Opening Saturday: David Petersen's Artist-Centric Minneapolis Gallery

When the independent art space Art of This (AOT) closed its doors on Nicollet Avenue in 2010, Minneapolis lost a unique and unrivaled space for scrappy, sometimes off-the-cuff, always smart contemporary art programming. So it's welcome news that AOT co-director David Petersen is back in the gallery biz: David Petersen Gallery opens its inaugural show, Make Hay, this Saturday night in the Whittier neighborhood. A commercial gallery with two artists on its roster so far--Scott Nedrelow and Kristopher Benedict--its first exhibition offers "six distinctive approaches to recontextualizing images, objects and language" by Nedrelow, Jaya Howey, Amanda Ross-Ho, GraceMarie Keaton, Erik Frydenborg,  and Gala Porras-Kim.

Interested in the new venue, I asked Petersen about the challenges of opening a commercial space in a town that's not known for robust local buying of mid- and upper-tier contemporary art; the mission of the gallery; and how it'll differ from the late, great AOT.

"The goal is essentially the same as AOT," he says, "to support artists. But the means are different. My philosophy is still very 'pro-artist.' But one thing AOT wasn't able to accomplish was to be accessible for collectors and curators. I want to create a platform that has a higher ceilin. As much cool artist-run, DIY type stuff as there as been here the past 10 years (including AOT), [the model] has always seemed to have limitations. I am pretending those limitations aren't there."

Another aim: "Bringing in internationally-recognized artists and presenting them (sometimes but not always) alongside local artists whose work has been often (but not always) under-recognized."

He says he also wants to create a gallery that's in Minneapolis--as opposed to a "Minneapolis gallery." I interpret that to mean he wants to be rooted to this place but extending far beyond it--to art fairs and artists not based in the Twin Cities. (Also, I'm guessing the mission is strong curation over hometown pride: featured artists are there on their merits not due to a sense of community obligation.) To that end, the gallery has been accepted into the nonprofit New Art Dealers Alliance (NADA).

And the challenges of a commercial project here?

"Changing the culture of the way art is perceived here as just 'art' and not 'for sale,'" he says. "We don't come across it nearly as much as in other cities--New York, LA, Chicago, even Portland and Kansas City--where commercial galleries are more present (and out in the world). The challenge (other than actually selling art) will be changing this mindset without it seeming yucky that I'm selling work."

"It's a positive thing for artists to sell their work," he adds, most importantly. "I'm trying to help."

Artworks, top to bottom: Gala Porras-Kim, Erik Frydenborg, GraceMarie Keaton


Cave Painting from the 21st Century: Trevor Paglen on The Last Pictures

Tomorrow in New York, Trevor Paglen and Creative Time kick off The Last Pictures, which Paglen dubs a "cave painting from the 21st century." He'll be attaching a disk micro-etched with 100 images from Earth onto a communications satellite to be launched next month. The satellite will go up some 24,000 miles and, after 15 years, go into a "graveyard orbit," where--thanks to a lack of gravitational friction--it'll remain, intact, for 5 billion years or so, awaiting discovery and decoding by some future civilization. For the Lowercase P: Artists & Politics series at the Walker, I interviewed Paglen about the project. Here he is on the cave painting metaphor:
If I had to distill the whole project into one image, it would be the famous “shaft” painting at Lascaux, which shows a stick-figure man with an erection, a bison, and a rhinoceros. It’s a bizarre image. Of the thousands of images in Lascaux, it’s the only one that has a human figure in it, and it seems to depict a scene of great violence. Historians have all kinds of theories about what the painting means, but when I look at it I see a painting of a humanoid who has just inaugurated the greatest mass extinction that the world has ever seen and is sexually excited by that. I sometimes think that the artist who painted that scene meant it as a confession to the future. In a similar way, I imagine The Last Pictures as a cave painting for the distant future. On one hand, the conceit of The Last Pictures is that it tells a story about what happened to the humans. But at the same time, I think images detached from their historical and cultural contexts are literally meaningless.
Some of the images he'll be sending up:


Paul Chan: "Art is the field that makes things not work"

Here's how artist/publisher Paul Chan thinks about art's power:
[H]uman beings create bioelectricity. Our pulses inside our bodies have a small charge to them. In fact, all living organisms generate some bioelectricity. The starkest example is the fish that glow in the dark in the water, or electric eels. Human beings don’t have that much electricity, but we generate some. But apparently, there are some people in the world who generate so much electricity that they interfere with the working order of electronic devices like mobile phones or laptops. 
A couple of years ago, a British scientific journal did a study on these people and found that the phenomenon was real—that some people when they are agitated generate enough electricity that there is a magnetic field around them. This magnetic field interferes with the working order or your laptop or your iPad. 
So it gave credence to the idea that sometimes when we’re agitated or nervous, and machines break down or your mobile phone doesn’t work, it may not be the device. It actually maybe you. I find this to be an incredibly potent metaphor for what I imagine art is. That in many ways, art is that person, the field that makes things not work, that disrupts the order of things. 
So in a way, I am more attracted to and more sensitive to the image of art as something that is so powerless that it makes other things and people lose power too.
Also, in case you missed it, here's my interview with Chan on Badlands Unlimited, his experimental publishing venture.


