Walker Art Center

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A Year of Creative and Civic Accomplishment
Letter from the Executive Director

By Olga Viso

As a catalyst for the creative expression of artists and the active engagement of audiences, the Walker takes great pride in offering varied platforms for the creative exchange of art and ideas in contemporary culture. Looking back at the fiscal year ending June 30, 2011, we are pleased to report on the contributions of hundreds of artists working across our diverse programming areas, acknowledge a number of new cross-disciplinary collaborations, and share the successes of many audience engagement initiatives, which have all been made possible through the dedication of passionate and talented staff and the generosity of numerous contributors, members, and sponsors.

Last year, nearly 590,000 people visited the Walker and the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden to experience more than 1,400 artistic presentations and engagements, 10 exhibitions, more than 75 performances, 170 film screenings, and countless public, school, and tour programs. In addition to our 172 community partnerships, we reached more than 290,000 visitors with our touring exhibitions and performing arts events in 15 cities around the world–demonstrating our commitment to serving artistic communities, whether down the street or around the world. The excellence, innovation, and vitality of our extensive programming across disciplines are critical to affirming the Walker’s position as one of the top five most-visited modern and contemporary art museums nationally, and among the top 10 most popular tourist attractions in Minnesota.

While crossing borders–geographically and artistically–has been part of our mission, the past year has been particularly productive for advancing cross-disciplinary and cross-departmental collaborations. Most visibly, the Walker acquired the Merce Cunningham Dance Company Collection in March 2011, bringing in more than 2,000 objects representing some 100 dances, including set pieces, costumes, painted drops, and props. Contextualizing, preserving, and presenting this historic collection–which features costumes worn by the late Cunningham, and décor and costumes created by artist-collaborators such as Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg–has truly been, and will continue to be, a Walker-wide endeavor. Research into the collection is ongoing in Visual Arts, while preservation and storage was the Registration department’s key charge. A residency by the company and its Minneapolis farewell as part of the final Legacy Tour were spearheaded by Performing Arts. A series of exhibitions based on the acquisition is shared between curatorial departments. And, in September 2010, the Walker Film/Video department premiered Charles Atlas’ Ocean, which documented the dance company’s epic mounting of a Walker-produced performance staged in a granite quarry near St. Cloud. From December through March, the galleries highlighted Cunningham’s work through a six-channel film installation by Tacita Dean, entitled Merce Cunningham performs STILLNESS (in three movements) to John Cage’s composition 4‘33” with Trevor Carlson, New York City, 28 April 2007 (six performances; six films). We are incredibly grateful to a number of close friends for underwriting this major acquisition, related programming, and the study and care of the collection, and are pleased to acknowledge the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the Barnett and Analee Newman Foundation for their major support.

The same kind of interdepartmental and interdisciplinary cooperation guided the November 2010 performance of Naked by artists Eiko & Koma. Historically, the Japanese husband-and-wife team performs their works in theatrical settings, but this piece presented a monthlong “living installation” within one of our collection galleries, offering visitors an arresting, surprisingly vulnerable meditation on life, death, and the longing of the soul. In conjunction with this commission, the Walker’s design and publication team organized the artists’ most complete catalogue of their work, Eiko & Koma: Time Is Not Even, Space Is Not Empty, which chronicles the artists’ impact and influence over the past 40 years.

Midnight Party, an exhibition drawn primarily from our collections, debuted with a series of mesmerizing displays and intimate installations that examine the more subjective side of modernism, from the psychologically charged portraits of Ernst Ludwig Kirchner to the surreal multimedia works of Matthew Barney. Taking its title from Joseph Cornell’s 1938 film of the same name, Midnight Party explores myriad artistic dreams, fantasies, visions, and meditations. Although punctuated throughout its galleries by films from the Walker’s Ruben/Benston Film and Video Study Collection, the exhibition is itself a highly cinematic, immersive, and engaging experience. The show was made possible by Judy Dayton and guest curated by Joan Rothfuss.

The Merce Cunningham, Eiko & Koma, and Midnight Party projects represent the kind of genre-blurring work that epitomizes the Walker’s role at the forefront of new thinking about art and artistic practices. Transcending the limits of any single discipline, this kind of creative synergy and collaboration among various Walker departments allows the institution to uniquely present ambitious projects from multiple disciplinary perspectives.

Internally, too, the Walker has been crossing traditional departmental lines. Under the auspices of Walker chief curator Darsie Alexander, the Programmatic Think Tank is a cross-departmental initiative to seed new ideas, projects, and initiatives of mutual interest that arise through dialogue and exchange.

An example of such an initiative between the Visual Arts and Film/Video departments is Artists’ Cinema, a new series of screenings and public programs made possible by Elizabeth Redleaf that explores the status of the moving image in contemporary art. This dialogue between visual and media arts was echoed in filmmaker John Waters’ characteristically idiosyncratic and occasionally irreverent take on the Walker’s collection. Invited to curate from our collections, Waters aptly named the exhibition Absentee Landlord–a show marked by pairings of artworks that create relationships, much like roommates, which can be friendly or belligerent, unruly or reserved, supportive or indifferent.

The year-old Audience Engagement and Communications division–which consists of the departments of Design/Editorial, Education and Community Programs, New Media Initiatives, and Marketing and Public Relations–continued its efforts to connect audiences with art and artists through a shared focus on interpretation, integrated communications, and the visitor experience. Building upon visitor research undertaken with the assistance of General Mills, the division began a comprehensive reassessment of its communications; expanding its capacity for online publishing and multimedia interpretive content; and enhancing visitors’ experience of the building and campus.

