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In on the Joke: Triple Candie on Donelle Woolford

From time to time the Walker invites outside voices to share perspectives on art and culture. Today, Shelly Bancroft and Peter Nesbett, who together run Philadelphia-based Triple Candie, share their thoughts on Donelle Woolford, a work in the 2014 Whitney Biennial that featured a fictitious African American artist performing a 1977 Richard Pryor stand-up routine. […]

The Whitney Biennial's page promoting Donelle Woolford

The Whitney Biennial’s page promoting Donelle Woolford

From time to time the Walker invites outside voices to share perspectives on art and culture. Today, Shelly Bancroft and Peter Nesbett, who together run Philadelphia-based Triple Candie, share their thoughts on Donelle Woolford, a work in the 2014 Whitney Biennial that featured a fictitious African American artist performing a 1977 Richard Pryor stand-up routine. A creation of the white artist Joe Scanlan, Donelle Woolford’s inclusion prompted the YAMS collective to withdraw from the biennial. As guest writers, Bancroft and Nesbett’s opinions do not reflect those of the Walker Art Center.

A lot of ink has been spilled on Joe Scanlan’s Donelle Woolford project. Allow us to spill some more.

We first learned of the project and met Joe in 2006 when he stopped in to our Harlem gallery to see a show we had curated on a fictional artist named Lester Hayes. As it turned out, Joe and his wife lived near us in Harlem, and in time we started socializing. Woolford, at that point, was but a shadow of her later self. Some two years later, we commissioned a short text for art on paper, a magazine we owned, to begin to critically unpack the project. It was the first text written about Woolford in a US magazine. After that, we more or less forgot about her.

Woolford came back into our life this past February when the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit informed us that they had booked Woolford’s Dick’s Last Stand routine to coincide with an exhibition we had curated there titled James Lee Byars: I Cancel All My Works at Death. And in Minneapolis in early July—a month after Woolford performed at Midway Contemporary Art—we heard that Lester Hayes was being cited in conversations about Woolford.

We are critical of Joe’s project, but we aren’t summarily dismissive. Aspects of it bring to the surface essential conditions of the contemporary art experience. These include the scripting of value-producing biographical narratives (e.g. the fetishization of birthplaces, or the pretensions of multi-city residency), the exhuming and critical reevaluation of history, the prop as artwork and the artwork as prop, the exhibition as stage-set, and the combination of all these elements into a performative gesamtkunstwerk that may or may not involve the presence of an actor. Despite the relationship these issues have to our own work, and our appreciation for many of Joe’s other projects, some things just don’t sit right with us here. It is hard to put it in words but we think the problems have to do with context, communication, and commerce.

Let’s start with context. Woolford was conceived in a pedagogical culture (Yale University’s School of Art, where Joe was then teaching) that values aesthetic autonomy over social considerations, as Coco Fusco pointed out in The Brooklyn Rail. Her career was then nurtured by museums and galleries—specifically, Galerie Valentin in Paris, Wallspace in Chelsea—that espouse similar values and promote a certain academic conceptualism that reinforces the aesthetics and cultural values of privilege (a lingering WASP-y penchant for double-speak and understatement?). For this reason alone, the cries of minstrelsy heard from some are likely to haunt this project for years to come. It isn’t simply that this is a white artist ventriloquizing a black-actor-playing-a-black-artist, but rather that this performance is being presented in settings that have, intentionally or not, mostly white audiences. If the project had made its way to the 2014 Whitney Biennial via a different route, the fundamental social and ethical tensions would still be there, but they might have played out differently.

As for the issue of communication: From the start, Joe was cagey with the public about his relationship to Woolford. For her solo debut in Paris, in 2007, the press released noted both that Woolford was “a narrative by Joe Scanlan” and that she had served as his alter-ego for a period of years. But for Woolford’s New York debut the following year, Joe wanted the audience to experience the exhibition without knowing either that she was fictitious or that she was his creation. The press release made no mention of Joe, and when we attended the opening reception he asked that we not shatter the illusion for other attendees. Anyone paying close attention that night would have recognized that something was unusual. For example, as we were chatting with Woolford, trying to break the actor out of character (we couldn’t), she suddenly excused herself and another woman claiming to be Donelle Woolford took her place and continued our conversation. The experience was uncanny, but it wasn’t enough to communicate to a visitor that neither woman was who she said she was, or that they had both been cast by an artist named Joe Scanlan.

Similarly, when the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit booked Woolford for her Richard Pryor routine, its curator of public programs did so through a man named Joe Scanlan, who said he was Woolford’s agent. What the curator, who has a background in music and film, learned about Woolford was that she was an artist participating in the Whitney Biennial, that she was born in Detroit, and that she was doing a national performance tour. Joe didn’t tell him that Woolford herself was an act, and the curator didn’t think to ask.

