Blogs Untitled (Blog) Garden

Self-Portrait as a Building: In the Studio with Mark Manders

Recently I had the immense pleasure of visiting Mark Manders’s studio in Ronse, Belgium, to view his progress on the sculpture the Walker commissioned—his first major public artwork in the United States—for next June’s opening of the newly renovated Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. It’s one of 16 new works (including five commissioned by the Walker) that will […]

Photo May 23, 8 17 17 AM

Fountain for Rokin Plein in Amsterdam, to be unveiled in 2017. All photos by Misa Jeffereis

Recently I had the immense pleasure of visiting Mark Manders’s studio in Ronse, Belgium, to view his progress on the sculpture the Walker commissioned—his first major public artwork in the United States—for next June’s opening of the newly renovated Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. It’s one of 16 new works (including five commissioned by the Walker) that will animate the campus. The Walker’s history with Manders dates back to 2011 when we hosted a touring exhibition of his work, the first in North America.

My journey to meet the artist began with my renting a car in Brussels and entrusting GPS to guide me to the remote Flemish town of Ronse, where Manders lives and works. I approached a large red wooden gate, pressed a doorbell, and was greeted by the artist who led me into his home. I met his partner and his five-week-old baby boy, who was sleeping, and began to understand why Manders has chosen to live and work in this peaceful and idyllic environment. The town is situated outside of the fast-paced art world, where the artist has the resources and headspace to create massive sculptures that at once assert their monumentality, timelessness, and fragility.

Photo May 23, 9 51 54 AM

Large-scale bronze piece in the process of being painted to resemble its original clay state

Manders is known for creating surreal and hauntingly evocative sculptural installations that feature stoic figures reminiscent of ancient Rome and Greece. The artist uses deceptive materials for the works—first constructed from molded wet clay and wood, then cast in bronze—which are then painted to look indistinguishable from the original components. During our three-hour visit, I caught a rare glimpse of the artist’s thinking process and the meticulous steps that go into creating these uncanny bronze pieces.

Photo May 23, 7 40 10 AM Photo May 23, 7 45 12 AM

The artist led me through the various spaces of his labyrinthine studio, a former fabric-manufacturing factory, where the artist has lived for 11 years. Room after room, we moved through the various steps taken to create each sculpture, beginning in the artist’s library and drawing room where the brainstorming, research, and sketching takes place. The space was filled with models of his sculptures, maquettes of furniture, and drawings scattered about the floor, everything strewn haphazardly as if created hastily before moving on to the next idea. In fact, Manders’s entire studio was filled with objects that appeared ready to be deployed, containing a dynamism that reflected not only the artist’s boyish energy, but also the nature of the object’s tentative status: appearing cracked, overstuffed, fragile, discarded. Manders revealed that he thinks through his concepts over many years and keeps early drawings and models within his daily encounter in the event that he has time to realize one of his unexecuted project ideas. Each drawing is a visual reminder for Manders, and for me, a peek into the inner workings of his mind and the memories that occupy it.

Photo May 23, 7 46 41 AM

Drawings of ideas for future projects

This object evokes a mechanical device, circuit, or instrument. Manders cryptically explained that his sculptures are considered “good objects” if they can withstand the test of being on a bodega floor.

This object evokes a mechanical device, circuit, or instrument. Manders cryptically explained that his sculptures are considered “good objects” if they can withstand the test of being on a bodega floor.

For more than three decades, Manders has been developing an endless “self-portrait as a building” in the form of sculptures, still lifes, and architectural plans. The notion was inspired by his interest in writing and literature, however, realizing the greater potential of objects to convey meaning and narrative, the artist switched his focus from writing to object-making. He noted to me that books, autobiographies, and more generally, language move linearly—readers absorb one word after another, moving forward in one direction—whereas sculptures have no time or chronology associated with their consumption. There is much greater room for interpretation when proposing that an accumulation of sculptures makes up the artist’s self-portrait.

