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Interdisciplinary Initiatives

As a multidisciplinary art center, Walker Art Center brings visual arts, moving image, performing arts, and design into dialogue in order to examine the questions that shape and inspire us as individuals, cultures, and communities. The Walker is a world leader in championing interdisciplinary practices—approaches to creating art that challenges boundaries defining disciplines and media. The Walker’s programs chart the constantly shifting and porous boundaries of disciplines such as visual arts, moving image, and performing arts, expressed through varying media and materials. We celebrate the ambiguities and questions that interdisciplinary practices pose, and do so across our many platforms—the gallery, theater stage, garden, cinema, and even the interstitial public spaces of our building and campus.

In September, we hosted the conference New Circuits: Curating Contemporary Performance, with support from a curatorial fellowship grant from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, which brought together an audience of approximately 155 curators, programmers, writers, and artists from the visual arts and performing arts fields at both local and national institutions as well as artist-run spaces. Featuring conversations between artists and curators, panel discussions, and performances, New Circuits drew professionals from both sides of curating performance in order to address timely areas of inquiry such as new models of performance curating that have arisen within and outside of the museum setting; evolving standards for collecting and archiving performance and live arts; challenges faced and learning opportunities in producing, commissioning, and acquiring performance-based art; and shared efforts toward advocacy and agency in the context of curating performance across stage, gallery, and emerging platforms.

A major highlight from the past fiscal year of interdisciplinary acquisitions includes MC9 (2012) by Charles Atlas, a moving image work conceived for a gallery environment and a key work of the upcoming 2017 exhibition Merce Cunningham: Common Time. This multichannel moving image and sculptural installation explores the intersections of media and dance, and consists of reconfigured materials that Atlas made with and about choreographer and dancer Merce Cunningham (1919–2009) over a 30-year period of collaboration. MC9 occupies a crucial place in the history of video installation, and in particular the role that moving image can play in extending the possibilities of performance via technology. Joint acquisitions between the Visual Arts and Moving Image departments continue to play an active role, with the collaboration yielding two significant additions to the permanent collection in the last year—You The Better, Film Installation (1983/2015) by Ericka Beckman and Rosebud (2013) by James Richards. The Walker has fostered ongoing relationships with both artists—Richards via the Moving Image Commissions, and Beckman beginning as early as 1984, when You The Better was presented as a cinematic screening. In Less Than One, You The Better took over the entire Perlman Gallery, presented as an expanded installation combining the moving image along with props used in the film, collapsing the distinction between the space of the image and sculpture.

The ethos of looking back at our collections and history via the lens of the present has underlined our Moving Image Commissions, initiated in May 2015. Realized in close collaboration between Visual Arts and Moving Image, this ongoing initiative sees leading international artists premier new work via the Walker website. Following a first round of commissions with Moyra Davey and James Richards responding to Ruben/Bentson Moving Image Collection holdings by of Derek Jarman, this past year we have extended invitations to Uri Aran and Shahryar Nashat to respond to holdings by the Belgian poet/filmmaker/artist Marcel Broodthaers. The resulting commissions not only raise awareness around our collection but also contextualize and test the influence of a key historical practice such as Broodthaers’s through the eyes of leading contemporary artists. Accompanied by scholarly online essays by Bentson Film Scholar Isla Leaver-Yap, the Moving Image Commissions bring forward in-depth research and new works, which have since been seen across our platforms—as in the case of James Richards’s Radio at Night, which premiered online in 2015, and this past year has been on view in our galleries as part of the exhibition Less Than One. Since its commissioning at the Walker, Radio at Night has been a core work of Richards’s solo exhibition at London’s Institute of Contemporary Art, while Nashat’s Present Sore was included in the artist’s exhibition at Portikus, Frankfurt.

The solo exhibition Chris Larson: Land Speed Record, a new multimedia installation by Minnesota-based artist Chris Larson combining film, sound, and sculpture woven together with a unique narrative, was the result of a close collaboration between Visual Arts and Performing Arts. Larson’s film, its accompanying drum soundtrack, and his sculptural re-creation of objects form a tribute to a moment in alternative music history. Organized by curators from Visual Arts and Performing Arts, the exhibition also included a limited-edition vinyl LP with authored liner notes as its catalogue.

In-depth research, cross-departmental collaboration, and prescient acquisitions have informed one of our largest interdisciplinary initiatives—the 2017 exhibition Merce Cunningham: Common Time. In 2011, the Walker acquired the Merce Cunningham Dance Company Collection, which comprises more than 4,000 individual items from some 150 choreographic works across the company’s 50-year history and Cunningham’s full career. Over the past four years, the collection has undergone significant research and conservation efforts, thanks to generous support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. These have included the photographing of numerous items, condition reporting and the preparation of costumes, décor, and props toward presentation in-gallery spaces for the landmark show. Merce Cunningham: Common Time affirms the significance of Cunningham not only to our collection and performing arts history, but also to the very spirit of interdisciplinary collaboration.