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Scavenger Fun with Lifelike’s “Fixture” Artworks (and Yes, There’s a Prize)

“Fixture: Model 12Y85,” by David Lefkowitz Real life ranges far and wide and happens in unexpected places — so too with the Lifelike exhibition, which includes a number of artworks placed outside the Walker’s galleries, Jonathan Seliger’s milk carton and Robert Therrien’s table-and-chair set being two outsized examples. However, the “fixture model” paintings by David Lefkowitz and […]

“Fixture: Model 12Y85,” by David Lefkowitz

Real life ranges far and wide and happens in unexpected places — so too with the Lifelike exhibition, which includes a number of artworks placed outside the Walker’s galleries, Jonathan Seliger’s milk carton and Robert Therrien’s table-and-chair set being two outsized examples. However, the “fixture model” paintings by David Lefkowitz and ashtray sculptures by Ruben Nusz are not so immediately apparent; not only are these two series of artworks life-sized, but they’ve been distributed throughout the Walker in various nooks and crannies and other unobtrusive places. A natural set-up for a scavenger hunt, yes?

First up is the hunt for Lefkowtiz’s diminutive oil paintings, partly because the artist is giving a free gallery talk  here next Thursday, April 19. Altogether, he installed 21 of these trompe l’oeil works depicting electrical outlets, thermostats, control panels, and other electrical wall fixtures, but we opted to go easy with this first round of clues, below: six of the seven are for the “fixtures”  in the Lifelike galleries. See the FAQ below for details, and watch for the ashtray hunt in early May!

1. One of the works in Lifelike features a somewhat gloomy setting—you could shed some light on it with a lamp “plugged in” to the nearby Fixture: Model #0 1???.

2. Fixture: Model #12S41 appears to be grimy, but it’s nowhere near as gross as the evolving fruit on display above it.

3. A large swath of species from the agaricales: agaricus order directs the eye up and over to Fixture: Model #91SM1.

4. It’s hard to tell, but a woman seems to find Fixture: Model #12RY8 more interesting than her offspring.

5. If you were to plug a toaster into Fixture: Model #12F72, a nearby work has something that could make use of it.

6. Could Fixture: Model #12KT7 be an emergency control panel for the adjacent artwork?

7. Fixture: Model #12PS1 is well-camouflaged by real-life counterparts in the Cargill Lounge.


SCAVENGER HUNT FAQ

WHAT is the the prize?
A $25 gift card for the Walker Shop.

WHO’s eligible to win?
Those who correctly locate all seven artworks will be entered in a drawing.

HOW do I enter?
Write a detailed description of the location for each artwork, or send photos that either identify the individual pieces or show their location.

WHERE do I send my entry?
Email it to chyna.bounds@walkerart.org or tweet it to @walkerartcenter with hashtag #lifelike.

WHEN? By Friday, April 27.

 

From the Archives: Jud Nelson’s Hefty 2-Ply

On view through May 27 as a part of Lifelike, the 1,500-pound Hefty 2-Ply made quite a splash when it first landed at the Walker in 1981.  The Walker commissioned Jud Nelson in 1979 to make a piece for its permanent collection; it took nearly two years to carve it from marble. Known for his depictions of everyday […]

On view through May 27 as a part of Lifelike, the 1,500-pound Hefty 2-Ply made quite a splash when it first landed at the Walker in 1981. 

"Hefty 2-Ply" on view as part of "Lifelike" (with Rudolph Stingel’s oil painting "Untitled (after Sam)," from 2006.

The Walker commissioned Jud Nelson in 1979 to make a piece for its permanent collection; it took nearly two years to carve it from marble. Known for his depictions of everyday items — Shirts IV: Van Heusen and Chair are also part of the Walker collection — the artist opted to make a garbage bag bursting with familiar throwaways from the latter half of the 20th century.

Nelson at work on "Hefty 2-ply" in his New York Studio, 1980.

He started by roughing out its form from Italian Carrera marble, using a hammer and chisel, then refined the piece with rotary grinders and finished the details with dental drills fitted with diamond bits. Several items, including products from Coca-Cola, General Electric, and Kitty Klean, date the sculpture to a distinct period and are all identifiable — by the artist, at least — within its bulges and wrinkles.

The artist installing his work in July, 1981.

Nelson, an alumnus of Bethel College and the University of Minnesota, was on hand to install Hefty 2-Ply in Gallery 7 (now the Medtronic Gallery), and the sculpture was unveiled in a special ceremony as part of the Walker’s 10th  anniversary celebration of its Barnes building on July 12, 1981.

Cartoon from the "Minneapolis Star," July 16, 1981

More than 12,000 people showed up for the festivities — some 8,000 more than were anticipated — and Hefty 2-Ply‘s debut stirred up further press and interest, such as this cartoon from the Minneapolis Star.

At the Walker's 10th anniversary celebration

As with so many of the painstaking replicas in Lifelike, the realism of Hefty 2-Ply has a special kind of allure. And while it’s tempting to touch – alas, the the usual museum rules apply to this favorite Walker artwork. 

 

 

“I’ll be the judge of that”: John Waters on the power of — and hatred for — contemporary art

Gallery view of “Absentee Landlord,” with works by Claes Oldenburg, Gedi Sibony, Scott Burton, and Marlene McCarty. All photos by Cameron Wittig. Filmmaker and pop culture provocateur John Waters has played many roles in his career, but never that of curator until now. At the invitation of the Walker, he enacted a “curatorial intervention” in […]


Gallery view of “Absentee Landlord,” with works by Claes Oldenburg, Gedi Sibony, Scott Burton, and Marlene McCarty. All photos by Cameron Wittig.