The reason we find this problematic is that it reinforces rather than effectively critiques codes of behavior based on insider knowledge that are used to accumulate or maintain power, for social and economic benefit. In other words, the Woolford project has two audiences: a club of the initiated who know of the fiction and those who experience it naively—those who are in on the joke and those who are its butt. In that sense, the project divides. Divisive projects aren’t in and of themselves bad—we would agree with the art historian Claire Bishop on that—but projects can divide through open provocation or through the revelation of a deceit, and we think that people, even artists, have an ethical responsibility to commit to their position and own their actions. If you chose deceive, don’t ever let anyone know.

Friends of ours have countered this criticism by pointing to the issue of Aprior magazine published in Belgium in 2007 in which Joe talked with Raimundas Malašauskas about Woolford and was photographed with her, or the article we commissioned in art on paper. The argument is that Joe let the cat was out of the bag long ago and that anyone who did a little research could easily learn the back story. That is true, but our response is that these sources of information are consumed by few—let’s face it, the audience for Aprior magazine in the US is a tiny segment of an already small segment of gallery-goers and people who read certain art magazines. Even within the various art worlds of privilege, there is an invisible velvet rope separating those in the know from those not in the know.

This all begs the commerce question: “Is it OK to monetize deceit?” The obvious answer is no, but this case isn’t so obvious. Those who are buying Woolford’s Richard Prince-like paintings are ostensibly in on the joke. As for everyone else—does it matter?

Triple Candie is a Philadelphia-based entity, run by art historians Shelly Bancroft and Peter Nesbett, that curates and produces exhibitions about art but devoid of it. In 2005, in their Harlem gallery, they presented an exhibition titled Lester Hayes: Selected Work, 1962–1975. The artist was a deceased, bi-racial, post-minimalist sculptor. The art historians are white. The press release and wall texts noted that he was fictional. The gallery discarded the exhibition’s contents during deinstallation.

Hyperallergic’s Hrag Vartanian on Performance Art’s Crossover Year

In conjunction with our series 2013: The Year According to…, we invited Hrag Vartanian, editor-in-chief and co-founder of the New York–based “art blogazine” Hyperallergic, to share his perspective on the year that was. He zeroes in on a key development he noticed last year: performance art blasting into the public consciousness in a new way. […]

800px-Pussy_Riot_by_Igor_Mukhin

Pussy Riot. Photo: Igor Mukhin, Wikipedia

In conjunction with our series 2013: The Year According to…, we invited Hrag Vartanian, editor-in-chief and co-founder of the New York–based “art blogazine” Hyperallergic, to share his perspective on the year that was. He zeroes in on a key development he noticed last year: performance art blasting into the public consciousness in a new way.

Many issues have been on my mind in 2013, including the vast destruction of cultural heritage in Syria, which only seems to be getting worse, the disrespect for Hopi and San Carlos Apaches Katsinam at auction, the rising cost of urban life for artists and cultural workers, and the massive (and frightening) role of state surveillance in the lives of every single person on the planet. All these are very serious issues impacting the creative community, even though it can often feel like there are no easy answers to any of these issues.

Yet 2013 was not only a year of serious challenges and many disasters. As an art critic and blogger, I feel it’s important to remark on one of the most fascinating developments for art in the last year: the evolving nature of performance art.

It has been a long time coming, but 2013 was the year when performance art not only crossed over to the mainstream but made waves around the world in a way it has never done before.

From the Free Pussy Riot movement that helped free the captive singers from a Russian gulag to Marina Abramović’s cult-like institute (not to mention the fact that she inspired JAY Z’s foray into gallery performance art), the terrain for performance art is a boom town of possibilities. Even the Museum of Modern Art’s proposed renovation appears to factor in a larger role for performance in the museum’s programming — something that, in my opinion, is sorely needed.

But this added attention raises some serious questions: will the marriage of celebrity and performance art simply be a way for Hollywood actors to parlay their pop culture fame into seemingly more affluent cache in art, or will it be more? Thankfully, along with the mainstreaming of performance there has been a swell of alternative and indie festivals, like the Brooklyn International Performance Art Festival, to fill the need for experimental projects that don’t require stars sleeping in museum lobbies or televised roasts masquerading as performance art.

No discussion of performance art today would be complete without mentioning Performa, RoseLee Goldberg’s biennial performance brainchild that has done more to develop the form than anything else in the last decade. Goldberg’s work as an art historian, curator, and champion has slowly raised the standards for performance over the course of the last four decades.

The exciting part is that the future is up for grabs in this evolving field.

Frank Gaard: 10 Things About Marcel Duchamp

“The trip I took into the mystic was inspired by Duchamp,” says Minneapolis-based painter Frank Gaard, subject of an early 2012 solo show at the Walker, “as was my sense that language was a medium for visual artists.” In commemoration of today’s 125th anniversary of Marcel Duchamp’s birth, Gaard shares ten musings on the man. […]

“The trip I took into the mystic was inspired by Duchamp,” says Minneapolis-based painter Frank Gaard, subject of an early 2012 solo show at the Walker, “as was my sense that language was a medium for visual artists.” In commemoration of today’s 125th anniversary of Marcel Duchamp’s birth, Gaard shares ten musings on the man.

