Minneapolis painter Frank Gaard, who has a solo show opening at Flanders Contemporary Art April 1, continues guest blogging with his perspective on the architecture of the new Herzog & de Meuron Walker expansion.
I remember an artist in Soho calling the then-new Barnes Walker, “Martin’s Loft,” after former Walker director Martin Friedman. When you take a look at those seven galleries you can easily conceptualize them as lofts, with all the amenities necessary to institutional architecture, of course. So not only does Mr. Barnes square the Guggenheim of Mr. Wright, but he adds the space once found on Spring Street in the days before Prada and Gucci took over Soho.
My thesis: each half of the new Walker represents different epochs in the history of contemporary art, much as the towers of the famed Chartres Cathedral were built in two different styles three centuries apart. The Barnes Walker gives us the certainty of Minimalism and formalism whilst the Herzog Walker gives us the diversity and uncertainty of the field today. The tower of the Barnes building is very Apollonian, and the stumpy Herzog tower our Dionysiac structure, with a vertiginous theater inside (Dionysus being the G-d of theater and wine). What the blending of these two structures yields is a short Cliff Notes version of where we came from and where we are going.
I like to call contemporary art from Don Judd to Paul McCarthy the post-Pee-Wee’s Playhouse Era. Herzog built a museum for such uncertain times. At first seeming like a movie set (German Expressionist style or a Wagnerian opera set), the Herzog Building is very theatrical. Watching Kara Walker talk with Mssr. Vergne from the highest balcony in the new theater, you do know you are in a tower, a tower within another tower like an egg in a nest. Myself, I feel like I have a destination, a place I feel at home and at sea in this place. The future is never exactly like the plans we made for it. Martin Friedman gave us a sort of Manhattan Walker, very Uptown, very I-got-drunk-with-Marcel-Duchamp-and-Marty-Friedman, etc. (lofts).
This new Walker combines the flat Walker (RECTANGULAR) and the new bumpy Walker, and in between you get the passages where the architects negotiate the relationships between the two buildings. The street facing Hennepin now is a giant window on the first level. The back connection, near that brown staircase (for nudes to descend natch) is a glass wall too. This connecting point is what gives the building its form: two larger structures separated by their linkage.
The gallery where the Sigmar Polke painting of Autumn and her daughters hangs is the fulcrum of the whole complex, it’s the connection between the galleries but it’s also the most beautiful room to see contemporary art in the area, it’s neutral aesthetic space where Charles Ray and Anselm Kiefer dwell. I think it’s best when towers are at a distance from once another, this space is where the soup is made. This is the mixing spot. But that purple-brown brick staircase at the back of the gallery of minimalist art is a thing to enjoy. No, I just think it’s hard to make a and b get along.
And the gardens are yet to come. The building was designed to have the landscaping visible at certain sites, like a background or a spectacle outside the windows. This Herzog does windows, mon ami. So the new Walker is still a work in progress. But we are lucky to have this place, this dreamy realm we give many names, this new meta-Walker will outlive its critique.
The new galleries based on Barnes’ galleries are slightly taller and finish at the floor more sweetly. I noticed the height looking at some of those enormous vertical silkscreen paintings of Andy Warhol. The walls do seem so white, like church. But we do love these things, like the Warhols or just that the circus has a brand new bigger tent.
Beauty is half the value of its utility, the second half is invention. If something works, it becomes more beautiful. One function of architecture is to build structures that will also be useful to the future occupants. …..of the Walker’s new tower, its humility, its humor and its humanity–its shiny stumpy splendor.