Walker Art Center

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Year in Review
Letter from the Executive Director

By Olga Viso

As I reflect on the past year, the final words of the Walker’s mission statement resonate profoundly in my mind: “Walker programs examine the questions that shape and inspire us as individuals, cultures, and communities.” The fiscal year ending June 30, 2013, saw an art center animated by exactly this aim—an active engagement with the world around us, from organizing exhibitions, screenings, and performances by global artists to leading planning efforts around our hometown’s parks and downtown spaces, hosting discussions about art, activism, and politics in person and online to organizing crowd-pleasing community get-togethers, from artist-designed mini golf and Rock the Garden to our surprise hit, the Internet Cat Video Festival. In ways small and large, serious and playful, we’ve been active in our communities—here in Minnesota, in the larger sphere of contemporary art, and the world beyond.

Our nearly 16-acre campus welcomed some 580,000 people this year, including more than 275,000 who came to the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden to take part in our summerlong celebration of its 25th anniversary, made possible with lead sponsorship from Target. Many came to see the Garden’s newest artwork, generously purchased by a group of board members in honor of Walker director emeritus Martin Friedman: Kris Martin’s poetic For Whom …features a clapperless bell that swings but doesn’t ring, offering an elegiac meditation on mortality. The Walker maintained its strong commitment to accessibility, with 73% of all visits to the Walker and the Garden free of charge last year. Popular free admission days like Target Free Thursday Nights and Free First Saturdays, sponsored by Ameriprise Financial and Medtronic Foundation, welcomed more than 74,000 people last year alone. In addition to our events in partnership with nearly 220 local community organizations, we reached an additional 229,000-plus visitors with our touring exhibitions and performing arts events in cities around the world, demonstrating our commitment to serving communities, whether down the street or around the globe. The excellence, innovation, and vitality of our extensive programming 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 most popular tourist attractions in Minnesota.

While the year’s most popular show featured the compelling photos of Cindy Sherman, many exhibitions explored politically charged themes through works by artists from the US and around the world, including a Walker-organized survey of Mexico City–based artist Abraham Cruzvillegas’s autoconstrucción works and The Museum of Non Participation: The New Deal by London-based artists Karen Mirza and Brad Butler. The traveling exhibition This Will Have Been: Art, Love & Politics in the 1980s was supplemented by an online series featuring the voices of artists and activists who played key roles in Minneapolis during that pivotal decade. A cross-departmental collaboration brought Minnesota-born, Los Angeles–based artist Fritz Haeg here for a yearlong residency, with support from the Bush Foundation and the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board, which resulted in three projects related to reviving the domestic and reimagining food production: a Foraging Circle in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, an Edible Estate front-lawn garden in the Twin Cities suburb of Woodbury, and Domestic Integrities, an in-gallery display of yields from the harvest, hosted on a gigantic community-made rug. Additionally, we presented young artists working with abstraction (Painter Painter), with support from BMO Private Bank, and historical looks at multidisciplinary art (Dance Works III: Merce Cunningham/Rei Kawakubo, The Renegades: American Avant-Garde Film, 1960–1973), among others.

Walker-organized exhibitions continue to feed our acquisitions program in meaningful ways as we track the development of emerging artists around the globe. Three solo exhibitions in particular—Baby Marx by Pedro Reyes (2011); The Parade: Nathalie Djurberg with Music by Hans Berg (2011); and Minouk Lim: Heat of Shadows (2012)—have resulted in major acquisitions this year. Eighty new works in all came into the Permanent Collection, either through acquisitions or gifts, this year, including a diverse array of works in various disciplines by artists including Shusaku Arakawa, Tony Conrad, Jimmie Durham, Frank Gaard, Isamu Noguchi, Lorraine O’Grady, Adrian Piper, Allan Sekula, and Kara Walker. Finally, the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation acknowledged the truly interdisciplinary nature of our collection with a significant gift of unique works on paper by such iconic performing artists as Merce Cunningham, Simone Forti, Trisha Brown, and others, adding great depth to our holdings in this area.

