In conjunction with 2014: The Year According to , our series of artist-generated best-of-2014 lists, Walker director Olga Viso shares her favorites—exhibitions, news events, projects, and inspiring moments—of the last 12 months. To read more of the Walker’s curatorial perspective on the year, read 2014: The Year According to Fionn Meade, by our new senior curator of cross-disciplinary platforms.
Memorable Museum Surveys
This was a year of memorable contemporary artist career surveys, especially those organized by major art museums. The most notable pairing that commenced the year for me in early January was the dueling midcareer surveys in Paris of Philippe Parreno (which closed at the Palais de Tokyo January 12) and Pierre Huyghe at the Pompidou (the traveling exhibition is on view at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art through February 22). The two shows by peer artists who have frequently collaborated could not have been more instructive, as each revealed not only the multifaceted practices of these individual artists but also the challenges and limits of the museum as institution and platform. Other real standouts surveys included those of German artists Isa Genzken and Sigmar Polke and Americans Christopher Williams and Robert Gober, all of which which I saw in New York at the Museum of Modern Art. It was a banner year for MoMA museum surveys.
Despite the male dominated nature of museum space in 2014, Kara Walker and Katharina Fritsch commanded with unabashed confidence far less traditional spaces in New York and London. Walker’s monumental “sugar baby” took over an abandoned Domino Sugar Factory in this ambitious project commissioned by Creative Time and supported by the National Endowment for the Arts (way to go NEA!). I was fortunate to see the piece on the last day of the exhibition run, when the sugar bearers made of molasses attending the sphinx-like figure were literally collapsing from within. This reality, and inevitability of materials, endowed this powerful work with even greater poignancy and tragedy. Fritsch’s commission for the Fourth Plinth of London’s Trafalgar Square similarly addressed its context and offered commentary on masculinity and the public pomp of this iconic, ceremonial British Square. As art critic Adrian Searle noted in The Guardian, “Crest erect, plump-breasted, with manicured spurs and a deliciously dissolute tangle of tail feathers, Katharina Fritsch’s Hahn/Cock is a startling blue presence on Trafalgar Square’s fourth plinth. Squaring up for a light-hearted cockfight with the admiral on his column, Fritsch’s sculpture is a strutting Napoleon giving Nelson the bird.”
Released in theaters this week following accolades at the Telluride and Cannes film festivals (I saw it at Telluride), the new Russian film Leviathan, directed by Andrey Zvyagintsev, is a powerful modern-day reworking of the Book of Job. The story is told through the eyes of a Russian fisherman who fights an unrelenting culture of graft and corruption in contemporary Russian society. The film’s producer, Alexander Rodnyansky, acknowledges that the work “deals with some of the most important social issues of contemporary Russia while never becoming an artist’s sermon or a public statement, it is a story of love and tragedy experienced by ordinary people.”
It was a compelling year for television miniseries and I was admittedly enthralled by MatthewMcConaughey’s and Woody Harrelson’s unforgettable performances in the HBO miniseries True Detective. This disturbing crime drama held me, as the plot was never easy to predict and the ultimate narrative of McConaughey’s and Harrelson’s unlikely bond and friendship remained unanticipated. I will also confess that I binged on past episodes of Homeland. And, just as my husband and I got caught up with this year’s season finale, we discovered the dsytopic British series Black Mirror. Now available on Netflix, this is a must see as it attempts to reveal the “dark side of life and technology” of the future in bold and imaginative ways, often absent of concerns of good taste and censorship. (For those as obsessed as I am, no, I have not yet taken in the new “White Christmas” episode starring John Hamm, which is unavailable unless you have satellite TV!)
The Oscar win for Best Film by artist director Steve McQueen for 12 Years a Slave struck a special chord for many of us in Minneapolis who had recently hosted McQueen with his Minneapolis-based producer Bill Pohlad. McQueen was the subject of a dialogue and retrospective at the Walker in our cinema program in November 2013. While in the Twin Cities, McQueen made himself available for a community Q&A following a special screening in Brooklyn Center that the Walker helped arrange with the film’s distributor and the artist.
Supporting Artistic Voice
This year the Walker launched Artist Op-Eds, an ongoing journalistic platform on the Walker’s website that invites artists across disciplines to author original content and offer commentary on the pressing issues of the day beyond their artistic practices. The series launched with provocative pieces by James Bridle, Dread Scott, Ana Tijoux, which explored a range of subjects including immigration policy, the institutionalization of violence, and other challenging issues around race and gender in contemporary culture (future installments are planned with offerings from Ron Athey, Sam Durant, Liz Deschenes, and others). Kudos to the Walker’s web editor Paul Schmelzer for initiating and championing this important platform, which supports the Walker’s mission to address the “questions that shape and inspire us as individuals, culturesl and communities.” The Walker’s activation of artistic voice around social and political issues was not reserved this year to this online platform. Theaster Gates’s dynamic conversation table, titled Holding Court, offered an active place of dialogue and convening in the exhibition Radical Presence: Black Performance in Contemporary Art, which closes January 4, 2015.
President Obama’s announcement that the US would begin to take steps to normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba was met with anticipation and emotion as I and 40 Walker patrons returned from a five-day Walker Patrons’ Circle trip to Havana this December. To witness the island and its populace in the days preceding this historic news was an extraordinary privilege and one made all the more poignant by my own heritage as the child of Cuban exiles. Thank you for showing such courage and leadership, Mr. President.
Ralph Lemon’s premiere of Scaffold Room at the Walker in September was one of the absolute standouts of our programmatic season—a truly crossdisciplinary moment that the artist aptly described as a “lecture-performance-musical.” Staged in the Walker galleries, it was a tough and provocative piece about rage and voice that refracted ideas of contemporary performance through archetypal black female personae in American culture, most notably Beyoncé. Scaffold Room’s juxtaposition with the exhibition Radical Presence: Black Performance in Contemporary Art deepened the work’s possibilities and register as dialogues erupted across platform one evening between Theaster Gates’s dialogue table and the galleries of Scaffold Room—both activated by Ralph’s presence and his collaborators’ utter generosity and openness about their work and process.
The Walker’s 75th anniversary celebration as a public art center this October was a must-see event in the Twin Cities thanks in part to the ever-popular Selfie Station created by Walker staff in Gallery 7. Five different photomural stations featured spectres from the Walker’s program history, including David Byrne, Trisha Brown, and the ONCE Group. The staff kicked off the anniversary celebration by lining up for a photo before a 1945 image of the grand staircase of the Walker’s beloved 1927 building. More than 17,000 people visited the Walker during this long weekend.
A personal highlight this summer was attending a ceremony at the White House in which the winners of the National Medal in the Arts and Humanities received their awards. Among those honored were choreographer Bill T. Jones and visual artist James Turrell, both of whom have deep history with the Walker. And our own Krista Tippet from public radio’s On Being was honored as well.