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Walker Contemporaries: Gone British!

On one of the coldest nights of the year, a large gathering of the Contemporaries came to enjoy phenomenal fish and chips, specialty British drinks, and a private screening of the best television advertisements of the year from across the pond. Or as the Brits say it, ad-ver-tis-ments. In the US, we wait in anticipation […]

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On one of the coldest nights of the year, a large gathering of the Contemporaries came to enjoy phenomenal fish and chips, specialty British drinks, and a private screening of the best television advertisements of the year from across the pond. Or as the Brits say it, ad-ver-tis-ments.

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In the US, we wait in anticipation for the Super Bowl commercials, but the Brits aim for a spot in this beloved lineup of bronze, silver, and gold annual awards. So while there are many funny ads, it does not cater to a specific audience, and those with serious messages to sell are also competitors. The length of these commercials can be extended in comparison to the typical 30-second or minute ad one watches at home in the States. This again allows a complex or intense message to be fully addressed, not shortchanged for airtime. It also allows amusing stories to develop into absolutely hilarious ones.

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Contemporaries members Jon Engel and Brian Ness

Right off the bat everyone was laughing from a commercial by Orange (a phone service) which combined the practice of over-the-top airport-like security with a movie theater setting. It was ridiculous, with dogs running in the theaters, popcorn everywhere, and the movies being disrupted — which was the point — but it allowed us as Americans to have a good laugh about the serious matter of security. Kevin Bacon soon made several appearances — and by several I mean literally multiple Bacons in one room! One of them was even cooking bacon… of course, it was Ren McCormack. The little details in these ads are what make them award winners, like when Bacon the astronaut from Apollo 13 attempts to drink coffee with his helmet on, but it’s quickly passed by to return to Ren dancing to his walkman.

 

Some of the ads, however, are less than subtle. Fosters made an appearance, like always, full of Aussies and beer. Then there were the adorable ones like Wheetabix and IKEA that told charming stories of parents and children functioning on a great breakfast or with the right furniture to play on. The nice fuzzy feelings were also present in several John Lewis advertisements, featuring a time-distant romance that tugged on the heart-strings while highlighting the quality of the brand over a century.

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At times I was not quite sure what angle a company was going for, but perhaps I’m just the wrong audience for Axe advertisements. Maybe epic stories of boyfriends surviving “harrowing” social situations while a deep voice narrates the scene makes you want to run off and buy a body wash called “Cool Metal” or “Rise,” but I’m good without. On the opposite end, however, Guinness’ ad kept us confused while we watched a group of young men being carefully herded by a border collie, until the very end where we had a collective “aha!” moment and a good chuckle. Acer Incorporated’s take on Kiefer Sutherland as Jack Bauer from 24 was also quite good, translating his passion on the clock to creating the best pastry possible.

Yet the stars of the evening were the PSAs, a serious and rather graphic addition to the lineup. Some became squeamish watching footage of shark cruelty and mutilation for shark fin soup, but everyone stopped breathing during Samusocial International’s interactive online ad for women’s shelters and website awomansnightmare.com. In this advocacy ad for homeless relief and safety, a woman asks for a cigarette on the street but ends up running for her life. If the viewer shares the video, it ends well, if not… Reality again is not spared in a PSA for first aid knowledge, comparing deaths by cancer to those of choking in a cinematic story of life and death. The ad of the year is empowering as it is difficult, showcasing British paralympic athletes as superhumans who have overcome life-altering accidents and abnormalities to redefine strength and what it is to be human.

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Walker Contemporaries Noah Keesecker and Jessica Shaykett

As Americans we often tire of a constant barrage of commercials and advertisements around every corner, but this hour of film is less about selling something and more about quality stories — and is not to be missed.

Cheers!

Walker Contemporaries: Visiting the Polsky Collection

It’s in the hallway, the spare room, the kitchen, the bathroom, the bedroom, the living room and more — there is no room in Alan Polsky’s condo without art. In addition to the beautiful view of downtown Minneapolis, every wall in the space boasts a unique and carefully selected image. Polsky, member of the Patron’s Circle […]

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It’s in the hallway, the spare room, the kitchen, the bathroom, the bedroom, the living room and more — there is no room in Alan Polsky’s condo without art. In addition to the beautiful view of downtown Minneapolis, every wall in the space boasts a unique and carefully selected image. Polsky, member of the Patron’s Circle and Collectors’ Council at the Walker and board chair of Midway Contemporary Art, recently welcomed the Contemporaries to his home to view this great collection and discuss how it came to be.