 
Marcel Duchamp, Étant donnés: 1° la chute d’eau, 2° le gaz d’éclairage… (Given: 1. The Waterfall, 2. The Illuminating Gas…), 1946-66, and The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass), 1915-1923, via the Philadelphia Museum of Art

1. Étant donnés:  I saw this in Philly in 1984; went there to see it, but what really pulled my chain was The Large Glass, which is in the same space. The glass is huge, thick and the images on it look like they are turned to crispy cellophane. The glass is cracked in both the top and bottom sections in the same pattern it was broken in a truck on the way to Brooklyn. Duchamp was cool with that–he was a master of chance.


Marcel Duchamp, In Advance of the Broken Arm, 1964, via MoMa; Frank Gaard, Minneapolis Society of Fine Arts Snowshovel, 1969, courtesy the artist

2. The Snowshovel Stories, In Advance of A Broken Arm When I left Chicago in 1967 I thought I’d never shovel anymore fucking snow! The first thing I remember about landing in Minneapolis was getting a snowshovel from my landlord. The Minneapolis Society of Arts–which was the parent organisation for the MIA children’s theater and the Minneapolis School of Art, my employer–gave me their snowshovel emblazoned with their name in perfect Jasper Johns stenciled majesty! We took a photo of said snowshovel at that time, 1969. A readymade from the landlord!


Marcel Duchamp, Eau & gaz a tous les étages, 1958, via toutfait.com

3. Eau & gaz a tous les étages: A common sign for renters in Paris (days bygone), it reads, “water & gas on every floor.” To wit, modernity, running water, and gas lights in your apartment or studio rental. Paris is wet, dark, and cold in winter.  Jack Burnham, a professor at Northwestern University (Lisa Lyons, ex-WAC curator, studied with Jack ), was a frequent contributor to Artforum magazine, and in the mid-1970’s his essays on Duchamp and mysticism were quite a sensation in the art world. I met him in 1974 and had some correspondence after that time about Duchamp and kabbalah, etc. And, yes, about Duchamp and madness and the Beast (madness, insanity,psychosis), as well. Jack and I both lost our minds in those days. Water and gas for Jack Burnham were two legs of the chair of elements .


Marcel Duchamp, Tu m’, 1918, via the Yale University Art Gallery

4. T um’(1918): Arturo Schwarz–the publisher of the editions of readymades that first were produced in 1964–asked Duchamp if their was a readymade that was a corkscrew (like the image in the painting T  um’). Duchamp said the readymade was not the corkscrew, but rather the corkscrew’s shadow as in the aforementioned painting. This little bit made me feel that uplift only insight gives us–that this shadow of a corkscrew was a readymade, a modern work of art made of a shadow.


Kay Bell Reynal, Marcel Duchamp playing chess in his studio, 1952, via the Smithsonian’s Archive of American Art

5. The whole thing about chess?  Duchamp, like Cezanne before him, wanted art that appealed to the intellect.  As for chess, it’s the battle of wits, non?


Alfred Jarry, undated photo, via Wikipedia

6. Alfred Jarry: I have learned that influence is what creates immortality for an artist. Duchamp’s influence dominated advanced art since at least the 1960’s as Picasso’s influence waned as Duchamp’s star rose. Alfred Jarry is one of the most important influences on Duchamp. You should look into it, mon ami. And Raymond Roussel!

7. The anti-retinal dialectics: Duchamp came of age in the backwash of impressionism and was influenced by it and made young work in various versions of post-impressionist styles. His contempt for retinal art comes after the on set of high modernism. But the dogwaste palette of the cubists became the domain of the non-retinal groups especially Dada and Surrealism. Some of the anti-painting rhetoric originates in the bias against primary and secondary colors in favor of black, grey, and Calvin Klein beige du jour.

Marcel Duchamp, Paysage fautif [Faulty Landscape], 1946, via Artnet

8. Paysage fautif: This is a self-portrait he made for his lover in South America with whom he had a daughter. The medium is semen on book ends.


Scanned book page, courtesy Frank Gaard

9.  His obsession with marriage. The bride and the bachelors: My favorite photo is Duchamp’s first bride, an heir to a motor car fortune who was rather plump. Duchamp’s pals were quite amused that thin-as-a-pencil Marcel had taken a fat, rich wife. It didn’t work out too many chess games.


Marcel Duchamp, Fountain, 1917, via Wikipedia

10. The late reception: The show in the Pasadena Art Museum organized by Walter Hopps (1963) was the largest show of his work to that moment. The influence of Duchamp on the artists in the LA Basin was huge. Think about all that follows from his art there and elsewhere. And his modesty! In some ways it seemed as if he didn’t fully appreciate the stir he caused. I remember my father seeing R. Mutt for the first time in the Art Institute of Chicago, laughing, his laugh echoing through the huge galleries. Maybe we art types should remember that a good laugh is a good thing!

