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Pop Virus: Shigeko Kubota and International Pop

International Pop exhibition view. the Walker Art Center.
Kubota 1989.262.1-.11_opened

Shigeko Kubota, Flux Medicine, 1966/1968. Collection of the Walker Art Center. © Shigeko Kubota/VAGA, New York, NY

On July 23, 2015 Shigeko Kubota—a seminal Japanese female figure in the international Fluxus collective—passed away. But it is not too late to take a dose of her Flux Medicine (1966/1968). The Walker’s extensive Fluxus collection includes Kubota’s iconic multiple of this title, comprising a plastic box with a label depicting a small white tablet with the word “FLUX” engraved on it. The contents are Kubota’s medicinal concoction: one white ball, one empty capsule, one Styrofoam disk, a clear bottle of unidentified liquid, an eye dropper, crushed eggshells, packages of Alka-Seltzer, Calcium-Lactate, and Neo-Synephrine, accompanied by a plastic tube and a needle for injection. Like most Fluxus multiples, Flux Medicine can be read as either an absurdist, apolitical gesture or a radical renegotiation of the role of the artist and art object in our commodity culture. This slippage between commerce, art, and life epitomized the zeitgeist in which artists from the 1960s and early 1970s were working, as exemplified in the exhibition International Pop (closing August 29). Kubota’s “Flux-formula” presents art that can be injected, an aesthetic “supplement” for transforming art—and  perhaps the role of the artist—into a consumable commodity. International Pop posits “Pop” as a pill—akin to Kubota’s Flux Medicine—that was being popped by artists across the globe.

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Modeling with Merce

For the past two weeks, eleven Minneapolis-based dancers have spent their days at the Walker Art Center playing dress-up in Merce Cunningham Dance Company costumes. Nearly a hundred costumes from more than fifty different dances were documented–forming a representative sample of the thousands of costumes in the Merce Cunningham Dance Company Collection. The resulting images […]

Photo: Mary Coyne

Photo: Mary Coyne

For the past two weeks, eleven Minneapolis-based dancers have spent their days at the Walker Art Center playing dress-up in Merce Cunningham Dance Company costumes. Nearly a hundred costumes from more than fifty different dances were documented–forming a representative sample of the thousands of costumes in the Merce Cunningham Dance Company Collection. The resulting images will soon be featured on the Walker’s Collections website.

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A Visit with Carmen Herrera

I recently had the pleasure of visiting artist Carmen Herrera at her home/studio in New York, where she has lived for the last 40 years. It was June 4, just a few days after she’d celebrated her 100th birthday (May 31) at a local restaurant with a small group of colleagues, family, and friends. While […]

HerreraViso

I recently had the pleasure of visiting artist Carmen Herrera at her home/studio in New York, where she has lived for the last 40 years. It was June 4, just a few days after she’d celebrated her 100th birthday (May 31) at a local restaurant with a small group of colleagues, family, and friends. While I regrettably had to miss the festivities, we shared tea and birthday cupcakes I’d brought her from Magnolia Bakery.

We were accompanied by Carmen’s longtime friend and neighbor, the painter Tony Bechara, a passionate champion of Herrera’s art since the 1990s and the man the artist’s late husband, Jesse Loewenthal, entrusted with preserving and promoting Herrera’s art. Although based in New York on and off since the mid-1950s and working in close proximity to American painters Leon Polk Smith (a friend) and Barnett Newman, Herrera and her art remained in relative obscurity until 1998. That year, New York’s El Museo del Barrio, where Bechara served on the board, organized a small exhibition of black-and-white paintings from the 1950s. Shortly thereafter, prescient collectors Agnes Gund and Ella Cisneros began to acquire and exhibit Herrera’s paintings. The story of Herrera selling her first painting in 2004 at age 89 has been the subject of innumerable stories and profiles since then, including a recent article focused on elder women artists who found recognition later in their careers (published in the New York TimesT Magazine this spring).

The centenarian’s career is now markedly on the rise. Subject of a new documentary, The 100 Years Show by film director Alison Klayman (premiered at Toronto’s Hotdocs festival this April), Hererra’s career will be highlighted in a survey exhibition, organized by Dana Miller, at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 2016. Represented by the Lisson Gallery in London since 2012, Herrera’s works are now in the collections of the Walker Art Center, the Whitney, the Museum of Modern Art, Tate Modern in London, and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C.

