Blogs Untitled (Blog) From the Archives

Insistent Presences: Magdalena Abakanowicz (1930–2017)

As we near the completion of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden renovation, we are saddened to hear of the passing of the Polish artist Magdalena Abakanowicz, whose Sagacious Head 6 and 7 (1989–1990) will once again be on view to our audiences in June. A student at the Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts between 1950 and 1954, […]

Magdelena Abakanowicz in front of Bronze Crowd (1990-1991) in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, May 1992

Magdalena Abakanowicz in front of Bronze Crowd (1990–1991) in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, May 1992

As we near the completion of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden renovation, we are saddened to hear of the passing of the Polish artist Magdalena Abakanowicz, whose Sagacious Head 6 and 7 (1989–1990) will once again be on view to our audiences in June. A student at the Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts between 1950 and 1954, Abakanowicz’s early works incorporated textiles, ropes and soft materials such as canvas and sisal that resulted in abstract forms she termed ‘abakans’. Speaking of works from this period, Abakanowicz said in 1969: “I became concerned with all that could be done through weaving […] how constructed surface can swell and burst, showing a glimpse of mysterious depths through cracks… My particular aim is to create possibilities for complete communion with an art object whose structure is complex and soft.”1 Abakanowicz’s materials were often found or discarded—she collected old pieces of wood, and would purchase used burlap vegetable sacks from market sellers in Warsaw. The “abakans” ranged from modest-sized sculptures to 15-foot-tall suspended soft works that suggested veils and shrouds, dense treetops, and oversized fantastical clothing.

A model showing Magdalena Abakanowicz's proposal for the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden Court, 1990

A model showing Magdalena Abakanowicz’s proposal for the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden Court, 1990

A trial installation of Magdalena Abakanowicz's Bronze Crowd (1990-1991) in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, May 1992

A trial installation of Magdalena Abakanowicz’s Bronze Crowd (1990–1991) in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, May 1992

In 1992, Abakanowicz was invited to create a series of sculptures that would be placed on a newly designed court within the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. Designed by landscape architect Michael Van Valkenburg, the court quoted from Edward Larrabee Barnes’s designs for both the Walker building and Sculpture Garden. The resulting space took the form of a granite-paved 110 x 60-foot sculpture plaza, bounded on one side by a wall surfaced with dark violet brick, identical to the sheathing of the Walker building. Abakanowicz was chosen, as her sculptures offered a “strong counterpoint to the geometry of the plaza, her headless figures would be alien intrusions in an essentially polite space […] their human scale and emotional intensity would make them insistent presences,” as Martin Friedman, then Walker Director Emeritus, wrote in a small publication made to accompany the unveiling.

Magdalena Abakanowicz, Sagacious Head 6 and 7 (1989-90), Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, 1992

Magdalena Abakanowicz, Sagacious Head 6 and 7 (1989–1990), Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, 1992

Magdalena Abakanowicz, Bronze Crowd (1990-91), Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, 1992

Magdalena Abakanowicz, Bronze Crowd (1990–1991), Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, 1992

Abakanowicz’s commission resulted in Bronze Crowd (1990–1991), a grouping of upright headless human figures, and Sagacious Head 6 and 7 (1989–1990), a pair of sculptures, which return to the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden this summer. In the mid-1970s, Abakanowicz began taking molds of the human body, directly from a sitter in her studio. Leaving aside the head (“too complicated”) and hands (“too narrative”2), Abakanowicz created proliferations of anonymous, headless figures that she would group together, often to a menacing or haunting effect. Sagacious Head 6 and 7 followed from a series of sculptures the artist made in Seoul, Korea titled Space of the Dragon, which featured ten giant heads. Without recognizable facial features, Sagacious Head 6 and 7 were made specifically to reference natural forms such as rocks, and imagined organisms.

Magdalena Abakanowicz inspecting Bronze Crowd (1990-1991), Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, May 1992

Magdalena Abakanowicz inspecting Bronze Crowd (1990–1991), Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, May 1992

 

Unveiling of Magdalena Abakanowicz's commission, Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, 9/12/1992

Unveiling of Magdalena Abakanowicz’s commission, Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, September, 12, 1992

Looking back at her Minneapolis Sculpture Garden commission, Abakanowicz said:

I remember my first visit to the Walker Art Center. I walked in the mud to the area destined for the future extension of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. I found myself there, overpowered by the highway in constant motion and the downtown skyscrapers in the background. This feeling of the power of the city organism remained strongly in my memory. Asked to make one Sagacious Head, with some Standing Figures, I felt unhappy and insisted on two Heads. I felt two justified each other better, protected each other. I decided to add a crowd of figures that could help the Heads resist the urban environment. The whole area will change over time. Grass has already covered the soil. Trees planted around the area will introduce the unchangeable law of changing seasons. Long before cathedrals were erected as areas of meditation and landmarks for towns, even before Stonehenge was raised, the need to divide and shape space was a necessity for man. Sites of contemplation and spiritual shelter provided a sense of measure in endless territory, offered goals for our wandering, and justified our existence. Overcrowding is as aggressive as emptiness and demands areas where we may “take off our sandals.” I feel sculpture gardens could become such places, where people can meditate and become aware not only of new tendencies in art but also of their own relation to space, scale, and the important world of metaphor and imagination. These gardens could constitute sites of spiritual shelter, in accordance with the very old needs that accompany human existence.3

As we prepare to open the renovated Minneapolis Sculpture Garden and unveil several newly commissioned works by a new generation of artists, we think back to Abakanowicz’s impressions. With nearly 20 new works, and a total of 60 sculpture on view in the Garden, we hope our visitors will find both old and new favorites, and sculptures that offer moments of contemplation, pause, and perhaps even respite.

Notes

1. Magdalena Abakanowicz quoted in Inglot, J. (2004) The Figurative Sculpture of Magdalena Abakanowicz, University of California Press.

2. Magdalena Abakanowicz quoted in the Walker-produced exhibition booklet made to accompany her Minneapolis Sculpture Garden commission.

3. Ibid.

A Reading List for the New America

Our country and world are clearly in the midst of seismic changes—politically, environmentally, socially, economically. How do we prepare for the uncertain future we’re facing?  In the days leading up to Friday’s presidential inauguration, we posed this question to an array of artists, writers, curators, and Walker staff members. Inspired by reading lists from the #CharlestonSyllabus to […]

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Our country and world are clearly in the midst of seismic changes—politically, environmentally, socially, economically. How do we prepare for the uncertain future we’re facing? 

In the days leading up to Friday’s presidential inauguration, we posed this question to an array of artists, writers, curators, and Walker staff members. Inspired by reading lists from the #CharlestonSyllabus to Public Books’ Trump Syllabus 2.0, we asked them to share recommendations for articles and books, poems and novels that could prove instructive in the coming years. Their suggestions range from the tactical to the poetic, the historic to the ultra-contemporary, optimistic to brace-for-the-worst realism.

We’ll be updating this list as more responses come in. Want to help us expand it further? Please leave your own recommendations in comments.

Chloë Bass
Artist, writer

The Wall Street Journal’s “Red Feed Blue Feed
While we may not have access to people with political opinions far outside of our own, or, more likely, may not want to spend time embroiled in emotionally exhausting discussions, it’s still important to know what people are seeing—and sharing—via social media. These forms of sharing still constitute a lot of what we think we know. As the graphic shows, and will continue to show, the contrast is stark.

a range of reflections on resilience,” by Adrienne Maree Brown, November 9, 2016
I think learning from personal language and reactions is important. Adrienne Maree Brown does a wonderful job of articulating her feelings and responses just after Election Day 2016, and many of these feelings may correspond to things we’re still feeling. Let’s admit to those things and put language to them so that we can then put them aside and keep moving, resiliently. As Brown states: “things are not getting worse, they are getting uncovered. we must hold each other tight & continue to pull back the veil.”