Adam Smith’s Advice on the Future, trans. from the Scottish by Janaki Ranpura

  Dear people of the new millennium, I have seen your dystopian films like Bladerunner and the one with that rich American, Christopher Lloyd, and so I argue for you to consider a contrary possibility: the future is smashing! If you have a chance to go there, seize it! Carpe diem posterum! Seize the behind […]

Photo: Gene Pittman

 

Dear people of the new millennium,

I have seen your dystopian films like Bladerunner and the one with that rich American, Christopher Lloyd, and so I argue for you to consider a contrary possibility: the future is smashing! If you have a chance to go there, seize it! Carpe diem posterum! Seize the behind of tomorrow! I can understand it might not be for everybody, but if you have a keen curiosity about — well, mostly about yourself — I think you’ll be very pleased. You’ll find people still like your book. And they like you! They really do! I think it is very possible that human beings are devolving into increasingly unsavory forms, so that people from the past seem quite sophisticated. You will find, too, that whatever time travel in a microwave has done for the tattiness of your clothes, you will still be better dressed than everyone else. I would not recommend shopping. You will find that, in the future, nothing out there is microwave-safe anymore.

You will find yourself kept in a clean institution where people come and visit you. In my experience, they sometimes grab you firmly by the rod under your skirt and shake your hands all over the place. This causes my eyes to roll from the unexpected feeling of vivacity, as if I were put on this earth for exactly this sort of interaction.

I auditioned for my place in the clean institution. I think it might be increasingly rapacious disaster capitalism that results in the shortage of beds in public facilities. At any rate, when I auditioned for a spot, I unexpectedly found myself blubbering and wanting to go to the mall, as if I were a tween again. I think this was due to two factors:

1) the prolonged infancy of today’s largely unemployed American adults has exerted a subconscious influence on me, and

2) I have 230 years of repressed disappointment that comes out under pressure.

Perceive my disillusion. You imagine people have grasped what you’re on about and after 700 pages you’ve put it as succintly as it will go, but they just reduce it even further to buzzwords, “memes,” “tropes” that grow only toward the fire of ignorance and not toward the sun of enlightenment. Who can unfasten the fetters of the fully functioning Free Market? When will the Socialist Tyrant unclench his grasp on the Invisible Hand?

I am not entirely blaming Marx. I understand history and masses of inadequately educated men have perverted his ideas to at least the same degree that they have perverted mine. He is as much responsible for today’s inefficient healthcare and virtually Byzantine pension systems as I am for zero job growth, protectionist subsidies, and the Eurozone. The problem, as we see it, is Twitter-feed.

The citizenry is creating a tide of verbiage to rival the most stalwart pressmen, so inevitably some trickle of it leaks into a position of authority. This is free press in the way that the United States practices the free market — this is your mom throwing the whole family’s laundry at you and inviting you to pair your socks. As an added benefit, you get to see everyone else’s laundry! Mother, can you please just pair the socks and leave them in the drawer so I can get on to the part of the day when I go to the coffeehouse and eat pasties?

Not that I want to be out there all the time, meeting people. I absolutely do not. I miss the good old days when I only ever met 300 people in my life and 75 of them thought I was a smart guy. Because I am. They could see that. I’m no mass marketeer wearing mouse ears and big yellow shoes. Except for the yellow shoes.

Okay, it’s easy to complain about the present, which is as close as we’re ever going to get to the future. Actually, it’s been topping working with such titillatingly intelligent and globally insightful people as Pedro Reyes and Vicente Pouso. And I never once in my life thought I’d be opening for Michael Hardt and Lauren Berlant — they are rock star philosophers. A bit like me but much, much more popular. I really enjoyed reading some of Marx’s trifles in order to engage him in witty combat throughout the film shooting. It’s great fun to read essays then go in the garden and shout at someone about them.

I hope your futures are lucky enough to hold such entertainments.

sincerely cheerio,

Adam Smith

————————

Janaki Ranpura is one of two puppeteers who collaborated with Pedro Reyes on Baby Marx. She builds nomadic structures for public interactions. As a designer, she values intimacy and mobility. She unites technology with the traditional stagecraft of puppet theater. Projects evolve from her experience as a performer, a community artist, and a designer for parades and stage.

Ranpura recieved training at the Lecoq School in France, has worked with Shadowlight Productions and Heart of the Beast Theatre, and studied at Yale University. She has received fellowships through the Playwrights’ Center, Northern Lights MN, Pillsbury House Theatre, Heart of the Beast Theatre, and Forecast Public Art. The international association UNIMA has awarded her a Citation of Excellence for her puppet work. She is a recipient of a 2011 Henson Foundation Seed Grant for new work.

See more at her website.

Baby Marx Town Hall: Who Will Survive In America?

Baby Marx Town Hall: Saturday, August 13 at 2pm. As a part of the forthcoming exhibition Baby Marx, which opens on Thursday, August 11, the Walker is collaborating with the University of Minnesota Political Science department to host a Town Hall-style debate that explores some of the issues embedded within the project, loosely inspired by Gil […]

Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels puppets during installation. Photo: Gene Pittman

Baby Marx Town Hall: Saturday, August 13 at 2pm.

