Walker Art Center

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Billboard Project continues with work by Frank Gaard

“Art is a map of a person’s being-like a map of the past, of desire, of psychologies… . I like bright colors, and feelings. I like my work to be evocative … It’s fascinating that the human mind is inclined to want to know why.”—Frank Gaard

Frank Gaard, the second artist to participate in the Walker’s Billboard Project located on Hennepin Avenue at 12th Street, has been an active and indispensable member of the Twin Cities arts community for the past 35 years. Born and raised in Chicago, he moved to Minneapolis in 1969 and was a professor of fine arts at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design from 1969 until 1987. He created and published the legendary underground zine Artpolice (1974-1994), in which he blended cutting social criticism with a brutish drawing style often compared to that of comic artist R. Crumb. An information addict with a diagnostician’s exactitude for the pulses of politics and culture, Gaard draws from sources as varied as the entertainment industry, art history, and the media, collapsing them into a fascinating jumble that exposes the dysfunctional ills of our society. The Walker has several works by the artist in its permanent collection.

Since the mid-1980s, Gaard has been creating portraits of family members, artist friends, and fictional characters in vibrant palettes and infused with emotional directness. His Billboard Spectacle (In Memory of Guy Debord) is occupied by four figures: Minneapolis painter Douglas Padilla; “Ms. Rosamund,” based on a character in Dick Tracy; novelist-essayist Emily Carter as Dick Tracy in drag; and Twin Cities-based abstract painter Jennifer Nevitt. The title pays homage to French philosopher Guy Debord (1931-1994), whose 1967 book The Society of the Spectacle incisively analyzed the social implications of a life dominated by images. Gaard’s polychrome billboard, in spite of its title, is not a mere addition to the spectacle but rather a talk-back to the impenetrable walls of images that turn our urban space into a prison of homogenization. And looking down on the traffic streaming into the heart of the city, the four figures on the billboard join the ever-growing pantheon of characters in the mythology of Gaard’s personal, social, and psychic life.

The Walker’s Billboard Project continues July through September with a work by Japanese artist Takashi Murakami, and this fall features commissioned pieces by Laylah Ali and Matthew Barney.


Frank Gaard took a moment recently to answer some of life’s most—and possibly least—pressing questions. This inside view is the second in a continuing series of eight-query quizzes with Walker artists.

  1. Who would you refuse to paint a portrait of?

Pete Rose.

  1. Which living person do you most admire?

Noam Chomsky.

  1. What work of art most affected you as a teenager?

Mad Magazine.

  1. Which artists of today are you watching?

David Hammons, Mike Kelley, Tracey Emin, Jim Shaw, Lari Pittman, R. Crumb, and the amazing Alexa Horochowski.

  1. What are you afraid of?

Fire in the studio.

  1. What have you been reading lately?

Ezra Pound’s Cantos; Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov; The Society of the Spectacle by Guy Debord.

  1. What advice do you have to offer young people today?

Enjoy your youth before the evil days draw nigh.

  1. What’s the thing you most wish we’d asked you about?

My fecundity.