Indivisible: A Practical Guide for Resisting the Trump Agendaavailable in English/en Español (2016)
We need to learn how to operate towards progress, for sure, but worst-case scenario, at least we can jam signals, put up consistent opposition, and resist moving backwards any further that we already have. The Tea Party, a minority government group, successfully jammed government signals for years. Let’s learn from these tactics and use them for better outcomes. Also: forgive me if this is over-stepping, but I want to question the title, “Reading List for the New America.” I think calling it “the New America” misses some major aspects of what’s going on—and has been going on for awhile: that this really is an America that has continued to exist since the nation’s founding. Is there a group that could meet to talk about the title choice? Maybe it’s too late for that, but I want to remain kind of clear on my own stance that what we need to do is prepare ourselves for ongoing revolution in a way that resists even the paradigms of “old” and “new” and accepts that our nation contains contradictions at all levels.

Philip Bither
McGuire Senior Curator of Performing Arts, Walker Art Center

An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States (2015) by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
A Christmas present from my daughter: I thought I knew a lot of this, but I’m finding it eye-opening on many fronts.

The Plot Against America (2004) by Philip Roth
Eerily prescient to the rise of Trump. I read it when it was released in 2004 and plan to revisit very soon. 

Tania Bruguera
Artist

Hannah Arendt, Crises of the Republic: Lying in Politics; Civil Disobedience; On Violence; Thoughts on Politics and Revolution, 1972

Tania Bruguera, Manifesto on Artists’ Rights, 2012

Chris Cloud
Artist; Social Media Specialist, Walker Art Center

We Gon’ Be Alright: Notes on Race and Resegregation (2o16) by Jeff Chang (Read an excerpt.)

Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America (2016) by Michael Eric Dyson

White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide (2016) by Carol Anderson

Why Rural America Voted for Trump,” Robert Leonard, New York Times, January 5, 2017
Key passage: “While many blame poor decisions by Mrs. Clinton for her loss, in an environment like this, the Democratic candidate probably didn’t matter. And the Democratic Party may not for generations to come. The Republican brand is strong in rural America — perhaps even strong enough to withstand a disastrous Trump presidency.”

Kimberly Drew
Founder of Black Contemporary Art, co-founder of Black Futures, Social Media Manager at The Met

The Green Book (1936–1967) by Victor H. Green and George I. Smith
This series of guidebooks was created to “give the Negro traveler information that will keep him from running into difficulties, embarrassments and to make his trips more enjoyable.”

Faye Driscoll
Choreographer; creator of Thank You For Coming: Play (Out There 2017), Thank You For Coming: Attendance (Out There 2016), others

Hope in the Dark Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities (2016) by Rebecca Solnit

Adrienne Edwards
Curator at Large, Walker Art Center; Curator, Performa

Zora Neale Hurston, “Crazy for This Democracy” (1945) in I Love Myself When I Am Laughing…(1979), edited by Alice Walker
A poignant reflection on the malicious role of racism in American society, of which Jim Crow was merely the latest manifestation at the time of its writing, and that is as strikingly relevant today: “Why this sentimental over-simplification… I have been made to believe in this democracy thing, and I am all for tasting this democracy out. The flavor must be good. If the Occident is so intent in keeping the taste out of darker mouths that it spends all those billions and expends all those millions of lives… to keep it among themselves, then it must be something good. I crave to sample this gorgeous thing.”

American Civilization (1950–1953) by C.L.R James
An unfinished manuscript written by the Trinidadian Marxist writer and theorist while he was living in the United States. He was deported in 1953, never finishing the text, which was edited and published posthumously in 1993 by Anna Grimshaw and Keith Hart, whose introduction explain, “Its central theme was the struggle of ordinary people for freedom and happiness, a struggle which he found to be most advanced in America. At the same time James recognized that the forces mobilized to repress these popular energies had never been so developed, or so brazenly employed, as in the twentieth century.” To this one might add, until now.

The Angela Y. Davis Reader (1998), edited by Joy James
A must-read for change agents and radical intellectuals, which gathers in one tome Davis’s essays on prison reform, anti-racism, feminism, aesthetics and culture, and coalition building with particularly astute readings of these necessities in the American context.

The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism” (1981), in Sister Outsider (1984), by Audre Lorde
Lorde considers anger as insight and therefore a path to collective understanding and action among women: “Women responding to racism means women responding to anger; the anger of exclusion, of unquestioned privilege, of racial distortions, of silence, ill-use, stereotyping, defensiveness, misnaming, betrayal, and co-optation… The angers between women will not kill us if we can articulate them with precision, if we listen to the content of what is said with at least as much intensity as we defend ourselves against the manner of saying.”

Toward a Political Philosophy of Race (2009) by Falguni A. Sheth
A fierce analysis of how race is produced and reified in liberal societies in order to preserve state power and its institutions. Perhaps most important is the multiplicity of race upon which Sheth insists by considering the particularities of Arabs, Asians, and other people of color in the persistence of race as a tool of political power.

Bodies that Matter: On the Discursive Limits of Sex (2011) by Judith Butler
Butler doing what she does best: reworking the body, revealing the ways it resists in order to illumine how it performs in the context of forces that seek to delimit it through race, gender, and sexuality.

Living Alterities: Phenomenology, Embodiment, and Race (2015) by Emily S. Lee
Lee’s poignant philosophical intervention addresses the ways in which race is experienced by a range of people, including Latinas, Jews, black Americans, and Asian Americans in the context of banal, everyday settings in which life shaping incidents occur and thereby are made scenes where individuals come to know themselves.

Sam Gould
Cofounder and editor of Red76; creator of Beyond Repair, a community print-shop/art project in Minneapolis’s Midtown Global Market

Conflict is Not Abuse:Overstating Harm, Community Responsibility, and the Duty of Repair (2016) by Sarah Schulman

Strike Art: Contemporary Art and the Post-Occupy Condition (2016) by Yates McKee

How to Live: A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty-One Attempts at an Answer (2010) by Sarah Bakewell

Deep EconomyThe Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future (2007) by Bill McKibben

Imagevirus (2010) by Gregg Bordowitz

Rebel Cities: From the Right to the City to the Urban Revolution (2013) by David Harvey

Stokely Speaks: from Black Power to Pan-Africanism (2007) by Stokely Charmichael (Kwame Ture)

In Love and Struggle: The Revolutionary Lives of James & Grace Lee Boggs (2016) by Stephen M. Ward

The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism for the Twenty-First Century (2011) by Grace Lee Boggs

TAZ: The Temporary Autonomous Zone, Ontological Anarchy, Poetic Terrorism (1991) by Hakim Bey

The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning and Black Study (2013) by Fred Moten & Stefano Harney

Black Mask & Up Against the Wall Motherfucker: The Incomplete Works of Ron Hahne, Ben Morea, and the Black Mask Group (2011)

Show & Tell: A Chronicle of Group Material (2010), edited by Julie Ault with essays by Doug Ashford, Julie Ault, Sabrina Locks, and Tim Rollins

Gordon Hall
Artist, contributor to the Walker’s Artist Op-Ed series (Read “Reading Things: On Gender, Sculpture, and Relearning How to See”)

Now Is the Time for ‘Nobodies’: Dean Spade on Mutual Aid and Resistance in the Trump Era,” Sarah Lazare, AlterNet, January 9, 2017

White (1997) by Richard Dyer

Sex In Public” by Lauren Berlant and Michael Warner, first published in Critical Inquiry, Vol. 24, No. 2, Winter, 1998

The Ethics of Care for the Self as a Practice of Freedom” (1984), Michel Foucault interviewed by Raul Fornet-Betancourt, Helmut Becker and Alfredo Gomez-Müller

Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity (2009) by José Esteban Muñoz

Notes Towards and Performative Theory of Assembly (2015) by Judith Butler

000.000 Nothing. No Confidence No=Nothing No=0000 (2016), by Sondra Perrywith Lumi Tan, Aria Dean, Manuel Arturo Abreu, Hito Steyerl, Hannah Black, Robert Jones, Jr., and Sable Elyse Smith. This zine was released in conjunction with Sondra Perry, Resident Evil at The Kitchen

Ann Hamilton
Visual artist

Both of my picks have “hope” in the title—and have moved and motivated me deeply. They’ve filled me with the hope and resilience that motivate us to keep working, the hope that shows us where we have been, the hope that sets in motion a clear and long-term vision for the cloudy path that is aheadThese are the books that sustained us after 9/11 and come off the bookshelf again.

