The Quick and the Dead begins even before you enter the Walker Galleries.
If you get on the elevator from the parking lot at just the right time, you'll experience a sound sculpture by Adrian Piper.
It's an insistent voice saying "NOW!" Sometimes it just says it once. Sometimes it says it again and again for minutes on end.
Riding with this voice in the enclosed space of the elevator is mildly disturbing. But it's an appropriate introduction to a host of pieces which take the ideas of time and space and use them to make the ordinary extraordinary.
To explain, show curator Peter Eleey points to the ceiling of the corridor outside the first gallery. It's covered with a gorgeous representation of a deep blue sky flecked by wispy white clouds. Eleey says it's a piece by Scottish artist Simon Starling.
"The piece just consists in some ways of the blue paint that's on the sky, the sky of this hallway I suppose," he says. "But really meaning to evoke the sky quite far from here, in the Tabernas desert in Spain which is one of the brightest places on earth."
Eleey says Starling went to that desert and used solar panels to charge three batteries which were then used to power the spray-painter used to make the piece. The project has been done several times now, and the power for the Walker version was collected last week again on the desert in Spain.
"Of course we could have just used two car batteries here in Minnesota. We could have even plugged in the paint sprayer to do this and it wouldn't have made any difference to what you actually see," Eleey says. "Except that that story behind it somehow changes it and allows it to expand with a material connection to this place very very far away from us."
Inside the gallery there are some astonishing and puzzling things, many of them mechanical. They are all designed to make you think. They each convey a philosophy, often dealing with time, space and the nature of existence.
There is a sculpture made of a spinning car which rubs against the gallery wall, slowly wearing itself down, as is evidenced by the growing pile of rubber on the floor beneath. The wheel is going at high speed, but getting nowhere.
There a series of jars where one artist is collecting her hair and nail clippings. It's a work in progress which is to go to the Museum of Modern Art after her death.
Nearby there is a small stuffed owl, which Eleey says contains precious gems, inserted during the taxidermy process.
"Now of course you can't see them, but they are there," he says, before moving on to the next piece.
In the middle of the gallery there is a remarkable hanging light made of stacked Plexiglas rectangles. Eleey says its brightness depends on a control which tracks what the weather was like a week ago.
Then there is the bicycle wheel frozen in a block of ice which is gradually melting.
"Each day, when the ice finally melts and the wheel falls over, we replace it with another one we have in the freezer in the basement," Eleey says. "So it's sort of constantly composing and decomposing itself."
Eleey admits that some of the piece can be baffling without a few clues about what the artist was doing.
"So what we have tried to do is actually though a series of interpretive materials around the work on view allow people to just look but also give them the tools to understand those additional dimensions and stories which lie behind the work," he says.
This is Eleey's first major show at the Walker in his new role as visual arts curator. He says he's enjoying seeing how all the pieces he has gathered in one space now interact.
"I hope this exhibition creeps up on you in different ways," he says.
The Quick and the Dead runs through late September. That's enough time for the first ever staging of a work by Claes Oldenberg. One hundred lemons have been buried outside the Walker. One will be exhumed every day and exhibited in a jar. Oldenburg who did the Walkers Spoon Bridge with Cherry came up with the lemon idea in 1968, but it's only now coming to fruition.
If that's the right word.
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