I was first introduced to Carmen Herrera in the mid-2000s through Ella Cisneros, the Miami-based collector and founder of CIFO Foundation, on whose curatorial advisory counsel I sat at the time. It was in Ella’s foundation office that a painting by Herrera caught my eye. Shortly thereafter I arranged the first of several visits to the painter’s studio, and in 2007 I acquired a painting directly from the artist for the collection of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, where I was the director. The Hirshhorn’s Rondo (Blue and Yellow) (1965) is a circular painting—one of a handful of tondos from the period with characteristically crisp flowing lines that define volumes of geometry and space in perfect counterbalance. I installed the painting in the Hirshhorn’s collection galleries in the company of other American painters of the 1950s and ’60s, including Ellsworth Kelly, with whom her works have strong association. Indeed both artists spent their formative years in the late 1940s and early 1950s in Paris, each maintaining a commitment to hard-edge abstraction at a time when other American artists were exploring the more gestural approaches of Abstract Expressionism. Upon returning to New York in the mid-1950s, Ellsworth Kelly and his paintings took some time to capture the art world’s imagination, while Herrera found little or no support as a woman in an art world less hospitable to female artists. It was a revelation to see Herrera’s canvas hanging in the Hirshhorn’s galleries in dialogue so fluidly with an unacknowledged peer.

Carmen Herrera, Untitled, 1971 Art at the Center: 75 Years of Walker Collections, October 16, 2014 – September 11, 2016 Galleries 4, 5, 6.  Installation views from Gallery 5, October 15, 2014.

Carmen Herrera’s Untitled (1971), as installed in Art at the Center: 75 Years of Walker Collections

Shortly after arriving at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, I similarly sought to bring one of Herrera’s impressive structuras (structures) into the collection. I thought that one of the artist’s painted wood constructions would forge a powerful dialogue with the minimalist paintings and sculptures that are core to the Walker’s collection of abstract and minimalist works of the 1960s. In 2010, Untitled (1971) entered the Walker’s collection along with three related works on paper from 1966. The freestanding blue construction is currently featured in the Walker’s Art at the Center: 75 Years of Walker Collections, where it  is installed in the company of Frank Stella, Ellsworth Kelly, Donald Judd, as well as British painter Bridget Riley, where it equally commands the galleries.

First conceived in 1966, Herrera realized the Walker’s blue structura in 1971 with the support of the Cintas Foundation, a Cuban American private philanthropic foundation that supports Cuban artists living and working in the US since the late 1950s. With this modest grant, Herrera found a carpenter to help her produce a group of wall- and floor-bound works in relief, including the Walker’s Untitled (1971). The funds also allowed her to help a family member leave Cuba in the years immediately following the Cuban Revolution. Affixed to the floor, the piece is comprised of two separate hollow wood-framed panels. The top panel sits on top of the bottom panel and swivels forward ever so slightly. When lit with gallery lights from above, the top panel casts a defining shadow across the bottom panel to give it its signature shape and form. While Herrera intended to make complementary pieces in red and green based on the related drawings in the Walker’s collection, only the blue structure was realized. More recently Herrera fabricated the red structure based on the Walker’s drawing and may realize others.

Carmen Herrera, Untitled, 1966

Carmen Herrera, Untitled, 1966

While in New York I also visited the Whitney Museum and was delighted to see Carmen Herrera featured in the museum’s opening installation with a large painting from 1959, which recently entered the Whitney’s collection. This work is one of Herrera’s signature “green and white” paintings that have been a staple of her career. Installed next to Ellsworth Kelly, this striking juxtaposition reinforces Herrera’s pioneering import in the history of American abstract painting and affirms that her reinsertion in the history of this art is now complete.

At age 100, Herrera doesn’t quite know what to make of all the recent attention, which at once seems gratifying and enervating. The recognition is long overdue for an artist who has never wavered in her practice or commitment to her vision, which has remained consistent for more than 70 years. To this day, Herrera continues to make a painting at her window each and every morning, working with her assistant Manuel to scale up her drawings into larger canvases. As she expressed during my visit, “This is when everything is most clear.”

