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Walker Art Center Announces Exhibition that Examines the Magic and Mysteries of Conceptual Art
Steve McQueen, Running Thunder, 2007. 16mm film (color, silent) 11.41 min. ©Steve McQueen. Courtesy the artist and Marian Goodman, New York/Paris, and Thomas Dane Gallery, London.

MINNEAPOLIS, MN.- Art that reaches beyond itself to describe the limits of what we know—and the immensity of what we don’t—is surveyed in the Walker Art Center exhibition The Quick and the Dead premiering April 25–September 27. The show seeks, in part, to ask what is alive and dead within the legacy of conceptual art, featuring some 90 works in a range of media by an international roster of 53 artists. Though the term “conceptual” has been applied to myriad kinds of art, it originally covered works and practices from the 1960s and 1970s that emphasized the idea behind or around a work of art, rather than its visual form. But this basic definition fails to convey the ambitions of many artists who have been variously described as conceptualists. Although some of their work involves unremarkable materials or even borders on the invisible, these artists explore new ways of thinking about time and space, often aspiring to realms and effects that fall outside of our perceptual limitations.

The Quick and the Dead juxtaposes a core group of works from the 1960s and ‘70s with more recent examples that might only loosely qualify as conceptual, featuring new works made for the exhibition and a number that have not been previously shown. The presentation expands beyond the Walker’s main galleries to its public spaces, parking ramp, the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, and the nearby Basilica of Saint Mary, where John Cage’s work for organ will be performed weekly during the run of the exhibition. Opening-weekend events feature a Walker After Hours Preview Party (Friday, April 24) and lecture by Paris-based artist Sturtevant (Saturday, April 25). A listing of related programs follows.

Whereas Robert Barry’s 1968 sculpture of an electromagnetic energy field creates an invisible presence in the gallery, Kris Martin looks to the unseen inner space of his own body, using new medical-imaging technologies to create a three-dimensional scan of his skull that he then cast in bronze. Still alive (2005), as the title suggests, allows the artist to imagine his body after death. Lygia Clark was fascinated by such inaccessible spaces and made foldable sculptures that had neither front nor back, trying to collapse the distinctions between the hidden and the visible, the past and the future. Pierre Huyghe thinks about time spatially in his work Timekeeper (1999), for which he bores into the gallery wall, revealing successive layers of paint from past exhibitions in an effort to expose the vicissitudes of lost time—a hidden dimension lurking beneath the surface of the museum. Meanwhile, Michael Sailstorfer’s Zeit ist keine Autobahn, Minneapolis (Time is no highway, Minneapolis) (2009), a sculpture of a car tire rotating against the gallery wall at high speed, gradually wears itself down, seeming to stretch time while going nowhere.

Steven Pippin’s 1998 sculpture of two fax machines endlessly call each other on redial, multiplying the static between them and seeming almost to diagram a space of continual reenactment and its residue, while the looped reel-to-reel of Christine Kozlov’s Information: No Theory (1970) does the opposite, perpetually recording but never playing the ambient noise of the gallery. On Kawara’s date paintings mark a gradual progression through the galleries, while in Rivane Neuenschwander’s recent flip-clock of zeros, time passes without appearing to register at all. Some pieces defer themselves into the future, such as the time capsules from the late 1960s by Stephen Kaltenbach.

Space is also treated as an elastic quantity. Helen Mirra’s cloth strips representing the earth’s latitude lines, presented both at full length and wound into a coil, contract and expand geographic space. In a rarely exhibited early Bruce Nauman performance work, the performer is asked to imagine turning himself or herself into a sphere, while a 1966 drawing by mathematician Anthony Phillips diagrams how to turn a sphere inside out. A reverse-autographed mirror, one of Marcel Duchamp’s last works, turns the space of the gallery itself inside out, uncannily casting the viewer onto the other side of the looking glass.

Just as many works in the exhibition attempt to reach beyond themselves, The Quick and the Dead expands outside of the Walker’s main galleries. Kris Martin will bury at an unmarked location on Walker property a human skeleton previously used as an anatomical study specimen. Bruce Nauman’s Microphone/Tree Piece (1971) broadcasts into the gallery the sound from inside a tree at the corner of Hennepin Avenue and Groveland Terrace. A previously unrealized 1968 work by Claes Oldenburg, who created the iconic Spoonbridge and Cherry in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, also straddles the interior and exterior spaces of the museum. One hundred lemons are buried outside the Bazinet Garden Lobby entrance as part of this work, and one will be excavated each day of the exhibition (until the entire group is unearthed) for display in the lobby on the north wall. Susan Philipsz has created a new audio installation for the Vineland Parking Ramp, and a 1968 sound piece by Adrian Piper will occupy one of the elevators in the Hennepin Lobby that ascends from the Ramp. Pierre Huyghe’s group of 50 wind chimes inspired by a John Cage composition will be installed in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. Using the very natural forces that Cage celebrated as a creative tool, the artist’s chimes deconstruct and constantly recompose one of Cage’s best-known works for piano in an endless performance. And each Thursday during the exhibition, Cage’s Organ2/ASLSP (1987) will be performed at the Basilica of Saint Mary at variable speeds and durations.

The Quick and the Dead considers the romantic legacy of conceptual art, reaffirming its ability to engage with some of the deeper mysteries and questions of our lives. Exhibition curator Peter Eleey says, “throughout history, art has always revealed new worlds and offered us ways of thinking about things beyond the here and now. We expect to see objects when we visit museums, and yet art, like science or religion, allows us to consider those things that go beyond what we can see. It’s a show that is very much about all that is ‘more than meets the eye.’”

Francis Alÿs, Robert Barry, Joseph Beuys, George Brecht, James Lee Byars, John Cage, Maurizio Cattelan, Paul Chan, Lygia Clark, Tony Conrad, Tacita Dean, Jason Dodge, Trisha Donnelly, Marcel Duchamp, Harold Edgerton, Ceal Floyer, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Roger Hiorns, Douglas Huebler, Pierre Huyghe, The Institute For Figuring, Stephen Kaltenbach, On Kawara, Christine Kozlov, David Lamelas, Louise Lawler, Paul Etienne Lincoln, Mark Manders, Kris Martin, Steve McQueen, Helen Mirra, Catherine Murphy, Bruce Nauman, Rivane Neuenschwander, Claes Oldenburg, Roman Ondák, Giuseppe Penone, Susan Philipsz, Anthony Phillips, Adrian Piper, Steven Pippin, Paul Ramírez Jonas, Charles Ray, Tobias Rehberger, Hannah Rickards, Arthur Russell, Michael Sailstorfer, Roman Signer, Simon Starling, John Stezaker, Mladen Stilinović, Sturtevant, and Shomei Tomatsu.

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