Filmmaker and pop culture provocateur John Waters has played many roles in his career, but never that of curator until now. At the invitation of the Walker, he enacted a “curatorial intervention” in one of its current collection exhibitions and the result, Absentee Landlord, is infused with his trademark blend of subversion, wit, and insight. Walker curator Betsy Carpenter recently spoke with Waters about his lifelong interest in art and his own photographic practice.

Betsy Carpenter
Most people coming to the exhibition will know you as a filmmaker and a writer, but fewer will know that you are an avid collector of contemporary art. Since this is your first foray as a curator here at the Walker, would you give us a little background?

John Waters
I bought the first piece in my collection when I was maybe eight years old. I went to the Baltimore Museum of Art, and in the gift shop they had for probably a dollar a print of a work by Miró. I remember I loved it and took it home and put it in my bedroom, and all my friends went, “Ew, that’s horrible, why would you hang that ugly thing?” And I realized the great power that contemporary art has. I still have that piece and it really looks real because it’s so old and it’s in this old frame. It’s the only fake I have in my whole house but it was the first thing in my collection, so I like to think of it as real.

Carpenter
Do you remember what it was about the Miró that struck you?

Waters
Well, I wasn’t looking for compliments. I was just saying to myself that I liked it— and then I was amazed to see how crazy it could make people who couldn’t see what I saw, which was, I guess, art. That was the first time that had ever happened.

Carpenter
Were your parents interested in art?

Waters
Not especially, but we did have big books of classics, of old masters and that kind of stuff. And of course, I always looked at anything with nudity—as a child that was the main thing I wanted to look for in the old masters. We got Life magazine, and at that time it was like getting 100 magazines today. Life made Jackson Pollock famous; I remember reading the article “Is Jackson Pollock the Greatest Living Painter?” and being obsessed by  that. Later, as a teenager, I pretended to be an abstract painter but my work was horrible; I kept none of it. I wanted to be a beatnik—that character that Ric Ocasek played in Hairspray, that’s kind of what I wanted to be. I remember liking Marisol’s work, and I really liked Kienholz a lot. His works were fascinating to me—a little bit dirty and a little bit shocking.

Carpenter
So true, there is definitely a dark side to his work.

Waters
So I was always drawn to that kind of stuff. My parents did not discourage it, but they certainly didn’t love my interests. Before my dad died he used to say to me whenever I would buy something, “You bought that? They saw you coming, boy.” I’ve never even sold one piece I’ve collected in the past, but my dad was the only person I ever would be uncouth enough to show auction prices to—like “See?” I find that really offensive in general, but with my dad I liked doing that and he would laugh.

Carpenter
You are also a photographer. When did your photographic practice start? Was it an extension of your filmmaking?

Waters
Around about 1990, I think, I started doing it for myself, but I didn’t show it to anybody for a while. Before that I had collected contemporary art for a long time. I have a silver Jackie Kennedy print by Warhol and a couple of Lichtensteins that I got in high school. The Jackie was given to me by my girlfriend—it was that long ago. It was $100, which was like $1,000 then. It was a lot. So I did collect art very early, and then I stopped for a long time, and when I finally got a little money from making movies, I started again. I went to every gallery around the late ’80s, and always went to Colin de Land’s gallery, American Fine Arts. I really liked his shows the best. One day Colin just said, “Do you ever paint or anything?” I said, “No, but I have these little photographs.” He said, “What do you mean you have these photographs?” So I did have a  whole body of work already, and I think I had purposefully only showed them to very few people until Colin came down and saw them and he offered me a show.

Carpenter
Do you think you needed to have that support or a certain validation from a gallery to take your work seriously as an artist?

Waters
Oh, yes. Especially for me coming into the art world from show business, something which in America—not so much in Europe but in America—creates this great skepticism.

Carpenter
Let’s go back to talk about what it was about contemporary art that your eightyear- old self who bought the Miró recognized as a power to piss people off.

Waters
Well, Jackson Pollock pissed people off. Then Warhol pissed off all the people that liked Jackson Pollock, which was even more exciting to me. So of course Pop art is what got me hooked. I was very, very obsessed. As a teenager I actually would sneak away to New York on a bus and go see shows. I saw Claes Oldenburg’s Store when it opened originally, and the really early Warhol films, too.

Gallery view of Absentee Landlord, with works by Yves Klein, Eugene Meatyard, Carl Andre, and Russ Meyers

Carpenter
You witnessed key moments, legendary really, of 20th-century art. Today the art of that era has been accepted, even embraced by the general public, whereas back then it wasn’t.

Waters
Oh, it was mostly made fun of. You look at Warhol’s beautiful little soup cans on the walls, the ones that started the whole thing, and they’re so exquisite, and they’re hand-painted, and they were so amazing. And you realize how incredibly radical that was. To me, that’s what the ’60s were, not the Beatles and stuff, but the Warhol years and certainly the larger Pop art  movement and the fashions from Betsey Johnson’s Paraphernalia shop. Warhol certainly was the first ever to put drugs and homosexuality together, which was incredibly radical at the time because gay people were kind of square then, and Andy made them much hipper. I think he began gay liberation, even though he was the kind of gay person who didn’t even fit in that world. I’ve always found the people I’m most attracted to are minorities that can’t fit in their own minority.

