with a tour of the exhibition.  Below you’ll find one of our fabulous tour guides Tanya!  Tours become a little more conversational during A Think & A Drink.  Is it the think? Or, is it the drink?

Following the tour, members had a chance to debrief over cocktails and cheese.  John Waters definitely provided ample talking points.  Conversations ranged from art to terrible roommates and everywhere in between.  Shockingly enough I didn’t witness the use of any fake cockroaches or other gag items now found in the Walker Shop.  I like to put them in my bath tub.

Everyone was all smiles after the tour, here’s some of our regular attendees.

If you’d like to join us for the next A Think & A Drink member event please visit membership.walkerart.org for more information.

Cold Storage and New Brightness: The Cunningham Acquisition Moves in at the Walker

ARRIVAL: Many items from the Cunningham acquisition are now living at the Walker.  In preparation for the November opening of Dance Works I: Merce Cunningham/Robert Rauschenberg, the art storage basement is filled with Robert Rauschenberg-designed costumes and set pieces (or decors, as Merce referred to them).  Rauschenberg collaborated with Merce Cunningham on pieces from 1954-1964, […]

R-L: Details from Robert Rauschenberg's costume designs for Summerspace (1958) and Antic Meet (1958). Photos by Abi Sebaly.

ARRIVAL: Many items from the Cunningham acquisition are now living at the Walker.  In preparation for the November opening of Dance Works I: Merce Cunningham/Robert Rauschenberg, the art storage basement is filled with Robert Rauschenberg-designed costumes and set pieces (or decors, as Merce referred to them).  Rauschenberg collaborated with Merce Cunningham on pieces from 1954-1964, 1977, 2000, and 2007.  The pieces in the Walker acquisition reflect this broad span.

IMMIGRATION AND PASSPORT CONTROL: Following their journey from New York, all items must undergo a thorough inspection, cleaning, and cataloguing before they can fully move into the Walker’s collection.  While the rest of Minneapolis sweats it out in the midsummer swelter, the art storage, and the acquisition items within, remain stable in a temperature-controlled environment that is cold, very cold.   Last week, textile conservator Beth McLaughlin visited to school us in preparing the costumes, decors, and other performance ephemera for their new lives as museum holdings.  Each costume (and there could be well over 1,000) will be vacuumed with the Nilfisk (more than your average Hoover—a device with special brushes and filters), inspected, and carefully tagged and folded into boxes layered with acid-free tissue.  Décor backdrops, which typically measure a very large 30’ x 60’, will have to be hung in an actual theater setting to allow their storage folds and wrinkles to relax, before they are then rolled onto long dowels.  A bear fur coat, which Rauschenberg found for the piece Antic Meet (1958) will have to be frozen at the Science Museum of Minnesota so that potential fur-loving pests stay away. The painting vacuum, appropriated for cleaning costumes. Photo by Abi Sebaly.

EMERGING QUESTIONS: Until now, these items have been cleaned and cared for with the aim of sustaining their use in performances.  But now they are now handled with cotton gloves.  In light of this transformation, how should we treat the traces of performances past, such as the lingering residue Merce’s stage makeup on a shirt collar?  Should gummy labels and fabric wrinkles be treated and repaired, or stabilized and left as intact as possible? How do we create new spaces for this acquisition in the art storage area, in the catalogue database template, in the way we share these items across departments and disciplines?  How do we convey the multiple stories of these items as objects of function, objects of design and aesthetic interest, and launch pads for broader learning?

NEW BRIGHTNESS: Items that were once meant to be observed from afar, in motion, on bodies, lit by stage lighting, are now stationary objects exposed to close, raw-light scrutiny. This may sound like a more clinical vantage point, but as I begin to examine the costumes, I am constantly surprised by the unexpected details that pop at this close distance.  For instance, Rauschenberg’s Summerspace (1958) costumes look uniformly dotted from stage.  But up close, you can see that he applied the colorful dyes in more layered, varied patterns. And even after more than 50 years, the day-glo hues and intensely saturated colors keep blazing.