Photo May 23, 8 04 12 AM

In a drawing from the early 2000s, a floor plan articulated a building with various rooms containing objects—all of which have been produced. The artist explained that the “rooms” of his “self-portrait” continuously change, morph, and grow, and that the persona of “Mark Manders” (who is very much like, but not actually, the artist) shifts in relation to these rooms. In this excerpt from The Absence of Mark Manders (1994), he writes about his persona as a building: “Mark Manders has inhabited his self-portrait since 1986. This building can expand or shrink at any moment. In this building all words created by mankind are on hand. The building arises, like words, out of interaction with life and things. The thoughts that surround him in his building are, materialized or not, always important and never gratuitous.” As Manders toured me through his one-story studio complex, his floor plan, I realized that we were sequentially moving through the artist’s self in the form of this very building. Each room and all of the objects within it are Mark Manders.

Photo May 23, 7 58 15 AM

The artist has long produced his own newspapers, using every word from the Oxford dictionary randomly inserted into typical newspaper columns and illustrated by photographs of indistinct objects on his studio floor. The newspapers do not present current events, but rather live outside of time or place, just as the rest of his work resists stable positioning.

Photo May 23, 7 58 33 AM

The newspapers are deployed as papier-mâché stand-ins for other materials, but also appear in his finalized sculptures.

Photo May 23, 8 29 52 AM

What became clear to me is that Manders builds every aspect of his sculptures, including furniture. The artist’s father was a furniture maker and taught him some of the craft, although Manders insists that he is primarily self-taught and has acquired many woodworking skills over time. For the Walker’s commission, Manders is producing three large-scale figurative sculptures, and a comparatively intimate, life-sized cast bronze chair. When he indicated to me the low-seated chair that was cast for the Garden, I was surprised to learn that it was not sourced at a vintage store, but rather had been built by the artist. He explained that when he began making art in 1986, the furniture in his immediate surroundings was built in the 1970s and ’80s, and he has been consistently drawn to this vintage style. The combination of classical style figures and mid-century modern furniture again denies us a clear resting point in time.

Photo May 23, 8 24 02 AM

For this Walker-commissioned sculpture, Manders produced vinyl images of the full size sculpture in order to determine its height. The artist decided on the far right image for the sculpture’s final height.

Photo May 23, 8 14 52 AM

Manders kept the molds from the Walker’s totemic-like sculpture in order to produce multiple editions in the future. We examined the surface of the liquid silicone mold that captures incredible detail from the original model.

After touring what must have been about ten different rooms within his massive studio complex, Manders drove me to the foundry where his sculptures are being produced: Art Casting in Oudenaarde, Belgium. (The internationally renowned foundry—just 20 minutes away by car—works with high-profile artists from around the world, and for this reason it insists on confidentiality with a no-photography policy.) Manders excitedly toured me through the facility, explaining that the lost-wax method employed there has been used since ca. 4500–3500 BCE. Art Casting has perfected the craft, with 50 to 60 employees who specialize in the various aspects of this technique. They also use the most receptive combination of liquid silicone and a catalyst that is able to produce a perfect negative of the original model—so detailed that it can capture fingerprints—and also imports the highest quality bronze from the US. It was a fascinating place.

Photo May 23, 9 57 29 AM Photo May 23, 9 51 51 AM

Finally, I learned the ultimate stage in Manders’s process, and one of the most mystifying: the application of paint. We visited his second studio where three assistants were painting two large bronze sculptures. In order to access all sides of the massive sculptures, the team uses heavy-duty lifts to suspend the 1.5-ton sculptures in air. The painting process takes about two weeks and includes seven layers of paint. During one step the assistant actually removes paint to give the appearance that the sculpture is worn and, in another, uses a dry brush technique to gently graze the uneven surface so that pigment is only applied to the raised parts of the piece. After an exhaustive journey to their final bronze state, the sculptures return to their original models’ clay-like, fragile appearance—however, now, ready to endure the test of time.

