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Former Walker Art Center curator to head Los Angeles Museum

Posted by: Mary Abbe Updated: January 16, 2014 - 12:25 PM

Vergne in a Thomas Hirschhorn 2006 installation at the Walker. Star Tribune staff photo by Tom Wallace.

Philippe Vergne, who was curator and later Deptuy Director and Chief Curator at  Walker Art Center, has been picked as director of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. He follows Jeffrey Deitch, a former New York art dealer, whose controversial leadership of MOCA ended with his resignation last September after three years on the job.

The 35 year old museum in downtown Los Angeles has struggled financially in recent years as it tried to manage three sites and to develop an artistic vision that would please artists and excite support from wealthy collectors and potential donors. Within the past year board members raised $100 million to shore up an endowment that had dropped to $6 million in the 2008 financial crisis. The money is expected to produce income of at least $5 million annually to support operations.

Vergne,47, is fondly remembered in Minneapolis for his indelible French accent and his venturesome exhibitions which included more than 25 international shows including solo show and installations by Yves Klein, Thomas Hirschhorn, Huang Yong Ping and Kara Walker.

His decade long association with the Walker (1998 - 2007) was briefly interrupted by a return to his native France to run the private Francois Pinault Foundation in Paris. When the foundation's namesake mogul decided to relocate the foundation to Venice, Vergne in 2005 returned to the Walker as Deptuy Director and Chief Curator.

In 2008 he moved to New York to head the Dia Art Foundation which focuses on massive installations, conceptual, and earth-art primarily by mid-20th century Americans. He is credited with strengthening Dia's board of directors, consolidating its operations, and developing long range plans to stabilize its finances and artistic ambitions.

Artists have been deeply involved with MOCA since its founding in 1979 and their vociferous criticism of Deitch as overly commercial contributed to his departure. Conceptualist John Baldessari heartily endorsed Vergne's selection, saying in a statement issued by the museum, "I am 100% excited that Philippe Vergne will be the new director of MOCA. MOCA is very fortunate. I think it's a perfect marriage."

Other artists who touted Vergne in the museum's statement include Barbara Kruger who cited his "intelligence, vision, and ambition to lead MOCA forward;" Catherine Opie who declared herself "personally thrilled;" and Ed Ruscha who dubbed him "the most artist friendly and at the same time the most community friendly" candidate.

Richard Koshalek, a MOCA director in the 1980s, told the New York Times that, "The most important challenge for the new director is to raise the standard of expectations of the museum within this community and beyond, and that means new, original ideas for the future. If you don't raise expectations in every sense -- in terms of leadership, programs and such -- you will not have the chance to raise the funding needed for the museum to sustain itself programmatically and operationally going forward."

Koshalek, who began his career as a Walker curator in the 1970s, recently returned to L.A. after running the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D. C. for several years. In one of those small-world, musical-chairs coincidences endemic in the art community, the Walker's current director Olga Viso preceded Koshalek as director of the Hirshhorn.

Walker Art Center's chief curator to head Katonah, New York museum

Posted by: Mary Abbe Updated: January 14, 2014 - 1:56 PM
Darsie Alexander, Star Tribune photo by Bruce Bisping

Walker Art Center’s chief curator, Darsie Alexander, has been named executive director of the Katonah Museum of Art, a small but wide-ranging institution in Westchester County about 50 miles north of New York City. She starts work there March 1.

During her five-year tenure at the Walker, Alexander made her biggest splash with “Benches & Binoculars,” a whimsical installation of paintings and works-on-paper that were hung floor-to-ceiling in a two story gallery where visitors lounged on couches and peered at the art through binoculars. She brought in film auteur John Waters to guest curate "Absentee Landlord," a provocative redo of the Walker's collection. She also arranged the Walker’s purchase of the 3000-piece archive of the Merce Cunningham dance troupe which includes original objects and canvases by Pop-art stars Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg. Her "Internatonal Pop" exhibition, three years-in-the-making, will open at the Walker in 2015.

The Walker has “no immediate plans for a search to fill [Alexander’s] post,” said Ryan French, the museum’s spokesperson. The museum is looking at it’s “overall structure” and considering “a number of different options,” he added.

The Katonah museum, nicknamed KMA, occupies a building designed by Edward Larrabee Barnes whose first  and most famous building is  the Walker’s 1971 brick-clad wing. Like the Walker, the KMA offers lectures, films, workshops and concerts as well as art exhibitions. Its shows encompass  “all cultures and time periods,” however, while the Walker focuses on modern and contemporary art. It attracts about 40,000 visitors annually, compared to the Walker which last year drew 265,000 people to exhibitions and events plus an additional 300,000 to the sculpture garden.

Previously Alexander was senior curator at the Baltimore Museum of Art. She began her career as a photo curator at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City after earning an M. A. in art history at Williams College. She and her husband David Little, photography curator at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, have two school-age daughters.

