Sites of Invention: 13 Interdisciplinary Exhibitions at the Walker
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Sites of Invention: 13 Interdisciplinary Exhibitions at the Walker

Bill T. Jones, rehearsal for We Set Out Early…Visibility Was Poor, September 25, 1998 at Northrup Auditorium, presented as part of Art Performs Life: Merce Cunningham/Meredith Monk/Bill T. Jones, Walker Art Center. Courtesy Walker Art Center Archives

For decades, the Walker’s world-renowned collections and commissions have featured generations of artists whose works expand the possibilities of art through the merging of disciplines, while its exhibition program has served as a laboratory for artists working outside traditional media or who are combining practices to create hybrid art forms. In 1971, a pivotal moment in the museum’s history, the Walker opened its new building designed by Edward Larrabee Barnes. The architecture of these new galleries—a spiraling series of large, connected rectangles free of structural columns that might impede sightlines—allowed for a new flexibility in ways that spaces could be used and experienced by artists and audiences alike.

Among the first exhibitions to be presented in these inaugural years were a range of projects that blurred the boundaries between art forms. In 1972, a retrospective on the work of Arte Povera artist Mario Merz also served as the backdrop for Event #32, an important piece by the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, which was performed live in the galleries alongside Merz’s large-scale sculptures. Pioneering and contemporary, this coexistence of art, performance, and audience in the space of the museum gallery reflected ways that artists since the late 1950s had begun to think more freely about the possibility of intertwining areas of artistic practice. For curators, this fusion became a template for exhibitions that would follow, in which artistic disciplines were given license to blend within the space of the gallery itself. Here, performances, film, and video were often presented side by side and in dialogue with objects and viewers.

This sampling of key interdisciplinary exhibitions and projects at the Walker from the 1980s to the present—from Tokyo: Form and Spirit to Merce Cunningham: Common Time—highlights and reflects on a number of these landmark shows. Today, as we continue to follow artists who are increasingly working across or within multiple disciplines, this history can provide important context as to how an exhibition can be a site of invention for artists, with potential to come to life in unexpected ways for audiences.

Merce Cunningham Dance Company performing Event #32 in the gallery alongside Mario Merz’s Fibonacci Igloo (1972), Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, 1972. Photo: James Klosty

Tokyo: Form and Spirit

Curator: Mildred Friedman
Walker Art Center, April 20–July 20, 1986
Traveled to: Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; IBM Gallery of Science and Art, New York; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
Publication: Mildred Friedman, ed., Tokyo: Form and Spirit (Minneapolis: Walker Art Center, 1986)

A major Walker exhibition, organized in association with Japan House Gallery, New York, Tokyo: Form and Spirit looked at historical and contemporary aspects of life in Japan. The exhibition encompassed performance, architecture, design, and visual art, exploring the inventiveness and continuity of Japanese culture from the Edo period (1603–1868) to the present. The presentation was divided into seven sections—Walking, Living, Working, Playing, Performing, Reflecting, Spirit—each contrasting the old with the new and staged within installations conceived by prominent architects and designers.

As part of the exhibition, the Walker presented the Tokyo Arts Festival, a three-month performing arts series that showcased the work of a range of musicians, dancers, and theater artists. The festival included a new music series with performances by experimental musicians Ushio Torikai and Mamory Fujieda and the ARK Ensemble of Tokyo; a Kubuki-style performance by dancers Suzushi and Suzuetsu Hanayagi; the multimedia event The Movieteller by the poet and performer Walter Lew, which included dance, music, and film; and performances by the contemporary Japanese dance company Sankai Juku and the Kita Noh Theater Company of Tokyo, among many other events.

