The Walker presented a roster of exhibitions within the 2015–2016 season that brought a rich range of experiences within our galleries, from a full-dress 50-year retrospective for painter Jack Whitten and a groundbreaking exhibition on the design innovations of the 1960s counterculture to the first US museum shows for artists Andrea Büttner and Lee Kit. These exhibitions—most of them Walker-organized—introduced new artists, new scholarship in the form of publications and dynamic online content, and new ways of interpreting our world through contemporary art.
The fall season began with the presentation of the exhibition Jack Whitten: Five Decades of Painting, a comprehensive exhibition organized by the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego, which showcased the persistently experimental and enduring work of this important American artist. Since the 1960s, Whitten has continued to explore the possibilities of paint and the allure of material qualities in his innovative studio process. The exhibition presented some 60 canvases, marking the first time one could experience the full breadth of the artist’s work. The Walker’s presentation, sponsored by RBC Wealth Management and generously supported by Elizabeth Redleaf, was extremely popular and included several new acquisitions from the Walker’s collection.
Another major exhibition to open in the fall was Hippie Modernism: The Struggle for Utopia, a Walker-organized exhibition assembled by design and architecture curator Andrew Blauvelt with the assistance of the Berkeley Art Museum/Pacific Film Archive, curatorial fellow Jordan Carter, and research assistant Anna Renken. The exhibition examined the intersections of art, architecture, and design with the counterculture of the 1960s and early 1970s, a period that witnessed a variety of radical experiments that explored new media, materials, and ways of living and working together. During this key moment, many artists, architects, and designers individually and collectively began a search for a new kind of utopia, whether technological, ecological, or political, and with it offered a critique of the existing society. The exhibition, which was accompanied by an award-winning scholarly catalogue, featured a broad range of innovations, including do-it-yourself furniture, unconventional living structures, immersive and participatory media environments, alternative publishing and ephemera, and experimental film. We are grateful to the Martin and Brown Foundation, the Prospect Creek Foundation, Annette and John Whaley, and Audrey and Zygi Wilf for their generous support of this exhibition, and to the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts for its support of the catalogue.
Continuing the Walker’s history of organizing important contemporary group exhibitions that expose new research and overlooked fields of inquiry, also presented during the 2015–2016 season was Ordinary Pictures, an exhibition offering a vital lens through which to consider how contemporary art intersects with our image-saturated lives. Spanning generations, movements, and artistic strategies, the show featured the work of some 45 artists who have reimagined the generic image—or stock photograph—since the 1960s, presenting work in a range of media including photography, painting, moving image, sculpture, installation, sound, prints, and multiples. Curated for the Walker by Eric Crosby, Richard Armstrong Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, Carnegie Museum of Art, with Walker curatorial assistant Misa Jeffereis, the exhibition was accompanied by a scholarly catalogue, and was generously sponsored by Dorsey & Whitney, with key support also provided by Jan and Ellen Breyer, Karen and Ken Heithoff, Michael J. Peterman and David A. Wilson, Robert and Rebecca Pohlad, Elizabeth Redleaf, and the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation.
The Walker also continued its priority to present first US solo exhibitions of artists at turning points in their careers, and still little known to American audiences. The year included the first US museum presentation on the work of German artist Andrea Büttner (b. 1972), who works in a range of traditional media, including woodcut printing, glass painting, and weaving. These she combines and contrasts with video, performance, and environments to create provocative connections between art history and social or ethical issues, with a particular interest in challenging the belief systems that underpin them. The exhibition, organized by Walker artistic director Fionn Meade with support from Franklin Art Works, Linda and Larry Perlman, and RBC Wealth Management, was presented in two gallery spaces, and also included a new Walker-commissioned installation by the artist.
The Walker also presented the first US solo exhibition on the work of Taipei-based artist Lee Kit (b. 1978). Lee creates evocative, object-based installations fashioned from everyday materials and household items, which he transforms through subtle gestures and placement to create environments that are personal, political, and poetic. The exhibition Lee Kit: Hold your breath, dance slowly included I can’t help falling in love (2012), an ambitious 13-channel video installation from the Walker’s collection, alongside a newly commissioned site-specific installation. Curated by Misa Jeffereis, the show was developed to allow the artist to work in the gallery space in the weeks prior to its opening, during which he responded to the gallery architecture by arranging objects and video projections and inserting new artworks. The resulting environment evoked a domestic space, its many small rooms replete with tables, folding chairs, lamps, and other household furnishings—creating an ephemeral and sensory space both intimate and universal. We are grateful to the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation, Franklin Art Works, Aedie and John McEvoy, and RBC Wealth Management for their generous support of this exhibition, and to the Asian Cultural Council for providing travel support.