Carpenter
So turning to the current moment, do you feel that the contemporary art world today still has that same sort of power to provoke?

Waters
Minimalism used to be the easiest way to infuriate people, but now that they have gotten used to it, it’s lost a little bit of its kick. That doesn’t mean it’s less good, but people have seen it before so they’ve gotten a little more used to it. Contemporary art still can make people crazy, but there is not a new movement. I’ve always wondered what the next generation of rebellion is going to be. When I was younger, it was being juvenile delinquents and beatniks and hippies and punks, and then grunge and rappers, but now what? Well, if you’re a bad boy or girl now you’re a hacker. That is how you rebel, and there is no fashion from hacking except bad posture from sitting in front of your computer. Certainly appropriation — “stealing” to the general public — can still anger people, yes. Some civilians can have great hatred for contemporary art, and that’s why whenever you go to court and have a jury deciding on appropriation, you always lose when you try to explain because they are angry that it’s worth that much in the first place, much less that you “copied.” The jury hates you for liking it and being able to see the art in it.

Carpenter
The idea that somehow artists are swindlers …

Waters
Maybe they are, but is that bad? I can’t stand when people say they’re “artists.” I always say, “Well, I believe that’s up to history to decide.” Or, “I believe I’ll be the judge of that.”

Carpenter
But don’t you consider yourself an artist?

Waters
I don’t call myself that. I say I use photography. I choke on saying I’m an artist because I really believe that is not up to me to decide. Sometimes it’s just easier to say that because you have an art show. But really, my work is hardly like Ansel Adams.’ I’m hardly using photography in that way, so it doesn’t really work to say I’m a photographer either. But when people say that to me, “I’m an artist,” I always do choke a little and think to myself, “Well! We’ll see about that!”

Waters and Carpenter (left) working on “Absentee Landlord” with chief curator Darsie Alexander

Carpenter
One of the benefits of working with you on this exhibition is that you have kept me laughing, and many of the works that you have selected for the show are ironic, even laugh-out-loud funny. But our audience should know that you take the art you collect very seriously. I’m interested in this fine line between seriousness and humor.

Waters
Well, to me contemporary art uses wit, and uses humor a lot, too. I would say Richard Tuttle isn’t funny, but he can use wit in a way that startles you. And I am serious about what I collect, but at the same time I embrace the impenetrability of some art, I embrace the elitism of the art world. I find it humorous because it is a secret club. Art is a magic trick. That somebody can take one thing and just put it here and call it art is a magic trick—if you can see it, and at first you can’t see it. You have to start going to galleries, you have to read, you have to learn about art history. But once you see it, you have that power—and it is power—forever.

Most people are mad that you can see it, and they think you’re lying and being pretentious. To me, pretension is pretending to see something you don’t. Well, I do see it. There is a certain humor about something that takes someone two seconds to draw that maybe goes on auction 30 years later for $10,000,000, but that’s great. That’s the magic trick of art! A lot of the art I like brings out the most unsophisticated thing you can possibly say about art, which is, “My kid could have done that.” And, the thing is, “Well then, stupid, why didn’t he? It just sold for $2,000,000. Who’s the moron?” Or the emperor’s new clothes. To me, well, that is art! If you  can convince somebody that you have fashion when you’re naked, isn’t that what art is? You learn to see something that others can’t.

 

Outtakes from John Waters’ media session for “Absentee Landlord”

This morning John Waters shook hands with a fan at the downtown Minneapolis CVS Pharmacy en route to the Walker, where he appeared in front of Claes Oldenburg’s giant French fries sculpture to shoot a short video welcome for his new exhibition, Absentee Landlord. He then proceeded to the Cargill Lounge, where he charmed a group of media folks […]

"Just Pathetic," yes? John Waters behind a Claes Oldenburg, shot with one of those underpowered iPhone apps.

This morning John Waters shook hands with a fan at the downtown Minneapolis CVS Pharmacy en route to the Walker, where he appeared in front of Claes Oldenburg’s giant French fries sculpture to shoot a short video welcome for his new exhibition, Absentee Landlord. He then proceeded to the Cargill Lounge, where he charmed a group of media folks before leading them on a preview tour of the aforementioned show — his first foray into curating. 

During a post-tour Q&A, his mention of a 1990 exhibition in Los Angeles called Just Pathetic as “one of the greatest contemporary art shows ever” prompted a Google search. Many agree, it would seem; it was the first show curated by Ralph Rugoff, who was until then primarily known as an arts writer. Since then, says the Guardian UK, Rugoff has “shaken up art audiences on both sides of the Atlantic, inspiring them to engage with the kind of puzzling, cerebral work that tends to put off all but the most dedicated of contemporary art aficionados.” Not unlike Waters’ own aim with Absentee Landlord, perhaps … though he noted repeatedly throughout the tour, in so many words, that contemporary art only puts off those who refuse to give it a chance.

Spinning things out a few more degrees: Just Pathetic traveled from L.A. to the legendary American Fine Arts in New York, whose founder, “art dealer and aesthetic provocateur” Colin deLand, was the first to show Waters’ own work in photography (as he notes in an interview in the upcoming Walker magazine, Waters is pretty emphatic about not calling himself an artist).

