Walker Art Center

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Press Releases Walker Art Center Launches 75th Anniversary Celebration With Art At The Center: 75 Years of Walker Collections

MINNEAPOLIS, August 5 2014—In the year 2015, the Walker Art Center will celebrate the 75th anniversary of its founding as a public art center with a series of WAC@75 exhibitions and programs beginning with Art at the Center: 75 Years of Walker Collections. Curated by the Walker’s executive director Olga Viso and guest curator Joan Rothfuss, the exhibition looks at 75 years of collecting at the Walker—a history distinguished by bold and often prescient acquisitions that challenge prevailing artistic conventions and examine the social and political conditions of the day. Many of the works collected breach the boundaries of media and disciplines and reflect the Walker’s multidisciplinary programming, which includes film and video, design, visual art and performing arts. Art at the Center also traces how the collection was shaped by the respective visions and collecting philosophies of its five directors as well as the generosity of the Walker family and key patrons. On view October 16, 2014 through September 11, 2016, the exhibition will present many iconic works from the collection, including Edward Hopper’s Office at Night (1940), Franz Marc’s The Large Blue Horses (1911), Andy Warhol’s Sixteen Jackies (1964), Chuck Close’s Big Self Portrait (1967-68), Yves Klein’s Mondo Cane Shroud (1961), Kerry James Marshall’s Gulf Stream (2003), and Goshka Macuga’s Lost Forty (2011).

Selected art works will be contextualized with materials—historic photos, artists’ books, correspondence, models and maquettes, and other ephemera—drawn from the institution’s rich archives. The galleries will also feature “Time Capsule” spaces that will focus on particular projects and key moments in the Walker’s history that reach beyond the collections, such as the pioneering Design Quarterly publication, the Regis Dialogues series with renowned filmmakers, and the early years of Walker’s acclaimed performing arts program. These displays have been curated by Jill Vuchetich, Head of Archives and Library; Andrew Blauvelt, Senior Curator of Research, Design and Publications; and Mia Lopez, Curatorial Fellow for Visual Arts.


Although it was more than 125 years ago that lumber baron Thomas Barlow (T.B.) Walker built a room onto his Minneapolis home on Hennepin Avenue, mounted his 20 favorite paintings on the walls, and opened his home to the community, it was the year 1940 that marked the birth of the Walker Art Center we know today. On January 4 of that year, Mr. Walker’s free Art Gallery devoted to showcasing Chinese jade and nineteenth-century painting became a dynamic public art center committed to presenting the art and artists of its time.

Propelled by an unprecedented partnership with the W.P.A. Federal Art Project in Washington, D.C. that sought to support creative industries and foster cultural life around the U.S., T.B. Walker’s heirs collaborated with the citizens of Minneapolis to launch a model regional art center for the nation. Its purpose was to serve as both an inspiring “meeting place for all the arts” and a repository for a distinguished art collection. The Walker’s understanding of its mission to be an art center that champions the production of new art and a museum that preserves historically important cultural artifacts has shaped a unique and varied collection that has evolved over the last 75 years well beyond the original tastes and vision of its founder.

The Exhibition

Gallery 4, 1940-1960

Steered by the Walker Art Center’s first director Daniel Defenbacher, with the support of the T.B. Walker Foundation and the Gilbert M. Walker Fund, the Center added 148 works to the collection during its first decade, including signature paintings by Franz Marc, Edward Hopper, and Lyonel Feininger that remain masterworks of the Walker’s collections and will be on view in this gallery. The collection expanded further under the Walker’s second director H. Harvard Arnason, a respected art historian who held a dual teaching position at the University of Minnesota. Throughout the 1950s, 247 paintings and sculptures by important American and European modernists were added, as well as works that diversified the Center’s holdings, most notably paintings by African American artist Jacob Lawrence, Chinese abstractionist Zao Wou-ki, and Mexican muralist Rufino Tamayo.

This gallery will include a Time Capsule room that explores the history of the T.B. Walker family collection through vintage photographs, drawings, documents, and a short newsreel from 1927. In addition, thanks to a special loan from the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, the spectacular Jade Mountain (1784) will be on view in this space. Originally owned by T.B. Walker, the carving is now in the collection of the MIA.

