Joseph Beuys, Dan Flavin, and Donald Judd were contemporaries of thought more so than form. Each took sculpture off its pedestal—literally and figuratively—and expanded the conventions of what constitutes a work of art, influencing scores of artists to do the same. A new Walker Art Center exhibition,
Statements: Beuys, Flavin, Judd
, on view May 15, 2008–July 12, 2009, provides “a snapshot of a vital moment in postwar cultural production,” says curator Yasmil Raymond, and allows viewers to trace the influence of their ideas on contemporary art. Drawn from the Walker’s collection, the works on view reflect the artists’ distinct positions towards art-making and the ways in which they address the autonomy of art, its nature, and its social power. “These are concerns this generation of artists set in motion that continue to have relevance for artists today,” says Raymond.
Joseph Beuys (German, 1921–1986)
An artist, teacher, and political activist, Joseph Beuys became one of the art world’s most discussed, celebrated, and controversial postwar figures. He wanted people to see his objects as “stimulants for the transformation of the idea of sculpture.” He pursued this goal by using organic materials and focusing on the process of creation, allowing chemical reactions, fermentations, and decay to render his objects constantly in a “state of change” and evolution. His preoccupation with the collective memory and trauma of European culture and civilization led him to label his objects as “vehicles” for transformation, healing, and action.
On view will be more than 150 of the nearly 500 multiples in the Walker’s collection, which includes two- and three-dimensional objects along with film and sound recordings that Beuys produced in a number of identical copies over a 20-year period. Among the best known are Schlitten (Sled) (1969); Filzanzug (Felt Suit), which he made and wore in 1970 during a performance against the Vietnam War; and the first presentation of the newly acquired film I like America and America likes Me (1974), the only full-length visual documentation of Beuys’ week-long ‘dialogue’ with a coyote, which took place in the René Block Gallery in New York in 1974.
Dan Flavin (American, 1933–1996)
Dan Flavin rejected the Minimalist label many critics and curators placed on his work. He worked with generic fluorescent lighting to make horizontal and vertical sculptures along walls and floors including corners, baseboards, and stairwells, dedicating his career to combining “traditions of painting and sculpture in architecture with acts of electric light defining space.” His rejection of artistic convention extended to the labels “sculpture” and “environment,” which he abandoned in favor of creating “proposals” and “situations” in barren rooms. This last practice is a direct predecessor to the work of contemporary artists such as Tino Sehgal, whose “constructed situations” were recently on view at the Walker.
Featured in Statements are untitled (to dear, durable Sol from Stephen, Sonja and Dan), one of several corner pieces Flavin produced during 1966-1968, consisting of six cool white fluorescent tubes mounted on four standard eight-foot fixtures to form a square; and the sculpture “monument” for V. Tatlin, part of a series Flavin dedicated to artist-designer Vladimir Tatlin (1885-1953), the leading figure in the Russian Constructivist movement who dreamed of a close-knit relationship between art and science, artistry and engineering.
Donald Judd (American, 1928–1994)
Donald Judd paved for himself a path between painting and sculpture, with singleness or wholeness as a key pursuit. In direct contrast to Beuys’ expanded notion of art, Judd championed a new sculptural aesthetic of bare geometrical shapes he termed “specific objects.” By 1965, he began commissioning industrial fabricators to weld and manufacture his works in a wide variety of “new” materials—stainless steel, galvanized iron, anodized aluminum, brass, Plexiglas, Formica, and plywood—he observed as “either recent inventions or things not used before in art.”
For the Walker exhibition Works for New Spaces, the first in the new Edward Larrabee Barnes-designed building that opened in 1971, Judd presented untitled (1971), consisting of six 48-inch square units of blue anodized aluminum. Spaced at one-foot intervals, the piece reveals the artist’s interest in the volume, not mass, of the form. This major work will be on view along with several other pieces by Judd from the Walker’s collection.
Several threads connect the artists in Statements: Beuys, Flavin, Judd. Their consideration of the space surrounding their work and the removal of their own hands from the production process, providing specifications for others to fabricate the work. Each artist worked in different manners but toward similar goals. A shared confidence and an earnest conviction in both forms and ideas guide their work. Not interested in flamboyance and monumentality, Beuys, Flavin, and Judd experimented with new alternatives and presented concrete statements despite the unwelcome reception by mainstream culture.
$10 adults; $8 seniors (65+); $6 students/teens (with ID)
Free to Walker members and children ages 12 and under.
Free with a paid ticket to a same-day Walker event.
Free to all every Thursday evening (5–9 pm) and on the first Saturday of each month (10 am–5 pm).