Hope in the Dark Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities (2016) by Rebecca Solnit

Radical Hope: Ethics in the Face of Cultural Devastation (2008) by Jonathan Lear
Lear considers the fate of the Crow Nation and what it means when everything the Crow Nation lived for and believed in has vanished.

Thomas Hirschhorn
Artist, creator of The Gramsci Monument (2013), Cavemanman (2002), Abstract Resistance (2006), others

The Terror of Evidence by Marcus Steinweg
Steinweg’s capacity to implicate the other is beautiful, bright, precise, and logical, grounded in everyday questions, which to him are always big questions.

Cynthia Hopkins
Composer, writer, musical performance artist; creator of This Clement World (2013), Accidental Nostalgia (2005), others

Blessed Unrest (2007) by Paul Hawken
This book gave me hope when I was learning about the climate crisis. It proposes that human civilization is part of a biosphere that, like any organism, has an immune system compelled to spring into action when the health of that organism is threatened. The environmental movement springing into action in defense against threats to the health of the biosphere is compared a human body’s immune system springing into action in defense against disease. In much the same way, social justice movements have the power to rise up and defend the health of this nation, and the noble principles upon which it was founded (such as basic human rights), against threats posed by President Trump. 

Selection from Abraham Lincoln’s Inaugural Address (1861)
This brief quote from Lincoln’s first Inaugural Address seems appropriate to consider at this time of intense division between wildly opposed points of view within a single electorate. One could argue that the last time this country was so fractured, it was on the brink of a civil war. “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

Kemi Ilesanmi
Executive Director, The Laundromat Project

Brittany Cooper, “The Racial Politics of Time,” TED Talk, October 2016
Dr. Cooper gave this TED Talk before Trump Time was upon us, but it fully captures the reality of how this new political era continues to steal time—literal, metaphoric, psychic—from Black and Brown people and communities. I ask myself, how can we take back our time and power to narrate our world?

Misa Jeffereis
Visual Arts Curatorial Assistant, Walker Art Center

The Case for Reparations” by Ta-Nehisi Coates, The Atlantic, June 2014
Two hundred fifty years of slavery. Ninety years of Jim Crow. Sixty years of separate but equal. Thirty-five years of a racist housing policy. Until we reckon with our compounding moral debts, America will never be whole.

I Want a President: Transcripts of a Rally by Zoe Leonard, et al. (Art Resources Transfer)
Documentation of a November 6, 2016 rally/reading inspired by Zoe Leonard’s 1992 text on the High Line in New York.

The Selfishness of Others: An Essay on the Fear of Narcissism (2016) by Kristin Dombek
“They’re among us, but they are not like us. They manipulate, lie, and cheat. They may be irresistibly charming and accomplished. But narcissists are empty… Or maybe they’re too full of themselves; experts disagree. But one thing is for sure: They don’t have empathy. And we do.” Empathy may be our strongest weapon moving forward. 

Thomas Lax
Associate Curator, Department of Media and Performance Art, The Museum of Modern Art

Scenes of Subjection (1997) by Saidiya Hartman

In the Break (2003) by Fred Moten

Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe” (1987) by Hortense Spillers, in Diacritics, Vol. 17, No. 2

Lucy Lippard
Writer, critic, activist, curator; author of The Lure of the Local: Senses of Place in a Multicentered Society (1998), others

Dark Matter: Art and Politics in the Age of Enterprise Culture (2011) by Gregory Sholette

Strike Art: Contemporary Art and the Post-Occupy Condition (2016) by Yates McKee

Kalup Linzy
Video and performance artist

A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose (2005) by Eckhart Tolle
“In his insightful look into humanity’s ego-based thinking, Eckhart Tolle provides practical teachings for waking up to a new, enlightened mind-set. If you’re seeking a more loving self and a more loving planet, A New Earth has the tools to begin your transformation.” —Oprah.com

Nisa Mackie
Director and Curator of Education and Public Programs, Walker Art Center

The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry (2012) by Jon Ronson

The End of Progress (2016) by Amy Allen
A gutsy book doing the politically important work of attempting to bridge seemingly polar schools of critical theory.

What Is a People? (2016)
A provocative collection of essays by Alain Badiou, Pierre Bordieu, Judith Butler, Georges Didi-Huberman, Sadri Khiari, and Jacques that problematizes concepts of emancipation, populism, exclusion—and the ambiguous notion of “the people.”

The Handmaid’s Tale (1986) by Margaret Atwood

A Theory of Nonviolent Action: How Civil Resistance Works (2015) by Stellan Vinthagen

Okwui Okpokwasili
Artist; she performs her Walker-commissioned work Poor People’s TV Room January 19–21 as part of Out There 2017

Delicious Foods (2016) by James Hannaham
Filled with humor and pathos, this picaresque novel is a sly wake-up call for those of us who think slavery is a relic of the distant past. 

Kameelah Janan Rasheed
Artist, writer, creator of How to Suffer Politely (And Other Etiquette), others

won’t you celebrate with me” (1991) by Lucille Clifton

Microwave Popcorn” (2015) by Harmony Holiday

Parable of Sower (1993) by Octavia Butler

Space Traders” (1992) by Derrick Bell

The Sellout (2016) by Paul Beatty

Winter in America” (1974) by Gil Scott Heron

Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination (2003) by Robin D.G. Kelley

What Exceeds the Hold?: An Interview with Christina Sharpe” by Selamawit Terrefe

Conscripts of Modernity (2004) by David S. Scott

Paul Schmelzer
Writer; Managing Editor, walkerart.org

A People’s Art History of the United States (2015) by Nicolas Lampert
Lampert chronicles the pivotal role the arts have played in social change, from the graphic agitation in the abolitionist and anti-war movements to the activism of ACT UP, Gran Fury, and the Yes Men. A look back in order to move forward.

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front” (1991) by Wendell Berry
“As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go. “

The Twilight of American Culture (2000) by Morris Berman
Written pre-9/11 and updated in 2006, the book begins by describing the ways in which symptoms of the fall of Rome—massive wealth inequality, an evaporating social safety net, rampant anti-intellectualism, etc.—are actually mainstream cultural values in America today. “Internal barbarisms,” Berman calls them. He then makes a case for the “new monastic individual.” These new monks, or “native expatriates,” he writes, “could provide a kind of record of authentic ways of living that could be preserved a kind of record of authentic ways of living that could be preserved and handed down, to resurface later on, during healthier times.” He likens it to the characters in Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 who, faced with brigades of book-burners, memorize the entirety of great works of literature to save them and pass them on orally. 

Dread Scott
Artist; creator of A Man Was Lynched By Police Yesterday (2016), What is the Proper Way to Display a US Flag? (1988), others

Call to Action” (2016) by refuseFascism.org
This call—”No! In the name of humanity. We refuse to accept a fascist America”—has been signed by Cornel West, Alice Walker, Rosie O’Donnell, John Landis, Chuck D, Marc Lamont Hill, Pastor Gregg L. Greer, Carl Dix, Robin D.G. Kelley, as well as many artists, and sharply calls out the Trump/Pence regime as fascist and calls on people to stop them before they can consolidate power.  