In the Spirit of Fluxus

Curators: Elizabeth Armstrong with Joan Rothfuss
Walker Art Center, February 14–June 6, 1993
Traveled to: Whitney Museum of Art, New York; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus, OH; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Santa Barbara Museum of Art, CA; Fundació Antoni Tàpies, Barcelona; Les musées de Marseille, France; Hessenhuis, Antwerp
Publication: Simon Anderson, Elizabeth Armstrong, Andreas Huyssen, Bruce Jenkins, Douglas Kahn, Joan Rothfuss, Owen F. Smith, and Kristine Stiles, In the Spirit of Fluxus (Minneapolis: Walker Art Center, 1993)

In the Spirit of Fluxus was the first comprehensive museum exhibition focused on Fluxus, an inherently interdisciplinary artistic movement composed of an international network of artists, writers, composers, performers, and filmmakers from the United States, Eastern Europe, and Japan. The exhibition highlighted the wide-ranging activities of the loosely knit group whose approach to art and life influenced the development of a number of major art forms, including performance art, video art, Minimalism, and Conceptual Art. Drawing from both the Walker’s collection and key national and international loans, the show included performance relics, books, object multiples, posters, films, and full-scale reconstructions of Fluxus environments. Many works within the gallery were interactive, allowing visitors to become performers—wandering a maze, exploring the contents of a hidden box—within the galleries.

The exhibition, which had an extensive international tour, featured works by Eric Andersen, Ay-O, Joseph Beuys, George Brecht, Robert Filliou, Ken Friedman, Geoffrey Hendricks, Dick Higgins, Joe Jones, Milan Knizak, Alison Knowles, Arthur Koepcke, Shigeko Kubota, Larry Miller, George Maciunas, Yoko Ono, Nam June Paik, Benjamin Patterson, Takako Saito, Paul Sharits, Mieko (Chieko) Shiomi, Daniel Spoerri, Ben Vautier, Wolf Vostell, Yoshi Wada, Robert Watts, Emmett Williams, and La Monte Young, among many others.

Joseph Beuys Multiples

Curator: Joan Rothfuss
Walker Art Center, September 21, 1997–January 4, 1998
Traveled to: Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha, NE; John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota, FL; Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin; Barbican Art Gallery, London; San Jose Museum of Art, CA
Publication: Joan Rothfuss and Jörg Schellmann, eds., Joseph Beuys: The Multiples (Munich: Edition Schellmann, 1997)

This major exhibition on the work of Joseph Beuys (1921–1986) featured his multiples—objects produced in editions, which were usually inexpensive and often small in scale. Reflective of the artist’s goal to make art available to a wide public, Beuys referred to his multiples “vehicles” for communication: through their broad distribution, he believed ideas could spread far beyond his own range.

Drawn primarily from the Walker’s Alfred and Marie Greisinger Collection, the exhibition featured more than 300 objects in myriad forms, from graphic works (woodcuts, etchings, lithographs, and screenprints) to photographs, records, audio cassettes, videotapes, films, books, leaflets, posters, postcards, printed matter, and found objects. The galleries additionally contained a classroom space, in which lectures and performances regularly occurred throughout the run of the show.

Beuys’s work through his career included sculpture, performance, lectures, activism, and even a run at elected office. His vision for his work was a utopian one that combined art, life and activism, drawing upon disciplines—including religion natural science, mythology, and economics—to inform his practice. In addition to making objects—the focus of the Walker’s collection and of the related exhibition—Beuys was also a performer. His “actions,” which related to his object-based works, were symbolic events that advocated for art’s role in changing society. These actions included an event where he spent several days with a coyote in a New York gallery; lecture-performances on various topics; and a global tree-planting project that presaged today’s crowd-sourced activities.

The latter project, entitled 7000 Oaks (1982), was one of the artist’s most famous: a massive reforestation project in which 7,000 trees were planted throughout Germany’s war-impacted landscape. In conjunction with the Walker’s exhibition Joseph Beuys Multiples, this project was reprised in Minnesota, with the Walker and community partners coordinating the planting of more than 1,000 saplings in Cass Lake, St. Paul, and in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden.