In May, we partnered with D’Amico, a leading pioneer in the local restaurant scene, to create Gather, a new fine-dining experience at the Walker. Recently named one of the city’s best new restaurants, Gather invites a renowned guest chef each month to create a new small plates menu–and host a free tasting one evening–for our popular Target Free Thursday Nights, sponsored by Target. This spirit of invitation, sharing, and trying something new embodies our own values, creating a dynamic atmosphere of social conviviality. These kinds of cross-departmental collaborations are emblematic of changing ways that the organization operates–a process set in motion by a generous grant from the Bush Foundation to rethink how we engage both artists and audiences.

The Walker’s role in the civic life of the community has been part of the organization’s mission since its founding as a public art center in 1940. The Walker partnered with the University of Minnesota to work with the Minneapolis Parks Foundation on their Next Generation of Parks initiative, which examines the question of what this century’s park system will need to address. The project began as a lecture series inviting speakers to discuss the transformation of green spaces in cities such as New York, Chicago, and London, and concluded the season with an international design competition to reimagine the upper Mississippi Riverfront in Minneapolis. The finalist teams presented their concepts and visions for this five-mile-long space in the Walker Cinema–the beginning of a venture that will span several years.

Our engagement with the civic life of the city was also a vital component of Open Field, an initiative spearheaded by the Walker’s Education and Community Programs department, which was made possible by generous support from Margaret and Angus Wurtele and sponsored by Optum. Open Field is an experimental, open-ended, and public-facing outdoor program that has continued evolving into a true cultural commons and a platform embraced by artists and community members alike. Sparked by the simple question: “What would you do in an open field?,” the project has transformed the Walker’s front lawn into an evolving landscape for public participation in a diverse range of programs and projects that are, in turns, provocative, entertaining, enlightening, and fun. In the summer of 2011, Open Field included a residency program undertaken by Machine Project, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit artist collective that presented improvised live music performances in the Walker public spaces (including the parking garage), synchronized lawn-mowing on the hillside, an impromptu outdoor pizza party, readings on the Poetry Phone, and an opera for dogs (performed by dogs), to name a few.

Advancing the institution’s mission to publish new scholarship, the Walker’s award-winning design studio produced four new catalogues, Eiko & Koma: Time Is Not Even, Space is Not Empty; The Spectacular of Vernacular; Yves Klein: With the Void, Full Powers; and From Here to There: Alec Soth’s America. We are pleased that the Alec Soth catalogue won the 2011 Infinity Award for Best Publication from the International Center for Photography; and Worlds Away: New Suburban Landscapes received the 2011 Philip Johnson Exhibition Catalogue Award from the Society of Architectural Historians. In addition, the exhibition Yves Klein: With the Void, Full Powers, co-organized with the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, received the Award for Best Historical Museum Show by the International Association of Art Critics.

Online, the Walker continued to embrace Web 2.0 culture and social media in preparation for the 2011 launch of its redesigned website. One measure of engagement we’re particularly proud of in this realm is the rate of online readership. In fiscal year 2010-2011, the Walker’s web entities, which include the main Walker website, the K-12 collections resource Artsconnected.org; and mnartists.org, our online resource for Minnesota artists supported by the McKnight Foundation, saw more than 3.5 million visits while our virtual community grew through social media, with the Walker’s Twitter followers jumping to more than 223,000 and Facebook fans nearing 50,000.

Even in the wake of challenging economic times, the Walker’s mission remains as strong and vibrant as ever. I’m pleased to report that the Walker displayed its characteristic financial stewardship and finished its fiscal year with a balanced budget for the 30th consecutive year. We are extremely grateful for the generous support of so many close friends–members, foundations, government organizations, and corporate partners–who make it possible for the Walker to maintain a strong financial position. Your support allows us to present today’s most exciting art and artists; engage, educate, and serve the public through a diverse array of offerings; and affords us important opportunities to rethink our own practices and create innovative and original programs. I want to offer special thanks to our Premier Partners–Delta Air Lines, General Mills, Target, and Star Tribune–and to the Minnesota State Arts Board’s arts and cultural heritage fund with money from the vote of the people of Minnesota on November 4, 2008.

I would like to extend my sincere thanks and gratitude to the Board of Trustees and the Walker’s gifted and passionate staff for their collective efforts in realizing the Walker’s mission through its extraordinary programming and initiatives. Because of everyone’s combined efforts, the Walker remains a leading center and vital civic resource for contemporary art and culture.

Olga Viso

Cunningham research fellow Abigail Sebaly catalogues items from the Walker’s Merce Cunningham Dance Company Collection—the single largest acquisition of visual art in the Walker’s history

Installation view of Tacita Dean’s Merce Cunningham performs STILLNESS… (six performances; six films), 2010

John Waters in a gallery of his Walker exhibition Absentee Landlord, 2010

Richard and Larry D’Amico in the Walker’s new restaurant, Gather by D’Amico

Musicians filled the Walker’s parking garage with live music as part of Machine Project’s residency at Open Field 2011

The Walker’s award-winning From Here to There: Alec Soth’s America is the first exhibition catalogue to feature the full spectrum of the work of Alec Soth, one of the most interesting voices in contemporary photography

Installation view of the exhibition Yves Klein: With the Void, Full Powers, awarded Best Historical Museum Show by the International Association of Art Critics