Another solo exhibition premiering in this season was Chris Larson: Land Speed Record, a new multimedia installation by St. Paul–based artist Chris Larson (b. 1966) combining film, sound, and sculpture woven together with a unique narrative. Titled after a live album by 1980s Twin Cities punk band Hüsker Dü, the piece explores smoke-blackened objects—including antiques, auto parts, rock ephemera, master tapes, and musical instruments—from the home of band member Grant Hart, which were retrieved from a 2011 fire. Stored for several years in Larson’s studio, these became the basis for a meditative film and sculpture installation, focused on objects and memories left behind when their architectural enclosure has disappeared. Larson’s film, its accompanying drum soundtrack, and his sculptural re-creation of objects within the 7th St Entry, long one of the Twin Cities premier venues for emerging musical talent, form a tribute to a moment in alternative music history. Organized by Siri Engberg, senior curator of visual arts, and Doug Benidt, associate curator of performing arts, and made possible by generous support from Megan and James Dayton, Franklin Art Works, and Monica and David Nassif, with additional support provided by the Harpo Foundation, the exhibition also included a limited-edition vinyl LP with authored liner notes as its catalogue.
Other innovative exhibitions this year explored the Walker’s collections. Opening in the spring was Less Than One, organized by artistic director Fionn Meade with curatorial assistant Victoria Sung and support from Donna and Jim Pohlad, which focused on the work of 16 contemporary artists central to the Walker’s collection. Included alongside works from the Walker’s deep holdings by such artists as Jasper Johns and Kara Walker were signature works, including Sigmar Polke’s tour de force painting Mrs. Autumn and Her Two Daughters (1991). The exhibition also included several major multidisciplinary acquisitions, including Meredith Monk’s 16 Millimeter Earrings (1966/1998), the first installation by this important American composer, visual artist, and choreographer to be acquired by a museum; and Renée Green’s Bequest (1991), an immersive installation acquired in the 1990s and shown for the first time. In surveying a range of approaches and media, the exhibition underscored the often provocative, historically charged, and risk-taking nature of the Walker’s multidisciplinary holdings.
Another key moment around the collection this year involved the Walker’s presentation of graphic work by the Guerrilla Girls as part of the ongoing exhibition Art at the Center: 75 Years of Walker Collections. Formed in 1985, the Guerrilla Girls are a collective of artists, curators, and other women active in the world of culture, who produce posters, stickers, books, printed projects, and actions that expose sexism and racism in politics, the art world, and the culture at large. The Walker’s long history of collecting and programming with the Guerrilla Girls led to a project with partners in the Twin Cities arts community, in which the artists participated in public programs and workshops held at the Walker, the Minneapolis Institute of Art, the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, the Weisman Art Museum, St. Catherine University, Hennepin Theatre Trust, Juxtaposition Arts, and Highpoint Center for Printmaking.
In addition to the shows presented here, Walker exhibitions continued to reach broad audiences as they traveled to venues across the country. Hippie Modernism: The Struggle for Utopia embarked on a national tour through 2016 to the Cranbrook Art Museum and the Berkeley Art Museum/Pacific Film Archive. The highly acclaimed Walker exhibition International Pop toured to the Dallas Museum of Art and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where it was reviewed by the New York Times, which called it “a groundbreaking effort, it expands both the definition and the fomenters of Pop, reshaping it as the global phenomenon that it was.” As the Walker embarked on its yearlong renovations of its campus, an exhibition of 13 sculptures from the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden was sent to the Denver Botanic Gardens, where it was on view for a six-month run.
As we prepare for the reopening of our campus, we look forward to a year of dynamic exhibitions programming to activate our indoor and outdoor spaces, amplifying the Walker and its campus as an important center for art, ideas, and community.