As a part of the forthcoming exhibition Baby Marx, which opens on Thursday, August 11, the Walker is collaborating with the University of Minnesota Political Science department to host a Town Hall-style debate that explores some of the issues embedded within the project, loosely inspired by Gil Scott-Heron’s “Comment #1″ . Moderator and event co-organizer Ben Ansell of the University of Minnesota’s Political Science Department gives more detail about the event.

“The Baby Marx Town Hall asks ‘Who Will Survive in America?’, re-animating the debate over the merits of capitalism that has been fought for centuries between the proponents of Adam Smith and the followers of Karl Marx. Inspired by artist Pedro Reyes’ re-imagination of the seminal figures of political economy – Adam Smith, Karl Marx, John Maynard Keynes, Mao Tse-Tung and others – the Town Hall asks whether the great motivating questions about how the economy does work, and should work, remain the same today, centuries later. In a world of debt ceilings and debt crises, mass affluence and massive inequality, how much have things really changed? And who wins and loses in contemporary American and global capitalism?

Walker guests are invited to join the audience and to ask pointed questions to debaters Professor Joel Waldfogel of the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management, and Antonio Vazquez-Arroyo of the University of Minnesota’s Political Science Department. As moderator, I will ask the debaters to explore the workings of contemporary capitalism.

The town hall has three sections, building from the personal to the global. The first section – The Personal – examines the ‘lived experience’ of capitalism and communism. Here the participants look at the interplay between family, work, and the free market. The second section – The National – examines the consequences of capitalism – and the promise or threat of socialism – for the American economy and American society. The third section – The Global – looks at both the promises and perils of global capitalism, focusing on the unique role of China as an allegedly communist country thriving in a capitalism global economy.”

The Baby Marx Town Hall event is presented by the Walker Art Center in conjunction with the Political Science Department of the University of Minnesota. The event begins at 2pm Saturday, August 13th.

Participant Bios:

Ben Ansell is Assistant Professor in Political Science at the University of Minnesota and is the author of From the Ballot to the Blackboard: The Redistributive Political Economy of Education.

Antonio Vazquez-Arroyo is Assistant Professor in Political Science at the University of Minnesota and is the author of dozens of articles on post-colonialism, imperialism, and neo-liberalism and is currently finishing his book manuscript entitled Scenes of Responsibility: Power and Suffering in a Post-Political Age.

Joel Waldfogel is Frederick R. Kappel Chair in Applied Economics at the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota, and is the author of Scroogenomics: Why You Shouldn’t Buy Presents for the Holidays and The Tyranny of the Market: Why You Can’t Always Get What You Want.

Troublemaker Invades Walker Art Center!!!

Okay, look out you current tenant artworks, there’s a new absentee landlord in town, me. And I’m not going for rent control. Sure, the trustees left a security deposit of the permanent collection but I want to clean house, reward troublemakers, and invite crashers.  Aren’t all curators landlords who allow fine art to live together […]

John Waters in the Walker galleries

Okay, look out you current tenant artworks, there’s a new absentee landlord in town, me. And I’m not going for rent control. Sure, the trustees left a security deposit of the permanent collection but I want to clean house, reward troublemakers, and invite crashers.  Aren’t all curators landlords who allow fine art to live together in a sublet for a while and be uneasy roommates? Or is it closer to a dictatorship where I can order eviction by deaccession if they talk back, balk at my orders or fail to entice enough public comment?

Are prints, sculptures, paintings and photographs relieved to be in museum storage where they don’t have to shine, “art-off”, risk exposure to light? Or are they happy when they have to “work”? Get along with each other in public? Hear sometimes stupid comments from hostile museum-going amateurs? Publicly humiliate themselves by being forced to live up to their auction prices?

Who should room together in the world of contemporary art? Can a Russ Meyer photograph go to sleep in the same gallery as an Yves Klein blue chip masterpiece?  Certainly, Sturtevant is secure enough to be hated, but is Anne Truitt?  Video art has “street cred” these days but can it ever catch up with a John Currin painting in art-history references, even if they’re embraced and mocked? Who’d copy from Richard Prince? Who’d be sloppier to live with than Mike Kelley? And better yet, who’d ruin decoration more than Christopher Wool?  Suppose an “art-terrorist” like Gregory Green was hiding amongst us? Do we snitch or shiver in welcome artistic fear? Would Fred Sandback approve of the damage his fellow roommates have caused or would he think they were trying too hard?

Can artwork sexually attract each other? Does minimalism make pop horny?  Does pornography elevated to high art lose its erotic power? Does size matter or can a tiny joke compete with a maximalist icon?  Can art ever be “funny” without losing academic enthusiasm?  Would Fischli/Weiss and Roman Signer fight over who’s more droll?  More Swiss? And even more importantly, if all these works had to live together would Carl Andre ever be able to laugh?

