As the fall arts season heats up, the Walker Art Center has two new offerings.
One features an artist bent on redefining sculpture, and the other examines issues in the news through pieces in the museum's extensive collection.
When the Walker asked Nairy Baghramian to mount a retrospective show of her work, her first major solo exhibition in the U.S., the Iranian-born artist said no. She wanted to do something else.
Instead of exhibiting old works, she wanted to do new pieces based on her previous sculptures. Walker Visual Arts Curator Vincenzo de Bellis said it makes sense, given her approach.
"People think that sculpture is something that is static and fixed," he said. "And instead she is really transforming that every time. Every work is always changing."
Baghramian's work is now all over the Walker: There are three galleries filled with her huge pieces, and more on the hillside outside the museum too.
There are spidery abstract sculptures, and giant skeletons of earlier pieces. Some are easy to recognize: a massive rawhide dog treat, albeit made of wax, and a huge stainless steel hanging called "Headgear," recognizable to anyone who has experienced orthodontia.
Visitors get guides explaining the ideas behind each work. It also shows photographs of the earlier versions upon which they are based.
Baghramian regards the idea that her work isn't static in another way. She likes how the pieces stretch through the Walker galleries.
"[It's] almost as if they were strolling around the spaces," she said. "So, they are coming in and out as the viewer does. So it is not a confrontation with the viewer and the architecture. It goes along the way that a viewer will look at it, as if they will look at each other."
Interaction is important for Baghramian. The three elements of her work "Privileged Points" — which stand at the top of the hill outside the Walker — were designed to be places where people could gather to look out at other works in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. Over the weekend, de Bellis said, people were not only stepping inside the enclosures, but sitting and climbing on then too.
"We loved it," he said. "And when I say 'we' I mean Nairy and all of us. We loved it."
De Bellis is a co-curator of the other new Walker show "I am you, you are too." The other co-surators are Pavel Pyś and Adrienne Edwards.
Pyś said they delved into the Walker's extensive permanent collection to see how pieces they found might relate to the current goings on in the world.
"What meanings, resonances, what salience do they gather today given the climate that we are in, politically, socially, culturally?" he asked.
The show touches on many issues: race, gender, sexuality, cultural differences, international conflict. As visitors enter, they pass a figure which represents the conflict between the individual and the state. The person is enveloped, shrouded by a large piece of red and white cloth. It was made in 1976 by Nobuaki Kojima.
"It's actually based on a traditional fabric used in Japanese weddings, but of course it immediately brings to mind the American flag," said Pyś.
It sets the tone for the show. The exhibit contains works by dozens of artists. The show takes its name from a piece by Danish artist Danh Vo. He purchased a huge collection of Americana gathered by another artist Martin Wong and his mother Florence who lived in the US. It's now carefully arranged in a room where a visitor could spend hours browsing.
"So you see a lot of Disney things, a lot of quite uncomfortable objects which are very un-PC that I think they were trying to understand and collecting was a way to do that."
The two Walker shows are quite different, but a comment Vincenzo de Bellis made about the Baghramian exhibit may well apply to both. It's beautiful he said, but if you dive in it's not as simple as it looks.
Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct the spellings of Pyś and Nobuaki, and to correct the title of "Repellent Fence."