 More updates to follow soon!

L: Detail from Rauschenberg's costume design for Summerspace (1958). R: Derry Swan in Summerspace. Courtesy of Cunningham Dance Foundation.

L: Summerspace (1958) costumes. R: Textile conservator Beth McLaughlin holding Rauschenberg-designed hooped tank tops from Antic Meet (1958).

 

R: Detailing from Merce's Antic Meet (1958) tank top. L: More detail of Rauschenberg's tattoo motif on the Antic Meet tank tops (scooping the likes of Christian Audigier and Ed Hardy, 50 years before their time!).

Baby Marx…Coming Soon

This is the original teaser for Baby Marx, an ongoing project by Pedro Reyes that explores the intersections of mass entertainment, ideology and contemporary art. The teaser was produced for the Yokohama Triennial in Japan in 2008, and was followed by a television pilot shot in Mexico City in 2009. He worked closely with Japanese […]

This is the original teaser for Baby Marx, an ongoing project by Pedro Reyes that explores the intersections of mass entertainment, ideology and contemporary art. The teaser was produced for the Yokohama Triennial in Japan in 2008, and was followed by a television pilot shot in Mexico City in 2009. He worked closely with Japanese master puppeteer Takumi Ota for over a year to design and build the puppets, which Reyes explains as crafted “to cast the personality of a character in the simplest form […] a silhouette.”

The Walker version of Baby Marx uses the tools and procedures of documentary filmmaking, as well as the handmade puppets and monumental library set used to film the pilot episode, to develop and expand on the questions raised by the entire project to date.

Baby Marx is on view at the Walker August 11 – November 27, 2011.

En Route to ‘Baby Marx’

Baby Marx began as Mexican artist Pedro Reyes’ idea for a television sitcom in which puppet versions of key figures in the history of economics are brought back to life. Intended as a way to make the lofty and often distorted fundamentals of socialism and capitalism accessible to a broad audience, the piece has undergone […]

Baby Marx film still, 2009. All images courtesy the artist, Detalle Films and Labor Gallery, Mexico City.

Baby Marx began as Mexican artist Pedro Reyes’ idea for a television sitcom in which puppet versions of key figures in the history of economics are brought back to life. Intended as a way to make the lofty and often distorted fundamentals of socialism and capitalism accessible to a broad audience, the piece has undergone several iterations since its inception four years ago. For his upcoming exhibition at the Walker, on view August 11, 2011 – November 27, 2011 Reyes will use Perlman Gallery and the entire Walker campus to begin filming a documentary version of Baby Marx that examines its development to date as well as the complex issues with which it grapples. This past spring Reyes joined curators Bartholomew Ryan and Camille Washington to discuss the project in depth.

Camille: How did Baby Marx begin?

Pedro: I first had the idea for something I was working on in London, but it was too ambitious and was rejected. So, I put it in my drawer of unrealized projects. Then, in the lead up to the 2008 Yokohama Triennial in Japan, I was riding the Tokyo subway with Akiko Miyake, one of the curators of the exhibition, and I told her, “Well, I have this idea for a TV puppet show whose main characters would be Karl Marx and Adam Smith.” I like that there is a saying in Japan that says “A samurai doesn’t know the word impossible.” Miyake-san responded like is a true samurai, she said, “If that’s what you want, we’ll do it.” From there deciding what kind of puppets to use led to a super interesting exploration of the Japanese tradition of puppeteering.

Bartholomew: Why puppets?

Pedro: I think that puppets require a mastery and spontaneity not found in stop motion or animation. Also, puppeteering has been the historical equivalent to political cartoons in the performing arts. It is a form of critique similar to the ventriloquist or the court joker who was the only one who could make jokes in front of the king. The joker also often used some kind of doll or puppet. So, the puppet would spit out truths that would be unbearable from the mouth of a person.