And now that Rugoff is director of the Hayward Gallery in London, it’s hard not to wonder what Waters’ future holds. He did note during the Q&A that “you can never have too many careers”; and he has, after all, just returned to the States from the 54th Venice Biennale, where he was one of the jurors who awarded artists on June 4. Of that experience, he singled out Swedish artist Klara Lidén, whom he and the other jurors gave a special mention to for her Untitled, (Trashcan) installation — a piece he didn’t think much of until he later saw some trash cans lined up along a beach elsewhere in Venice. He and the other jurors commended her work for  “its wit and rage, as well as its ability to bring the logic of public intervention into the museum space.”

Another item too amusing not to mention: Waters — a collector with his own very astute sense for art’s monetary value — recalled looking at wall labels for artworks with his dearly departed friend Divine, whom he said would note the names of the collectors and start plotting a home robbery. “That’s why those labels say ‘Private Collection’!” he explained.

View from Inside: Chris Larson’s Unnamed

The Walker’s Cargill Lounge is currently altered by a site-specific installation by artist Chris Larson, part of The Spectacular of Vernacular. Looming and curious, the nature of the piece invites viewers to contemplate its function. Certainly there are common inquiries that arise. And there are remarks that run in similar sentiments to one another. Artist-specified solitary experiences […]

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The Walker’s Cargill Lounge is currently altered by a site-specific installation by artist Chris Larson, part of The Spectacular of Vernacular. Looming and curious, the nature of the piece invites viewers to contemplate its function. Certainly there are common inquiries that arise. And there are remarks that run in similar sentiments to one another. Artist-specified solitary experiences monitored by Visitor Services staff reveal other, more personal responses to the structure. Quiet observations rooted in visitors’ past are often brought forth by the very scent of the wood. One woman stood near the structure quietly recalling childhood time spent with her carpenter father. Memories of shop classes and kids’ forts are commonly revived after experiencing this work that Larson calls Unnamed. Other observations stem from a feeling that took over while inside the structure. A Hong Kong resident talked about the peacefulness inside, reminded all the while of quiet time spent at islands near his home. (See other views here and here.)

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Someone else described ascending the stairs and walking west toward the window as a parallel to birth and moving through one’s life to the unknown. Another observer denoted the dupes the piece put her through, finally acknowledging she can’t get to heaven through the back door, due to being stopped by the glass. “Totally deflated I walk back down the fake sunny non-sunned stairs,” she wrote. Yet another remarked at that same visual perspective by denoting “If those dots [regarding the dots on the glass] weren’t there, I swear I could just walk off into nothingness.” There are other sentiments expressed that have more to do with the installation’s state of being, a favorite of which is, “This reminds me of being in a barn after a tornado went through. Beautiful, smells wonderful, and…scary.”

Unnamed is on view through May 8.

Deborah Meyer is a photographer based in Minneapolis, MN and Merida, Yucatan who also maintains a part time position at Walker Art Center, the two vantage points being her inspiration and source for observation-making at Chris Larson’s Unnamed.

“Peace or misery”: The making of a Sol LeWitt wall drawing

  “The draftsman and the wall enter a dialogue. The draftsman becomes bored but later through this meaningless activity finds peace or misery. The lines on the wall are the residue of this process. Each line is as important as each other line. All of the lines become one thing. The viewer of the lines […]

 

“The draftsman and the wall enter a dialogue. The draftsman becomes bored but later through this meaningless activity finds peace or misery. The lines on the wall are the residue of this process. Each line is as important as each other line. All of the lines become one thing. The viewer of the lines can see only lines on a wall. They are meaningless. That is art.”

—Sol LeWitt, 1971 

Over the years, Sol LeWitt developed relationships with a cadre of assistants that he trusted to create his wall drawings — or more precisely, to carry out his legendary instructions for making them. Among them are Sachi Cho and Chip Allen, who cane to the Walker last November to install three wall drawings in the Walker collection; they’re part of the exhibition Sol LeWitt: 2D+3D, on view through April 24. Working with them were two members of the Walker’s installation crew, John Vogt and Loren Smith. Over several weeks, the quartet clocked some 525 hours in the Friedman Gallery, drawing lines, holding a straight edge while someone else drew lines, cleaning up drawn lines, sharpening leads for to draw more lines, and once in a while taking breaks from drawing lines.

Recently, John and Loren reviewed images below showing the installation of two of the drawings, taken by Walker photographer Gene Pittman. Here they weigh in on the whole process from start to finish: interpreting LeWitt’s directives, working with his master draftspersons, dealing with the aforementioned “peace or misery,” and more.

  

Loren: Sachi and John worked on Wall Drawing #9 A [at left above], which was made with all graphite. For Wall Drawing #9 B [at right], Chip and I drew one layer of graphite and then drew primary colors over it. This subtle difference in materials made a huge difference in our working conditions. The colored leads are more forgiving than the dark graphite ones, so lines made with those required more going back.

John:   It’s also important to note how these wall drawings really don’t register in pictures— you have to be in the gallery to see them.
Loren: Up close you can see the tiny imbalances in the lines, further back things look even and precise, and at the distance in this photo they kind of merge into a single, very subtle color.

 

John: This was on the end of one of the walls where we were drawing. It’s not part of the artwork, but is a practice area. We needed a place to practice how to shift from one draftsperson to another in drawing the same line, to see how that transition would look. You need to get the weight of the line right so there’s no apparent difference.

