An empty wooden box, a clear plastic cup, a pair of balloons, a spray of paint, a bed of moss, a moment in time. Exploring the poetic and conceptual promise of minimal gestures and simple materials, the Walker Art Center
exhibition A Shot in the Dark, opened on Thursday, features works that transcend their humble means as they evoke other places, times, and states of mind. Consisting entirely of recent Walker acquisitions and rarely seen works from the collection, the exhibition will be on view through March 20, 2011.
Spanning disparate categories of artistic productionfrom early 20th-century landscape painting and 1960s conceptualism to kinetic sculpture and contemporary photographyA Shot in the Dark highlights a diverse group of works new to the collection, including three moving-image works, which form the core of the exhibition. Attempting to locate the expansive and abstract in the familiar and tangible, the artists featured here all aim to give form to speculation, intuition, and chance, pursuing the possibility that the mundane may shed light on the metaphysical.
In 2006, the Walker acquired the film Deeparture (2005) by the Romanian-born artist Mircea Cantor, who often reorients quotidian aspects of life, prompting us to contemplate other social and natural orders. With a title that evokes both migration and also an aberration (as in, a departure from nature), the film presents a quotation from the natural world, as the artist places a deer and a wolf in an empty white space usually reserved for the exhibition of contemporary art. Cantors film, which is screened as a video projection, presents a charged narrative situation that never resolves. The psychology and emotional states we project onto these displaced animals are pure speculation.
Rivane Neuenschwanders film An Inventory of Small Deaths (Blow) (2000) documents a large amorphous soap bubble as it traverses a tropical landscape. Training the cameras frame on this uncanny shape, the artist tracks its random movements as it expands and contracts, separates and reunites. Across a series of slow shot transitions, the bubble never pops, continually deferring the death to which the title refers. Acquired in 2005, Neuenschwanders film, revealing her interest in life cycles and unusual materials, transforms a simple childhood diversion into an extended meditation on the nature of space.
In Untitled (19981999), the artist Trisha Donnelly executes a series of enigmatic leaps in slow motion. At the apex of each, Donnellys pose appears to freeze momentarily in midair. With these repeated actions, which are vaguely familiar gestural tableaux, Donnellys video meditates on the trance-like state that can result at the ecstatic height of performance, that indefinable instant when performance overtakes performer, endowing the moment with metaphysical weight.
Around this cluster of moving-image works, A Shot in the Dark also assembles recent acquisitions in a wide range of media, as well as a few rarely seen works from the collection. A series of delicate spray paint drawings by the 1960s postminimal artist Bill Bollinger explore natural phenomena, such as dispersion, gravity, and horizons. Exposed to the ambient light of the night sky, Liz Deschenes mirrored photogram reflects our own ghostly movements in space. Christopher Williams conceptual photographs document the random accumulation of dust and fingerprints on museum display cases. Finally, Meg Websters sculptural installation called Moss Bed, Queen (1986/2005), which consists of a transplanted bed of moss living in the gallery space, presents an empathic statement on natural containment and human relationships. Together the works in this exhibition ponder presence and absence, the body and its traces, the hidden workings of the mind, and the elusive potency of form.