“Monet had his water lilies, and I have my panties.”
Minneapolis, December 19, 2011—Known for his brash personality and his inimitable art practice, Frank Gaard has made an indelible mark on the local visual arts community. Frank Gaard: Poison & Candy, the largest-ever exhibition of Gaard’s work, runs from January 26 through May 6, 2012 at the Walker Art Center.
Since the late 1960s, Gaard has forged a deeply personal and idiosyncratic style that borrows from classic Sunday comics such as Dick Tracy and the Katzenjammer Kids and the history of Modernism, as embodied in the work of artists Marcel Duchamp and Piet Mondrian, and philosopher-poets such as Ludwig Wittgenstein, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Charles Baudelaire. Combining his vibrant, highly-saturated palette of deep jewel tones, unsullied pastels, and retinal fluorescents with a profound tendency toward comedic satire on an operatic scale, Gaard’s imagery borders on the iconographic. Cartoon-like faces with exaggerated features populate his paintings, as do crowned and spectacled self-portrait busts, devils, swans, panties, and ponies. His fantastical, sometimes ribald fetishistic imagery stems in part from early-childhood traumas and a life lived with bipolar disorder, a diagnosis that he received in the wake of several breakdowns in the 1970s and 80s.
This survey of some 75 works features monumental tableaux paintings; portraits of friends, family, and fellow artists from the mid-’80s to the present; a suite of new paintings with a recurring pony motif; an installation of paintings that incorporate DVDs, CDs, and 78-rpm records; and illustrations from Artpolice, the cult zine Gaard published from 1974 to 1994. The exhibition will also feature ephemera including drawings, letters, record album covers, and hand-lettered promotional materials Gaard designed for Twin Cities gallery exhibitions and other events.
For more than four decades, Gaard has been an elemental part of the Twin Cities art scene, revered by many as a mentor and simultaneously scorned by others for his salacious artistic style. He arrived in 1969 to take a professorship at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design and later launched his underground zine Artpolice, which he co-published with several other Twin Cities artists and former students, and which developed a cult following worldwide. The illustrations in Artpolice ranged in subject from current events to politics to graphic sex, presented in a licentious comic strip style but also featuring Gaard’s signature brand of intellectualism and social critique. Though Artpolice ceased publication in 1994, Gaard’s diaristic, no-holds-barred observations and commentary on society and art continue on his must-read blog (see frankgaard.com).
For nearly 30 years, Gaard has also undertaken a serious study of Jewish mysticism and the Kabbalah, having converted to Judaism in 1982. His frequent use Hebrew textual references and the Sephiroth or “tree of life” as a formal and conceptual construct in his paintings provided him, in the difficult early years of his mental illness, with a readymade of sorts that he could use as a compositional device so that, in his words, “he didn’t have to keep reinventing the universe over and over.”
The exhibition will feature more than 30 works from Gaard’s ongoing series of portraits, for which he is arguably best known. His portrait subjects are a who’s-who of the local arts community, past and present—they include artists Bruce Tapola, Melba Price, Mary Esch, and Alexa Horochowski; VocalEssence conductor Philip Brunelle; and writers Emily Carter, Julie Hill, and Neal Karlen, among many others.
The Walker has had a sustained relationship with Gaard since the mid-1970s, when it began collecting his work (some 20 works from the Walker collection are in this exhibition). Three major paintings were purchased in 2010, and the following year, Gaard gifted an important early painting currently on view in the Walker exhibition Midnight Party. The Walker also presented the exhibition Viewpoints—Frank Gaard: Paintings in 1980.
Gaard was born in Chicago in 1944. He attended the Art Institute of Chicago and the California College of Arts & Crafts, where he earned a Master of Fine Arts degree. He has received grants from the Pollock-Krasner Foundation, the Bush Foundation, and the McKnight Foundation. His work has been shown in local, national, and international exhibitions and is in the permanent collections of the Walker Art Center, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Museum of Modern Art, New York.
Frank Gaard: Poison & Candy is curated by Betsy Carpenter, curator, visual arts at the Walker Art Center.
Opening-Day Gallery Talk and Reception
January 26, free
6:30–7:30 pm, gallery talk, Burnet Gallery
7:30–9 pm. reception, Cargill Lounge
Curator Betsy Carpenter’s in-depth tour of Frank Gaard: Poison & Candy covers politics, sex, religion, and other taboo topics. The conversation will continue in the Cargill Lounge, where the public is invited to toast the artist at a reception.
Mack Lectures are made possible by generous support from Aaron and Carol Mack.
Gallery Talk: en Gaard
February 9, 6:30 pm, free
Experience Frank Gaard: Poison & Candy from the artist’s point of view as Gaard talks about his intellectual and political obsessions, art world references, and artistic practice.
Frank Gaard: Poison & Candy is made possible by generous support from The McKnight Foundation.