The New Communism (2016) by Bob Avakian

Witt Siasoco
Artist; Studio and Community Arts Associate, Minneapolis Institute of Art

March Trilogy (2013, 2015, 2016) by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell

Who We Be: The Colorization of America (2014) by Jeff Chang (Read an excerpt.)

The Sellout (2016) by Paul Beatty

Good Time for the Truth (2016), edited by Sun Yung Shin

A Choice of Weapons (1966) by Gordon Parks

The Power Broker (1975) by Robert A. Caro

Victoria Sung
Visual Arts Curatorial Assistant, Walker Art Center

In Search of Sacco and Vanzetti: Double Lives, Troubled Times, and the Massachusetts Murder Case That Shook the World (2012) by Susan Tejada
President Obama reminded us in his farewell address last week that “the stereotypes about immigrants today were said, almost word for word, about the Irish, Italians, and Poles.” This world is played out in Tejada’s study of Boston in the 1920s and the trial of two Italian-American radicals convicted of robbery and murder. (I should add that Siah Armajani recommended this book to me while we were in his studio talking about his work Sacco and Vanzetti Reading Room, of which he made four in the late 1980s.) Despite mounting evidence that the two men were not at the scene of the crime, the prosecution exploited the jury’s prejudices and made the case about Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti’s radical beliefs, underlining their status as immigrants and outsiders. Sacco and Vanzetti represented the Other in an era long past, but the dangers posed by prejudice and irrational fear feel as relevant as ever.

Hank Willis Thomas

Artist; co-founder, For Freedoms, an artist-run super-PAC

The End of Protest (2016) by Micah White
“In The End Of Protest Micah White heralds the future of activism and declares the end of protest as you know it. Drawing on his unique experience as the co-creator of Occupy Wall Street, a contagious protest that spread to eighty-two countries, White clearly articulates a unified theory of revolution and the principles of tactical innovation that are destined to catalyze the next generation of social movements.”—endofprotest.com

Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) by George Orwell

JoAnn Verburg
Photographer; creator of Julia Breaking Through (1983), Terrorized (2006), others

Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World Through Islamic Eyes (2009) by Tamim Ansary

The Fire Next Time (1963) by James Baldwin

Citizen: An American Lyric (2014) by Claudia Rankine

Leaves of Grass (1855) by Walt Whitman

The Gorgeous Nothings (2013), facsimile reproductions of Emily Dickinson’s 52 extant writings on envelopes (from the Amherst College Library)

Underground: New and Selected Poems (2013) by Jim Moore

Haiku: This Other World (1998) by Richard Wright

The Ink Dark Moon: Love Poems by Onono Komachi and Izumi Shikibu, Women of the Ancient Court of Japan (1990), translated by Jane Hershfield and Mariko Aratani

Fire on the Mountain (1977) by Anita Desai

The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1933) by Gertrude Stein 

LaRose (2016) by Louise Erdrich 

The Leopard (1958) by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa 

A Thing Among Things: The Art of Jasper Johns (2006) by John Yau

Seeing Is Forgetting the Name of the Thing that One Sees (1982) by Lawrence Weschler

To Poke, to Prod, to Flip, to Fold: Unpacking the Box

Installation view of Unpacking the Box. All photos: Gene Pittman Unpacking the Box is the first installation in the new Best Buy Aperture, where changing displays will highlight materials from the Walker’s collections, archives, and library. Here, Jordan Carter and Victoria Sung discuss the inaugural conceptualization of the space. Let’s start by unpacking what we […]

ex-bba2016ub Exhibitions, Visual Arts, Best Buy Aperture installation. Unpacking the Box August 30, 2016–February 19, 2017 Best Buy Aperture Walker Art Center Photo by Gene Pittman, courtesy Walker Art Center, Minneapolis Changing displays in the Best Buy Aperture highlight materials from the Walker collections and Archives & Library. Drawing on ephemera, books, press materials, photographic documentation, and other rarely seen materials, these installations foreground the Walker’s exhibition history and thematic strands in the collections. Integrating archival materials with moving image technology, the Best Buy Aperture encourages a media rich and innovative approach toward archival displays. The inaugural Best Buy Aperture display Unpacking the Box presents artist’s multiples—three-dimensional works produced in more than one copy—that take the form of a box. Beginning with Marcel Duchamp’s Boîte en valise (Box in a Valise), a suitcase housing miniature reproductions of his artworks, this presentation ranges from experimental and playful objects of the 1960s Fluxus movement to more contemporary productions, which in their multiplicity question the notion of the unique work of art. These containers act as single-artist portfolios or combine the works of several artists, functioning as “portable exhibitions” to be unpacked, ordered, and reordered by the viewer-turned-participant. Once folded, flipped, poked, prodded, or shuffled, the contents are no longer suited for physical manipulation as they have become fragile over time. Unpacking the Box embraces this emerging tension between implied interactivity and the often-cited “do not touch” policy at museums. How do we “unpack” the box we cannot touch? In lieu of engaging our tactile sense, the objects on view prompt us to imagine new modes of participation. Curators: Jordan Carter and Victoria Sung
Installation view of Unpacking the Box. All photos: Gene Pittman

Unpacking the Box is the first installation in the new Best Buy Aperture, where changing displays will highlight materials from the Walker’s collections, archives, and library. Here, Jordan Carter and Victoria Sung discuss the inaugural conceptualization of the space.

Let’s start by unpacking what we mean by the title Unpacking the Box. We are referring to, of course, the literal box (you’ll see that all of the objects on view take the form of a box or box-like container, whether that be a suitcase, a cabinet, or a backpack) but also the metaphorical box, meaning the museum as white cube or box. These objects throw into question the distinction between an artwork and its immediate frame, or container, and by extension, between the art object and the museum that houses it. The container is complicit, even critical to our understanding of the artwork; in fact, it is the artwork.

This type of so-called “institutional critique” has a relatively long history within the history of art. Perhaps the best place to begin would be Marcel Duchamp’s Boîte-en-valise (Box in a Valise), the first edition of which was created between 1935 and 1941. A suitcase housing miniature reproductions of his artworks (rendered at precisely 33 percent of their original size), the Boîte questioned the status of the unique work of art. What did it mean for an artist to reproduce at miniature scale objects from his own oeuvre? Are these “multiples” diminished as works of art? In reproducing and disseminating his artworks, Duchamp challenged not only the unique work of art but also the authority of the institutions that displayed them. Here, one could have a portable exhibition of one’s own outside of the museum apparatus.

ex-bba2016ub Exhibitions, Visual Arts, Best Buy Aperture installation. Unpacking the Box August 30, 2016–February 19, 2017 Best Buy Aperture Walker Art Center Photo by Gene Pittman, courtesy Walker Art Center, Minneapolis Changing displays in the Best Buy Aperture highlight materials from the Walker collections and Archives & Library. Drawing on ephemera, books, press materials, photographic documentation, and other rarely seen materials, these installations foreground the Walker’s exhibition history and thematic strands in the collections. Integrating archival materials with moving image technology, the Best Buy Aperture encourages a media rich and innovative approach toward archival displays. The inaugural Best Buy Aperture display Unpacking the Box presents artist’s multiples—three-dimensional works produced in more than one copy—that take the form of a box. Beginning with Marcel Duchamp’s Boîte en valise (Box in a Valise), a suitcase housing miniature reproductions of his artworks, this presentation ranges from experimental and playful objects of the 1960s Fluxus movement to more contemporary productions, which in their multiplicity question the notion of the unique work of art. These containers act as single-artist portfolios or combine the works of several artists, functioning as “portable exhibitions” to be unpacked, ordered, and reordered by the viewer-turned-participant. Once folded, flipped, poked, prodded, or shuffled, the contents are no longer suited for physical manipulation as they have become fragile over time. Unpacking the Box embraces this emerging tension between implied interactivity and the often-cited “do not touch” policy at museums. How do we “unpack” the box we cannot touch? In lieu of engaging our tactile sense, the objects on view prompt us to imagine new modes of participation. Curators: Jordan Carter and Victoria Sung

Installation view of Unpacking the Box

The Boîte en valise has been reproduced several times, thus embodying the spirit of the facsimile. The Walker’s red Boîte is from Series F, produced in Paris in 1966 in an edition of 75. It includes several intentional changes from the first production, including 12 additional reproductions. Most recently, the publisher Walther König produced a new, posthumous facsimile, edited by Mathieu Mercier under the supervision of Association Marcel Duchamp. It uses contemporary digital printing and production technologies to allow for a larger edition at a modest price. This new edition, released in 2015, makes it possible for the Boîte to be viewed, reimagined, and even purchased outside of the museum and gallery system, honoring Duchamp’s original democratic desire.

