Walker Art Center

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Event Horizon: Postwar Art from the Walker’s Holdings

By Darsie Alexander

Event Horizon. Bringing to mind deep space and gravitational pulls, this suggestive phrase, repurposed from the world of science, here serves the more creative aim of framing the Walker’s newly installed permanent collection exhibition—a cross-disciplinary blend of film, video, performance, painting, sculpture, and photography. In fact, the title is intended to be taken rather literally: Event Horizon presents the Walker’s remarkable holdings of postwar art in the context of the events that produced them. A president dies. A bomb drops. A boxer strikes. A trial unfolds. A girl finds a second life. Artists process these realities with striking individuality, transforming the certainties of their lived experience into complex testaments and interpretations. Highlighting the diversity of these visions is a critical thread woven throughout the galleries.

Change is essential to this exhibition, which will unfold over more than two years. Events, regardless of scale, are by nature temporal occurrences that drive developments in art. Over the course of Event Horizon’s first year, for example, an “active zone” will showcase selections from the Walker’s Ruben/Bentson film archive before becoming a stage for an extended in-gallery performance. In other spaces, individual artworks will appear and disappear during the run of the show, reshaping the exhibition’s content in much the same way that the Walker’s collection itself is subtly reshaped over time by each new acquisition. The exhibition opens with works by artists who powerfully mediate the events of contemporary life, seizing upon the challenges and opportunities of their time by critiquing its images.

Andy Warhol appropriates and multiplies news photographs of Jacqueline Kennedy at disparate moments before and after her husband’s death; Bruce Conner uses declassified government footage to amplify his own view of an underground atomic bomb test; and Kara Walker silhouettes black bodies against rephotographed Civil War lithographs that layer scenes of battle and strife. In these works and others, artists investigate ways that historical moments are announced and disseminated, and the role of words and images in shaping conceptions (and misreadings) of “the facts.” They also tend to intervene, alter, and manipulate source material to counter mass-produced messages. French artist Raymond Hains, for example, lifted “found paintings” from the outdated posters lining city walls. In the rough-hewn surfaces of his works, a subplot of aftermath emerges. In this exhibition, the conclusion or passing of events is as much a theme as their occurrence.

The passage of time is reflected in other works that possess the quality of relics or artifacts. Indeed, some have been used, worn, and otherwise handled and bear the signs of this history in their surfaces. These pieces derive from performances enacted by artists in their studios, on the stage, in the street. While this theme of “action” has many associations (most notably the “action paintings” of Jackson Pollock), here it refers specifically to works made as temporal performances that could range from the highly theatrical to the disarmingly private. Various modes of action are visible in Rudolf Schwarzkogler’s black-and-white photographs of the bizarre, quasi-ritualistic performances held by the Viennese Actionists in Austria during the 1960s—works often positioned as evidence of postwar trauma. Alongside those images is a large wall piece by Thomas Hirschhorn made from plastic wrapping, cardboard, foil, and other everyday materials. The connection between these artists’ works is simultaneously poetic and concrete, since Hirschhorn, like the Actionists, deploys his art to delve into matters of war, memory, and social conduct.

Event Horizon poses an opportunity to provocatively juxtapose artists and disciplines sharing common themes but diverse artistic outcomes. Documentations of selected key moments in Walker performing arts history across five decades appear alongside objects from the visual arts collection. Represented by video excerpts throughout the galleries are ambitious site-specific works by renowned choreographers such as Merce Cunningham (in a Minnesota quarry), Trisha Brown (in Loring Pond and on the Walker building’s brick facade), and Elizabeth Streb (on the Metrodome’s infield before a Twins game). These works, which define performing art spectacle while retaining their creators’ formal artistic rigor, will be complemented by a monthlong “living installation” from renowned dance creators Eiko & Koma, performed in the galleries in November 2010.

As visitors proceed through the galleries, physically and conceptually engaging artworks instigate a variety of experiential encounters. In a variation on the theme, the final gallery presents the possibility for visitors to make their own events by simply walking into the artist’s world. Later this spring, David Lamelas will be featured with Limit of a Projection I (1967), a theatrical spotlight that forms a perfect circle on the floor, inviting us to step into (and out of) its illuminated realm. Elsewhere, a photograph by Thomas Demand elicits an entirely different—and possibly more psychological—projection, since the subject is a hand-crafted model of Jackson Pollock’s barn/studio, meticulously constructed from paper and photographed like a stage set. Titled simply Barn, the emptiness and mystery of this piece sets speculation in motion, allowing visitors to form their own narratives. Similarly, Sherrie Levine, known for reconceiving iconic works from the past, fashions a billiard-table tribute to Surrealist artist Man Ray, evoking optical games of chance and illusion.

Reflecting the Walker’s dedication to fostering lasting relationships with artists, Event Horizon incorporates the work of individuals at key moments in their careers. Some occurrences are palpably manifest in objects; in other pieces, they are personalized, transformed by a nuanced visual vocabulary that reveals itself slowly. We hope that visitors will find their own favorites— works that resonate with particular poignancy for the events of their lives.

—Darsie Alexander, Chief Curator

Andy Warhol, 16 Jackies, 1964

acrylic, enamel on canvas

Collection Walker Art Center, Art Center Acquisition Fund, 1968

Bruce Conner Still from Crossroads, 1976

35mm film transferred to video (black and white, sound)
Ruben/Bentson Film and Video Study Collection, Walker Art Center
Screening material and still from film courtesy The Conner Family Trust

Joseph Beuys, Schlitten (Sled), 1969

wooden sled, felt, fabric straps, flashlight, fat, oil paint, string
13-3/4 x 35-7/16 x 13-3/4 in.
Alfred and Marie Greisinger Collection, Walker Art Center, T. B. Walker Acquisition Fund, 1992

© 1969 Estate of Joseph Beuys / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York