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Martin Michalowski and Molly Garvey look at one of Polsky’s paintings.

It all began with a missed opportunity — a gorgeous Louise Bourgeois painting at a modest price — that Polsky still seems to somewhat regret. In art collecting however, there will always be the one that got away. Yet Polsky explained that the learning curve in this endeavor is entirely personal: you learn what works for you as you view and collect the art. Each choice informs the next, each purchase helping you understand the previous. The decisions he has been least satisfied with are those which were focused on money. While he buys and resells some art, Polsky finds he is most satisfied with the art he buys when the focus is not on the cost or promise of future profit. The value of an artwork on the market can greatly increase in a short period of time, but how a person feels about it usually does not. This model of intuition over investment has proved successful for Polsky and he is pleased with his current collection.

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A Jay Heikes work purchased at the Midway Auction

Polsky’s collection is also one that is tailored to his location, with many local artists represented in his home. A Jay Heikes work over the fireplace should be familiar to many in Minneapolis: his work was featured in the recent Walker exhibition Painter Painter. Combined with the names of Ed Ruscha and Carl Andre, every work in the space is world-class. German artists are a theme, and paintings are most common, for reasons both aesthetic and practical. There is a reason sculpture is most often displayed in museums and parks, the literal size of it is quite a hindrance. Polsky expressed that he honestly wouldn’t know what to do with a sculpture if he acquired one.

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The perfect nook for an Aaron Spangler sculpture

The works hanging in Polsky’s condo are only a portion of his collection. With limited space, he chooses and places artwork in almost every corner but without doing any of them injustice. A condo is a place of domesticity and living compared with the more impersonal environment of a museum and over time, what hangs on the wall can be overlooked. So this year he had the works rearranged throughout the apartment with the help of John Rasmussen, Executive Director of Midway Contemporary Art. Other complications must be considered in hanging a personal collection, such as the color of the walls, fireplaces, and the steam created in a bathroom. Polsky’s walls are all white, although that isn’t a requirement. He does not use his fireplace, as the Heikes above it would surely become more contorted than the artist intended. These unusual considerations in a living space, however, are a reminder that art can and should exist in more intimate spaces than museums. Spaces like the Walker allow for the public to share in the fantastic history and present of modern and contemporary art, yet few people interact with an Ed Ruscha with such intimacy. Living with art in the home may currently be a luxury for most, but perhaps should be a necessity.

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Contemporaries gather around at Polsky’s

At the end of the evening, Polsky showed us the first work he ever bought: a simple and elegant set of three images, framed together in birch. Compared with some of the large and well-known paintings on his walls now, it seems a humble beginning — and a reminder that every collector starts somewhere.

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Alan Polsky

 

 

 

 

Walker Contemporaries: Haunted Basements, Biennials, and Spooky Speakeasies

Warning: spoiler alert. The weather this fall took a sudden turn in mid-October, leaving the brave Contemporaries attendees of our visit to The Haunted Basement at The Soap Factory rubbing their hands together from the cold, as well as nervous anticipation. We entered through the back of the building, where the music of a catchy, yet […]

Warning: spoiler alert.

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The weather this fall took a sudden turn in mid-October, leaving the brave Contemporaries attendees of our visit to The Haunted Basement at The Soap Factory rubbing their hands together from the cold, as well as nervous anticipation. We entered through the back of the building, where the music of a catchy, yet rather disturbing screaming baby sample was overlaid on blaring dubstep beats. For anyone not familiar with the reputation of The Haunted Basement, it was the first indication that this was no ordinary haunted house. The Soap Factory is known for this fact. The Haunted Basement now in its seventh year of production and sold out for the season, but Contemporaries members got exclusive access for the night. Every year is completely different, exploring a different concept through a major artistic installation and a cast of actors that aims to be the most exclusive Halloween experience of the year.

After a portion of the group went through the basement, second-year director Noah Bremer spoke about some of the elements specific to this year’s work.

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Contemporaries members relax in the Spooky Speakeasy.