Our Performing Arts program interrogated the world around us as well. The BodyCartography Project premiered its Walker-commissioned ecological melodrama Super Nature on the McGuire Theater stage, exploring animal/human relationships through movement, dance, and installation art. Engaging with the climate crisis, Cynthia Hopkins’s This Clement World linked the artist’s personal story of addiction and recovery to our reliance on fossil fuels. Online, Hopkins and meteorologist Paul Douglas discussed the roles of art and science in environmental preservation, a topic the pair also took up during a public panel discussion with other climate scientists. Choreographer Kyle Abraham used dance to explore gender and race in hip-hop culture, while Laurie Anderson brought her timely and politically potent Dirtday! to the Walker just prior to the 2012 presidential election. DIRTY BABY—a collaboration between guitarist Nels Cline, poet David Breskin, and artist Ed Ruscha—presented a time-lapse version of Western history with a focus on the Iraq War. We also welcomed legends of the field from around the globe, including contemporary dance and theater by women from South Africa, Cote d’Ivoire, Mozambique, and Morocco; renowned dancemaker Miguel Gutierrez; a celebration of dance innovator Deborah Hay; and a rousing festival in celebration of John Zorn’s 60th birthday, capped by a performance by the man himself, among many others.

The Film/Video department continued its riveting program of global, independent, and experimental film with a diverse array of premieres, filmmaker talks, and events—some 170 in all, including Dialogues and Retrospectives with Noah Baumbach and Claire Denis with support from Anita and Myron Kunin. The Walker-commissioned short film Cactus River, by Thai filmmaker Apitchatpong Weerasethakul, premiered exclusively on the Walker Channel before a screening in the recently refurbished Walker Cinema. Jim Hubbard’s United in Anger documentary recalled the strategies of HIV/AIDS activism pioneered by ACT UP, while Natalia Almada introduced her films about life along the US/Mexico border, including El Velador, a meditation on Mexico’s drug war seen through the lens of a night watchman who oversees the Culiacán cemetery where slain drug kingpins are laid to rest. The Walker has also been undertaking a major initiative, generously funded by the Bentson Foundation, to preserve, digitize, and present works from the Walker’s Ruben/Bentson Film and Video Study Collection. Key to this project are films by Maya Deren and Bill Morrison, although others, including early Soviet films and Lawrence Schiller’s The American Dreamer, have been digitized as well.

Our programming in the visual, performing, and media arts is bolstered by the generosity and active participation of our dedicated affinity groups. The Walker is fortunate to have a committed group of donors participating in our Collectors’ Council, which offers a special forum for dialogue and learning around the visual art of our time and contemporary culture. I am grateful to Amy Kern and Greg Stenmoe for serving as co-chairs, and to Abbot Downing and NetJets for sponsoring the group last year. Our dance, theater, and music performances benefit from our Producers’ Council members who help underwrite our Performing Arts program; I’d like to extend a special thank you to co-chairs Nor Hall and Dave Moore. And I am grateful to Bill Pohlad and Elizabeth Redleaf for their strong support of the Film/Video program and ongoing service as co-chairs of the Film Society.

The Walker was also involved in working to shape our city through various projects. Closest to home, we invited artists, architects, engineers, and designers to erect a mini-golf course on our campus, creating a popular summer destination sponsored by Thrivent Financial for Lutherans, while activating the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden during the summerlong celebration of its quarter-century anniversary. Our administration, education, and design staff were involved with city-focused work as well. We were an active partner, with the Hennepin Theatre Trust and Artspace, in a yearlong planning process called Plan-It Hennepin supported by an Our Town grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, aimed at developing a cultural corridor extending from the Walker to the Mississippi River in downtown Minneapolis. We continued hosting the Next Generation of Parks lecture series, part of RiverFirst, a 20-year master plan to redevelop Minneapolis’s riverfront. Organized as a way to engage citizens in imagining the future of our landmark parks system, the Next Generation of Parks series was copresented by the Minneapolis Parks Foundation, the University of Minnesota’s Department of Landscape Architecture and College of Design, the Minnesota Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects, and the Walker.

Our reach into the world expanded dramatically this year as well. Walker-organized touring exhibitions—Lifelike, Graphic Design: Now in Production, and The Parade: Nathalie Djurberg with music by Hans Berg among them—reached audiences in New York, Los Angeles, Grand Rapids, New Orleans, San Diego, San Francisco, and Austin, while Walker-commissioned performances by artists including playwright Young Jean Lee, drummer Glenn Kotche, and choreographer Miguel Gutierrez were performed across the country and overseas. And our first annual Internet Cat Video Festival drew 10,000 people to our green space in late summer 2012, spawning a second edition at the Minnesota State Fair in 2013, sponsored by Animal Planet, and a tour that’s welcomed feline fanatics from Oakland to Brooklyn to Isreal and beyond. Originally conceived as part of Open Field, our three-year experiment in social practice on the Walker’s grassy hillside, the festival brought attention from news outlets around the world, from Time magazine to The Guardian, CNN to CBS Sunday Morning.