Loren: This testing space was also important because each wall is different, depending on how it’s prepped: what kind of paint was used, and how much it was diluted.

Primary materials: Staedtler two-millimeter drafting leads, both colored and plain graphite. (above and below)  

John: This is the supply table and work area. We also used this green paper to protect the wall after it’s been drawn on. Drafting tape was also used extensively, because it doesn’t leave a residue. You’ll also notice the bundles of red leads: We created drawing tools by taping together three leads with two shorter leads as spacers in between them. It makes the process more efficient, as you can draw three lines at once. Sachi and Chip have fine-tuned this with years of practice—they found that if you use any more than three leads it becomes hard to apply the right amount of pressure. Other technicians have developed their own methods over the years.

Above: Chip Allen and Loren Smith

John: After the wall was prepped, we used drafting tape to mark off the edges for the drawing are, and the cash-register receipt paper on the outside edge was used for marking measurements. It took us a day just to do those measurements, which are like mile-markers to help in checking on your work. The idea was to get approximately nine lines in an inch, but it was amazing to see how far off course you could get with measurements this small.

Loren: You get a regular rhythm going in doing this work, and it involves regular breaks. Resting is as important as drawing; this work becomes physically intense, and your body needs a break.

John: But it’s not like we were totally resting – most of the time, during breaks you’re sharpening leads at the work table.

Loren: So much of what LeWitt was after was not the finished piece, but the concept of the piece. So looking at these pictures of us working, seeing his concept for a wall drawing being carried out, is in some ways closer to his intention. Chip has worked on hundreds of these pieces, and he said that the instructions are really the art—and the act of carrying them out. Apparently LeWitt never actually saw all results of all of his instructions carried out. And he knew people could do them in their own homes, or on a wall anywhere – they just wouldn’t have the original instructions.

Above: Sachi Cho and John Vogt

John: This work becomes intense. Keeping everything mathematically precise required constant adjustments, because even being slightly off over the expanse of the wall would create lines that went way off track. You also try to avoid major accidents, like dropping the straight edge, which could do a lot of damage to lines on the wall.

Loren: I found it interesting that at the top of the wall for Wall Drawing #9 B, there is a visible fracture line, a seam in the sheetrock. The decision was made that this was part of wall’s nature, and we should leave it as is — as evidence of reality, as opposed to perfection.

John: There is no erasing with these wall drawings. Using an eraser would leave a sheen on the wall. Instead, if a line went astray we would ease out imperfections by using drafting tape to lift graphite off the wall, or scrape it off with a razor blade. We could also use paint to cover mistakes, usually as they were made but sometimes later.

 

John: Each wall is about 16 feet tall by 13 feet wide, and obviously, you can’t draw lines across that entire expanse. So we broke up the wall into several sections, and single lines were often drawn by two different people.

Loren: The lines we would all draw would be different in part depending on our “wingspan” – how far your arm extends, or how close to your body you can draw. If you try to stretch and draw farther than your hands and arms can comfortably reach, it creates an inconsistent line. So we needed to avoid patterns emerging in all these lines, and also to avoid any sense of character in the line—you don’t want it to look, say, crisp or authoritative.

 

 

Loren: We saw how the size of a draftsperson was a factor in other ways, too. Sachi drew faster but stopped more often, while Chip, who is considerably taller, was more of a slow-and-steady type. You might think that being taller would be an advantage, but it’s not necessarily so. Chip worked with a longer straight edge, but then he had to deal with it bowing out from the wall, and we would be checking on a line the whole time as we drew it.

John: I would get frustrated if things went off course in making the lines, but Sachi was always very calm and reassuring. We’d talk about Sol LeWitt’s ideal of the “not straight straight line” and debates among draftserpersons about how far that can be taken.

John: Here, Sachi is going back over lines to touch up.

Loren: I think one reason Sachi would return to kind of touch up lines already drawn has to do with something she told us often: it’s always important to have a human feel to the drawings. You don’t want it too perfect, because the evidence of the human hand is key.

In his earlier work, LeWitt was more into man-on-the-street instructions – things anybody could do – but over time, the nature of work changed. He began to make pieces that on some level would be affected by the personality of the person making them, so he wanted those people to have training in how to carry out the instructions. The kind of patience and dedication required to make this work isn’t something that everyone has. So in some sense it’s how he’s made personality a factor in his later work.

John: “Fresh” leads are sharp and ready to be bundled into the 3-lead drawing tool. We used the rags to wipe dust from leads, in order to prevent smudges on the wall.

John: Here, Sachi is marking the center of the wall – one of many reference points we’d make using blue tape and sharpies. The red line on either side of her hand comes from a laser level to make sure things are plumb, or level. With that tool, you quickly find out that even the smoothest-looking floors have lots of undulation.

Loren: We introduced Sachi and Chip to the laser level; before, they had been using old-fashioned levels and plumb lines. In most ways this whole process of measuring and mark-making is very hands-on; it’s kind of retaining a craft tradition, one that in LeWitt’s case goes back to the 1960s. In preparing to draw, there was an emphasis on making tools. John cut down masonite boards for a hand-made version of a straight edge, which had advantages over the manufactured metal kind. They could be longer and were definitely lighter, which is important considering how long you’re holding them against the wall. 