Maybe the entire museum-going experience is in need of intervention. Why is there no art in the parking lot? Wouldn’t a symphony of car crash sound effects remind visitors not to drink too much and drive home after an opening? And shouldn’t the public know how much this show cost? Why not display all the expense receipts (shipping, insurance, construction) in a vitrine like artistic ephemera and let the museum-goers snoop at the endless price of exhibition? Who says simple sculptural vandalism somewhere in the building make the whole experience of visiting an art museum sexier? And what if the blue-plate special being served in the restaurant is a photograph rather than an actual meal—isn’t that nutrition of a different kind? Can “art talk” that often infuriates the public go even further on the Walker’s “Art on Call” and become so ludicrously abstract that the listener suddenly understands? And finally, can I, the new landlord, be tyrannical enough to include a small number of my own works in the show if it makes a few members of the permanent collection blush or feel over-privileged? After all, “getting along” is the enemy of contemporary art, isn’t it?

Absentee Landlord opens June 11.

Joseph Cornell and White Magic

After a recent visit to the Walker,  Kari Adelaide Razdow, an EdD candidate in Interdisciplinary Studies at Columbia University’s Teachers College/Department of Arts and Humanities, wrote the commentary below.   In his book Towards a Philosophy of Photography, media philosopher Vilém Flusser emphasizes how “the significance of images is magical,” and that “the magical nature of images must be […]

"Untitled," circa 1968, by Joseph Cornell

After a recent visit to the Walker,  Kari Adelaide Razdow, an EdD candidate in Interdisciplinary Studies at Columbia University’s Teachers College/Department of Arts and Humanities, wrote the commentary below.  

In his book Towards a Philosophy of Photography, media philosopher Vilém Flusser emphasizes how “the significance of images is magical,” and that “the magical nature of images must be taken into account when decoding them.”  While the word “magical” is nuanced with an array of slippery interpretive possibilities, Flusser’s utterances on magic and the image provides illuminating possibilities when examining the work of Joseph Cornell, currently on view at the Walker Art Center.

With an affinity for systematic cosmic abstractions and metaphorical realms, Cornell believed that his art objects embodied elements of “white magic” which counter-balanced the black magic tendencies that he suspected implicitly and darkly lurked within many Surrealist works of art. Cornell’s first solo museum show took place at the Walker Art Center in 1953, and the current Event Horizon exhibition in its galleries allows for a glimpse at his imaginative chambers of constellation shadowboxes, moon-and-starlet obsessed film montage, and lyrical dreamscapes of collage; these Surrealist shards of ephemera allow for a tracing of Cornell’s idealistically suspended and otherworldly representations of reality.

Visually, the crisp idiosyncratic brightness seen within Cornell’s work perhaps does lie in stark contrast to the seductively unstable wisps of chaos often seen within Surrealist art (for example, in Max Ernst’s eerie landscapes).  Even the poet and artist Mina Loy, Cornell’s compatriot, lauded his “hocus-pocus at play with dimension,” which she said awakened a viewer to the sublime, towards white magic.  In the early 1930s, Mina Loy asserted how “’People who get mixed up with black magic do suddenly look like death’s heads’… (Max Ernst looked like ‘a skull with ligaments still attached with the false eyes of an angel.’)  The Surrealists were, she thought, ‘expressive out of the cauldron over which a wizard hangs’.”

Overall, the Surrealist cauldron of chaos presented an experiment-at-play to somehow illuminate the  unconscious, and perhaps for Cornell, representing chaos alone was not a luminous endpoint for a visual manifestation of the unconscious or image magic.

(Note: Midnight Party, a Walker exhibition opening March 19, borrows its title from a Cornell work included in the show, the four-minute film The Midnight Party.)


Works Cited:

Burke, Carolyn.  Becoming Modern, The Life of Mina Loy, p. 380.  New York:  Farrar Straus and Giroux, 1996.

Flusser, Vilém.  Towards a Philosophy of Photography, p. 9.  London: Reaktion Books, 2000.

Loy, Mina.  The Last Lunar Baedeker, p.302.  Ed. Roger L. Conover.  The Jargon Society, Inc., 1982.

An image from "Joseph Cornell," the 1953 Walker Art Center exhibition and the artist's first solo museum show

Digging In: Aaron Spangler on “Government Whore” and other sculptures

Artist Aaron Spangler recounts his inspiration for the carved and painted basswood sculptures currently featured in the exhibition The Spectacular of Vernacular. Spangler, whose work is shown at the Galerie Michael Janssen in Berlin and at Horton Gallery in New York City, lives 20 miles outside of Park Rapids, Minnesota, on 150 acres of land. “These […]

"Government Whore," 2009-2010

Artist Aaron Spangler recounts his inspiration for the carved and painted basswood sculptures currently featured in the exhibition The Spectacular of Vernacular. Spangler, whose work is shown at the Galerie Michael Janssen in Berlin and at Horton Gallery in New York City, lives 20 miles outside of Park Rapids, Minnesota, on 150 acres of land.

“These three sculptures came into focus while I was digging a hole for my friend Bruce. We were hand-digging an addition to his underground house, which is a classic piece of hippie back-to-the-lander architecture. As happens when people are toiling with shovels, stories broke to the surface throughout the day, many of which we’ve told to each other before in the course of our 25-year friendship. But this time, Bruce’s narratives about the time following the Vietnam War, during which he moved to the woods and built his homestead, found a different hook in my imagination.

