Friday, November 4, 2016

Walker Art Center, late Fall 2016

I have visited the Walker long ago, and, as I mentioned, I think it was under some construction even then, though I believe we were able to get somewhat closer to the sculpture garden (which was completely closed on this visit). It's interesting that both the Walker and the MCA in Chicago skew towards presenting contemporary art and the focus is really on their exhibits rather than displaying their collections (which is the focus of most art museums). The MCA didn't even accept items into its collection for many years, though it has gradually built up a pretty decent collection, which it occasionally dips into and displays.   I believe the Walker was always open to building up its collection, but it still doesn't really put the older pieces on display that often, unless it is tied into some themed exhibit. (Obviously, I don't go often, so I may be way off base.)  I do feel that in both cases, the architecture of the museums is fairly wasteful of the building footprint in terms of how much space is available for showing art, and perhaps if they had more wall space they would put out more of their permanent collections.

I did make a special effort on this trip to get to the Walker to see their 75th anniversary retrospective.  Apparently, this has been running for 2 years(!), but will be closing at the end of Dec. 2016.  Then it might be quite a while before some of these pieces are displayed again.  I'll start with a few of the pieces I particularly liked, and then discuss some of the pieces I wish had been displayed (based on a quick browsing of their on-line search tool).

This piece is actually not owned by the Walker but is on long-term loan from the US General Services Administration, since it was part of the Fine Arts Program (one of the alphabet soup agencies of the New Deal).

Mac LeSueur, Winter Sand Pit, ca. 1935

I've had a chance to see this Hopper before in a Hopper show at the Whitney, but it was neat to be able to get a really close view of it.  Also, the Walker was nearly empty that day, perhaps due to it being a weekday -- and also all the construction can't be helping attendance.

Edward Hopper, Office at Night, 1940

This nude was paired with the Hopper and was actually quite striking.

Yasuo Kuniyoshi, Nude in Grey Chemise, 1929

The next room was dedicated to more abstract works, and I liked this one.

Adolph Gottlieb, Blue at Noon, 1955

The Franz Kline and Frank Stella paintings were also nice, though my photos didn't come out quite as well as I hoped.

The last room of the retrospective focused on some larger, more contemporary pieces.  They had a decent piece by Lee Bontecou and then this floppy city.

Claes Oldenburg, Upside Down City, 1962

So there were a number of nice pieces, though I have to say that several of the pieces still in storage were just as good, and in several cases better.

I would really have liked to see this Beckmann painting, since I don't believe I've even seen it in any Beckmann monograph.  (At the very least there should have been a reference to it in the Exile in Amsterdam catalogue, even if it wasn't part of the show.)

Max Beckmann, Woman Reading at the Beach, 1939

Of course, I would also have liked to see the Stuart Davis painting, though it appears this was part of the big Davis show at the Whitney and sort of blended in with the rest (and it might have stood out more if it was the only Davis on the wall, just like the Hopper did).  In any case, I certainly can't blame the Walker Art Center for not having it on view on my visit!

Stuart Davis, Colonial Cubism, 1954

I'm a bit more disappointed that their Guston wasn't on view, since I think it would have fit into this retrospective.

Philip Guston, Bombay, 1976

It's a bit harder to say about the Jasper Johns print.  They have a fairly substantial collection of Johns prints (and an almost complete set of the Seasons), and they probably don't put them out that often.

Jasper Johns, Green Angel 2, 1997

In many ways, the Hockney is truly the odd painting out.  It doesn't fit that well into the narrative of modern art, since Hockney never really left figurative art (unlike Guston who went abstract and then came back).  I'm not really sure what exhibition the Walker would put together where the Hockney would fit, whereas I can at least conceive of exhibits where the Beckmann and particularly the Guston would fit.

David Hockney, Hollywood Hills House, 1981-82

As a modest proposal, I do wonder if the Walker could propose a swap or at least a long-term loan of a few of their paintings (like the Beckmann, Guston and Hockney) to the MIA, perhaps in exchange for their Kiki Smith and a few other more contemporary artists who generally fit the current curatorial approach.

Finally, I don't know that they would have had room for more sculpted pieces, but I wish they had this Segal piece on view.  It probably could have been squeezed into a corner somewhere.  (I see that they also have an installation by the Kienholzs, but I don't feel as badly about missing out on that.)
George Segal, Diner, 1964-66

So it was worth visiting the Walker, but I sort of left hungry for more art, whereas I was feeling fairly full after the visit to the MIA.

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