The information page on The Soap Factory’s website lists that one may encounter insects, crawling, and sexual situations, which it seems many of the participants experienced. Expanding on those leads, Bremer highlighted the concept of mixing the human with the non-human, both through dehumanization and hybridization. I couldn’t help but think of Kafka when Bremer mentioned the incorporation of insects, and still wonder if it was meant to be a philosophical inclusion or just a correlation. In any case, he seemed strongly interested in pushing the boundaries of what a “haunted house” can be, even if that puts the definition of The Haunted Basement in question.

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Noah Bremer (in blue cap) answering questions about all the behind the scenes details of the Haunted Basement.

Recently, I sat down with current development and membership intern Kate Heller to discuss our shared experience from that night, as well as the current biennial exhibition “,,,” on show at The Soap Factory.

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Kate Heller emerging from the Haunted Basement.

KS: So, Kate, you went through the Haunted Basement and I did not. What was that experience like? I hear you had to don suits at the start.

KH: Well, the suits were needed to protect our clothing, but it really made the experience more intense. We had to wear these helmets, like the ones used for paintballing. The helmets inhibited my peripheral vision, which made me more nervous and uncomfortable. The limiting quality of the helmet on top of the fact that I couldn’t see in the dark really heightened the experience.

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Emma Berg and Kristoffer Knutson prepare to enter the Haunted Basement.

KS: But you didn’t come out with that on…?

KH: No, this bug prostitute woman took the helmet off in a creepy seductive way and the next thing I knew, I was shoved into a dressing room and the grim reaper was telling me to take off my clothes! I assumed he meant the suit, which I did and handed to another bug prostitute woman. I was surprised how scared I got because I was suddenly alone. In the beginning I was with Kate Tucker and The Haunted Basement felt more funny than anything else. But by the time I got to this part of the basement I was pretty terrified!

KS: You also didn’t come out with Kate Tucker, who I remember you going in with. What happened there?

KH: Once we were shoved into those dressing rooms, I never saw her again.

KS: So for you, how does this experience differ from other Halloween haunted house experiences?

KH: This experience was more focused on the whole performance. There was a distinct theme with talented actors. The installation itself was very artfully done. They didn’t use expensive special effects. Instead there were the different ideas of the makers at use. They used very atypical materials like pizza boxes and pantihose.

KS: Will you go again next year?

KH: Of course… if someone will go with me!

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John Marks and David Petersen, curators the biennial exhibition, discuss the show with the Contemporaries.

KH: Now let’s talk a bit about the curation of the Biennial and the artwork exhibited the other night. Would you like to elaborate a little on that?

KS: Well, I have not been to The Soap Factory before, and the first thing you notice about it in October is that it is not climate controlled! So as someone who knows about artwork, I realized that every work they showed had to be able to withstand the weather. And the other thing about really large rooms, tall ceilings – the work is uninhibited by the space it’s in, making for a great space for the biennial. I can’t think of any other spaces in Minneapolis which could host this type of show the same way.

KH: What was the artwork like in that space?

KS: So there are two galleries used for this show. We entered through the back door, which was apparently the last room of the exhibition. I remember it had larger than life cartoon characters (Broc Blegen, Allen Ruppersberg, Big Trouble) and huge pile of towels that was rather Robert Morris (RO/LU, Here There Then, Here There Now). I liked the feel of that room, things were similar colors and sizes – it all worked well and was aesthetically pleasing to the eye. Everything made sense with everything else but had enough space to give its own statement.

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But when I entered the larger of the two rooms, where the Spooky Speakeasy was hosted, something felt off. The room led in multiple directions, with several videos, the Spooky Speakeasy performers’ setup, a piece on the floor of boards laid out in a diagonal — which I couldn’t tell if it was an artwork or just covering up a hole in the floor. If it was an artwork it should have been indicated, but none of the other works had labels so it was difficult to tell. The room had a diverse spread, but the bar set up for the speakeasy disrupted the space, so many people did not make it over to see the last third of the room. It was more difficult to make sense of the art in that second room. Although it was not overcrowded, it was overwhelming.

The curators, David Petersen and John Marks, spoke about several bad critiques they got of the show. I admit the Hyperallergic one is pretty rough, although they have some good points. Calling a show a “biennial fail” in the title is a big statement to make!