The intentional variations between the two Boîtes is one that we tried to highlight by placing them side by side. In addition to the obvious differences in color, material, and scale, there are more subtle changes that speak to Duchamp’s playful and irreverent sense of humor. If you look at the backsides of two of the elements on view, for example, you’ll see that the 2015 Boîte presents a two-dimensional trompe-l’oeil approximation of the three-dimensional wooden armature of the earlier Boîte. In other words, the structural function of this detail has been rendered purely decorative. Moreover, the proximity between the two editions and their linear sequencing mimics an assembly line of sorts, perhaps intimating the seriality of their production.

ex-bba2016ub Exhibitions, Visual Arts, Best Buy Aperture installation. Unpacking the Box August 30, 2016–February 19, 2017 Best Buy Aperture Walker Art Center Photo by Gene Pittman, courtesy Walker Art Center, Minneapolis Changing displays in the Best Buy Aperture highlight materials from the Walker collections and Archives & Library. Drawing on ephemera, books, press materials, photographic documentation, and other rarely seen materials, these installations foreground the Walker’s exhibition history and thematic strands in the collections. Integrating archival materials with moving image technology, the Best Buy Aperture encourages a media rich and innovative approach toward archival displays. The inaugural Best Buy Aperture display Unpacking the Box presents artist’s multiples—three-dimensional works produced in more than one copy—that take the form of a box. Beginning with Marcel Duchamp’s Boîte en valise (Box in a Valise), a suitcase housing miniature reproductions of his artworks, this presentation ranges from experimental and playful objects of the 1960s Fluxus movement to more contemporary productions, which in their multiplicity question the notion of the unique work of art. These containers act as single-artist portfolios or combine the works of several artists, functioning as “portable exhibitions” to be unpacked, ordered, and reordered by the viewer-turned-participant. Once folded, flipped, poked, prodded, or shuffled, the contents are no longer suited for physical manipulation as they have become fragile over time. Unpacking the Box embraces this emerging tension between implied interactivity and the often-cited “do not touch” policy at museums. How do we “unpack” the box we cannot touch? In lieu of engaging our tactile sense, the objects on view prompt us to imagine new modes of participation. Curators: Jordan Carter and Victoria Sung

Installation view of Unpacking the Box

Across the hall from the vitrine hosting the two Boîtes is a selection of Fluxus multiples that took their inspiration, in part, from Duchamp’s transgressive gesture of shrinking his life’s work into a portable container. On display are a number of Fluxus editions that take the form of a box, suitcase, or so-called “Fluxkits.” Fluxus was a movement of international artists active in the 1960s and 1970s founded by George Maciunas. In 1964, he established ©Fluxus Editions—a collection of affordable publications and multiples. ©Fluxus Editions allowed Maciunas to bring together concepts by a network of artists around the world, facilitating an ethos of collaboration through joint publication.

Many of the objects on view were acquired by the Walker in 1989, establishing one of the most comprehensive Fluxus collections in the United States, and were subsequently displayed in the Walker’s 1993 exhibition In the Spirit of Fluxus, curated by Elizabeth Armstrong and Joan Rothfuss. Although similar in packaging, each multiple is distinctive in terms of idea, the items they contain, and how artists intended audience interaction. These editions were performative, acting as “scores” or instructions, for exercises of the body and mind.

ex-bba2016ub Exhibitions, Visual Arts, Best Buy Aperture installation. Unpacking the Box August 30, 2016–February 19, 2017 Best Buy Aperture Walker Art Center Photo by Gene Pittman, courtesy Walker Art Center, Minneapolis Changing displays in the Best Buy Aperture highlight materials from the Walker collections and Archives & Library. Drawing on ephemera, books, press materials, photographic documentation, and other rarely seen materials, these installations foreground the Walker’s exhibition history and thematic strands in the collections. Integrating archival materials with moving image technology, the Best Buy Aperture encourages a media rich and innovative approach toward archival displays. The inaugural Best Buy Aperture display Unpacking the Box presents artist’s multiples—three-dimensional works produced in more than one copy—that take the form of a box. Beginning with Marcel Duchamp’s Boîte en valise (Box in a Valise), a suitcase housing miniature reproductions of his artworks, this presentation ranges from experimental and playful objects of the 1960s Fluxus movement to more contemporary productions, which in their multiplicity question the notion of the unique work of art. These containers act as single-artist portfolios or combine the works of several artists, functioning as “portable exhibitions” to be unpacked, ordered, and reordered by the viewer-turned-participant. Once folded, flipped, poked, prodded, or shuffled, the contents are no longer suited for physical manipulation as they have become fragile over time. Unpacking the Box embraces this emerging tension between implied interactivity and the often-cited “do not touch” policy at museums. How do we “unpack” the box we cannot touch? In lieu of engaging our tactile sense, the objects on view prompt us to imagine new modes of participation. Curators: Jordan Carter and Victoria Sung

Installation view of Unpacking the Box

While many of these Fluxus multiples were meant to be physically unpacked, poked, prodded, flipped, and folded, they—like Duchamp’s Boîte—have become fragile over time. Fluxus multiples posited play as practice and audience participation as fundamental to the full realization of the work, but these boxes now exist behind glass in a state of suspended animation. Unpacking the Box attempts to activate these works by prompting passersby to imagine new modes of interaction. Boxes and kits are propped open, the door to a cabinet is left slightly ajar, contents spill out of a backpack in a manner of what might be called orderly chaos. We’ve started the process of unpacking and leave it to you to use your imagination to unpack, arrange, and rearrange the objects on view.

Unpacking the Box is on view until February 19, 2017.

This Week in History: Merce Cunningham’s Les Noces

The Ballets Russes, the risk-taking ballet company founded by Russian visionary Sergei Diaghilev in 1909 which remained immensely popular through international tours until 1929, remains to this day a key influence on the creative possibilities of dance. Merce Cunningham’s relationship to the Ballets Russes is a multidimensional one—Diaghilev’s vision of an artistic synthesis and Cunningham’s […]

Merce Cunningham and Brandeis University Dancers in Les Noces, June 12, 1952

The Ballets Russes, the risk-taking ballet company founded by Russian visionary Sergei Diaghilev in 1909 which remained immensely popular through international tours until 1929, remains to this day a key influence on the creative possibilities of dance. Merce Cunningham’s relationship to the Ballets Russes is a multidimensional one—Diaghilev’s vision of an artistic synthesis and Cunningham’s strict independence of the art forms, although philosophically antithetical, produced some of the greatest dances of the twentieth century. Composers Igor Stravinsky and John Cage are perhaps best known for the work they produced for the Ballets Russes and the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, respectively. Diaghilev commissioned stage décors and costume designs by Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, Giorgio de Chirico, and Max Ernst; Cunningham would work closely with Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Frank Stella, and Robert Morris. Due to their international prominence, including the American tours of the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo (the post-war company formed after Diaghilev’s death), the Ballets Russes’s impact on American dance, and on the young Cunningham, are undeniable.