Bartholomew: This was around 2007. Can you remember what it was about Smith and Marx that felt relevant at that moment?

Pedro: They didn’t feel relevant at that moment. This is the time before the credit crisis and the collapse of the markets. It felt like a subject which was precisely not fashionable. People would ask, “Why Marx?”However, there was something I wanted to find out not only about the state of the world, but also I wanted to know where I was standing in the political spectrum.

At a certain point in your life, you have this negotiation of your own ideas. When you first read Marx it makes so much sense, but then if you read Smith it also makes sense.Marx tells you “In order to have some rich people, others need to be poor” and then you read Adam Smith who tells you “Hey, what is all that equality business? You work more; you shouldn’t earn the same as the lazy one, right?” You may just ignore these voices but in my head I continued to hear these two people debating. So, I thought it could be interesting to stage this conflict. Here you have two philosophers who didn’t have the chance to meet in real life talking to each other. But also you have two conflicting sides of human nature. The task at hand was to choose fragments from Marx and Smith (among others) and weave a story, hopefully with the idea that it would become entertaining.

Smart-O-Wave logo

Camille: How does the Smart-O-Wave microwave oven that you used for the initial teaser and pilot of Baby Marx fit into the picture?

Pedro: Actually, the invention of the Smart-O-Wave was a turning point. It became a dimensional door that allowed me to bring any thinker into the story by placing the book they wrote in the oven. So by “defrosting” their thoughts they come back to life. It’s like a flying carpet, it can take you anywhere.

Camille: You speak a lot about mobile seminars and radical pedagogy. Is that something that also really underpinned the project in the early stages as much as entertainment did?

Pedro: Yes, Baby Marx was thought of from the beginning as a primer, or you could say Political Science 101. Sometimes you see the movie before reading the book, and for this subject puppets seemed the perfect treatment. Plus there was no Marx movie, no Adam Smith movie.

Bartholomew: The puppets were designed in collaboration with famous Japanese puppet maker Takumi Ota. I know the process was quite extensive. Can you talk about working together?

Pedro: Takumi Ota was the perfect match for this project, because he is a genius at leaving out everything that is not necessary and using the simplest forms. My obsession was the use of abstract shapes both in fine art and folk craft. In Japan, wood carved toys made in the wheel are very similar to Oskar Schlemmer’s Bauhaus costume designs. So, fascinated by this extreme degree of abstraction, I started to design the characters using only platonic volumes; to cast the personality of a character in the simplest form. In fact the simplest form is a silhouette.

Solids of Rotation, 2009

Bartholomew: This is when you made the Solids of Rotation studies…

Pedro: Exactly. This limitation was very productive. I gave Frederick Taylor a silhouette based in a hyperboloid, like a sand clock, because Taylor was obsessed with time management. With Marx’s it was obvious that I had to use his characteristic hairstyle which is like a trapezoid. Then, when you turn it into a solid of rotation it looks like a bit like samurai helmet. For Friederich Engels I took his long beard and made it into a spiral, like a party-blower; Che Guevarra has his beret and his goatee, so I made the head and the goatee like a top, and with the addition of the beret the solid of rotation looks like a hazelnut.

Camille: Did you work on the initial design alone or in collaboration?

Pedro: Takumi Ota  made three-dimensional versions of drawings that I worked on in discussion with him. In the 1970s he designed characters for a series called Hyokkori Hiotan-jima, which means “the pumpkin island,” because the puppet heads were made with pumpkin seeds. The creative dialogue was great because I was thinking of what Ota San would like, almost trying to please him. It was almost a telepathic thing of trying to speak the same language, seeking the most extreme abstraction possible.

Bartholomew: You both passed these designs back and forth via the internet. He was in Japan and you were in Mexico for the most part.