Photo May 23, 8 13 56 AM

Gary Hume’s Snowwoman Comes to the Garden

In anticipation of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden’s 25th anniversary this summer, a new winter-themed work has just been installed, Gary Hume’s Front of Snowwoman (2002). On loan until this fall from the collection of Peggy and Ralph Burnet, the cast-bronze snow-being temporarily replaces Jacques Lipchitz’s Prometheus Strangling the Vulture II (1944/1953), which has been on […]

hume_install_4127_W

Gary Hume’s Front of Snowwoman (background) with George Segal’s Walking Man (1988). All photos: Paul Schmelzer

In anticipation of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden’s 25th anniversary this summer, a new winter-themed work has just been installed, Gary Hume’s Front of Snowwoman (2002). On loan until this fall from the collection of Peggy and Ralph Burnet, the cast-bronze snow-being temporarily replaces Jacques Lipchitz’s Prometheus Strangling the Vulture II (1944/1953), which has been on view on the easternmost edge of the park since its opening in 1988. Here’s a few shots from the deinstallation of Lipchitz’s work last week and Hume’s snowwoman on Wednesday.

lipchitz_deinstall_4023_W lipchitz_deinstall_4018_W[1]

hume_install_4091_W hume_install_4103_W hume_install_4112_W hume_install_4119_W

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

Repainted, Sitzwuste sculptures retain ability to soothe and insult

Franz West’s Sitzwuste (2000) — three sausage-shaped aluminum sculptures designed as sitting spaces — are back, but with a big change. The 13-foot pieces were reinstalled on Friday on the Walker hillside near the entrance to James Turrell’s Sky Pesher. Although they don’t have the garish neon enamel they did when they were first installed in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden 11 years ago, they still possess the potential — as West has said — to “insult” their idyllic surroundings.

Sitzwuste shortly after installation on Sept. 16, 2011.

Franz West’s Sitzwuste (2000) — three sausage-shaped aluminum sculptures designed as sitting spaces — are back, but with a big change. The 13-foot pieces were reinstalled on Friday on the Walker hillside near the entrance to James Turrell’s Sky Pesher. Although they don’t have the garish neon enamel they did when they were first installed in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden 11 years ago, they still possess the potential — as West has said — to “insult” their idyllic surroundings. (more…)

Siah Armajani: 2010 McKnight Distinguished Artist

  On June 28 the McKnight Foundation named Siah Armjani as the 2010 recipient of the Distinguished Artist Award—an honor that recognizes individuals “who helped lay the foundation for Minnesota’s rich cultural life” and “despite opportunities to pursue their work elsewhere, they chose to stay — and by staying, they have made a difference.”  And […]

 

On June 28 the McKnight Foundation named Siah Armjani as the 2010 recipient of the Distinguished Artist Award—an honor that recognizes individuals “who helped lay the foundation for Minnesota’s rich cultural life” and “despite opportunities to pursue their work elsewhere, they chose to stay — and by staying, they have made a difference.”  And providing a foundation for the arts in Minnesota is exactly what he did. The footings were poured for his artistic practice some 50 years ago, continuing to support an enduring edifice of public art, locally and throughout the world.  

Emigrating from Tehran, Iran to St. Paul, Minnesota in 1960, Armajani studied mathematics and philosophy (primarily the American transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson) at Macalester College—courses that instilled in him a profound respect for history, democracy and a populist belief in the responsibility of individual actions in the public realm, major tenets of what would later become the central concerns of his artistic practice.

It was while completing his education that Armajani rented a studio in downtown Minneapolis. In his off hours he taught himself to paint, producing works of astounding power and lyricism. One of these paintings is currently hanging at the Walker Art Center in the current collection exhibition, Event Horizon. Prayer (1962) is composed of excerpts of poetry by Sufi writers Rumi and Hafez, which Armajani transcribed by hand in black ink onto canvas. Created in the abstract idiom of the time but with text instead of expressive gestures, the work connects the past to the present and the literary to the visual.