Art Performs Life: Merce Cunningham/Meredith Monk/Bill T. Jones

Curators: Siri Engberg, Kellie Jones, and Philippe Vergne
Walker Art Center, June 28–September 20, 1998
Publication: Siri Engberg, Kellie Jones, and Philippe Vergne, Art Performs Life: Merce Cunningham/Meredith Monk/Bill T. Jones (Minneapolis: Walker Art Center, 1998)

The multimedia and interdisciplinary work of three essential innovators in the performing arts—Merce Cunningham (1919–2009), Meredith Monk (b. 1942), and Bill T. Jones (b. 1952)—was presented in a major museum exhibition context for the first time in the seminal Walker show Art Performs Life. Recognizing the critical contribution each artist had made to the history of 20th-century performance, the presentation dedicated one full gallery to each of these figures, weaving together music, movement, objects, and moving images to create new landscapes out of props, costumes, stage sets, film and video projections, audio recordings, and photographs.

Exploring major performances by Cunningham, Monk, and Jones in a gallery setting, the exhibition gave visitors the opportunity to experience the aesthetic drama of each artist’s unique and highly visual performance-based work, which often involved collaboration with visual artists. Beyond the gallery component, each artist and their full company visited Minneapolis during the run of the exhibition to showcase new or recent work, conduct workshops, or participate in artist talks.

At the time, the concept for this exhibition felt like the turning of a new page. In speaking of the Walker’s work in this arena in 1998, Director Kathy Halbreich wrote in the exhibition’s catalogue, “While [previous Walker] exhibitions have suggested the intertwining of the visual and performing arts, it is only now that we have fully crossed the traditional separation between the museum’s space and the stage in organizing a presentation that brings the performing arts directly into the galleries. We knew this was a risky curatorial undertaking, one that would require developing a new conceptual model for mounting exhibitions. Cunningham, Monk, and Jones … were fearless, exacting, and liberating collaborators in this experiment.”

How Latitudes Become Forms: Art in a Global Age

Curators: Philippe Vergne, with Douglas Fogle and Olukemi Ilesanmi
Walker Art Center, February 9, 2003–March 18, 2003
Traveled to: Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo Per L’Arte, Torino, Italy; Contemporary Arts Museum Houston
Publication: Philippe Vergne, ed., How Latitudes Become Forms: Art in a Global Age (Minneapolis: Walker Art Center, 2003)

The major Walker exhibition How Latitudes Become Forms: Art in a Global Age revealed how the rise of globalism has affected aesthetics and artistic production. A new internationalism created tremendous challenges to old economic, political, and cultural paradigms, and these changes are reflected in artistic practices. Notably, disciplinary boundaries are crossed as easily as geographical ones.

The exhibition featured a large performing arts component, which included a range of in-gallery performances by artists such as the Brazilian performance artist Marepe, South African interdisciplinary artist Robin Rhode, Beijing-based Song Dong, and choreographer Ralph Lemon (who also produced the new commission Come home Charley Patton, as part of his Geography trilogy). An international performance series in the Walker’s theater included projects by Groupo Corpo, Lia Rodrigues, and Moreno Veloso (Brazil); Kim Itoh and the Glorious Future (Japan), Tartit (Mali), the Builders Association and Moti Roti (NY/UK), and Living Dance Studio (China)

Shake Rattle and Roll: Christian Marclay

Curators: Joan Rothfuss and Doug Benidt
Copresented by the Walker Art Center and Franklin Art Works, Minneapolis, April 26–August 14, 2004

This exhibition of works by artist and experimental musician Christian Marclay (b. 1955) was presented in collaboration with the independent space Franklin Art Works when the Walker’s new building expansion was under construction. The presentation was anchored by the Walker-commissioned video installation, Shake Rattle and Roll (fluxmix) (2004), a project Marclay created during his artist residency at the Walker. The work emerged from his exploration of the Walker’s extensive Fluxus collection—some 500 works by such artists as Yoko Ono, Nam June Paik, and Ben Vautier—and its holdings of multiples by Joseph Beuys. Presented across 16 video monitors, Marclay’s work shows a pair of gloved hands manipulating these art objects, including wooden toys and games, puzzles, and other items originally meant to be interacted with or touched. His playful investigation of the objects’ sonic possibilities created a clamorous symphony of images and sounds. The exhibition also included the video Mixed Reviews (2001), featuring an actor reciting a collage of music reviews in American Sign Language, and the print suite Graffiti Composition (1996–2002).

