Darsie Alexander’s office is a mess. The walls are plastered with hundreds of photocopied images, from Warhol’s Sixteen Jackies to Beuys’ Felt Suit to a giant photograph of a boxing match by Andreas Gursky. Punctuating them is an assortment of Post-Its marked with cryptic notes, ideas in formation, and arrows pointing to visual relationships—relationships that will play out in the galleries when the Walker’s new collection exhibitions open on November 21.
Conceiving of and assembling this expansive series of installations—which will fill five galleries—was a priority for Alexander after arriving as the Walker’s new chief curator last winter. Opening dates were already set, so she barely had her e-mail set up before delving into an intensive study of the 11,000-plus artworks, films, and performance documents that make up the Walker’s collection. Getting a feel for its pulse involved the help of her fellow curators, plus a lot of time spent walking around the galleries and exploring art storage. And then there are her office walls. “All of these color copies are a modest way of living with the work and its ideas. They enable me to practice a few visual relationships in miniature form,” says Alexander. “Still, nothing compares to the excitement of bringing the art into the galleries and witnessing how ideas play out in real time, in real space. With such an extraordinary collection of works in all media, I know the collection installation will deliver a plethora of themes, some of which we’ve planned but others I can only guess at. That’s part of the fun.”
Even before she arrived at the Walker, Alexander was in touch with its curators, gaining their perspectives and insights in phone meetings and via e-mail. Visual arts curator Elizabeth Carpenter has played a central role as the exhibitions’ co-curator, given her deep connection to the institution’s holdings. Her knowledge of Walker history, coupled with Alexander’s fresh perspective, make for a strong and complementary duo. “This is my third major reinstallation of the collection since I came to the Walker, and it never ceases to amaze me how remarkably rich it is, and the number of histories and narratives we can draw from it,” says Carpenter. McGuire senior curator for performing arts Philip Bither, film curator Sheryl Mousley, design curator Andrew Blauvelt, and education and community programs director Sarah Schultz have also been vitally important in talking through ways to represent the multidisciplinary nature of the collection in a single show. “They’ve all offered great advice on keeping the gallery spaces dynamic,” Alexander says. “While the exhibition in galleries 1, 2, and 3 will run for nearly three years, we want new experiences to unfold over that time span—fresh discoveries for regular visitors that will reinforce the fact that, as a multidisciplinary arts center, change is ongoing here.”
The notion of change became essential in working out the key themes of the exhibitions, given the experiential, performative, and temporal nature of the art of the 1960s and ’70s, particular areas of Walker strength and interest. Alexander is also thinking about the arts’ connections to real-life events, such as philosophical, social, and political shifts, global conflict, or the seemingly inconsequential facets of the everyday. Art has always responded to life, she says, but in contemporary practice the lines between the two are especially porous.
Other kinds of change will be quickly apparent to visitors. “There will be a notable contrast to the look of the galleries as they appear now—spare, elegant, and loosely chronological,” Alexander notes. “In November, we’ll be using the collection to create a changeable thematic exhibition, one that will have a range of subplots and visual contrasts.” She anticipates that people will find new rhythms in the galleries, with some feeling very dense and active and others rather quiet, like a deep, cleansing breath.