John: We also got them to use the scissor lifts instead of building scaffolding. They were a little unsure of these new tools at first, but they came to like them. There was a kind of a balance between finding new, easier ways to doing things and trusting in Sachi and Chip’s experience and the methods they’ve developed over the years – such as that 3-lead drawing tool. You might be tempted to think there could be different or quicker ways to do something, but in most cases you come to understand the reasons for doing it the way it’s been done for years.

John: Ultimately you just have to accept that it’s a long process, and there’s no way for it to go quicker. It was definitely a marathon, with a pace to it.  I couldn’t do it over and over again—my patience doesn’t go that far. When you start it’s a daunting task, and you quickly realize that it doesn’t go as fast as you might imagine. So you see how it’s going to take time, and you can try to enjoy the ride—you have to—but you also have to focus on what you’re doing all the time. It’s not one of those monotonous, tedious jobs where you’re just going through the motions and trying to use your brain for other things. You have to keep track of measurements, stay focused on making sure your line doesn’t go off course.

 

Loren: Chip and I ended up talking a lot, and we kind of got into a pattern of measuring, drawing, measuring, drawing. Initially I wanted to fight it but if you don’t, it becomes more peaceful actually. Still, if you’re having a day where you felt like you just wanted to be done, it could be agonizing. Your experience depended on what you were bringing to the job on any given day.

John: I’m really glad we did it. It’s an amazing end to all this work. You can imagine what a grid on a wall might look like, but I had no clue as to how gorgeous it would be in the end.

Loren: Taking off the green paper and the tape was like unwrapping a present.

John: I kind of wanted to smash a bottle of champagne on it.

Links to more on Sol LeWitt’s wall drawings and the people who make them: 

Video footage of the installation in progress at Mass MOCA’s Sol LeWitt: A Wall Drawing Retrospective, a monumental exhibition of 105 works, which opened in 2008 and remains on view until 2033

 A video with Takeshi Arita, one of the most experienced of LeWitt’s technicians, installing a piece at The Art Institute of Chicago

Blog post about the making of LeWitt’s “scribble” wall drawing in a stairwell at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, which was completed last October and is, at 2,200-square-feet, the largest ever conceived by the artist

Also on the Walker blogs: an interview with an eight-year-old math-and-geometry whiz who made his own version of Wall Drawing #224, also on view in Sol LeWitt: 2D+3D.

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

Dancing in “Sol LeWitt’s Expanding Grid”

In the late ’70s, Sol LeWitt was invited by choreographer Lucinda Childs and composer Philip Glass to collaborate on what would become a landmark work, Dance (presented at the Walker April 7 – 9). In “Sol LeWitt’s Expanding Grid,” critic Ann-Sargent Wooster wrote about how the artist’s film-as-set design for Dance was “a radical and […]

In the late ’70s, Sol LeWitt was invited by choreographer Lucinda Childs and composer Philip Glass to collaborate on what would become a landmark work, Dance (presented at the Walker April 7 – 9). In “Sol LeWitt’s Expanding Grid,” critic Ann-Sargent Wooster wrote about how the artist’s film-as-set design for Dance was “a radical and innovative departure from his previous work”; her essay — excerpted here — was published in the May 1980 issue of Art in America after Dance‘s 1979 premiere. It is also anthologized in Sol LeWitt Critical Texts (I Libri di AEIOU and Incontri Internazionali d’Arte, 1995). Click here for an interview with Lucinda Childs; Sol LeWitt: 2D+3D is on view in the Friedman Gallery through April 24.   

Dance, 1979 performance photo by Nathaniel TilestonDance by Lucinda Childs, Philip Glass and Sol LeWitt, performed at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in December 1979, will take its place in the history of spectacular music-dance-art collaborations that includes Parade (1917), and in itself was a precedent-setting event. The collaboration was unusual because it brought together three individual who since the ‘60s have been working with similar modular structures in their separate disciplines. Though the production turned out to be a synergistic combination for all three collaborators, it was especially significant for LeWitt, whose contribution of a film was a radical and innovative departure from his previous work and has profound implications for his future development.

LeWitt’s black and white film (codirected with Lisa Rinzler) recorded Childs and her company in a studio performing dances that they had previously presented on tour and would later execute on the BAM’s stage. Because of financial considerations, the LeWitt film accompanied only three of the production’s five dances, which are titled Dance 1 through Dance 5. During those three segments, Glass’s music, which was prerecorded to fit the film, took a back seat to the work of his other two partners. When it was performed live in Dance 5, however, the music erupted in full force and dominated the proceedings. Characteristic of this production (and in contrast to the discontinuity which characterizes the collaborations between Cunningham and Cage, Tudor, et al.) was the fact that its three parts – film, dance and music – were designed to synchronize with each other. 

LeWitt’s film, which introduced a grid as the setting for Childs and her company, was projected on a scrim covering the front of the stage. Though the filmed and the live dances were synchronized, they seemed at times to be two different activities, each evoking radically different sensations. The great discrepancy in scale between the film and the actual dance was primarily responsible. Since the filmed dancers appeared ten times larger than the actual ones, the film had considerably greater presence than the comparatively Lilliputian live performance. Indeed, the actual dancers seemed less real than their photographic images. The dissimilarities in scale coupled with differences in the way each was lit made the combined film and performance resemble a synthesized video tape in which disparate events are conflated. The film on the surface of the scrim itself created an image not unlike a giant television screen. And in Dance 1, the blue lighting – the color of TV screens seen through windows as dusk – heightened that similarity. 