Cunningham would have had his first opportunity to see the famous Russian company firsthand through New York performances by Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo in the Fall of 1939. Whether he saw the performances of Les Après-midi d’un faune (The Afternoon of a Faun), Scheherezade, and Petrushka is uncertain, however as Cunningham scholar David Vaughan has stated, the qualities of these works “would have already become part of what is available to any choreographer.”[1] Cunningham’s own exploration of composition, abstraction, and application of Dada and dance’s relationship to the music (or lack thereof) all hold roots in Diaghilev’s ballets. Diaghilev’s influence on Cunningham can be traced as far back as 1952, when Cunningham, still early in his professional career as a choreographer, was commissioned by Leonard Bernstein of the Festival of Creative Arts to create a new choreographic work after one of the Ballets Russes’s most significant ballets—Bronislava Nijinska‘s Les Noces.

This week is the sixty-fourth anniversary of the first Festival of Creative Arts, an annual two-day program of performances of music, dance, and theater at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. Founded by composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein, the festival continues to be hosted at Brandeis today. In 1952, Bernstein was already an influential figure on the East Coast, having served as conductor of the New York Philharmonic since 1943. By 1952, Bernstein was heading the orchestral and conducting program at the Tanglewood Music Center, a summer orchestral program founded in 1940 by the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

Festival of the Creative Arts, festival program, 1952. Brandeis University Archives

Festival of the Creative Arts, festival program, 1952. Brandeis University Archives

The first Festival of the Arts (June 13–14, 1952) premiered Bernstein’s one-act social commentary opera Trouble In Tahiti and Marc Blitzstein’s translation of Bertold Brecht’s The Threepenny Opera, accompanied by symposia on jazz and poetry (with performances by Miles Davis, Aaron Copeland, and a reading by William Carlos Williams). For the first Festival of the Arts, Bernstein also commissioned Cunningham to create two almost entirely different projects—to choreograph an original work to Pierre Schaffer’s composition Pour un Homme Seul (1949–1950) and a restaging of Les Noces (1923), a ballet originally choreographed for Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes by Nijinska to a score by Igor Stravinsky. Bernstein’s invitation was significant, as up to that point Cunningham had only been commissioned by Lincoln Kirsten for the Ballet Society (later the New York City Ballet) in 1947 and received a select few laudatory reviews in the New York Herald Tribune for brief solo works. While Cunningham’s skills as a dancer were recognized as early as his performances with Martha Graham Company in 1939, he was yet to receive significant recognition as a choreographer.

Nijinska’s ballet, a simple narrative of a Russian peasant wedding, was already antithetical to the type of work Cunningham had been producing. As opposed to translating Nijinska’s work, Cunningham rechoreographed the piece, taking the dramatic concept and music as his starting points. Cunningham’s dancers would later remember “leaping movements” and an athleticism not present in the Ballets Russes’s original choreography. Donald McKayle, a dancer in Cunningham’s class, described the movement as “raw, not sophisticated,” which is consistent with the dynamic solos Cunningham had been choreographing since the mid-1940s.[2] Although no recording of the performance survives, the below photographs of rehearsals show the production including full costumes designed by artist Howard Bay, which were more ornate and dramatic than the fairly simple original designs by Natalia Goncharova for the original Ballets Russes production.

Les Noces, Teatro Colón, Buenos Aires, 1923, Music Division, Library of Congress

Howard Bay, copy of sketched costumes study for Les Noces" 1952. Walker Art Center 2011.313

Both projects required Cunningham not only to develop new a choreography but to teach it to Brandeis University students. Since 1950, Cunningham had been teaching daily dance classes at his 8th Avenue studio in New York, and by 1952 he had developed a small, dedicated group of dancers, for whom he had begun developing a new technique. These dancers made up the core cast for Cunningham’s work at Brandeis. After receiving the commission he worked in New York, developing the movement and choreography for the principal roles, and then developing the structure of the cast with the Brandeis Dance Group later in the spring.

Les Noces, and the far more experimental Pour un Homme Seul, are key to considering Cunningham’s career-long connection between pedagogy and his own creative practice. Although on numerous occasions he would profess his frustration with teaching (“I hate teaching. The repetition that is demanded by [class] drives me crazy”[3]), Cunningham was keenly aware of its importance to his development of new work and its role at the heart of his philosophy of dance. Bernstein also valued the importance of continued teaching throughout his career: “[Teach and learn] are interchangeable words. When I teach I learn, when I learn I teach,” he would often profess.[4] Bernstein, then on the faculty at Brandeis, created the festival not only as a platform to support new work by key figures in visual arts, music, dance, and theater but also as a multi-disciplinary access point for the university’s students. For Cunningham, the translation between his own idea for a movement and the dancer’s interpretation through their own unique style, continued to be a key aspect of his philosophy. “I use class like a laboratory,” Cunningham would later reflect, “something occurs to me and if I could do it myself I would figure it out and show it to them.” [5]

Teaching not only provided Cunningham with his main source of income in the 1950s, but also allowed him the means for experimentation. The Brandeis commissions were only one of a number of Cunningham’s engagements in 1952. Earlier that spring, Cunningham and his partner the composer John Cage, briefly taught a series of classes Black Mountain College. Later in June, Cunningham hosted a six-week summer course at the Dancer’s Studio in New York before again returning to Black Mountain College, followed by a brief engagement at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. 

Constructing his own approaches to movement through teaching, and instilling a personal dedication to his craft through the ritual of daily class, were key to Cunningham’s development as a dancer. Bernstein’s choice to commission the young Cunningham to work from Nijinska’s existing influential work allowed Cunningham to infuse a historical score with his own interpretation and sense of the present. Filtering historical influences while pushing his own creative boundaries is the nature of Cunningham’s practice—and partly why his work continues to resonate in the present. Always an original thinker, Cunningham’s reflections on history are uniquely his own and always approached as a means to a new creative challenge.

Merce Cunningham: Common Time opens at the Walker Art Center February 8, 2017.

Footnotes:

[1] David Vaughan, “Diaghilev/Cunningham” Art Journal  34, no. 2 (Winter 1974–1975): 140.

[2] Donald McKayle, quoted in David Vaughan Merce Cunningham: Fifty Years (New York: Aperture, 1997): 64.

[3] Merce Cunningham Trust, Merce Cunningham: Mondays with Merce, Episode #12 (accessed June 10, 2016).

[4] Leonard Bernstein: Teachers & Teaching (accessed June 11, 2016).

[5] Merce Cunningham Trust, Merce Cunningham: Mondays with Merce, Episode #12 (accessed June 10, 2016).

Michelangelo Pistoletto: A Reflected World, Again

"Man on a Balcony" Michelangelo Pistoletto: A Reflected World, Walker Art Center, April 1966

Michelangelo Pistoletto: A Reflected World, installation view with Seated Woman

The Walker now holds three large reflective works by Michelangelo Pistoletto, thanks to the recent gift from John and Sage Cowles of Man on a Balcony (1965), which is currently on view in 75 Gifts for 75 Years. The other works are Three Girls on a Balcony (1962–1964, on view in International Pop) and Seated Woman (1963). All three pieces entered the Walker’s collection separately over several decades, but they were all together years ago—during the 1996 Walker-organized one-man show Michelangelo Pistoletto: A Reflected World, the artist’s first exhibition in North America.

"Man on a Balcony" Michelangelo Pistoletto: A Reflected World, Walker Art Center, April 1966

Man on a Balcony as seen in the 1966 Walker exhibition Michelango Pistoletto: A Reflected World. All images courtesy Walker Archives

The young Italian artist captured the attention of Walker Director Martin Friedman in the mid-1960s. It was around the time Pistoletto began working on his reflective paintings and in March 1964, Ileana Sonnabend Gallery, Paris presented an exhibition of his new paintings. At the same time, Ettore Sottsass Jr. wrote an article on Pistolettos’s work for Domus (published in 1964, it was entitled “Pop e non Pop, a propsoito di Michelangelo Pistoletto”). The Walker assembled 30 of these new paintings for the spring of 1966.