Gallery 5, 1960-1980

The Walker’s third director, Martin Friedman, who led the organization between 1961 and 1990, fearlessly championed the support of new art and artists. Notoriously open to the unexpected directions in which artists would lead him, Friedman redefined the Walker’s collecting priorities to focus squarely on the art of our time. Mounting exhibitions as a cornerstone for collecting, he added key works by emerging artists associated with the Pop and Minimalist art movements of the 1960s, including Andy Warhol, Chuck Close, Claes Oldenburg, Donald Judd, and Sol Lewitt. Examples of work by all of these artists, as well as Robert Rauschenberg, Agnes Martin, Robert Morris, and Robert Indiana, will be on view in this gallery. Many of these works were acquired within a year or two of their making and supported by funds contributed by the Walker family and a growing group of donors and collectors.

As the Walker expanded its mission and program throughout the 1970s, adding the departments of performing arts in 1970 and film/video in 1973, an impressive array of multimedia artists were invited to produce new works, including Trisha Brown, John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Nam June Paik, and Allan Kaprow. This fertile period of artistic experimentation is highlighted in the concurrent exhibition Art Expanded, 1958-78, also drawn from the Walker’s diverse collections and archives. The Center’s commitment to exploring new ideas in architecture and graphic design is represented in this gallery’s Time Capsule, which focuses on the journal Design Quarterly.

In 1971, the Walker opened its doors in a new facility designed by Edward Larrabee Barnes. The following decades ushered in a new emphasis on the commission of large-scale installations, including Sam Gilliam’s colorful drop canvas (on view in the Cargill Lounge) and works for the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, which opened in 1988. Before his retirement in 1990, Friedman enhanced the purchasing power of the Walker’s acquisition funds through the historic de-accession of 19th century paintings that had formed part of T.B. Walker’s original collection. The sale of works outside the scope of the Walker’s mission would inaugurate a period of unprecedented collection growth in the coming decades.

Gallery 6, 1990-2014

The Walker’s fourth director, Kathy Halbreich, who led the institution from 1991-2007, launched an ambitious effort to diversify the Walker’s primarily American holdings by collecting globally and reaffirming the center’s founding W.P.A. era commitment to wide public participation and inclusion. Halbreich advocated a vision of the Walker as a multifaceted platform for art making that not only provided a supportive place for artists to test and explore new ideas but also a safe environment for diverse audiences to be exposed to alternative ways of thinking and engaging the world.

Recognizing the unique shape and character of the Walker’s collections, both in its multidisciplinary focus and depth in the careers of individual artists, Halbreich advanced a collecting philosophy that supported the acquisition of adventurous new art by artists around the globe as well as works by individuals and artistic movements that did not fall easily within the prevailing western art historical canon. The commitment to collecting “alternative modernisms” throughout the 1990s resulted in the acquisition of over 2,500 works, including artists associated with the Japanese Gutai movement, Viennese Actionism, Italian Arte Povera, and Fluxus of the 1950s and 60s. (A selection of these works will be on view in gallery 5.)

Inserting the voices of female artists into the history of the 1960s and 70s was also a priority for Halbreich, as was collecting the works of artists who examined issues of race and identity. This gallery will feature works by Robert Gober, Adrian Piper, Glenn Ligon, and Cindy Sherman, among others, whose art has been collected in depth at the Walker. The Center’s performing arts department, which during these years presented controversial artists such as Ron Athey, Guillermo Gomez-Pena, and Coco Fusco, is the focus of this gallery’s Time Capsule.

Burnet Gallery, Art at the Center: Recent Acquisitions
October 16, 2014 – July 5, 2015

Art at the Center extends into the Burnet Gallery with Recent Acquisitions, on view October 16, 2014 through July 5, 2015. As a center for contemporary art and culture that has been devoted to the present since its founding in 1940, the Walker frequently re-evaluates its mission and collecting focus. Over the last decade, the Walker has begun increasingly to acquire art that breaches the boundaries of media or disciplines. This priority is born of the Walker’s platform as a multidisciplinary art center with one of the largest performing arts commissioning and presenting programs in the nation, a prominent cinema and moving image collection, and a respected exhibition program. The commitment to new modes of production reflects the seismic shifts that have been taking place in contemporary culture today: recent generations of artists are simply not interested in working in singular media or advancing prescribed sets of ideas or approaches. Many artists have chosen to abandon media-specific affiliations altogether in favor of experimenting across platforms.

