Stephen Kaltenbach, Time Capsule (OPEN AFTER MY DEATH), 1970, Mild steel 3 x 6 x 3", Courtesy the artist and Another Year in LA, Los Angeles.

Harold Edgerton, Bullet through Balloons, 1959, Gelatin silver print 11 3/8 x 18 7/8", © Harold & Esther Edgerton Foundation, 2009, Courtesy of Palm Press, Inc.

Modeling what We Don't Know as Readily as New Worlds are Revealed

Jason Dodge, Four Carat Black Tourmaline and Half Carat Ruby Inside an Owl, During the process of embalmment, precious gems have been placed inside of an owl, 2007, unique 2 x 7 x 5", Courtesy of the artist and Casey Kaplan, New York.

Francis Alÿs, Paradox of Praxis 1, 1997, Stills from video; 5 min., Courtesy David Zwirner, New York, © Francis Alÿs.

Adrian Piper, What Will Become of Me, 1985-ongoing, Hair, fingernails, skin, jars, shelf and typed text on paper 16 x 69-1/2 x 6", installed, Collections of Peter Norton and Eileen Harris Norton.

Steve McQueen, Running Thunder, 2007, 16mm film (color, silent) 11.41 min., © Steve McQueen Courtesy the artist and Marian Goodman, New York/Paris, and Thomas Dane Gallery, London.

Rivane Neuenschwander, 00:00, 2007, Metal, plastic, vinyl; edition of 3, 1AP 4-3/4 x 13-3/4 x 3 in. Collection Curt Alan Conklin, Chicago Courtesy the artist and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York Photo: Fabian Birgfeld.

The Institute For Figuring, Model of hyperbolic space, 2008, Cotton yarn, The Institute For Figuring, Los Angeles.


Walker Art Center
1750 Hennepin Ave.
Galleries 4, 5, 6
The Quick and the Dead
April 24-September 27, 2009

Determine the limits of an object or event.
Determine the limits more precisely.
Repeat, until further precision is impossible.

— George Brecht, Exercise (1963)

Surveying art that tries to reach beyond itself and the limits of our knowledge and experience, the exhibition The Quick and the Dead seeks, in part, to ask what is alive and dead within the legacy of conceptual art. Though the term "conceptual" has been applied to myriad kinds of art, it originally covered works and practices from the 1960s and 1970s that emphasized the idea behind or around a work of art, foregrounding language, action, and context rather than visual form.

But this basic definition fails to convey the ambitions of many artists who have been described as conceptual. Although some of their work involves unremarkable materials or even borders on the invisible, these artists explore new ways of thinking about time and space — trying to determine, as George Brecht’s instruction has it, “the limits of an object or event” and making art that aspires to realms and effects that conceptual art pioneer Robert Barry described as “totally outside of our perceptual limitations.” Throughout its long history, art has always helped us to see beyond the moment, to allow access to places we cannot reach, things we cannot know. Much conceptual work reminds that art, like philosophy and science, can describe the immensity of experience beyond its limited means.

More importantly the work featured in The Quick and the Dead suggests that art can model what we don’t know as easily at it can reveal to us new worlds and dimensions. The exhibition brings together some 90 works by an international roster of more than 50 artists in a range of media, juxtaposing a core group from the 1960s and 1970s with more recent examples that might only loosely qualify as “conceptual.” Art historian Thomas Crow contended a decade ago that conceptual art, if it is to remain relevant, “must be living and available … it must presuppose, at least in its imaginative reach, renewed contact with lay audiences.” The exhibition seeks to reinvigorate some of conceptual art’s enchantment and heroic sublimity, reaffirming its ability to engage deeper mysteries and questions of our lives.

Whereas Barry’s 1968 sculpture of an electromagnetic energy field creates an invisible presence, Kris Martin looks to the unseen inner space of his own body, using medical-imaging technologies to produce a three-dimensional scan of his skull that he cast in bronze —Still alive (2005), as the title suggests, allows the artist to imagine his body after death. Lygia Clark was fascinated by such inaccessible spaces and made foldable sculptures with neither front nor back, trying to collapse distinctions between hidden and visible, past and future. Pierre Huyghe thinks about time spatially in Timekeeper (1999), for which he bores into the gallery wall, revealing layers of paint from past exhibitions in an effort to expose the vicissitudes of lost time — a hidden dimension lurking beneath the surface of the museum. Meanwhile, Michael Sailstorfer’s Zeit ist keine Autobahn, Minneapolis (Time is no highway, Minneapolis) (2009), a sculpture of a car tire rotating against the gallery wall at high speed, gradually wears down, seeming to stretch time while going nowhere.

The Quick and the Dead expands beyond the Walker’s main galleries to its public spaces, parking ramp, the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, and even the nearby Basilica of Saint Mary. Its works tap the kind of metaphysical yearnings that might initially seem far out of proportion with their modest visual and formal properties. But as artist Sol LeWitt famously noted, “Conceptual artists are mystics rather than rationalists.” Others might also call them absurdists, of course, though that need not preclude the magic and mystery of their art. For if their longing for something more were not, in fact, in vain, their art could be neither so familiar nor so true.

The Quick and the Dead is made possible by generous support form the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. Additional support is provided by the David Teiger Foundation. Curatorial research travel is supported by the Mondriaan Foundation and the Consulate General of the Netherlands in New York. Media partner Mpls.St.Paul Magazine.

Lygia Clark, Bicho, 1960, Aluminum 15 x 15 x 20", variable, Collection Walker Art Center T. B. Walker Acquisition Fund, 2007 Courtesy “The World of Lygia Clark”, Cultural Association, Rio de Janeiro.

Kris Martin, Still alive, 2005, Silver-plated bronze; edition 5, 1 AP one-to-one of the artist’s skull, Edition 5 + 1AP Collection Andrea Welschof and Volkmar Kölsch, Bielefeld, Germany Courtesy Sies + Höke, Düsseldorf Photo: Achim Kukulies, Düsseldorf.

Michael Sailstorfer, Zeit ist keine Autobahn – Berlin, (Time Is No Highway, Berlin), 2006, Tire, iron, motor, electricity, wall 56-11/16 x 51-15/16 x 26-9/16 in. Courtesy the artist and Johann König, Berlin.

Robert Barry, Electromagnetic Energy Field, 1968, Electromagnetic energy transmittor 3 x 4 x 2-1/4", Collection Walker Art Center, T. B. Walker Acquisition Fund, 2008, © Robert Barry.

Catherine Murphy, Under the Snow, 2003, Oil on canvas 54 x 54 in. Collection Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas City, Missouri; Bebe and Crosby Kemper Collection Courtesy Knoedler & Co., New York, © Catherine Murphy.