"Prayer," Siah Armajani (1962)

These ideas translated into his next body of work for which he is widely acclaimed. Turning again to American history, this time the history of the country’s vernacular architectural forms such as log cabins, barns, covered bridges, schoolhouses, and Quaker reading rooms, Armajani took his work out of the studio, the gallery, and the museum, and introduced it to the world. Numerous commissions led him to create pragmatic structures out of wood and metal, including bridges, houses, reading rooms, and various other dwellings (both ephemeral and permanent) as well as free-standing sculpture. Not interested in building monuments to his ego (or anyone else’s), he has explained, “I am interested in the nobility of usefulness. My intention is to build open, available, useful, common, public gathering places—gathering places that are neighborly.”

And what could be more neighborly (and visionary) than connecting two city parks long divided as a result of injudicious urban planning? In 1988, Armjani completed one of his most important commissions, the Irene Hixon Whitney Bridge. This 375-foot steel-truss construction spans 15 lanes of traffic, connecting the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden with the oasis that is Loring Park. The bridge has become an icon for the city as well as a metaphor for the peaceful coexistence of the diverse background and interests of the population.

Irene Hixon Whitney Bridge

Perhaps in addition to “artist,” we might more aptly describe Mr. Armajani as a bridge builder who brings individuals together, both locally and globally, for the common good. It takes a strong dose of optimism to think this way, but his work is built on it, and I am convinced.

On a personal note and on behalf of my colleagues, I want to congratulate Siah for receiving this award and for being such a good friend to the Walker over the years. It is rare to come across a person with his profound intelligence, warmth, wit, and generosity. He has given so much to this community, and has taught us so much—we are forever grateful.

Learn more about Siah Armajani’s work in the Walker collection at ArtsConnectEd.org.

Refinishing the cherry

On the morning of February 23, the cherry from Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen’s sculpture Spoonbridge and Cherry will be removed for restoration, by the Walker Art Center.  The beloved sculpture, part of the Walker’s permanent collection since 1988, when it was installed, is truly an iconic centerpiece of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. The […]

Walker Art Center, 1988

Lowering the cherry into place, Walker Art Center, 1988

On the morning of February 23, the cherry from Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen’s sculpture Spoonbridge and Cherry will be removed for restoration, by the Walker Art Center.  The beloved sculpture, part of the Walker’s permanent collection since 1988, when it was installed, is truly an iconic centerpiece of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden.

The process will begin with Walker Art Center Sculpture Garden Technician, Noah Wilson, being hoisted to the base of the cherry, where he will remove an access plate.  After climbing into the cherry, Wilson will prepare to remove the 8 bolts that secure the cherry to the spoon.  In the meantime, a 110 ton crane will position its boom over the stem of the cherry.  A single nylon strap will be secured to the stem, supporting the 2-ton stainless-steel ball and Noah, as he removes the bolts.  Gently, the crane operator will move the cherry away from the spoon, over the pond, to the frozen lawn, where Noah will exit through the access panel.

The cherry will then be placed onto the back of a double-drop flatbed trailer into a custom fabricated nest of plywood, foam, and moving pads.  The nylon strap, extending from the crane, will be repositioned and the cherry slowly rotated so that the tip of the stem makes contact with the padded surface of the trailers front end.  The work will be completely blanketed with padded material, strapped in place and covered with a tarp for transport to an industrial coating facility.

Cut-outs measuring the exact circumference of the cherry will be fabricated to ensure that the finished size of the restored cherry will not differ from the original.  Next, 11 existing coats of paint will be removed from its surface, as well as a thick layer of underlying fairing compound (auto-body putty).  The fairing compound used to create the precise spherical form of the cherry, has, after 21 years of Minnesota weather and a constant stream of water covering its surface during the warm months, reached the end of its useful life and is beginning to show signs of failure.  Upon close inspection of the surface of the cherry, a network of hairline cracks are present, and if left untreated, will continue to widen and lift away from the surface of the cherry.