Michelangelo Pistoletto: A Reflected World, Again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Man on a Balcony in A Reflected World

In Sickness and in Art: Obamacare, General Idea, and a Kleenex Box

Access to affordable healthcare is not the most glamorous subject. Unsurprisingly, it has also not proven to be the most fertile ground for artists. With the insurance mandate coming upon us soon, it seems that, regardless of where we stand on the new law, insurance will continue to dictate what we choose to do with […]

General Idea, AIDS Wallpaper (1989), Installation view of This Will Have Been: Art, Love and Politics in the 1980’s at the Walker Art Center

General Idea, AIDS Wallpaper (1989), installation view of This Will Have Been: Art, Love and Politics in the 1980s at the Walker Art Center

Access to affordable healthcare is not the most glamorous subject. Unsurprisingly, it has also not proven to be the most fertile ground for artists. With the insurance mandate coming upon us soon, it seems that, regardless of where we stand on the new law, insurance will continue to dictate what we choose to do with our lives. For me, the topic scarcely leaves my mind. I am on the precipice of turning 26, a graduate student, an intern, and sometimes food service employee. I am both the reason the mandate exists — to get healthy young people to buy insurance — and on somewhat unsure footing financially. In spite of the interminable discussions of the new healthcare law, there seems to have been a failure, among many, to unite around the simple truth that at some point we all get sick. The healthcare mandate pushes this inevitability to the forefront in a way that seems new and provocative. The art world may appear aloof to these everyday struggles with common bureaucracy, monthly budgeting, and automated voice-messaging systems, however, I believe that certain works from the late 1980s and early 90s made in response to the AIDS crisis can serve as a model for how artists and the art world can tackle these very personal, but not very glamorous, issues. Perhaps the result of reflecting on these works done at a time when health was also a passionate political issue — in admittedly a very different way — could be projects that have the potential to speak to a broader audience united around something as simple as the common cold.

To me, this tension between the glamor of art and the common experience of illness seems to manifest through the later projects by the Canadian art collective General Idea. Formed in 1969 in Toronto, General Idea was a collective of three artists, under the pseudonyms AA Bronson, Jorge Zontal, and Felix Partz. Their first 15 years revolved around “Miss General Idea,” a concocted fantasy, both woman and muse. They staged beauty pageants, set up boutiques, and created cocktail lounges, languishing in artifice and deifying glamor. From 1972 to 1984 they theoretically constructed the labyrinthine Miss General Idea 1984 Pavilion, which was then destroyed and carefully excavated and presented through relics and remnants of a mythical disaster. Much of their work was created in editions or multiples to be sold in the various boutiques and lounges accompanying their gallery installations. Within the Walker’s collection, both the Nazi Milk Glass (1980) and The Getting into the Spirits Cocktail Book (1980) are representative of this period. For years they created and constructed, piling layer upon layer cultivating their image, until, as has been noted by others, Miss General Idea and glamor, her faithful companion, were practically members of the group.

    Partial grouping of General Idea’s Editions in the Walker Art Center’s collection

Partial grouping of General Idea’s Editions in the Walker Art Center’s collection

In the 1980’s two of the group’s members, Jorge Zontal and Felix Partz, contracted HIV. Their work took a definite turn and became more overtly political, particularly with the inauguration of the AIDS Project. Through various public commissions, this project, also known as Imagevirus, involved plastering billboards, buses, and subways with a distortion of Robert Indiana’s LOVE design manipulated to read AIDS. Later, in the early 1990s, General Idea began integrating pharmaceutical imagery, in the form of large multi-colored pills in a series of exhibitions titled PLA©EBO and Pharma©opia. In the installation Magi© Bullet (1994) the ceiling in a sparse white gallery was filled with silver Mylar balloons resembling both some sort of sterile fungal infestation and a thick cloud of pills. Although these installations seem to take an unsentimental view at the medical industry and illness itself, they mark an attempt to work through overwhelming personal trauma while maintaining their illusive image. While General Idea raised awareness of the proliferation of AIDS, they also, I think, forced an objective confrontation with the inevitable fact that we all get sick.

Wolfgang Tillmans, Aids, General Idea 1991

Wolfgang Tillmans, Aids, General Idea, 1991

During this later period General Idea continued to create the editions that were sold alongside the installations. They made AIDS Stamps (1988) and AIDS Wallpaper (1989), recently on view at the Walker during This Will Have Been: Art Love and Politics in the 1980s, and small PLA©EBO pins. They also stayed true to their “image”-centered practice; they referenced heroes of the European avant-garde, purportedly in an attempt to gain recognition for European artists in North America, which they saw as lacking. These playful nods can be seen in the edition Infe©ted Rietveld (1994), a reproduction of Gerrit Rietveld’s quintessentially Modern Red/Blue Chair (1918), painted in the colors of the AIDS logo, thus “infected” with the disease. In the Walker’s collection of General Idea’s editions, I was drawn to what appeared to be a simple object with an apparently heady title, Gesundheit: Why not sneeze Lucio Fontana? (1991), partly because it seems a perfect combination of these two impulses I just described, the ethereal presence of the avant-garde and the earthly reality of illness, and also because “Gesundheit” is just an excellent word.