Pedro: Yes, exactly. Due to the 15 hours difference Akiko and I met with Ota-san at 9pm, which would be his night. After seeing my drawing I would go to sleep and he would go on working all day making a clay model based on our conversations. Then, at 9 am in the morning (his night) we would meet again and review the progress. We went like this it a year and a half.

Camille: So, did you go there and finalize your designs with him or were they finalized by the time you arrived in Yokohama?

Pedro: There were several trips and meetings during that time. One of my favorite parts was the mechanics of how specific puppets operate. For instance, the Milton Friedman eyes turn and blink like dollar signs. Also, one side of his mouth is smiling and the other side is angry. His personality changes depending on which side of the camera it is facing. It is a way to show that two sides of capitalism: one charming and seductive, and other greedy and cruel.

[They laugh.]

Milton Friedman puppet, 2008

Pedro: So, there are some interesting philosophical limits to the characters, but also the way they are built conditions their performativity.

Camille: Before the pilot you made a teaser. In fact, you exhibited the teaser along with the puppets for Yokohama. Was the trailer an exercise in how the puppets ultimately would move and function and be filmed?

Pedro: Yes, in the beginning I met Ryo Ito who is an amazing puppeteer and became the leader of the puppeteers. He could take a shoe and make it perform Hamlet. So the movement design for each character was genius: the arrogant manners of Adam Smith, the tidy and nervous movements of Taylor. Again Frederick Taylor was obsessed with time management, so he would say, “OK, we’re going to make him swing like he’s a metronome for music.” Just perfect.

Camille: How does the type of puppet you use for Baby Marx differ from others?

Pedro: Rod puppets move very differently than glove puppets. Glove puppets like in Sesame Street look at the camera and open their mouths. In Japanese puppeteering the rapport between characters is conveyed more through the eye contact and with almost no mouth movement. Is much more subtle, and the intent is not necessarily to make you laugh. They can also perform on a darker note, which is something difficult with glove puppets. I like this style, which is not necessarily for delivering puns all the time.

Bartholomew:  When you made the trailer, you had these gestures and a very distinct choreography for each of the characters. Camille and I were watching it again, and it’s very funny. It’s very enjoyable how each puppet moves and the ways in which they come into the piece.

Pedro: The election of the characters had to do with its potential for the plot. As much as you have the Marx and Engels duo, you have Adam Smith and Freddy Taylor, who are like the ideologist and the technocrat. The first is a persuasive courtesan and the second is an obsessive-compulsive. The characters fit in with certain roles. You need the archetype of Lenin in the revolutionary section, the Bolshevik giving grand speeches, but that rhetorical power has its counterpart in the pragmatic Che Guevara, who is willing to open (a loving or a fighting) fire. As the story unfolds Che Guevara ends up having a romance with Miss Lena, the librarian.

Bartholomew: There’s that moment at the beginning of the trailer where I think the titles are saying we’re living in a post-ideological age, and then the camera which is looking at this beautiful librarian zooms in and runs its gaze up her leg.

Camille: As she flicks her heel!

[They laugh.]

Pedro: I use the joke as a mechanism. Wittgenstein said that a serious philosophy book could only be written through jokes. The marvelous thing about a joke is when it presents the thesis and the antithesis in such an abrupt way that you synthesize it as laughter, a sort of airbag that cushions the collision of reality with your expectation of reality; the collision of ideology and realpolitik.

Camille: What is the time period for the original Baby Marx pilot?

Pedro: The story takes place in the present time. Crisisville, the city where the library is located, is a way to say that whatever we consider the status quo or “final state” of the world can change sooner than we expect. The last decade has been a good example. From 911 and the stupid wars that followed, the collapse of the economy, and today the revolutions in the Middle East, or the nuclear accidents in Japan. We have seen the map of the world shaken and transformed within a matter of hours…

Camille: I’m sure all this influenced your decision to set the entire Baby Marx narrative within a library as a place of ideas. Can you speak a little bit about the decision to use that setting?