The focus on cross-disciplinary collaboration and experimentation has been a key emphasis of the Walker’s fifth director, Olga Viso, who joined the Walker in 2008. During her tenure, Walker curators have taken the lead in advancing some of the most adventuresome acquisitions by makers locally and across the globe, including the immersive sound installation by Cairo-based multimedia artist Hassan Khan and a video projection by St. Paul-based artist Chris Larson, which are highlighted here.

In 2011, the Walker’s commitment to cross-disciplinary collecting was affirmed by the acquisition of the Merce Cunningham Dance Archive, which comprises more than 3,000 props, drops, costumes, and set pieces created between 1954 and 2010. These holdings will be an ongoing focus of research, publication and exhibition as the Walker continues to position itself as a global center for research and scholarship around the nexus between art forms. A selection of objects from the Cunningham Archive will be on view in this gallery.

Walker Art Center Collections by the Numbers

The Walker’s collections are as complex and nuanced as contemporary art making itself. They comprise several categories:

  • Visual Arts Permanent Collection, which includes 13,000 objects of painting, sculpture, photography, works on paper, and multimedia objects and installations

  • Ruben/Bentson Film and Video Study Collection of nearly 1,000 titles

  • Merce Cunningham Dance Company Collection of more than 3,000 props, drops, costumes, and set pieces created between 1954 and 2010

  • A virtual collection of internet-based commissions

  • More than 200 performing arts commissions

  • An extensive library with over 2,000 artist books

  • Archives with hundreds of thousands of images, documents, and recordings

    WAC@75: Related Events

    Avant Garden
    September 13, 2014
    Minneapolis Sculpture Garden

    Avant Garden sets the 75th anniversary in motion with a “Diamond Jubilee.” The celebration includes an unforgettable evening of music by the New Standards and dance party with DJ Sye Young, gourmet fare, cocktails, and a silent art auction in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. Proceeds from Avant Garden support the Walker’s award-winning artistic and educational programming. Tickets are available to purchase online or by calling 612.375.7641 ($125-$10,000).

    WAC@75 Celebration
    Thursday, October 16 – Sunday, October 19 FREE
    Extended hours: 10 am – 10 pm

    The Walker Art Center opens its doors October 16-19, 2014 with extended gallery hours and free admission to celebrate the 75th anniversary as a public art center. Visitors will get the first look at the exhibition Art at the Center: 75 Years of Walker Collections, enjoy family-friendly films in the Walker Cinema, join a Relay Tour in the galleries, step into Walker history at the Selfie Station, and more. A beer garden with local brews and bites will feature music performances to be announced. Visit the Walker’s website for updated information and complete details.

    Walker People’s Archive

    In celebration of the 75th anniversary, the Walker People’s Archive (WPA) will provide an opportunity to expand the history of the Walker Art Center by inviting the public to share how the institution has played a part in their lives through personal pictures and memories. Visit walkerart.org/wpa to learn more.

    75 Gifts for 75 Years
    February 5, 2015 – August 2, 2015
    Target and Friedman Galleries

    The exhibition 75 Gifts for 75 Years focuses on the significant impact that gifts of art have made on the collection through its history on the occasion of the Walker’s 75th anniversary. While the Walker has always made important purchases of art, often acquiring the work of artists early in their careers, this activity alone could not have built the museum’s collection into the preeminent repository of contemporary art that it is today. As institutions struggle to compete in today’s global art market, the Walker is more indebted than ever to the donors who have helped to strengthen its holdings. 75 Gifts for 75 Years features a range of key gifts through the decades that have broadened the scope of the Walker’s collections by artists such as Willem de Kooning, Robert Motherwell, Joan Mitchell, Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol, Ellsworth Kelly, Donald Judd, Gerhard Richter, and Vija Celmins. These will be accompanied by a broad range of more recent gifts that have come to the Walker on the occasion of its 75th anniversary—by such artists as Siah Armajani, Tauba Auerbach, David Hockney, Dianna Molzan, Frank Stella, Kara Walker, and many more.

    Exhibition curators: Olga Viso and Joan Rothfuss, with Andrew Blauvelt, Jill Vuchetich, and Mia Lopez.
    Art at the Center: 75 Years of Walker Collections is sponsored by Target.Major support for the exhibition is provided by Elizabeth Redleaf. Media partner Mpls.St.Paul Magazine.

Franz Marc

Die grossen blauen Pferde (The Large Blue Horses) 1911 Gift of the T. B. Walker Foundation, Gilbert M. Walker Fund, 1942