Walker Art Center, 1988

Crane lowering the cherry, Walker Art Center, 1988

After reaching bare metal, the surface of the cherry will be sprayed with a yellow oxide epoxy primer, followed by a coat of gray epoxy primer.  Layers of a green immersion-grade fairing compound, the same product used to shape the hulls of ocean vessels, will be spread over the surface, allowed to dry, and be hand-sanded, building the cherry back to the appropriate circumference and re-creating is perfect spherical profile. 

Once the surface is pristine, another layer of gray epoxy will be sprayed on the work, before two coats of marine-grade “cherry red” polyurethane.  The top layer will be a clear-coat, which will provide a layer of protection from the paint-fading ultra-violet rays of the sun.  

Once the paint layers are fully cured, the work will be carefully packed and transported back to the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden to be reunited with the spoon.  I expect the process to be complete in early April.  Be sure to watch for status updates and progress reports.

A Meandering Walk with Kinji Akagawa

Sculptor Kinji Akagawa‘s relationship with the Walker goes almost to his first days in Minneapolis more than three decades ago. Commissioned to create a work to inaugurate the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden in 1988, he also worked to transform the art lab into a Japanese studio for the exhibition Tokyo Form and Spirit in 1986. Currently, […]

kinji_001.jpg

Kinji Akagawa with a scale model of Garden Seating, Reading, Thinking Photo: Cameron Wittig

Sculptor Kinji Akagawa‘s relationship with the Walker goes almost to his first days in Minneapolis more than three decades ago. Commissioned to create a work to inaugurate the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden in 1988, he also worked to transform the art lab into a Japanese studio for the exhibition Tokyo Form and Spirit in 1986. Currently, he is designing a Peace Bridge with artist Jerry Allan to be installed at Minneapolis’ Peace Garden at Lake Harriet. In the April issue of Walker, we ran a brief interview with him on our membership page; his ideas about getting lost and the “meandering walk” of art are worth repeating here.

Your contribution to the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, called Garden Seating, Reading, Thinking (1987), is a bench, but it’s more than that. How did it come to be?

When I got the commission, I said, “ If the bench is just for physical rest, you can buy one through a catalogue. Catalogue number five, OK, order the bench.” Martin [Friedman, former Walker director] was kind enough to say: “ Well, give me something else.” So I made the piece, but not just as a bench for physical rest. Intellectually, you have to rest within that kind of context; emotionally, you have to rest looking at all the sculpture. I included a reading lectern and used familiar, Midwestern materials: fieldstone and basalt from St. Croix. The bench provides psychological rest, intellectual rest, and physical rest.

You’ve said that the Garden extends the idea of art into the social and natural realms. Do you think the new Walker’s architecture expands on those ideas?

My idea of gardens from my Japanese background is the importance of a meandering, aimless walk. There are surprises, with rocks and water and sky and reflections and shadows. The Minneapolis Sculpture Garden is very formal in the European aesthetic sense; maybe the idea of garden has to expand a little bit more. Besides the formality, trees are growing, and 10 years later, it’s another experience. The new Walker has elements of this meandering and surprises. We experience narrowness, openness, height, and all these physical sensations.

With those winding hallways, it’s easy to get lost–which is a bit like your meandering walk.

Giving us the opportunity to get lost is, I think, part of the museum’s job. You have to get lost. When you’re lost, you really pay attention to look again. The sense of being lost physically is to reexamine one’s own position, and no longer just assume a relationship to one’s surroundings or the architecture. That’s a very important part of life.

You have a work in the Garden, and you’re an art professor at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. You’re already kind of an art insider. Why does a guy like you need a Walker membership?

[Laughs] We all are interdependent. Because of the Walker, a lot of my students, my generation, my culture have been supported. That’s a wonderful thing. It’s not membership as in “I’m a member” or in terms of belonging, nor is it about financial contributions. It’s being supported and being supporting. That’s just community.

wac_1015e.jpg

Kinji Akagawa, Garden Seating, Reading, Thinking, 1987