Baby Marx set installed at Labor Gallery, 2009

Pedro: The library is a space which represents, on one hand, the post war idea of humanism. The capitals of the columns are like those in Le Corbusier’s Assembly building in Chandigarh, the tables and chairs are inspired by Jean Prouvé, the handrails are like Niemeyer and the lattice like México’s modernist Mario Pani. The atmosphere is reminiscent of a generic modernism that could belong to any country, like Korea, Brazil, Mexico, the U.S. or southern Europe. The fight to take control of the library also represents the current debate regarding the privatization of public services that used to be associated with the state. In general, it’s a caricature of the political-economic doctrines and models that decisions are based upon today.

Bartholomew: One thing that is really interesting about Baby Marx is that it’s a project that has emerged in stages where you re-imagine the project over time. Now we are coming up on a stage where the question really seems to be, “What are the terms of this piece?” This leads to wider questions about the intersections of ideology, entertainment, distribution, and so on. In terms of this journey was the pilot ever linked explicitly to Japan? Was it something that you imagined could be on Japanese television?

Pedro: Even if some of best talent for making puppets was in Japan it did not mean the best talent for writing was there because the humor in Japan doesn’t translate into the rest of the world. Or it translates but not in this register of political critique that you find in the United States, which has become in recent years one of the more sophisticated globally in terms of political satire. It seemed to be the most interesting challenge to reach or to try to be attractive to an audience in the United States because ideas have greater currency and potential for distribution.

Camille: When we were first talking about showing Baby Marx at the Walker, the project was still a pilot for a U.S. television show. Then a transition happened last year and you decided to make a feature film. Can you talk about that?

Baby Marx pilot in production, 2009

Pedro: TV and Film are two different markets. You cannot launch yourself into making a TV series without having a sale for a whole season. My producer Moises Cosio and I had very good meetings from different people from HBO, Sony, etc. They were interested, but none were ready to commit. I remember one “suit” who explained to us very clearly that “TV series are only a means to sell ads,” so I loved the contradiction of having a capitalist venture with a socialist content. However in TV, you can be on hold for an indefinite amount time. We realized that we didn’t need any approval to go ahead and do a movie on our own.

Camille: How did you go about drafting a script that would satisfy those demands?

Pedro: Well, during the writing process we discovered that the people who are best acquainted with the history of economics and politics are not funny. [Laughter] And the people who are funny as writers are not acquainted with the history of politics.

Bartholomew: That’s quite a predicament.

Pedro: Yes. I didn’t want to do something funny but superfluous, or to have something which is serious but boring. So, I have this rule of life that says “If you have to choose between A and B, do A and B.” Ergo, the decision to have both serious moments and funny moments. This is something you can do more easily in film than in TV. In TV the tyranny of the genre is harsher. If you are making a comedy you have to deliver one joke every 5 seconds.

So, with the film I also want to have pleasurable moments of seriousness because there you can have philosophers and political scientists comment on the subject. In between those moments of cleverness is where the opportunities for comedy arise, sketches, animation etc. That’s the stage we are in now.

Bartholomew: A while back when we were still thinking in terms of television the three of us visited PFFR, the television writing group that did the MTV2 puppet show Wonder Showzen using puppets a la Sesame Street but with outrageous content and approaches. It was super entertaining to listen to them just throw a few ideas around. Their instant suggestion was that Karl Marx and Adam Smith had to make love and have a baby. There was this sense that yes, this could be really funny, this could be really entertaining, this could be ridiculous and absurd but how hermetic it might become, in the sense that the “radical pedagogy idea” or any kind of instructive parallel to the comedy would likely have fallen away. In this sense perhaps moving towards the documentary structure which is, again, more open-ended and less resolved as an operating premise, feels like a natural move for the project.