OPEN-ENDED (the art of engagement)

Curator: Doryun Chong
Walker Art Center, March 26–June 18, 2006

Can an art gallery be a stage, media station, info lounge, salon, or cinematheque? Can it shape a chaotic utopia or utopian chaos that creates a community? These challenging questions activated OPEN-ENDED (the art of engagement), an exhibition that invited visitors to go beyond mere viewing to playing an active role in art. The presentation brought together artists with whom the Walker has formed ongoing relationships to construct and energize a shared space. Three new projects by past Walker artists-in-residence—choreographer Ralph Lemon, filmmaker Spencer Nakasako, and visual artist Rirkrit Tiravanija—were built on site. Constantly evolving, OPEN-ENDED also included video screenings, events, and performances by artists such as Marcus Young, Mankwe Ndosi, Matt Bakom, Mike Siv and Prach, and the Myra Melford /Dawn Saito/Oguri company as well as a series of salons, both programmed and spontaneous, where visitors could gather for discussion. An attempt to question the distinction between art and life and to build a community inside the gallery, OPEN-ENDED aimed to be a social space for all.


Trisha Brown: So That the Audience Does Not Know Whether I Have Stopped Dancing

Curator: Peter Eleey
Walker Art Center, April 18–July 20, 2008
Traveled to: Mills College Art Museum, Oakland, CA; Musée d’art contemporain de Lyon, France
Publication: Eleey, Peter, ed., Trisha Brown: So That the Audience Does Not Know Whether I Have Stopped Dancing (Minneapolis: Walker Art Center, 2008)

While Trisha Brown (1936–2017) was best known for her innovative choreographies that revolutionized modern dance, the artist regularly made drawings and other works beyond the stage that integrated the performing and visual arts. This exhibition considered Brown’s lesser-known visual arts practice at a moment of increasing interest in the broad sweep of her work and its influence.

Drawing featured prominently in Brown’s maverick practice, shifting from a tool for schematic composition to a fully realized component of her broader investigation into the limits of her own body. The exhibition centered on a broad survey of drawings created over more than three decades, and also included a new work on paper performed by the artist in the gallery at the show’s opening. The exhibition also took inspiration from Brown’s interest in reorienting the performer and audience, through the inclusion of a performance installation, Planes (1968), which placed live dancers on the wall of the gallery, and Skymap (1969), a participatory audio work that invited visitors to lie on the gallery floor and contemplate the ceiling. The former work is a major early performance that includes a film by Jud Yalkut and soundtrack by Simone Forti; the latter, Skymap, was Brown’s one attempt to engage the ceiling as a performative surface.

Revealing how the arc of Brown’s drawing work paralleled her developments in dance, film and video recordings of major performances were also on view throughout the galleries. During the run of the exhibition, a number of the artist’s early performance works were also staged in both indoor and outdoor spaces throughout the Walker campus, including a rare presentation of Man Walking Down the Side of a Building (1970) as well as performances by the full company staged as part of the Walker’s performing arts season.

Related resources:

Essay: “If You Couldn’t See Me: The Drawings of Trisha Brown,” by Peter Eleey
Video: “Trisha Brown: Talking Art and Dance (with Philip Bither & Peter Eleey)


Eiko & Koma: Naked

Curators: Bartholomew Ryan and Doug Benidt
Walker Art Center, November 2–30, 2010
Walker Commission
Publication: Joan Rothfuss, ed., Eiko & Koma: Time Is Not Even, Space Is Not Empty (Minneapolis: Walker Art Center, 2011)

Naked was a Walker Art Center commission with renowned Japanese movement artists Eiko & Koma (active since 1972). The project was developed in part during a creative residency at the Park Avenue Armory in New York during the summer and fall of 2010. As the artists described it, Naked was “a ‘living’ environmental installation” that explored themes of nakedness, desire, and the elasticity of time. The artists were “on view,” performing for a total of 144 hours during open gallery hours for the month of November 2010.