Installation view of Michelangelo Pistoletto: A Reflected World," with "Seated Woman" center, Walker Art Center, April 1966

Installation view of Michelangelo Pistoletto: A Reflected World, with Seated Woman at center

Pistoletto made the paintings from tissue paper on stainless steel. The life-size figures float in the shiny reflected surface of the steel that captures the world outside of the painting. As one looks at the paintings it produces the affect of gazing into the space with the figures. The spectator and all he sees becomes part of the canvas. Many of the paintings are seen in mundane poses like Seated Woman. Some, like Three Girls on On A Balcony and Man on a Balcony, are seen from behind and one is left to wonder what they, or you, are gazing at. The paintings are very contemplative, as Pistoletto explained, “The world that surrounds me is really the inner world. … Everything is within me just as everything within the figures I paint is an interior reality.”

"Three Girls on a Balcony" installation view from "Michelango Pistoletto: A Reflected World," April 1966

Three Girls on a Balcony in Michelango Pistoletto: A Reflected World

The Walker’s 1966 presentation also included an element of fun, as WCCO-TV’s footage demonstrates, showing Public Relations Director Peter Georgas and the news crew on a tour through the galleries.

At the close of the show in May 1966 several of Pistoletto’s works remained in Minneapolis including the three now reunited in the Walker’s collection. Although Pistoletto could not attend the Minneapolis show he was quite pleased with the result. He wrote to Martin Friedman, “I feel quite pleased to have a personal exhibition at Walker Art Center and I am specially proud of your personal interest.”

Installation view "MIchelangelo Pistoletto: A Reflected World," April 1966

Man on a Balcony in A Reflected World

Living with Pottery: Warren MacKenzie at 90

As the inevitable retrospective pieces on Warren MacKenzie are published as he turns 90 today, February 16, it’s important to remember that he thinks it’s foolish to consider his functional pottery works of art. At least, that’s what his artist statement declares, although he adds this caveat: “… but I do hope that they communicate […]

Warren and Alix - Everyday Art Quarterly, No. 27 (1953)

Warren and Alix MacKenzie. Photo: Everyday Art Quarterly, No. 27, 1953

As the inevitable retrospective pieces on Warren MacKenzie are published as he turns 90 today, February 16, it’s important to remember that he thinks it’s foolish to consider his functional pottery works of art. At least, that’s what his artist statement declares, although he adds this caveat: “… but I do hope that they communicate something of what I feel regarding personal expression in pottery.”

In Design Quarterly, released in conjunction with MacKenzie’s 1961 show at the Walker, editor Meg Torbert wrote that his work is “completely dedicated to art, yet … pursued for the express purpose of sales.” Looking back on a career approaching 70 years, how do we comprehend the seemingly opposing views MacKenzie and Torbert are presenting? It’s best that we eschew the classification of art or non-art and view MacKenzie’s pottery in terms of individual experience.

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Installation shot of Pottery by Alix and Warren MacKenzie, 1961

Putting his career in the simplest of terms, MacKenzie just loves to make pots. His fascination with this form of independent creation began at the Art Institute of Chicago and continued in St. Ives, England. He and Alix MacKenzie, his first wife, spent two years there learning from renowned potter Bernard Leach. This defining experience and his subsequent partnership with Alix led to his artistic process of throwing between 50 and 200 pots a day. This was a normal output for him when his work was first shown at the Walker in the 1954 show MacKenzie Ceramics.

warren_mackenzie001

Installation shot of Pottery by Alix and Warren MacKenzie, 1961

MacKenzie’s work has been shown here four times, and always through MacKenzie Pottery, the name he and Alix adopted after they converted a barn into a studio in Stillwater, Minnesota. Their last and most comprehensive Walker show, Pottery by Warren and Alix MacKenzie, was on display 52 years ago.

“I think it was a good exhibition for our work at that time,” MacKenzie told Robert Silberman of the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art in 2002. “It wasn’t a great exhibition if I look back on it now. At that time it was the best we could do, I’d say.”

But coming from a potter known for saying “The first 10,000 pots are difficult and then it gets a little bit easier,” this shouldn’t necessarily be seen as a criticism of the show. It is a nod to the progression of a traditional potter — one who makes accessible objects for everyday use — where the artist learns more about the making of pots with every piece. There is no threshold at 10,000 or 100,000 pots — an output that MacKenzie has undoubtedly exceeded — where the art is perfected and nothing more can be learned or experienced. Mackenzie Ceramics marked a point on the development of MacKenzie as a potter, as did Pottery by Warren and Alix MacKenzie, as do each of the days he continues to sit at his Leach wheel and throw clay.

MacKenzie pots Design Quarterly, No. 54 (1962)

Fig. 4 (left) and fig. 5 (right) as printed in Design Quarterly, No. 54, 1962, accompanied by Warren and Alix MacKenzie’s commentary: “On the shoulder of each of these pots, extra feldspar and wood ash were powdered over the wet clay. On pot No. 4 the glaze produced is almost pure feldspar, giving a milky, heavily cracked surface. The wood ash on No. 5 reacted in two ways, by melting into the glaze and, in some places, by resisting the fire and popping out as a dry surface. The watery, irregular quality of the glaze itself in contrast to the dry areas is related to natural relationships which most of us see every day such as rocks and water, or branch and leaf.”

Each of the four times work from MacKenzie Pottery was exhibited at the Walker, the pieces were equally meant to be sold as admired, but the idea of the sale has been a contentious aspect of his career. As Torbert noted, MacKenzie’s aim has always been to give the general public access to his work. Unfortunately, as his name recognition grew — and the value of his pottery with it — it became impossible for him to distribute his work as he desired. For instance, the honor system he set up in a Stillwater showroom was taken advantage of by people who bought more than was allowed and then resold items online for profit. The problem with his work fetching high prices on secondary markets, besides the money going to someone other than MacKenzie, is that the objects become more precious and less likely to be used in day-to-day life.

minneapolis sunday tribune

Warren and Alix MacKenzie in their Stillwater studio. Printed in the September 10, 1961, issue of the Minneapolis Sunday Tribune. Photo: Wayne Bell

MacKenzie challenged the idea that sophisticated art cannot be an everyday object. Looking at a pot he has made, with its irregularity of form and uneven glaze, you may think it looks like any old pot; but looking does not lead to understanding. To drink from, to eat out of, to wash a Warren MacKenzie pot is to understand it.

In conjunction with the 1961 show at the Walker, MacKenzie wrote an essay titled Some potter thoughts by Warren MacKenzie, in which he offered a simple instruction on getting to the essence of their pottery: “In the final analysis it is our work that should communicate what we have to say about pottery, and if these words are more confusing than helpful, I can only ask that you examine and live with the pots to see what they can say to you.”

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Warren and Alix in their Stillwater studio. Photo: Wayne Bell

In celebration of Warren MacKenzie’s birthday, and his life’s work, Walker Executive Director Olga Viso extends her wishes. “We are happy to join in the chorus of celebratory reflections about Warren as he turns 90. He is one of Minnesota’s most inspiring and beloved makers whose work has had a deep impact far beyond Minnesota. Happy birthday, Warren, from all of us at the Walker Art Center!”