I had been working on an epic twenty-foot-long piece, carving out burrows and protective islands of rural isolation, and I was thinking about how and why young Americans turned to the woods in search of a more meaningful, self-directed life—and how that was mirrored in the western migration of the early pioneers. Bruce started talking about a group of young hippies in Oregon during the 1970s who were living an extremely primitive hunter-gatherer life in the federal forest. When two “shaman” came to join the tribe, they proved disruptive to the sexist arrangement of the commune–women doing women’s work only, the men hunting, and so on–so they were beheaded.  The National Guard then decided to take the tribe out of the forest, and a gun battle ensued. All this is just to say that I had a plan for the piece, but it was at that moment too sensational and not yet detailed, and then I find myself digging a hole for Bruce, a Vietnam vet still trying to find his way forward. Adding onto his bunker by digging out one wheelbarrow-load of dirt after another, we were just working to make things a little more comfortable, putting in a kitchen sink drain so that he could get rid of the buckets. A song that he had written during the first Gulf War kept going through my head: “Government Whore.” Around the campfire it was the song that always seemed to shut the party down, like the sudden bright lights of a bar at closing time. ”

Bruce Brummitt

Listen to an MP3 of Bruce singing “Government Whore” — a field recording made recently by Michael Dagen at Abandoned Scout Camp in Hewitt, Minnesota. Lyrics:

“I spent two years on a foreign shore
Bein’ a government whore
Sold my body, they stole my mind
Told me, “Boy, now you’re mine.”

Those two years ‘neath the southern cross
Turned out to be my country’s loss
Kill commies for Christ, the Chaplain told me
As I prayed on a wounded knee.

Cuz,’Might makes right, can’t you see boy?’
It’s ‘Our country tis of thee, boy’
But killin’ people to set ‘em free … boy,
Seemed like fuckin’ for virginity.

What do you know when you’re only 18
Twelve years of school’s the only life you’ve ever seen
Always taught from government books
Always caught in propaganda’s hooks

So I moved to the woods, where I tried to forget
I had to admit I just didn’t fit
I fight the war most nights in my dreams
I wake myself to the sound of my own screams

But the country didn’t seem to learn from our mistake
We’re still fightin’ wars for big money’s sake
Yellow ribbons decorate our stores
We all have become the government’s whores

What do we learn when we watch our televisions?
We’re lettin’ other people make all of our decisions
Our name’s on the government’s books
We’re all caught in propaganda’s hooks…”

Time Out New York review of Aaron Spangler: Government Whore at Horton Gallery in 2010

Artforum review of Spangler’s 2007 show at the Zach Feuer Gallery

"To the Valley Below," 2009-10

"I Owe My Soul to the Company Store," 2009-10

Thoughts on the art of Tino Sehgal now that we have some perspective

Can writing do justice to the art of Tino Sehgal, or should we only make utterances? How do we preserve Sehgal’s work, or is there nothing to preserve — only an endless series of originals? Even after three months, there are still so many questions: Is this good? New? Propaganda? In 1956, the Situationist Guy […]

Can writing do justice to the art of Tino Sehgal, or should we only make utterances? How do we preserve Sehgal’s work, or is there nothing to preserve — only an endless series of originals? Even after three months, there are still so many questions: Is this good? New? Propaganda?

In 1956, the Situationist Guy Debord called out for an “ educative propaganda,” on account of “ the emergence of productive forces that necessitate other production relations and a new practice of life….that must encompass all the perpetually interacting aspects of social reality.” Who knew such serious education could be so funny? So tongue-in-cheek? Though, physical comedy has always been a social leveler.

And it takes up space, which makes it sculptural, where “ we mold and shape the world in which we live” (Joseph Beuys). Not unlike planting thousands of trees or moving a mountain of sand. Only without the trees and without the mountain of sand.

selection from Cuando la fe mueve montañas (When Faith Moves Mountains)

Yet, we are not deserted. All is not lost. Between production and de-production, between absence and presence, between object and viewer, between you and me, an endless reverberation. A (sub)liminal sublime.

The way you keep singing the song you woke up with in your head. The way each movement can be broken down and put back together. The way you know what this is before I even have to tell you. It’s not a headline but a broadcast–a conditioned choreography in which the audience is on/in demand.

Your attention need not be long, but should you accept the invitation — should you give of yourself the time and place — you will see this is not a “ dance problem,” per se, like a man bouncing in the corner. It isn’t even about the not-so-hidden camera rolling on the floor. No, it has to do with something more sustaining.

Bruce Nauman, “ Bouncing in the Corner,” 1968 (3)Dan Graham, “ Roll,” 1970 (3)Mel Chin, Revival Field, 1991-1994 (2)

In a 2001 interview, the artist Mel Chin described his remediation project Revival Field (1991-94)–a Superfund site-specific work that took place at Pig’s Eye Landfill on the outskirts of St. Paul, Minnesota–as “ driven by some kind of poetry. That poetry of plants having the capacity to transform a system…[yet it] was also driven by pragmatism. I think you have to have both.”