The presence of the grid substantially changed the appearance and the meaning of Childs’s dances. Though Childs has used geometric configurations as the basis of her choreography in the past, the existence of those structures – straight lines, triangles, arcs – often had to be intuited. When her dances were placed on a grid in the filmed segments of Dance, however, their mathematical foundation became immediately evident. 

The combination of dancers and grid had exactly the opposite effect for LeWitt’s work: the figures served to humanize it. In the visual arts the inclusion of figures within a grid has been relatively rare. The closest parallel to Dance is Joseph Cornell’s cover design for the March 1942 issue of Dance Index, in which frames from a print of a 1905 film of Loie Fuller dancing are arranged as a grid. For LeWitt, the placement of figures in/on the grid stresses the underlying physical/anthropomorphic quality of his own structures. The figures remind one that his honeycomb sculptures are often built to human scale and that his wall drawings rely on human decision-making and execution. 

Lewitt's "Three x Four x Three," 1984, on a Walker terrace

Of the three dances that incorporated LeWitt’s film, Dance 3 was the most exciting for its suggestions of possible future uses of the grid. Employing split-frame images set at different angles to the stage, LeWitt created the illusion of a latticed cube seen in perspective. The dancers thus appeared to be dancing both within and on top of one of LeWitt’s own sculptural grids, their movements transformed into a three-dimensional tic-tac-toe. They, in turn, completely revolutionized the meaning of the grid – changing its usual abstract, symbolic character to the more functional role of a high-tech piece of furniture. Together, the figures and grid seemed absorbed into the realm of painterly, illusionistic space and the move in some dimension beyond the reality of the stage on which we know they danced. 

LeWitt’s film also had a metamorphic effect on Childs’s solo in Dance 4. When in the fall of 1978 Childs performed a version of this dance in the smaller, more intimate space of the Kitchen, it appeared to be about her control of an electrical current as it passed through her body and was transformed into movement. Unlike most dances, the movements of this one were limited almost exclusively to the upper torso, with Childs using her arms as if they were propellers. 

On the large stage in Brooklyn, all the dances and dancers were dwarfed, and small movements became invisible. That miniaturization was not a great problem for those parts of the performance in which all-over, particulate movement is designed to be seen at a distance and the dancers are meant to resemble atoms ricocheting off each other. Abstraction and depersonalization are, however, less satisfactory for those solos in which movement is more condensed. In such solos, the body’s role as a physical conveyor of meaning is of key importance and even the tension in the muscles of the chest must be visible. 

In Brooklyn, LeWitt’s film functioned as a simultaneous commentary on Childs’s solo, heightening the effect of the dance. When Childs’s movements were frozen in the film, they achieved monumental stillness and immediacy, an intensity that was diffused in the live dance by the space of the large stage. LeWitt’s film provided the type of close-up we normally associate with instant replay in sports coverage and had a similar effect: it concentrated our attention. It also had another more important effect: it conferred iconic status on a figure that might otherwise have seemed to be performing the merely personal activity of charting space with her body. In the context of its filmed doppelgänger, the live dance was expanded and transformed. Seen both singly and stereoscopically, Childs dominated the stage so thoroughly that her solo became a wholly different kind of activity than it was in its earlier version. 

Photo by Sally Cohn

In a recent article on grids, Rosalind Krauss has noted that the “grid announces modern art’s will to silence, its hostility to literature, to narrative, to discourse.” <1> She has suggested that its adoption by artists such as Mondrian and Albers tends to be a terminal posture and that “one of the most modernist things about it is its capacity to serve as a paradigm or model for the anti-developmental, the anti-narrative, the anti-historical.” <2> In both his dance film and in his recent books of photographs, LeWitt has invented a way to sidestep the trap the that grid represents. The art of the late ‘70s (and perhaps the ’80s as well) could be characterized as embracing the personal, the subjective and the narrative. By incorporating those qualities into his grids, LeWitt has found a way to revitalize structures that had seemed impervious to change and that had previously been identified only with an impersonal, objective art. 

1 – Rosalind Krauss, “Grids,” October 9, Summer 1979, p. 51 

2 – Ibid., p. 64

The Spectacular of Vernacular: Revel In The Everyday

Embracing the rustic and the humbly homemade as well as the clash of street spectacle and commercial culture, the new exhibition The Spectacular of Vernacular explores the role of vernacular forms in works by more than two dozen artists. It focuses primarily on pieces made since the 1970s that incorporate—and at times revel in—craft, folklore, roadside kitsch, […]

Embracing the rustic and the humbly homemade as well as the clash of street spectacle and commercial culture, the new exhibition The Spectacular of Vernacular explores the role of vernacular forms in works by more than two dozen artists. It focuses primarily on pieces made since the 1970s that incorporate—and at times revel in—craft, folklore, roadside kitsch, and other, often-overlooked relics of daily life. The essay below was published in the January/February issue of Walker magazine; it was adapted by Julie Caniglia and Camille Washington from a piece by curator Darsie Alexander in the Walker-designed exhibition catalogue, available at the Walker Shop.

Lari Pittman, “Untitled #30 (A Decorated Chronology of Insistence and Resignation),” 1994

A singular brand of material culture, the vernacular has stood out since the 1960s as an abundant source for artists’ critical interrogations. Never before has there been such a profusion of purchased, found, and otherwise inherited surplus, or such an array of categories by which artists might process and understand this wealth of commodities and castoffs. As European and American artists veered away from the imposing physicality of painting over the past half-century, they have connected with commonplace activities and made use of the residual elements of lay culture as platforms for art.