We’re also in dialogue with the world through our publications platforms, which include books and catalogues designed by the Walker design studio, the mnartists.org community hub for Minnesota’s arts culture, and the Walker’s news-style homepage. The Walker blogs got a facelift this year, and a new one was added: Walker Seen “makes the social seen” at the Walker, featuring photos of artists installing their work, openings, Art School events for members, and, through a series called “The Visitors,” the diversity of people who make this place special.

Our New Media Initiatives department also unveiled a redesigned collections site and a new online home for the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. The mobile site, great for use in the Garden via a smartphone, serves as the Walker’s first fully responsive web app. Finally, our homepage continued offering an array of contextual stories, artist interviews, videos, and blog posts that spark conversation and bring to life art at the Walker and beyond. And walkerart.org welcomed well more than 2 million unique visitors who racked up more than 6.5 million page views over the year. Much of this content put the Walker at the center of vital conversations about art and life. The site concluded the series Lowercase P: Artists & Politics, which engaged artists—including Paul Chan, Laurie Anderson, Trevor Paglen, and Eyal Weizman—through an exploration of ways that they address personal and political questions about power, inequality, and participation. Our blogs continued to give glimpses behind the scenes at the Walker, offer key context for the work we present, and address pressing newsworthy issues. Writing for The Gradient design blog, for instance, Walker design fellow Sang Mun addressed revelations of NSA surveillance of US citizens. During his mandatory military service in his native South Korea’s army, he served as an NSA contractor. Later, in design school, he used some of those experiences to develop a protest typeface, dubbed ZXX, designed to thwart optical character recognition (OCR) scanners. The year’s most popular blog post, it garnered 80,000 page views.

Such awareness of what’s going on around us has, for the past few years, benefited our work as a truly contemporary art center. It has also provided a constant reminder of the ongoing economic challenges our nation and world face. But with recovery upon us, I’m pleased to report that the Walker has again finished the fiscal year with a balanced budget for the 32nd consecutive year. We are extremely grateful for the generous support of so many close friends—members, foundations, government organizations, trustees, and corporate partners—which makes it possible for the Walker to maintain a strong financial position while presenting today’s most exciting art and artists. It also allows us to 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.

A notable celebration last year was Avant Garden, the Walker’s annual fund-raising event hosted in September 2012. Co-chaired by Walker trustee Monica Nassif and Lisa Denzer, this festive soirée welcomed more than 800 guests to fantastic tents in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden and featured host Mark Wheat of 89.3 The Current and an exclusive Minneapolis DJ summit. To all of our Avant Garden committee members, sponsors, and guests, I want to thank you for your generous support of this key benefit event, which helped to raise more than $369,000 to support the Walker’s operations and programs.

For supporting all that we do at the Walker, I want to offer special thanks to our Premier Partners—Delta Air Lines, General Mills, Star Tribune, and Target. I also want to thank the voters of Minnesota for supporting the Walker through a Minnesota State Arts Board Operating Support grant, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund. Lastly, I would like to extend my sincere thanks and gratitude to the Board of Trustees under the leadership of president Jim Dayton and our gifted and passionate staff for their collective efforts in realizing the Walker’s mission through its extraordinary programming and initiatives. Because of the support and patronage of visitors, members, and contributors, the Walker is a leading center and vital civic resource for contemporary art and culture.

Olga Viso

Photo: ©Walker Art Center

Kris Martin, For Whom …, 2012

Photo: Gene Pittman, Walker Art Center

Installation view of the exhibition Abraham Cruzvillegas: The Autoconstructucción Suites

Photo: ©Walker Art Center

Edible Estate #15 in Woodbury, Minnesota, part of Fritz Haeg: At Home in the City, 2013

Photo: ©Walker Art Center

Installation view of the exhibition Cindy Sherman, 2012

Photo: ©Walker Art Center

Cynthia Hopkins in This Clement World

Photo: Ian Douglas

Kyle Abraham/Abraham.In.Motion, Live! The Realest MC

Photo: Cherylynn Tsushima

Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Cactus River (2012), the first commission for the Walker Channel

Screenshot from the Walker Channel

Noah Baumbach, Frances Ha, 2012

Courtesy IFC Films

Walker on the Green: Artist-Designed Mini Golf

RiverFirst, a new plan for parks along the Mississippi River corridor in Minneapolis

Image courtesy Minneapolis Parks Foundation ©KVA/TLS

2013 Internet Cat Video Festival, Minnesota State Fair

Photo: Tony Nelson

Abraham Cruzvillegas: The Autoconstrucción Suites Catalogue

Walker Blogs Homepage

Walker Permanent Collections Site

Avant Garden 2012

Photo: ©Walker Art Center