As envisioned by the artists, the project allowed for the merging of art forms as the gallery itself became a stage. Naked, conceived in its form as a durational dance/visual art installation, was sited within a space in the exhibition Event Horizon, a presentation of film, video, performance, painting, sculpture, and photography drawn from the Walker’s rich, multidisciplinary holdings. Created specifically for the Walker space, Eiko & Koma’s organic, time-based performance touched on universal themes relating to nature and the body. In the piece, the artists explored a conceptual environment that captured the senses, while their exposed bodies served as a metaphor for raw human existence and the longing of the soul. Visitors were invited to stay for a few minutes or the entire day and could return to the gallery space numerous times to see the piece evolve.

Related resources:

Galley Guide
Video: “Talking Dance with Eiko & Koma
Video: “Eiko and Koma discussing their upcoming residency at the Walker


Yves Klein: With the Void, Full Powers

Curators: Kerry Brougher (Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden) and Philippe Vergne (Walker Art Center)
Walker Art Center, October 23, 2010–February 13, 2011
Traveled to: Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC
Publication: Brougher, Kerry, Kaira Cabañas, Andrea Hickey, Klaus Ottmann, and Philippe Vergne, Yves Klein: With the Void, Full Powers (Washington, DC/Minneapolis: Hirschhorn/Walker Art Center, 2010)

Half shaman, half showman, artist Yves Klein (1928–1962) took the European art scene by storm in a career that lasted just eight years, from 1954 to 1962. An innovator who embraced painting, sculpture, performance, photography, music, theater, film, architecture, and theoretical writing, Klein was a precursor of many movements of the postwar avant-garde, including Minimal Art, Conceptual Art, land art, and performance art. He self-identified as “the painter of space,” seeking to achieve immaterial spirituality through pure color—primarily an ultramarine blue of his own invention, which he named International Klein Blue. Through these and other experiments Klein aimed to reach “beyond the problematic in art” and rethink the world in spiritual and aesthetic terms, creating a pivotal transition between modern art’s concern with material objects and contemporary notions about the conceptual nature of art.

With some 200 pieces, including paintings, sculptures, drawings, documents, photographs, and films, this comprehensive exhibition covered the full range of Klein’s body of work that broke new ground and blended traditional artistic mediums with performance and spiritual exploration. The exhibition also included École de Klein, an event series exploring Yves Klein’s curiosities, life, and work through a program of lectures, gallery talks, art labs, film, and experimental performances by the dance collective Supergroup, artist Marcus Young, and poet and critic John Yau, among others.

Related resources:

Video: “Free Verse: John Yau on Yves Klein
Video: “Opening-Day Talk: Yves Klein: With the Void, Full Powers

Ralph Lemon: Scaffold Room

Curators: Bartholomew Ryan, Philip Bither, and Doug Benidt
Walker Art Center, September 19–25, 2014
Walker Commission
Traveled to: Bard College/The Fisher Center for Performing Arts, and The Kitchen, NY

Choreographer and visual artist Ralph Lemon (b. 1952) merged performance, visual art, music, and text in Scaffold Room, a “lecture-performance-musical” that refracts ideas of contemporary performance through archetypal black female personae in American culture. Presented as both a live performance and an installation in the Walker’s Burnet Gallery, the piece was presented in a confined, two-story sculptural environment, in essence its own theater, constructed by the artist. The work connects Okwui Okpokwasili and April Matthis (performing live) with 86-year-old Edna Carter and her extended family (on video) as they “act out” assumptions about prescribed cultural body politics. The piece also included an electronic/turntable-based sound score, created and performed by composer Marina Rosenfeld. As a companion to the exhibition, Lemon and Jim Findlay’s sound and image installation Meditation—now in the Walker’s collection—was presented in the McGuire Theater. Conceived as the final piece of his work cycle How Do You Stay in the House All Day and Not Go Anywhere, this immersive experience freely associated themes from the entire series through high-definition projection, shadow and light, sound, atmosphere, and memory.