KH: Yeah, they mentioned some bad critiques but they also had some valid defenses for the exhibition. Petersen and Marks created a gallery guide which explains the best way to approach the artwork and the path to take. Using the gallery guide makes the exhibition less overwhelming. Biennials are also known for having a lot of different artists with varying ideas, so having all their art together in one show and then on top of that under one roof, can make the experience confusing for the viewer. The curators also made sure to have artist talks, so to further explain the art more individually. Apparently, the bad critiques came from individuals who did not utilize the gallery guide or even attend the artists’ talks. I agree with your opinion of the show, but I also would have like to attend the artist talks and get a more thorough look at the gallery guide. I feel that my experience may have been different if I had.

KS: I agree. Our group that night also got a different experience than someone who might come when the speakeasy isn’t up, for example. The curators were going for a hands-off approach, which leads to no one shared experience by viewers, but can also lead to confusion by those not experienced with contemporary art.

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Both the basement and the biennial defy the assumed limitations of their definitions. Perhaps the basement is not truly a haunted house, but an interactive art installation. The biennial, rather than a perfectly crafted aesthetic experience, maybe is more of a do-it-yourself discovery project. But despite any contentions about their experiences, the evening mood was received well by everyone. Live accordion, violin, and theremin tunes provided a spooky setting for drinks and chatter late into the night.

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Johnny Michaels, cocktails guru, was on-site making drinks in the Spooky Speakeasy.

 

Walker Contemporaries: Field Trip to Lakewood Cemetery Mausoleum

In designing the Lakewood Cemetery Mausoleum, “less architecture, more landscape” was the key idea for HGA architects John Cook and Joan Soranno. This hidden gem in the heart of uptown Minneapolis contains some of the finest architecture in the city, yet is visited most commonly for solemn occasions. This, however, was not one of them. The […]

In designing the Lakewood Cemetery Mausoleum, “less architecture, more landscape” was the key idea for HGA architects John Cook and Joan Soranno.

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John Cook and Joan Soranno

This hidden gem in the heart of uptown Minneapolis contains some of the finest architecture in the city, yet is visited most commonly for solemn occasions. This, however, was not one of them. The Walker Contemporaries were fortunate enough to get a tour of the award-winning space in late September. The tour began in the Lakewood Chapel, a Byzantine-Romanesque creation to rival those in Europe.

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Soranno and Cook led the group over to the recently completed mausoleum – a stark contrast to the historically-recognizable chapel.

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This building is timeless, and was created to be so. Every aspect about the mausoleum was designed with age in mind, from the durable granite stone to the copper which will develop a beautiful patina.

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And as the building is focused specifically on the concept of people on the inside, the exterior stone reflects that as well in its personally proportionate size pieces.  The group ventured inside to find warmth, light, and muted color that combined a serious nature but also comfort and a sense of welcome.

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Rae Spencer, Jennifer Jorgensen, and Steven Imhoff

To reach the actual burial niches below, one must descend into the ground, but the light is not lost. Large skylights and walls of windows keep the space open, but separate rooms and hallways allow for privacy. Those in attendance were rapt by Soranno’s explanation of intimate detail

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Jeremy Black, DyShaun Muhammad, Matt Thell, and Joan Soranno

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A group of Contemporaries members with Jon Engel in the middle

The entire building seems never-ending: flowing in and out of the landscape effortlessly but planned to every last detail. The group ended the tour outside, staring back at the Lakewood Chapel as a reminder of where the journey began. It is not often that an architect has the chance to create something that will truly stand the test of time, but with this, Soranno and Cook have done Minneapolis proud not only for our lifetimes, but for hundreds of years to come.

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Rolling out the Red Carpet for the British Arrows

On December 7, more than 70 members of Contemporaries, the Walker’s young professional affinity group, got to avoid long lines and fighting for seats at the sold-out screenings for the British Arrows and instead rode the elevator to the Garden Terrace Room for a relaxing reception with plenty of tables and chairs for a leisurely private viewing.

On December 7, more than 70 members of Contemporaries, the Walker’s young professional affinity group, got to avoid long lines and fighting for seats at the sold-out screenings for the British Arrows and instead rode the elevator to the Garden Terrace Room for a relaxing reception with plenty of tables and chairs for a leisurely private viewing.

Diane Anderson and Chris Cunnington

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