Friday, July 9, 2010

A Visit to the Walker Museum of Contemporary Art in Minneapolis

As we approached the entrance of the museum the long, sloping lawn was full of people in black leotards. No, it wasn’t an elaborate performance piece with a large cast, but a yoga session. For the summer season, June 3-Sept. 5, the museum as a clever new slogan, program, and marketing scheme called “Walker Open Field.” The public is welcome to enjoy the lawn, for yoga, sunning, or simply rolling down the hill, as I saw some children doing. An open field bar & grill makes it even more inviting. Tables and chairs on the patio for those who enjoy sitting more than rolling.

Like the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (see previous post), there is too much in the collection to describe more than a sampling. One of my favorite galleries, a detail of which is illustrated above, is called “Benches & Binoculars.” The salon-style installation allows the museum to display a larger number of its large collection. Because many of the works date from decades ago, it also, according to the gallery notes, encourages visitors to rethink notions of what constitutes contemporary art. Just what does a “museum of contemporary art” do with an aging collection? They must either redefine contemporary, compromise and admit to maintaining a collection of “once-contemporary” art, or, as some do on principle, forego a permanent collection entirely. The title of the gallery refers to the benches strewn haphazardly down the middle and the binoculars wired to them for viewing the paintings hung on high. (I found the binoculars more annoying than helpful.)

I was delighted to find that the Walker has a Turrell (called Sky Pesher, 2005, above). However, I wouldn’t have discovered it had I not coincidentally engaged in a conversation with a friendly volunteer who told me where it’s located. If you’ve never had the pleasure of visiting one, the image above—which is looking up through the glassless sky window typical of his work—can’t convey the peaceful, meditative space he’s created.

The Walker’s main exhibit is Guillermo Kuitca: Everything—Painting and Works on Paper, 1980-2008. Only the most egoistic or narcissistic of artists—and there is no lack of either—can live in one place for long without being influenced by its culture. Kuitca has been living and painting in Argentina for the duration indicated by the title. At first glance, much of the work seems to have little to say about Argentina, being abstractions and distortions of uninhabited architectural motifs. I would have found it hard to relate to his work if I’d chanced upon one or two of his tiny, precious drawings or watercolors, or even the enormous mixed media paintings (example above, right) or a floor full of burnt mattresses printed with maps (see them on Walker Art Center website or But by putting them all together, the Walker has not only made sense of these enigmatic works but illuminated the inner workings of Kuitca’s creative imagination. It becomes a compelling document of a global society with contradictory impulses, where humanity overwhelms the environment and individuals disappear. “Everything” in the exhibition title comes from an enormous mixed media collage of the same name. The reproduction of it (below) dilutes its impact and makes it hard to read the content, which is street maps from cities all over the U.S. with all the open spaces between them removed. The result is a cancerous obliteration of nature, with us as the malignant growth. (No urban wilderness in sight, nor even imaginable.)

Of course we spent time in the adjacent sculpture garden with the famous Oldenburg spoon and cherry fountain (top) that has long represented Minneapolis as the Calatrava now does Milwaukee.

The swing makes this Di Suvero atypical.

This is one bench/art work (right) from an installation of, oh, I didn't count them, maybe 24. They form a square in a hedged garden space. The works are titled Selections from 'the Living Series' (which implies there are even more of them) by Jenny Holzer. Each bench has a different sentence etched into it as in this case. In a text panel she says that the writings describe “everyday events” that had some kind of “kink” to them along with “sociopolitical observations or absurdities” I found them to be pessimistic, negative, and often paranoid. But intriguing enough to read every one.

My favorite in the garden is this one (below) by David Graham, which he calls “Hedge Labyrinth.” It involves a grid of living hedges, steel mesh, and mirrored windows. Graham is new to me and now I want to see more!

No comments:

Post a Comment