RIP Kunsthaus Tacheles

Sad to hear the Kunsthaus Tacheles, the graffiti-covered Berlin art squat that's been occupied by artists since the wall came down, has been shut down by city officials. After a 2005 visit to the Mitte shopping-center-turned-art-center, I profiled the space:
A building with a storied history—it started out as a kind of proto-shopping mall in the early 1900s, was taken over first by the Nazis, then by the Communists. And when the Berlin Wall, once located just a few blocks away, came down, the building became the home to a host of German and international artists, many the sons and daughters of Communist revolutionaries from Cuba, the Soviet Union, and China. Today, the building has the outward appearance of disuse—a bomb-pitted facade of gray stone covered with graffiti, stencil art, and stickers, and windows darkened from the inside by more graffiti. But inside is a vibrant, diverse, anarchistic (i.e. leaderless) art community. The building hosts a cinema, a performing arts space, 30 studios (made available to artists, who are selected by an outside curatorial panel, for only the cost of utilities), two indoor and two outdoor bars, exhibition spaces, two galleries facing Oranianburger Strasse, and a high-power projector that screens video art on an adjacent building every night of the week. Artists from Japan, China, the Middle East, and the UK, among other places, curently occupy the studios; probably Tacheles' most famous tenant is recording artist Peaches, who's been there for two years.
Give it a read.


Photographer JoAnn Verburg on newspapers, politics, and multiple realities

In a recent interview, JoAnn Verburg discussed how newspapers function in her photography:
One thing that it does, which is the same thing I’m doing when I use multiple frames, is suggest that there’s more than one thing going on in the world. There’s more than one vantage point, more than one reality. It’s not just a monocular, fixed view of the world, which would be my ego presented to you as a photograph.
You’re subtly letting people know it’s not all about you? “There’s another world out there and I want you to not forget about it, even though I’m showing you this other thing that is so intimate, my husband.”
Right. So subjective, so about me, so personal, and yet I’m aware that you have another perspective. There are other vantage points, there are other perspectives, other subjective beings outside my frame and my imagination. That would be the basic use of the newspaper. Then I often give the viewer something to read, which is usually (but not always) life-size newspaper text. In that case, there are two things going on. One is that you’re engaging the subject matter, which tends to be a story about the consequences of war or greed. Second, you’re also doing what the person in the image is doing, which I love. Jim [Moore, Verburg's husband] is reading the newspaper as you are reading the newspaper, only he is not a person. He’s the simulacrum, and you’re the person. The time in the photograph and the time in the gallery are in collusion in some really odd way, a way that appeals to me. There’s that—the question about what’s reality—and the fact that these things all exist simultaneously.
From "JoAnn Verburg on Newspapers as Portals to the Political," the second installment in the Walker series Lowercase P: Artist & Politics.

 Pictured: Untitled (1/11/92), (1992), and Terrorized (2006), copyright JoAnn Verburg, 2012


Paul Chan on Why He Published a Book on Saddam's Democracy Speeches

Paul Chan, The End and The End 2, from the new book On Democracy by Saddam Hussein

From “What Can Saddam Teach Us About Democracy?(Or, Why Did Paul Chan Publish a Book About a Dictator’s Speeches?”:
What drew you to publish a book on Saddam Hussein’s late ’70s speeches on democracy?
Well, I did it because it was profoundly confusing and interesting. I think of what Bertolt Brecht said: “We shouldn’t start with the good old things, we should start with the bad new things.” It seems to me that there’s nothing more bad and strangely new than rediscovering how Saddam Hussein thought about democracy. I think it’s perverse and completely interesting.
That was the main motivation. I thought about doing this project for a long time, ever since Jeff gave me the speeches back in 2003. Sometimes you don’t find the right form for the thing you want to do, but you don’t want to force it, you just want to sit on it. That’s what happened here. In 2010, I started a press, ostensibly to publish eBooks and paper books by artists. It was through setting up an independent press that I realized that maybe these speeches can take the form of a book, a kind of reader on and by Saddam Hussein, about democracy.

The thing that struck me most when I read the speeches in 2003 is how fluid the idea of democracy was for Hussein. After reading the three speeches, you still can’t tell what he means by democracy, and it’s confusing. But I think it’s intentionally so, because for Hussein, democracy is an aesthetic device. He’s using the term to beautify other ideas that he wants people to pay attention to and put faith in, like legitimate power or the revolution—the Iraq revolution in 1958 that overthrew the monarchy and installed the Baath party itself.

And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that Hussein’s speeches on democracy in the late ’70s were, in a way, a harbinger of how people are using democracy elsewhere in the world.

"Lowercase P: Artists & Politics" launches

A new series I'm heading up the Walker has launched:
In a campaign year, the media’s focus is mainly on Politics with a capital P and all it entails during a horse race of an election. This new series, running through Election Day, is interested in another kind of politics—the lowercase p concerns about power, inequality, and participation—and ways that artists’ personal values interface with it. At the heart of this project is the firm belief that artists’ voices are vital in the conversation about creating a better society.
Featuring: Paul Chan, JoAnn Verburg, Trevor Paglen, Eyal Weizman, Jem Cohen, Fritz Haeg, Erik Van Lieshout, Emmet Byrne, and Laurie Anderson (others TBD). Look for new interviews each week, now through Election Day.


Tweeting for Technoviking: Wafaa Bilal breathes new life into '07 web meme

Wafaa Bilal has breathed life into Technoviking, a web meme circa 2007, for a digital arts festival in the UK. A commentary on social media, the replica head of the dancing YouTube star only stays inflated if enough people tweet about it.

#OpenCurating launches with discussion on online art publishing and walkerart.org

Latitudes, the Barcelona-based curatorial office, just launched a new project called #OpenCurating that looks at art publishing in a digital age and, specifically, how contemporary art projects “can function beyond the traditional format of exhibition-and-catalogue." Comprised of a 10-part interview series, an event in Barcelona, and a moderated Twitter discussion at the hashtag #opencurating, the series just launched with a discussion of our work on the Walker Art Center website.  I enjoyed the exchange with Latitudes and my colleagues, Robin Dowden and Nate Solas, and found the questions challenging. Please give it a read and let me know what you think.