The edition is itself a familiar object to anyone who has spent time in a wintry classroom — a distant memory which gets closer by the day — the constant sound of sniffles, sneezing, and maybe a quiet uncontrollable cough, and the constant movement towards the necessary box of tissues in the back of the class. It is a small box, usefully clear, so you can see the short stack of tissues conveniently pulled through the top, ready to grab at a moment’s notice. This box of tissues, however, is rather different than those to which we have become accustom. Although stamped with corporate label of our regular brand, Kleenex, this box has three slits cut into the top with three tissues tufting through them. These two extra slits reference what are now iconic triumphs of the avant-garde, informally known as Lucio Fontana’s cut pieces. Atop and below the small stack of tissues are two postcards picturing two of Fontana’s green pieces with three gashes from the collection at the Ludwig Museum in Cologne.

General Idea, Gesundheit: Why Not Sneeze Lucio Fontana? (1991). Two found post cards, one cut, Kleenex-brand packaged tissue, in plastic box, 4.3 x 5.9 x .78 inches. Photo: Blackwood Gallery

General Idea, Gesundheit: Why Not Sneeze Lucio Fontana? (1991). Two found post cards, one cut, Kleenex-brand packaged tissue, in plastic box. Photo: Blackwood Gallery

Fontana’s cut pieces are monochromatic paintings with thin gashes cutting through the surface exposing the supporting wall, many such works were exhibited at the Walker’s landmark exhibition in 1966, Fontana’s first solo show in the United States. Dated to 1964-65, the piece Concetta-Spaziale: Attessa or Spatial-Concept: Expectation in the Walker’s collection is a great example. Painted in white, the canvas has just one long cut right down the middle. This piece in particular, with its white surface mimicking the “pure” white standard of the gallery wall, plays with the painting’s relationship to its environmental space. The cut, a seemingly violent act, serves to both distinguish the canvas from the blank white walls while purporting to offer a small view into the institutional supports.

Fontana 1998.113

Lucio Fontana, Concetto Spaziale – Attesa (1964-65)

General Idea’s Kleenex box manipulates the voids created by Fontana’s cuts by filling them with soft white tufts of tissues, certainly more comforting and banal than the dramatic gesture from which they originated. The reproduction of Fontana’s work in the edition is both an homage to his almost industrial creation of the cut pieces and a mocking jab at the high-minded principles with which they are associated. The title seems to ask Fontana to perhaps take a break, perhaps falter, at least stop to sneeze for heaven’s sake. Although the relation to health and illness is subtler than if the box had been covered with word AIDS or red, blue, and green pills, the simplicity of the Kleenex box is possibly the best reminder of the inevitability of illness. We carry them with us even when we don’t need them, and there is nothing worse than being caught without them in a time of nasal need. So, in these discussions of who’s to pay for whose medicine, who should take care of whom, it is important to be open and honest with yourself: someday at some point, you will be sick, it’s why there should always be a box of Kleenexes at the back of the class.

Yesterday’s Newspaper: November 8, 2012

For the past two days–Election Day 2012 and the day after–we’ve been posting images of Dave McKenzie’s work Yesterday’s Newspaper as it appears in the exhibition The Living Years: Art after 1989. Changing daily, the work, as senior curator Clara Kim has written, “bridges the distance between events and times—between what is happening now and […]

Dave McKenzie, Yesterday’s Newspaper, 2007
T. B. Walker Acquisition Fund, 2012 Photo: Gene Pittman

For the past two days–Election Day 2012 and the day after–we’ve been posting images of Dave McKenzie’s work Yesterday’s Newspaper as it appears in the exhibition The Living Years: Art after 1989. Changing daily, the work, as senior curator Clara Kim has written, “bridges the distance between events and times—between what is happening now and what happened yesterday—to reinforce how yesterday’s news may still live within the present moment and how the present may affect the future.” Above, the piece as it stands in the galleries right now.

Hear McKenzie discuss his work tonight at 7 during a free talk as part of Target Free Thursday Nights.

Yesterday’s Newspaper: November 7, 2012

Here’s how Dave McKenzie’s ever-changing artwork Yesterday’s Newspaper, part of The Living Years: Art after 1989, looks in the galleries today, the day after a historic election, and here’s how it looked yesterday. Hear McKenzie discuss his work at the Walker on November 8, 2012.