What is the poetry of Tino Sehgal? What is the pragmatism? The answers are in the questions, I think, but they are also between the lines. And what we will be left with, what will remain, will soon blend into the landscape and be invisible, but still here.

Images:

Joseph Beuys, La rivoluzione siamo Noi, 1972, phototype on polyester ink, ink stamp; edition 7/180. Published by Modern Art Agency, Naples, and Edition Tangente, Heidelberg. Alfred and Marie Greisinger Collection, Walker Art Center, T.B. Walker Acquisition Fund, 1992

Francis Alÿs, selection from Cuando la fe mueve montañas (When Faith Moves Mountains), 2002-2003, acrylic, graphite, masking tape on vellum. Collection Walker Art Center, T.B. Walker Acquisition Fund, 2004

Bruce Nauman, Bouncing In The Corner, 1968, Video. Collection Walker Art Center, T.B. Wlaker Acquisition Fund, 2002

Dan Graham, Roll, Filming Process, 1970, Super-8. Courtesy of Andre Goeminnie Collection, Nazareth, Belgium

Mel Chin, Revival Field, 1991-1994, Pig’s Eye Landfill, St. Paul, Minnesota. Courtesy greenmuseum.org

Cameron Jamie: Misandrist or lost boy?

Minneapolis painter Frank Gaard, who last shared his perspectives on the Walker Expansion and our Kiki Smith exhibition, returns to guest-blog on Cameron Jamie. This is very a strange exhibition. At first I was put off by the touchie-feely faux Pierre Alechinsky drawings–so many of them, too. My companion tells me that Jamie is based […]

6127600.jpgMinneapolis painter Frank Gaard, who last shared his perspectives on the Walker Expansion and our Kiki Smith exhibition, returns to guest-blog on Cameron Jamie.

This is very a strange exhibition. At first I was put off by the touchie-feely faux Pierre Alechinsky drawings–so many of them, too. My companion tells me that Jamie is based in Paris but comes from Los Angeles, which is a good clue given the huge cultural disparity betwixt the two locations. The wrestling video put me off: more men are bad, men are stupid etc. Misandristry, it’s like the layup rather than the three pointer. Men as a gender have been taking a beating for decades, and in general some of us deserve it, but short of Paul McCarthy I haven’t seen this much man-bashing in a while. And, too, the ethnocentricity of the work (forgive me for being so 90’s), I think it would be nice to leave Joseph Beuys and his crew forgotten for a time, leave the hares be and let the dead painters have their delusions.

It’s not to say that I didn’t find things in the exhibition that were entertaining and beautiful; it may just be I’m getting old and less hip. (Hey, I still think Mike Kelley is a young artist!) Besides who am I to question the wisdom of the cognoscenti who deem Mr. Jamie the flavor of the moment? I do like the Cave which has to be the creepiest sculpture I’ve ever experienced–the darkess and the texture of that plastic building material–ugh!–and those creepy bird pics. It’s that Gothic thing that Paris has in spades, all those spikey gargoyles and the whole sort of Baudelairian dankness. Icky, I felt great urgency to get out of that thing and back to the sweet comfort of the black guard who gave me the too-dim lantern in the first place. I wanted to warn some children but, hey, if mom and dad want them to experience something that weird, it’s none of my business. But I have to admire Jamie’s chutzpah to make such an unhappy sculpture. This is one of the cases where I really understand why I am so puzzled by sculpture. It’s good sick fun but is that all there is, mon ami?

The outsourced portraits, created at Jamie’s direction by street artists, of course, I found just sweet as rhubarb pie. And the Goth photos? I do my vacuuming with Marilyn Manson’s music. It’s a genre that’s hard to resist and you know you are listening to something that Dick Cheney thinks is sick. And that maybe the point is that sickness isn’t such an awful thing if it’s cultural rather than physical. The way Los Angeles hits people can be an indicator of an aesthetic proclivity. Many of my most favorite artist comrades are based in Los Angeles; as dystopias go, LA has everything one needs to create an otherness that is still home and horror both. Jamie brings together some very contradictory elements sometimes, as with the big film poster they really kick ass.

Other work: the Halloween photos are so abject that you want to run upstairs to the Arbus show to see what Halloween was really like! But Jamie’s young and when he’s on he’s really a pisser. A small group of photos (what we once called snapshots) of a Michael Jackson impersonator wrestling is a case in point. To me the piece was fabulous–beautiful color and some suspension of ego, like, yes, this is art and I get pleasure here. So what can I say? He’s the sum of his influences, and maybe he has a while to go before he outstrips those influences, but hey that’s just my opinion an artist who works a different beat, who just isn’t all that interested in culture that seems to be marginal by design. After all I have my own technicolor nightmares to contend with. Bon Apetit, it’s what we used to call an acquired taste only I think it’s more raw than cooked.

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