My friend Ryan and I went to the Walker Art Center recently. This institution has been around for a long time. It is one of the centers of high culture in Minnesota and is at the center of the vibrant art and theater scene in the Twin Cities. The Walker is the home of the amazing sculpture garden and the famous Spoon Bridge and Cherry that makes an appearance on any national sports broadcast from Minnesota.
I hadn’t been through the Walker’s art galleries in several years and was impressed by many of the sculptures and paintings on display. What I was disappointed with was every piece of art containing any piece of multimedia. A Film room with chairs half stuck into the wavy floor playing a foreign language film poorly subtitled. I couldn’t get comfortable enough to spend time in the room to get into the film. An area sectioned off by blinds hanging from the ceiling with a table of LED lights and screens showing nonsense with focusing sound devices over chairs that didn’t broadcast any sound.
There was a room that gave me hope when I entered it. Imagine a large room with half a dozen rolling office chairs in it. On every wall was a series of 8 foot tall projections of video. Each projection had its own speakers over it. I saw great potential being in this room. A series of videos drawing your attention to one screen while a sound draws it to another. The experience changing as you rolled across the floor in the office chairs. That’s not what I got. The screens showed messy or under construction rooms in black and white or sepia tones. The only real movement I noticed was a cat going through one of the screens. The sound that was playing seemed to be the background noise of the gallery turned up to an annoying level. This room had so much potential that its utter failure to be engaging made me sit there longer thinking I must be missing something. I wasn’t.
Every piece of media art, and I do mean every piece, was not engaging. It was as though that some lover of paintings and traditional galleries and made sure that every media art piece stood still. I am guessing I am right on this one. If you are going to have multimedia art, use it. Don’t confine it the same way that a painting is confined to a wall or a statue is to the floor. Just as you can hang a painting from the ceiling in the middle of a room, let a soundscape be engaging and intrusive. A video should do things a slide show cannot. Is this too much to ask from large art institution like the Walker? I hope not.
By the way, I still love the place.