Pedro: I think that one of the very interesting things about our meeting with PFFR was realizing that a variety show structure (episodic scenes with different approaches which they used in Wonder Showzen for instance) would be an ideal way to proceed. I realized that mixing the universe of real persons with the universe of puppets, and including devices such as animation, interviews, etc., we would make a more agile and diverse piece. The documentary is a little like a variety show in this sense. If you have too tight a structure it becomes harder to tell the jokes, and harder to tell the interesting facts. It’s not that the previous approach was wrong; it’s more than the addition of all the different approaches combined is much more powerful. So I do believe that, for the public, it will be much more interesting to have this embedded quality where you’re moving between universes.

Camille: Right, so the exhibition as Smart-O-Wave.

Pedro: Yes!

Camille: As curators, this development has led us to ask how we would articulate the exhibition to other people. And in asking that we discovered that the real way to talk about it is to be up front about that questioning, to see the Walker as a moment of reflection in the project, one that asks, “What is this thing?” What does it mean to bring together entertainment and ideology in some kind of popular format?

Pedro: One of the privileges of being an artist working with curators is having the room to ask these purely ontological questions. To question form and content entirely.

Camille: Yes.

Pedro: We have asked very important questions. How will be to shift from TV to film? How do we negotiate the exhibition space as a production space? How do we engage the public as participants in the critique of the content and of the medium? What is the design and function of the public events we are planning in relation to this new structure?
Basically, beyond asking what this project is, we are asking what the project is becoming.

Bartholomew: One of the questions that Baby Marx asks implicitly – something that mirrors PFFR’s suggestion that Smith and Marx make a baby together – is what could be a point where Adam Smith and Karl Marx could meet ideologically? Is Baby Marx about marking and pointing out the presence of the ideological inheritances we are all sifting through, or is it more interested in moving towards some kind of future model?

Baby Marx film still, 2009

Pedro: Ideologies indeed intermarry in our minds and then give birth to our own thoughts which, obviously, inherit the beauties and defects of their parents. What interests me is to present these genealogies in progress, not as a final conclusion but as a tool. One such tool is called counterfactual history, which means: What if…? To imagine parallel histories that could have occurred. In this case, interesting arguments between two characters who did not have the opportunity to meet during their lives. An example of this is The Dialogue in Hell Between Machiavelli and Montesquieu by Maurice Joly, which exposes the ideas of the state from two different perspectives. These two characters debate their doctrines and analyze human nature. Staging philosophical conflict is the aim of the project. Though, it never reaches a conclusion. It’s more about showing that instead of there being one right answer, there’s a myriad of answers, none of which should be embraced dogmatically. They should be used on a more ad hoc basis, according to the occasion and actuality. When we say, “OK, this is the truth and it should be applied in every case,” that’s when things go wrong.

Bartholomew: For some reason I once read a book on how to write day-time soaps for American network television, and they pointed out that the most durable storyline that can carry an entire run of a show over many years is that of a love divided, that it is the most engaging device and should never be resolved. The best storylines will always just toy with resolution.

Camille: So, Baby Marx as an ideological cliffhanger…

Bartholomew: Right.

Camille: That’s built into the system!

Bartholomew: Exactly!

Camille: There is no ultimate truth, no finality. It’s all ongoing. And so really the idea that this documentary is constructed in a similar way makes it really relevant to the ideas.

Pedro: Yes, I think that often documentaries are used also with a rhetorical purpose designed to drive you to some conclusions. I’m more interested to lead you to questions, than to drive you towards a dogmatic embrace of a particular idea. In the twenty-first century, we should read Marx like any other classic. However, we should examine the idea of capitalism as the hegemonic final model. That is, people assume that capitalism is a natural law, that the world simply functions that way, and that a different model of social organization is impossible to achieve. During the twentieth century, the United States demonized left-wing ideas in such an emphatic way that the word communism had the meaning that terrorism has today. All this had a very clear objective, which was to impose a transnational economic model under the name of “liberal democracy.”  History is full of examples of crimes committed in the name of this paradigm.