Yesterday’s Newspaper: Election Day

Dave McKenzie’s Yesterday’s Newspaper, now on view in The Living Years: Art after 1989, is so simple it runs the risk of being overlooked. A copy of yesterday’s local paper lays on a walnut slab the way it might sit on your front doorstep. But the humble work captures a monumental gap: between news that’s […]

Dave McKenzie, Yesterday’s Newspaper, 2007
T. B. Walker Acquisition Fund, 2012 Photo: Gene Pittman

Dave McKenzie’s Yesterday’s Newspaper, now on view in The Living Years: Art after 1989, is so simple it runs the risk of being overlooked. A copy of yesterday’s local paper lays on a walnut slab the way it might sit on your front doorstep. But the humble work captures a monumental gap: between news that’s happened and news that hasn’t, what we know and what we don’t, yet. For the next two days, we’ll present images of this ever-changing work. Here’s how the piece—featuring the November 5 issue of the Minneapolis Star Tribune–looks today, the day before we find out the results of another historic election.

Hear McKenzie discuss his work at the Walker on November 8, 2012.

Artists in Conversation

Holy Bible: New Testament

In every work of art, there is a hidden set of influences that the audience may never see: conversations the artist had with peers, exhibitions he or she saw while creating the work, expectations for the medium that were established by predecessors. Throughout The Living Years: Art After 1989, you can see the different ways artists bring other artists, both contemporary and historical, into their work. The dialog between artists is made explicit – the influences no longer need to be guessed at because, for example, the work might be a blatant recreation of an iconic sculpture or it might state flat-out who was involved. In doing so, the artists explore the types of exchanges that occur in the art community and how these define artistic identity.

Mike Kelley and Paul McCarthy’s Fresh Acconci (1995) is fresh in that it is new, with the pair remaking seminal 1970s video pieces by Vito Acconci. But it is also fresh in the way we might refer to a back-talking child. Kelley and McCarthy restage these once intimate videos, placing them in the context of Hollywood and the porn industry. While Acconci’s videos are sparingly staged and naturally lit, this updated version features naked models in a sun-streaked Hollywood hills mansion. The original stand-alone pieces, now sandwiched together into one cyclical 45-minute video work, become a nightmarish playhouse that the performers cannot escape. In choosing to cast glamorous models to play the actors (unlike previous collaborations between the pair where they themselves performed), Kelley and McCarthy are commenting on their own feelings of entrapment by Acconci’s legacy. Yet at the same time, the artists are making an Oedipal attempt to break free of it. In an earlier collaboration, Family Tyranny (1987), recently shown at This Will Have Been: Art, Love, & Politics in the 1980s, the two artists explore the relationship between an abusive father and his son (performed by McCarthy and Kelley, respectively). That video begins with the text, “The father begat the son. The son begat the father.” With Fresh Acconci exploring and criticizing the idea of artistic patrilineage, it could have opened with the very same lines.

Anonymous II

Kris Martin. Anonymous II (2009). buried human skeleton, certificate accompanying burial. overall 16 x 16 inches. Image: Walker Art Center

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The Sculpture is Never Finished: An Interview with Vincent Fecteau

  It’s unlikely that Vincent Fecteau’s Untitled (2010) sculpture is seen the same way twice. It hangs on a peg in the gallery’s wall so that the two-sided work can be shown as occasionally reversed and rotated. With each adjustment to its display, the viewer’s discovery of the object is slightly different, exposed to new […]

 

Vincent Fecteau. Untitled, 2010, Walker Art Center

It’s unlikely that Vincent Fecteau’s Untitled (2010) sculpture is seen the same way twice. It hangs on a peg in the gallery’s wall so that the two-sided work can be shown as occasionally reversed and rotated. With each adjustment to its display, the viewer’s discovery of the object is slightly different, exposed to new aspects of its variegated surface, imperfect acrylic paint layers of uneasy hues, traces of papier mâché infrastructure, and range of casted shadows on the flat wall behind it. While Fecteau worked on this series of what he’s referred to as “360-degree sculptures,” each awkward wall-mounted shape consisted of an arduous exercise in not only confronting the limitations of sculpture but also in determining the state of completion for these challenging and indefinitive works.

In a recent interview, Fecteau discusses his sculptural practice. He talks about the development of his work in the Walker’s collection, what he’s working on now (an exhibition of his newest pieces just opened at Galerie Buchholz in Berlin), and the exciting impossibility of making art.

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