Related resources:

Interview: “Sacred Spaces: Ralph Lemon, Okwui Okpokwasili, and April Matthis Discuss Scaffold Room
Interview: “Beyonce the Readymade: A Conversation with Okwui Okpokwasili and Saidiya Hartman
Essay: “Thomas J. Lax on Ralph Lemon: An Afterword

Art Expanded, 1958–1978

Curators: Eric Crosby, with Liz Glass and Misa Jeffereis
Walker Art Center, June 14, 2014–March 1, 2015
Publication: Eric Crosby, ed., Living Collections Catalogue, VolumeII: Art Expanded, 1958–1978 (Minneapolis: Walker Art Center, 2015)

Drawn from the Walker’s extensive collection of artworks, films, archival materials, and ephemera, this exhibition explored the many facets of the so-called “expanded arts” scene of the 1960s and ’70s, a period marking a transformational phase in the history of 20th-century art when artists around the world collectively began to challenge, critique, and upend traditional media and disciplines. The teachings of John Cage, the emergence of event scores and Happenings, the dissemination of Fluxus material and editions, and the embrace of conceptualism, performance, video, television, avant-garde film, and experimental music—all were factors in the context of a rapidly changing world that influenced artists and thinkers as they tested art’s evolving status as object, information, and experience.

The exhibition was an opportunity to bring together both iconic and rarely seen pieces from the Walker’s collection, along with recent acquisitions and newly conserved sculptures that had been previously impossible to exhibit as their technologies were obsolete. Included were some 300 works by more than 100 artists, filmmakers, and choreographers, assembled into thematic interdisciplinary groupings in the spirit of the time. Among the artists featured were George Brecht, Trisha Brown, John Cage, Tony Conrad, Merce Cunningham, Jasper Johns, Allan Kaprow, Yayoi Kusama, Yoko Ono, Nam June Paik, Adrian Piper, Yvonne Rainer, and Dieter Roth. The Walker’s renowned collection of Fluxus works—consisting of hundreds of event scores, editioned multiples, and packaged oddities—served as a through line across the overlapping themes of the exhibition, testifying to the period’s innovations and its unruly spirit of artistic reinvention.

Merce Cunningham: Common Time
Curators: Philip Bither and Fionn Meade, with Joan Rothfuss and Mary Coyne
Walker Art Center, February 8–July 30, 2017
Traveled to: Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago
Publication: Fionn Meade and Joan Rothfuss, eds., Merce Cunningham: Common Time (Minneapolis: Walker Art Center, 2017)

Merce Cunningham’s dynamic artistic collaborations were the subject of a major interdisciplinary survey organized by the Walker, home to the complete scenic and costume archive of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. Renowned as both choreographer and dancer, Cunningham (US, 1919–2009) revolutionized dance through his partnerships with leading artists who created costumes, lighting, films, music, and décor and whose independent creative instincts he held in the highest regard. Known for embracing risk and chance, Cunningham believed in the radical notion that movement, sound, and visual art could exist independently of each other, coming together only during the “common time” of a performance. Common Time offered a journey through a range of experiential installations that unfold at the Walker in seven galleries, the theater, the cinema, and public spaces throughout the museum.

Related resources:

Video: “The Six Sides of Merce Cunningham
Essay: “Four Events that Have Led to Large Discoveries (About Merce Cunningham),” by Douglas Crimp
Camera as Body: An Interview with Charles Atlas, Rashaun Mitchell, and Silas Riener, by Victoria Brooks
Essay: “Ocean: How a Cunningham/Cage Collaboration Was Reborn in a Minnesota Quarry,” by Philip Bither
Interview: “Performers Choice: Indeterminacy in Merce Cunningham’s Field Dances
Video: “Merce Cunningham: Creating in Common Time,” with Juliet Bellow, Liz Kotz, and Roger Copeland

Interdisciplinary Initiative (2016-2020)

More recent interdisciplinary exhibitions, featuring artists including Jason Moran, Rabih Mroue, and Laure Provoust can be explored through the following landing page, which collects projects presented in conjunction with the Walker’s multi-year Interdisciplinary Initiative. Funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the initiative supports the institution’s commitment to artists working at the intersection of the performing and visual arts, through new commissions presented across gallery, stage and public space, as well as efforts to acquire, interpret, and develop new scholarship on interdisciplinary work.

This text was compiled with the assistance of Jill Vuchetich, archivist, and Barb Economon, visual resources specialist.

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