Q & A with Clara Kim, the Walker’s new senior curator for visual arts

China, Korea, Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, Mexico, Brazil, Columbia … and now Minneapolis. Clara Kim arrives here August 1 after some particularly intensive globetrotting (more on that below). She was was most recently gallery director/curator at REDCAT, downtown Los Angeles’ center for innovative visual, media and performing arts, where she has worked since its inception in […]

China, Korea, Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, Mexico, Brazil, Columbia … and now Minneapolis. Clara Kim arrives here August 1 after some particularly intensive globetrotting (more on that below). She was was most recently gallery director/curator at REDCAT, downtown Los Angeles’ center for innovative visual, media and performing arts, where she has worked since its inception in 2003. In her new role, Kim will continue to shape and develop the Walker’s program of exhibitions, artists’ residencies, acquisitions and special projects.

In between finishing a curatorial fellowship, preparing to host a two-day conference on it for international colleagues, and continuing her work at REDCAT — not to mention preparing to relocate — Kim has few moments to spare. However, she graciously used a few of them to answer some questions:

REDCAT is a relatively new institution for contemporary art, and you played a key role in building its international influence. What aspects of your work there are you bringing to the Walker?

REDCAT is a much smaller institution than the Walker but residencies and new commissions have been the core of its programming. Like the Walker, artists are central to the institution, which serves as a safe and supportive place for new artistic production. That along with an international, interdisciplinary perspective on contemporary artistic practice — which has also been very important to REDCAT, especially the Pacific Rim i.e. Asia and Latin America, as these regions are critical to Los Angeles and increasingly important in the global economic and cultural community.

You’re completing a circle of sorts by coming to Walker, since you began your career here as an intern in the late 90s. How have you seen contemporary art and the museum world evolving since then?

Immense changes. The boom and the subsequent downturn of the economy has greatly affected cultural production. As museums all over face pressure to meet the bottom line, we need to act and think creatively, and not lose sight of the things that matter.

What kinds of trends and ideas have dominated your practice as a curator?

I suppose a commitment to a diverse, international perspective on cultural production. I believe that art should challenge and open up our minds to new ideas and thoughts; as well as speak to the social and political moment we live in.

Can you talk about exhibitions, projects, or commissions you’ve undertaken that have stood out in your mind?

Two memorable projects for me at REDCAT are with the Tokyo-based architecture studio Atelier Bow-Wow — who created three original structures in response to their three-month residency in LA investigating the Case Study House program; and, more recently, Irish film/video artist Jesse Jones’ film shoot on the Russian choreographer Meyerhold’s studies in biomechanics that involved student actors and crew from CalArts. Integral to both projects was the collaboration, participation and engagement of many individuals across different fields and disciplines. The process of building relationships and trust became as critical as the end result. In fact, after the exhibition of Bow-Wow’s structures, which were made of recycled wood acquired through a local non-profit, we ended up dismantling the structures plank by plank and put the raw materials back into the cycle of use and circulation. It makes me very happy knowing that Bow-Wow’s houses morphed into skatebowls for at-risk urban youth and also helped beautification projects for Edgar Arceneaux’s Watts House Project.

Thanks to a curatorial fellowship from the Warhol Foundation, you recently had the opportunity to travel  throughout Asia and Latin America exploring alternative art spaces and independent projects. Any findings or experiences or travel anecdotes you can share from this experience?  

The research has been fascinating — full of surprises and contradictions — for instance, a region as wealthy as Hong Kong does not yet have a major contemporary art museum and a politically and economically unstable place such as Colombia has so many dynamic, critical artists and curators.

What did you learn from the fellowship that might affect your new role at the Walker?

That you need the support and participation of everyone in the building from top to bottom, from bottom to top, in order to make it work well.

What will you miss about Los Angeles? And/or what are you looking forward to in re-locating to Minneapolis/St. Paul?

Getting fresh produce year round. And taking up winter sports.

 

Previous
Next