Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Spectacular of Vernacular

The Spectacular of Vernacular show at the Walker Art Center feels like an ascetic version of a Kohler Art Center show. I find I prefer the denser, exuberant exhibits at Kohler, but there are still many things to like about the Walker show.

The Spectactular of Vernacular logo in bright colors, sans serif type
Chris Larson's structure, called "Cargill Installation," stands outside the gallery exit, looming over one of my favorite spots in the museum, a lounge with one wall all in glass. The structure appears to punch right through the window. Other parts of it are broken off as if from some type of violence or turn of the weather.

Upward show of Chris Larson's structure, showing ragged edges on the boards
What an odd title for the piece, though. I assume Cargill sponsored it, and that Larson is commenting on "naming rights" as well as referring to Cargill's agribusiness roots via his roughly made building, which seems like a cross between a covered bridge and a corn crib.

Inside of the structure, like a tiny covered bridge
The view out the window from inside the structure is framed around a huge McMansion that was built on the hill behind the museum not too long ago. Built with Cargill wealth, perhaps?

End of the structure with broken board ends contrasting with huge house exactly in the center of the frame
Inside the gallery, my favorite piece was Mike Kelley's "More Love Hours Than Can Ever Be Repaid," a large canvass festooned with handmade toys.

Mike Kelley's assemblage of handmade toys, hung like a painting
Onto a background of grannie-square afghans, Kelley attached dozens of crocheted alligators, dollies, and bears, along with a smiling, pink, unidentifiable-but-vaguely-humanoid shape, one of those flattened cloth cats whose tails block the draft from under closed doors, an unclothed raggedy Ann, and a green, yarn frog screaming in distress.

Kelley's statement accompanying the piece reads, in part, "Crafts are the literal embodiment of the Puritan work ethic... The gift operates within an economy of guilt, an endless feeling of still-owing attends it because of its mysterious worth."

We all have toys and blankets like these that we don't have a use for, but that we feel we can't discard because someone made them for us. Kelley has distilled that sense of worthless worth into a fascinating display. I would love to spend a few hours hovering nearby, eavesdropping on the conversations viewers have about it. While I was making notes today, three women stopped and discussed the bags and boxes that lurk in their basements, stuffed with just these types of objects.

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