Changes in 'The Quick and the Dead'

Rad (Wheel)
The Walker has four of 'Rad(Wheel)' by Roman Signer. One is in the gallery the three in the freezer. When the ice melts in the gallery and the wheel falls over, the staff bring up the piece from the freezer, and begin refreezing the first wheel.
Image courtesy of Walker Art Center

Timing is everything. One of the worst things that can happen to a radio reporter is missing the sound you want to record.

But that's what has just happened as curator Peter Eleey and I approach Roman Signer's 'Rad' or Wheel. It's a bike wheel frozen into a block of ice about the size of a tin foil box. It stands upright - at least until the ice melts.

Buried lemons
Over the last three and a half months Walker staff have exhumed one of 100 buried lemons a day and placed it in a glass jar in one of the entries at the museum. The piece was conceived in the 1960s by Claes Oldenburg, although he did not specify what should be buried. The piece will be completed this weekend. It is just one of the many pieces in "The Quick and the Dead" designed to change over time."
MPR Photo/Euan Kerr

Then it makes a loud bang when it topples - a bang we just missed. A young visitor stands over the fallen wheel looking concerned, and seems glad when Eleey explains it's meant to happen.

"Do they redo it?" the young man asks.

"Yes, we have a customized freezer in the basement, with a number of others and it's replaced every day when it falls over," says Eleey.

"I think may of the artists in the show are dealing with both infinitely compressed and also infinitely expanded ideas of time, that approach the deep time of geology and the cosmos."

"Cool," says the young man. "Interesting."

Eleey says it's difficult to predict when the wheel will fall.

"On days when we have a lot of visitors, it's a bit warmer in the gallery and tends to melt a bit faster," he says. "But oddly, because each one is sort of different sometimes it can go quite a bit longer with much less ice supporting it before it falls."

There are dozens of pieces in the show which move in a multitude of directions. But curator Peter Eleey says the passage of time is uniquely important to many works in "The Quick and the Dead."

"I think may of the artists in the show are dealing with both infinitely compressed and also infinitely expanded ideas of time, that approach the deep time of geology and the cosmos that are far beyond say what the normal museum or least of all a modern or contemporary museum deal with," he says.

Thus one huge painting of a square hanging on the wall near the bicycle wheel is described as a film. This film has just one frame, and while nothing appears to be happening, Eleey points out it is changing very, very slowly as it ages and degrades.

Peter Eleey
The Quick and the Dead is Peter Eleey's first major show at the Walker.
MPR photo/Euan Kerr

There are also pieces which only move occasionally, like a sculpture made of yarn which stretches on spindles around a number of corners. It changes occasionally when motors move the yarn around the spindles, but Eleey says it's hard to see.

"So at a time, people might think that both it's moving and not moving which of course is part of the uncannyness at the heart of the piece, even if it runs perhaps probably at best every couple of days. So the number of people who see it actually moving are few and far between."

Then there is the car wheel, taken from a Porsche, which has been spinning for three months, rubbing against the Walker's wall.

"Smells a bit doesn't it?" says Eleey as we approach.

The tire has ridges worn in the surface from it's contact against the wall.

"The nice thing in this case is that you are also able to see the accumulation of the worn off rubber on the floor and sort of built up against the wall."

The wheel spins at different speeds, but never gets anywhere. It just grinds itself down.

People can take from this whatever they will of course.

Eleey admits they were worried that the tire wouldn't last the length of the show, but now it looks like it will make it. On the other hand they did have to re-enforce the wall, and that has had to be replaced a number of times already.

Some references to time are more stark.

Perhaps the biggest change is evident down on the Walker's garden level gallery. That's where a several rows of glass jars standing on shelves. Each contains a lemon in different stages of decomposition.

This is a piece conceived by Claes Oldenberg, the designer of the Spoonbridge with Cherry. At the start of the Quick and the Dead, Walker Staff buried 100 lemons outside . Then each day one lemon was exhumed and put on display. Eleey says some are now mush, but others look remarkably fresh.

"One theory is that the person who bought the lemons, because it is often difficult to find 100 in the same store, brought organic lemons and conventional lemons and mixed them up. And that in fact the conventional lemons have lasted longer than the organic ones.

Eleey says he's seen a few visitors grimacing at the display. There's another display which has quietly drawn comment. It's called Anonymous Two, by Chris Martin, and it's hard to find.

"The piece consists of this human skeleton," Eleey says. "It was actually painted bright yellow, buried permanently on the Walker's property here. And it's unmarked, the location where it's been buried, although the co-ordinates are listed on a certificate which accompanied the piece which is on display in the exhibition."

Eleey describes Anonymous Two as the most complicated piece in the show. No-one knows the identity of the skeleton. It was apparently displayed, probably in a school. Sculptor Kiki Smith donated the skeleton which she had inherited from a deceased friend.

"And there is something about the anonymity of those remains and the uncertainty of their location here on the property that allows them I think in Chris's conception to stand in for the very unknowability of death." Eleey says.

Peter Eleey says he finds it beautiful that someone, they don't even know if it was a man or a woman, who was treated as an object is now being treated to a natural repose. Eleey points out that over the years many avant guard artists have claimed that museums were places where art went to die.

Artist Chris Martin has taken that to a whole new level.

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