On the Road With Guyton/Walker
I’ve been emailing back and forth with John Rasmussen of Midway Contemporary Art (the contemporary art force of nature that is located in Minneapolis) since September of this year, when Karthik Pandian’s exhibition Before the Sun opened at Midway and an upcoming publication was announced. Putting together elaborate and beautiful catalogs takes a while, so I was prepared to wait. At long last the catalog (which includes a record) has been released – and just in time for Pandian’s solo exhibition at the Whitney Unearth, which opened on Dec 15, 2010. Said catalog and accompanying record album are now in my hands. Yay.
For those of you who want to know more about Midway, take look at the Midway Contemporary Art Library, which offers opportunities for research and for donations; and the Exhibitions page; and the all important Support Midway page.
Since I’m a compulsive checker of sources, I scanned the options for additional catalog purchases. One that caught my eye is Guyton/Walker: The Failever of Judgement. This catalog promises an interview with the artists and Doug Fogle and additional essays by Johanna Burton and Fabrice Stroun. The catalog was published was for the exhibition Wade Guyton and Kelley Walker — XXXXX BBB XXXXXFFFFF FF at Midway in 2004.
I don’t know much about Wade Guyton or Kelley Walker and have always been curious to learn. Their names and refereneces to their work come up a lot. This catalog felt like a perfect opportunity learn a little. An opportunity with color illustrations!
On this trip we listened some to songs by Kurt Weill: Youkali, tango habanera for voice and piano, Seerauber Jenny and Speak Low. Sung by, in order of link: Ute Lemper, Lotte Lenya and Kurt Weill himself. For a treat listen to this truly old and scratchy version of Weill’s Speak Low sung by Carmen McRae. Nice.
(Special treats for those of you who check in after August 6, 2011: A good soul has uploaded a clean recording of Carmen McRae’s 1955 “Speak Low.” So, so worth listening to. Plus, The Ute Lemper “Youkali” was removed, find instead a film montage from Fellini’s “E la nave va” with Teresa Stratas singing.) (and as of January 20, 2012 Lemper is back in the above link. Always searching…)
The first thing I read in The Failever of Judgement was Kelley Walker talking about Yves Klein:
“…When I was in Paris, I saw a piece of his (Klein’s) where he had burned a canvas. I’d known about this project, but I had never seen the film that was displayed next to this “painting.” The film showed Klein burning the canvas while a fireman in full gear sprayed it with water to keep it from burning up completely. I think that in Klein’s case and in those of the other artists that you mentioned (Helio Oiticica, Piero Manzoni and Lucio Fontana were cited by Douglas Fogle in a previous paragraph), there might still have been a specific “traditional modernist configuration of painting” to be questioned. It was a different time.”
If I may quote once again from The Failever of Judgement (which may be purchased by following this link to Midway Contemporary Art Publications page. I’m not able to link directly to the exhibition XXXXX BBB XXXXXFFFFFF FFFF, which the catalog was published for, but I can offer this video of Guyton and Walker from the 2009 Ladonia Bienniel. Music, images and talk ensue. I did link to Midway’s Past Exhibitions page but they don’t have an active link for this show. The video helps especially if one also reads the publication.
Kelley Walker continues:
“What I like about Klein’s film is that you have a document in which the artist splits his persona and presents himself acting out two distinct roles: Klein the artist appropriates the social sign of the fireman and directs the man himself.”
He goes on to say that this splitting of the artist creates a double – each part of which acts separately yet not as opposites, but to collude to make one work. This work itself is capable of existing whole and separately from the artist and the split or double. Walker also alludes to a necessity for documentation to allow the work to “enter into circulation.” You might say that without the film the work as a whole wouldn’t quite exist.
“The fireman is in drag, which in turn suggests that Klein, too, is in drag, but of a different sort. So both actors’ roles are defined and exist in relation to each other within a space removed from any particular reality.”
I’m taking “drag” to mean “in character” in this instance, rather than imagining a fireman in a vampy cocktail dress and full make-up. Walker notes that this work by Yves Klein represents a unique instance of an artist as split into two linked figures or personae.
Reading that, I recall the earlier mention of “questioning a specific traditional modernist configuration of painting” and I think I understand that the whole package that Klein put together may be represented by the burned painting, but that would be missing the point. One has to take the performance, the actors within the performance, the burning painting and the extinguishing fireman (a double and even a stand in for the artist), the film and finally our action of witnessing, and that is the work of art. Prior to this work and even concurrent with it, paintings were able to stand alone, and that was enough.
Klein and his burning painting have been rattling around my world for a few months now – a painter friend made and showed a burned canvas several months ago, and he talked with me about his thinking on Klein’s work. I didn’t know the reference at all, so I’m happy to read this interview and Kelley Walker’s ideas on the subject of Klein, the appropriation of icons (Klein’s use of the fireman and I think even the artist-as-icon that is Yves Klein), and the circulation of meaning.
Many are the exciting tales in store! Even now we cannot say what adventures may arise and who and what shall present themselves for our consideration and for our camera! Come back soon for the more…….
Links to the entire “Guyton/Walker Failever Over New Year” series:
On the Road with Guyton/Walker
Something(s) I Learned Today (including more re: G and W)