Veterans of the commuter-marriage routine, the couple are preparing to resume that life style when Alexander starts the Katonah job.

“I’m delighted for Darsie; it’s a great opportunity for her,” Little said in a phone interview Tuesday.
Asked if his own job was now in play, Little said “No. I’m here and committed here.”

Former Star Tribune photographer Pete Hohn celebrated in new show

Posted by: Mary Abbe Updated: January 14, 2014 - 10:22 AM

Ace photojournalist Pete Hohn spent much of his long career at the Star Tribune photographing hockey, baseball and basketball games, but like all staff cameramen, he did every job that came his way which is how he happened to be at the Metropolitan Sports Center in Bloomington on a night in November 1971 when Elvis Presley took the stage and a blizzard of flashbulbs lit up the scene.

Hohn's work will be celebrated in a show at Carbon Chroma Gallery in the Northrup King Building, 1500 Jackson St., N.E. Gala party 6 p.m. - 9 p.m., January 18, free. The show will be open from noon to 5 p.m. Jan. 17, 18, 24 and 25.

Hohn took so many photos of 5-time American League batting champ Rod Carew that he could have been the guy's agent. Here he caught Carew at bat in a May 1976 Minnesota Twin's game:

Soth and Zellar tell Texas tales

Posted by: Kristin Tillotson Updated: December 27, 2013 - 5:47 PM

Photo of Hearne, Texas, street by Alec Soth.

The dreamy on-the-road partnership between photographer Alec Soth and writer Brad Zellar just wrapped another chapter. Chronicled in their self-styled newspaper, The LBM Dispatch, the two visit various parts of the country and attempt to capture that mix of geography, humanity and circumstance that creates regional character.

Though the results often seem serendipitous, they have an itinerary heading out, Zellar said. “We hate being in the van so we usually know where we’re going with some idea of why,” he said.

They’ve previously applied their particular documentary style to Ohio, Michigan, Colorado and upstate New York This time out the pair tackled the Texas Triangle, a more than 60,000-square mile swath that’s home to 70 percent of the state’s population. Among their stops were the site of JFK’s assassination on its 50th anniversary, the 16th execution of a Texas death-row prisoner in 2013, and a tatty shrine to the Virgin Mary erected by a farmer who claimed in a hand-lettered sign that she helped him get his tractor unstuck.

Throughout the trip, Zellar and Soth had looked in vain for that archetypal kind of town made immortal by “The Last Picture Show.” Toward the end, on the way back to Huntsville to cover the state’s 16th and last execution of the year, they stumbled onto tiny, desolate Hearne.

“It was at the exact epicenter of the Texas Triangle formed by San Antonio, Dallas and Houston,” Zellar said. “The light was perfect. There were no cars. Along six or seven blocks of this super-wide main street, everything was closed down but a drugstore.  It was spooky, it was so abandoned. When we got back to the motel we found out it was one of the first towns that WalMart moved into.”

Unusually unprofitable itself, that WalMart was closed in 1990 and turned into a high school.

Like the LBM’s five previous editions, a print version of the collected stories and photos may be previewed and purchased at lbmdispatch.tumblr.com.

The duo have been attracting interest from far-flung corners, including the New Yorker’s Photo Booth blog and the Russian version of Esquire magazine, which flew a stylist and three trunks of designer clothes from Moscow to Grand Junction, Colorado, for a fashion shoot photographed by Soth and featuring Zellar as the model. Brad was game for the job, despite momentary hesitation on how to pronounce “Givenchy.”

See below for one of the surreal images from that experience.



Brad Zellar channels Cary Grant in "North by Northwest" for a fashion shoot for Russian Esquire. Photo by Alec Soth.

Walker acquires Sean Smuda artwork

Posted by: Kristin Tillotson Updated: December 27, 2013 - 4:18 PM

An image from Sean Smuda's portfolio "Blueprints," recently acquired by Walker Art Center.

Sean Smuda, a Minneapolis photographer, multimedia artist and ubiquitous fixture on the cultural scene, once unwittingly insulted Walker Art Center associate curator Bart Ryan. But Ryan hasn’t held it against him. He recently acquired a portfolio of Smuda’s work, “Blueprints,” for the Walker’s collection.

“I’ve pestered various Walker curators over the years to stop by my studio, with no real expectations,” Smuda said, in his usual charmingly dry, affectless tone. “The first time I met Bart, he gave me a drink ticket at a Walker event, then I criticized a show I didn’t know he had just curated.”

“Blueprints” is a series of collages made from photographs of modes of transport from trains to hot-air balloons plane to a shopping cart -- against barren, fantastic landscapes, with excerpts of poems translated from many different languages embedded at the bottom.

Ryan said he was drawn to Smuda’s work for its “constellations of knowledge, the interplay of information, identity and geography.”

“I now feel completely justified for dropping out of art school,” Smuda said. See and read more about his work at  http://seansmuda.com/mosaic.html


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