Too rustic to be called “Pop” and disconnected from the ongoing evolution of Duchamp’s famous readymade, the vernacular represented—and still does represent—something more humble and, significantly, homespun: enduring artifacts such as handmade welcome plaques, amateur snapshots, knitted afghans, and other folksy items that, for better or worse, often carry sentimental associations. Such objects also suggest a world of cozy comforts and heartwarming family moments—associations artists often feel compelled to revise, critique, and upend in ways both humorous and unsettling.

Siah Armajani, “Closet Under Dormer,” 1984-1985

Originally a linguistics expression, the vernacular eventually came to be broadly applied to regionally or culturally specific qualities of architecture, cuisine, or folk tradition. It is in this larger sense that many of its features reflect discourses on contemporary art, such as the casual, informal modes of expression that counter aesthetic hierarchies and traditions; or the idea that, even at a time of sweeping global exchange, material culture derives much of its meaning from its geographic point of origin.

The Spectacular of Vernacular brings together 27 artists whose work fosters a dialogue between contemporary art and the creative manifestations of lay culture. Many draw upon the distinguishing qualities of a place, for example—cultural markers visible in the churches, houses, and roadside attractions—or call attention to rituals and traditions in unusual or provocative ways.

Among them, Minnesota-based artists in the exhibition look to rural architecture and culture. Though Siah Armajani’s identification with buildings “of a certain place” is just one aspect of his work, it is fundamental. For him, the kind of vernacular found in the barns, bridges, and houses of Pennsylvania and New England is the visual vocabulary of a 19th-century ethos characterized by frugality, simplicity, and community—a vocabulary that the artist reshapes  into freestanding wood sculptures and enclosures at once deeply evocative and resolutely modern.

Aaron Spangler’s autonomous, intricately carved, black-painted sculptural objects tap a dense field of aesthetic references even as they lay claim to a knowledge that comes from his direct experience of living in rural northern Minnesota and making art about and within that condition. By incorporating overt references to a vernacular steeped in the Midwestern landscape—guns and machine parts, haystacks, wildlife—Spangler confronts and repurposes the inherited symbols of a particular terrain.
Just as some artists build on a sustained connection with architecture and other physical features of a specific place, others explore the vernacular through objects and everyday traditions that vary from culture to culture and region to region. For instance, Marina Abramovic’s 2005 video Balkan Erotic Epic: Women Massaging Breasts interprets pagan fertility rites as a performance of sorts, in a manner at once tongue-in-cheek and undeniably serious.

Marc Swanson, “Untitled (Looking Back Buck),” 2004

Additionally, it’s difficult to sidestep the observation that artists often seem drawn to the absurdist properties of ritual and the normalized values they appear to reinforce. Marc Swanson deals with the gendered nature of boyhood customs such as camping and hunting from the standpoint of an out adult. In his 2010 sculpture Antler Pile (pictured on the back cover), a formation of rhinestone- encrusted antlers evokes disco balls and nightclub décor—a far cry from the taxidermic trophy icons of his New England youth.

Another arena for vernacular objects, such as ceremonial flags and family snapshots, is situated in the industry and practices surrounding death in modern society. Dario Robleto’s art is in visible dialogue with these traditions, stepping out of time to tap 19th-century mourning rituals that today feel both quaint and distant. Positing that “an artist has to remember while others forget,” Robleto positions his art on a long continuum that includes unnamed and unknown makers whose work is typically forgotten: the seamstresses and mothers who prepared memorial wreaths, sewed mourning attire, and braided hair flowers upon the deaths of loved ones, for example. Featuring an assortment of materials ranging from bullets found on the battlefield to vinyl records, the products of Robleto’s craft-based process, which incorporates skills once transmitted from parent to child, would once have been called “labors of love”; today they must be regarded as a tribute to a form of vernacular that has virtually disappeared.

In contrast to older models of vernacular meant for things that wore the patina of age and tradition, another definition was developed in the 1970s that responded to such dramatic shifts in the American landscape as a rise in residential developments, billboard advertising, and strip malls. Decidedly loud, visually pervasive, and dominantly commercial, this newer subgenre is exuberantly embodied by Lari Pittman’s massive painting, A Decorated Chronology of Insistence and Resignation #30 (1994). Beckoning with its ballast of colors and slogans, it offers a spectrum of services to be bought and bartered: sex, love, and fast cars, brought to you by two ubiquitous credit card companies whose logos appear on the edges of the canvas like discreetly placed cash-register decals. In this sales world, however, nothing is discreet—least of all the art.

Pittman’s works are testaments to the power of the ornamental, or what he would term “junky secularism.”In some ways, to understand the vernacular is to accept that objects can contain values reflecting prevailing beliefs, class and social standing, and personal background. In this sense, the vernacular is strikingly effective in perpetuating established modes of conduct; hence its frequent association with tradition, simplicity, and craftsmanship—or, in Pittman’s case, consumerism. Yet artists are typically resistant to such assimilation, producing their work to expose the perversity of what is taken for granted in culture. If vernacular itself affirms a cozy comfort in the familiar, the art it inspires is often conceived to do just the opposite. The Spectacular of Vernacular exposes this dynamic between comfort and its subversion with artworks that may appear playful, rambunctious, or cheerfully familiar on their surfaces, but often reveal darker complexities upon closer investigation.

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