The Walker Art Center in Minneapolis is one of the top 5 contemporary art museums in the USA. Although perhaps not a familiar name to many of us, it ranks alongside the more famous names of the Guggenheim and MOMA in New York, MOMA in San Fransisco and the Hirshhorn in Washington D.C.
The Center is a series of connected buildings and spaces that house works by the likes of Andy Warhol, Mark Rothko, Roy Lichtenstein and Yoko Ono as part of its permanent collection. The individual gallery spaces themselves are the perfect complement for all of these works, with plenty of room to view the works and no distractions. There are also many quite small and secluded areas where you can get the feeling of being at a private showing.
As well as the delights of the permanent collection, their temporary exhibitions provide various opportunities to experience a range of conceptual and installation art.
One of the highlights on display is the mesmerising 1965 film “Cut Piece” by Yoko Ono where the artist invited audience members – one by one – to cut away her clothing with a pair of scissors. This is one of Ono’s most famous and controversial pieces. There has been a recent rise in popularity for reprising performances of live artworks from the 1960s such as this work. It has been performed by Ono herself on at least six occasions (most recently in 2003) and by other performance artists many times more. In the 1960’s it was performed live by Ono in Kyoto, Tokyo, New York and London.
Immersive installations that invite visitors to engage with the art and with each other form part of the “Event Horizon” exhibition that runs until March 2011. This includes lounging in hammocks in a darkened room, listening to Jimi Hendrix music while gazing at images from his life projected on the walls and ceiling of the room. “CC5 Hendrixwar/Cosmococa Programa-in-Progress (1973)” is a true multi-sensory art experience from Brazilian artist Helio Oiticica created in collaboration with the filmmaker Neville D’Almeida. It was designed so that visitors can relax, reflect and socialize as part of the artwork – it is a somewhat unsettling experience for an art gallery. All the more so because this South American artist is very aware of the boundaries between art-world hedonism and the realities of developing countries like his own.
The overwhelming “Benches and Binoculars” exhibition reflects the style of hanging art that was popular at the time the original Walker Art Gallery opened in 1879. Two massive walls are hung floor to ceiling in the salon style with nearly 100 paintings by Franz Marc, Hodgkin, Warhol, Rothko, Georgia O’Keeffe, Willem de Kooning and many others. It at first appears to be a visual cacophony and onslaught to the senses. A diverse range of styles, genres, subjects and techniques ranging from the early days of the gallery to more recent acquisitions are on show side by side. Yet sitting and viewing the works both with and without the aid of the binoculars supplied eventually leads to the conclusion that there are some surprising instances of synchronicity between works. Such as between Franz Marc’s “The Large Blue Horses” from 1911 and David Hockney’s “Hollywood Hills House” from 70 years later. The art works span a time frame of nearly 100 years from 1907 – 2005. And when you view Rothko’s No. 12 from the 1949 juxtaposed with the Howard Hodgkin’s work “Going for a Walk with Andrew” of the 1998 it raises questions on how useful it is to define different art movements during that period and whether they aren’t rather unnecessary to the appreciation of good art.
The pleasant café and outdoor space where adults and children alike can get involved in creative activities or purely fun games all added to the feeling that this really is an art gallery for the now with something to appeal to everyone.
On a warm day find the time to also take a stroll in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden just across the road where bronzes by Henry Moore, Deborah Butterfield and Georg Kolbe are on permanent display. And where “Spoonbridge and Cherry” by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen with the city skyline behind creates a memorable and iconic image.