Sunday, October 11, 2009

Walker Art House Ranger

Last week for my Orientation to Art and Design Class we visited the Walker Art Center. I've never left the Walker thinking anything but, "Why the hell did I want to go here... again?" I think it's a similar situation to when you get terribly drunk. The night ends with heaving while clutching a cold porcelain ring that was never meant for a face. You stare dizzily at the frayed loops in the dirty lavender shag rug, and you tell yourself stearnly, " Self, we are NEVER going to do this again." But inevitably you forget the talk you had with yourself that horrible night... while your hair dangled dangerously close to the acidy soup that filled the toilet bowl. The human memory is a fragile thing...
Fortunately this visit to the Walker was different. I wasn't left to wander aimlessly disgusted through the labyrinth. I went on a guided tour. The woman leading my group talked about several pieces, explaining their back stories. As an assignment I am supposed to reflect on the pieces I saw, and their formal qualities...

First, I want to point out a pop art piece by Jasper Johns. I'd say that this piece has very strong formal qualities. The piece is an optical illusion caused by the rigidity of line, and the artist's precise choice of color. If the viewer stares at the tiny dot located in the center of the orange and green flag, then looks down at the dot centered in the gray flag, an illusion of a red, white and blue American Flag appears. Other than the illusion (it's formal quality), for me, this piece has no meaning.

This piece was created by Shiraga Kazuo. Looking at this for the first time I was irritated, then slightly appalled. But as our guide began to delve deeper into the piece and it's origin, I became intrigued. The story goes, this was sort of a performance piece, conveying the injustices the artist felt post WWII.
The canvas is not prepped. It is slathered with layer upon layer of thick black and red pigment. In the texture of the paint the viewer can clearly see foot prints. The artist painted with his feet as he hug from a rope, which enabled him to swing emotively to conveying his inner emotion. I think this piece's content is more important to the viewer, because without knowing the story of it's creation, or about the artist's personal struggle with WWII, it is simply a canvas slathered haphazardly with red and black paint.

It's difficult for me to go into depth about this piece without becoming angry. Its by Yves Klein... one of his many sad attempts at fame. This image is a result of a performance. During the performance, the artist had nude women lay in a vat of Yves Klein Blue pigment (yes, he has a shade of blue named after him) then press up against this sheet of gauze. A orchestra played a single note "symphony" in the background, conducted my Mr.Klein himself, which was followed by a 20 min silence for reflection, and mediation. Let me just add that the artist didn't touch the paint or the canvas during the performance... So wouldn't that make the nude models the artists? I'm pretty sure they deserve the credit... or at least an applause for putting up with Yves Klein. -Does anyone else feel like this piece is a giant let down?

This is a portrait of Kiki Smith by Chuck Close. I think this piece possesses both formal qualities and important content. The portrait is composed of a grid of small squares painted individually. Each "cell" is unremarkable itself, but seen all together the cells read as a portrait.
Before Close became wheelchair bound, his portraits were remarkably realistic. His breakthrough self portrait is among one of my favorite portraits of all time. But after what he intimately refers to as the "event", Close had adapt his style, due to his inability to grasp a brush. This forced new artistic direction may have been for the better. Photo-realism is no longer as popular as it was when Close was at it's forefront. Over all this piece isn't my favorite, but I think it's use of color, and implementation, combined with Close's triumph over his disability, make this piece the most meaningful to me.

Okay, this isn't currently on display at the Walker, but on a previous trip, this piece was part of a series of hundreds of images by Zak Smith (this isn't my favorite) illistrating the book 'Gravity's Rainbow'. The images were all the same size, about 4x6 inches, and were laid out on a wall about 1/2 inch apart. This collection caused me to get up close to the individual drawings, and really look. After I left the gallery, his images were stuck in my head. I was later possessed to look up the artist, and find out more about him. Which made me like his work even more. (he has a collection called"100 girls, 100 octopuses".. need I say more?) His work is mostly pen and ink portraiture of girls, but contains some amazing oddities too. I recommend his work to anyone who loves portraiture/weirdness. You can explore his gallery on his website:


  1. This is a great post. Just fun to read. You write art crits like short stories and make art an experience hand held between 2 fingers covered in charcoal turning the page. love it.

    So - to the serious.
    O.k. – although the beginning of a fantastic short story, not exactly the BEST way to start an blog entry – but I love the honestly. I can’t help but assume (#1 – you are 21 or have read a lot of C. Bukowski , and (#2- that I think all of us harbor that sort of feeling about dealing with LARGE institutions of art that we are informed of how important they are – and it is simply a nuisances until someone explains WHY it should be so important. Back-stories are key…. That external information we talked about really matters, and I think the later half of your entries detail this so well)

    I spent so much time reading this one – I hope I still have time to get to the others of your postings. This is great. Entertaining, experience driven, personal and yet not demanding we see your way about it. You have an opinion but it’s almost like a 3rd voice – which is the way you want to go about an art criticism. Great formal aspects, and make sure to not loose the important part of the process – is to not simply celebrate your own fantastic writing skills – but to talk about the art that is present. Frankly – I’d rather read this – but if you got a job reviewing for an art journal – they would want more of the technical stuff – so just so I address it. But for my purposes – this was smart and enjoyable to read.

    Blog title: Walker Art House Ranger.
    I’m not the biggest fan of Chuck’s new work. (Is that a terrible thing
    to say?) But regardless, the process of his new work is awesome. If you’re
    interested, you should check out “Chuck Close: A Portrait in Progress.”
    I’m sure you could find it on youtube or something.

  3. Shark speaking -some how the Jasper Johns piece I had originally posted was supplemented with a different one of his pieces... I'm a little creeped out, because I did not play any part in that switch.