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From the Archives: Lucy Lippard, the Walker, and Materializing “Six Years”

The Brooklyn Museum of Art’s current exhibition, Materializing “Six Years”:  Lucy Lippard and the Emergence of Conceptual Art, explores the impact of Lucy R. Lippard’s groundbreaking 1973 book Six Years and the development of the era’s highly influential conceptual art scene. In addition to works by 90 artists–including Vito Acconci, Eleanor Antin, and John Latham–the […]

Mierle Laderman Ukeles’s photo album of Maintenance Art Tasks (1973), next to an album containing N.E. Thing Co’s work North American Time Zone Photo-VSI-Simultaneity

The Brooklyn Museum of Art’s current exhibition, Materializing “Six Years”:  Lucy Lippard and the Emergence of Conceptual Art, explores the impact of Lucy R. Lippard’s groundbreaking 1973 book Six Years and the development of the era’s highly influential conceptual art scene. In addition to works by 90 artists–including Vito Acconci, Eleanor Antin, and John Latham–the show features catalogues, photos, artist publications, and ephemera from key Lippard events. Among the objects presented to help illustrate the period are photographs and notes from Lippard’s exhibition at the Walker, c. 7,500, a November 1973 show of conceptual works comprised entirely of women artists.

In early 1973, Lippard’s writing and interest in conceptual art was becoming well-known following a series of shows and essays, culminating with the release of Six Years, a compendium of Lippard’s writings that both catalogued and described the development of conceptual art, while introducing readers to the works of artists and collectives.

Beginning in 1969, Lippard’s conceptual art “numbers” shows were small affairs, curated solely by Lippard and accompanied by hand-made catalogues, composed of randomly arranged index cards designed by each artist and following brief descriptions from Lippard on how these works related and what conceptual art meant to her. Lippard’s seemingly vague exhibition titles were derived from the population of each show’s host city: 557,087 was held in Seattle, 955,000 in Vancouver, and 2,972,453 in Buenos Aires. Each edition varied in style, construction, and content, as Lippard noted in a letter to Walker director Martin Friedman when asked about her shows for planning purposes at the Walker.

c. 7,500–named for the small town of Valencia, California, where the show originated–was Lippard’s fourth numbered exhibition but her first foray into showcasing conceptual art created solely by female artists. A feminist herself, Lippard had been troubled by questions regarding women in conceptual art. According to the accompanying catalogue, “the show was organized in part as a reply to the comment ‘there are no women conceptual artists.'”

Lippard described some of the participating artists as “not known names,” but many conceptual art greats, including the N.E. Thing Co. Ltd, Eleanor Antin, and Athena Tacho, were involved. “[I]t should also be added that the artists in this show are of no ideological persuasion,” she wrote in the introduction to the exhibition catalogue. “Some are feminists, some are not. All are artists. Their ages, backgrounds, even nationalities range too broadly to succumb to generalization.” Fittingly, the array of featured work included a variety of pieces from Mierele Ukeles’ Maintenance Art Tasks, which depicts Ukeles fulfilling a variety of household tasks, to Martha Wilson’s photographs of various breast shapes and Poppy Johnson’s audio recordings of words.  c. 7,500’s works were unique but fit into the idea of art where “permanence, formal or decorative value, are secondary, if of any concern at all.”

The show was also rather different from her previous exhibitions by its small scale and casual organization. As she explained to Friedman, most of the work could easily be shown in “notebooks on a long table.” Consisting mainly of books, printed material, photographs, and audio recordings, the layout of the show was dependent on the space in each venue and could easily be changed to suit the available room, giving a more collaborative and laid-back feel to the show. Lippard described this as a far less “sculptural” show of her previous “Numbers” exhibitions. This casual aesthetic would eventually be a source of praise to the exhibition when held at the Walker.

Clockwise from left: Athena Tacha’s Feet and Shoes (1970-1972), Expressions I (A study in facial motions) (1972), Hands (two versions) (1970-1972) and Ears (1970-1971). Visible to the right in the corner is 100 Identical Drawings (1969) by Nancy Wilson Kitchel

The Walker’s involvement with Lippard’s c. 7,500 began with a letter from the curator in February of 1973 discussing the show idea with Friedman. Writing rather matter-of-factly, Lippard explained: “I have put together a small conceptual art show for Cal Arts. They’ve run out of money and I need three institutions to take the show to cover catalogue costs.”

Held in the lounge on the Walker’s top floor gallery, this space was what registrar Gwen Lerner described to Lippard as “conducive to a leisurely perusal of the show, including reading and listening.”  The show was a success, attracting numerous attentive visitors, especially students. In a letter from Lerner to artist Adrian Piper, whose work was featured in the show, c. 7,500 was described as “fun to have and attracting many visitors.”

Christine Kozlov’s Nine Books Neurological Compilation: the physical mind since 1945 installed in c. 7,500 at the Walker Art Center, 1973

c. 7.500 was an important show for both Lippard’s career as well as the Walker. As Lippard’s work is revisited and her legacy is explored at the Brooklyn Museum, her brief stay at the Walker is an important part of that legacy and in the development of conceptual art.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tony Smith, Amaryllis, 1965/1968

Flashback to the ’80s: New Dance USA

Cotton balls were given out to lessen the intense volume of Rhys Chatam’s music accompanying Karole Armitage’s Drastic-Classicism (1981), a performance in which “pitting punk pretenses against formal facility, it was a ferocious barrage of smashing guitar chords juxtaposed with an off-kilter corkscrewing of classical dance techniques.” – Allen Robertson, The Minneapolis Star, October 6, […]

Karole Armitage, Drastic Classicism 1981    Children’s Theatre, October 5, 1981

Cotton balls were given out to lessen the intense volume of Rhys Chatam’s music accompanying Karole Armitage’s Drastic-Classicism (1981), a performance in which “pitting punk pretenses against formal facility, it was a ferocious barrage of smashing guitar chords juxtaposed with an off-kilter corkscrewing of classical dance techniques.” – Allen Robertson, The Minneapolis Star, October 6, 1981

In Lucinda Childs’ Dance (1979), with a set by Sol LeWitt and sound by Philip Glass (and performed for a less convinced audience than the captivated one watching Dance in the Walker’s McGuire theater last year), “by combining speed and repetition in an unrelenting two-hour mathematical equation, Childs puts herself in the vanguard of new dance.” – Iris M. Fanger, The Boston Phoenix, October 20, 1981

At New Dance USA (October 3–8, 1981), the Walker invited Karole Armitage, Lucinda Childs, and 25 other choreographers to perform their work at five locations throughout Minneapolis and St. Paul. The festival lineup piqued the interest of audiences near and far who came to check out and assess what the 1980s postmodern dance scene was about. Along with the week of performances, the Walker—known as one of the nation’s leading presenters of dance—put together a three-part lecture series on postmodern dance, a Dance Critics Conference, a panel of dance presenters discussing creative ways to organize residencies, an exhibition of scores and graphic works by some of the participating choreographers, and a 50-page catalogue. (more…)

Happy Birthday, John Cage: Do You Know This Cake?

Today we, like many others, are remembering John Cage on what would have been his 100th trip around the sun. In 1982, in honor of Cage’s 70th birthday, the Walker produced the exhibition Happy Birthday John Cage. In addition to showing works by his friends and collaborators such as Louise Nevelson, Jasper Johns, and Robert Rauschenberg, the exhibition also featured pieces from Not Wanting to […]

John Cage celebrating his birthday with an unidentified friend in Minneapolis, September 1982. Courtesy Walker Art Center.

Today we, like many others, are remembering John Cage on what would have been his 100th trip around the sun. In 1982, in honor of Cage’s 70th birthday, the Walker produced the exhibition Happy Birthday John Cage. In addition to showing works by his friends and collaborators such as Louise Nevelson, Jasper Johns, and Robert Rauschenberg, the exhibition also featured pieces from Not Wanting to Say Anything about Marcel, 1969, a series of screenprinted plexiglass plates (“plexigrams“) that Cage produced with Calvin Sumsion. The 70th birthday celebration also included music and dance performances, poetry readings, a symposium called John Cage: Art and Influence, and the masterful yin/yang cake pictured above. If you have further details on the story behind this cake, who produced it, or what it consisted of, please help our archive fill in the details.

 

 

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