THEATER REVIEW | Back to Back Theatre’s “Ganesh Versus the Third Reich” at the Walker Art Center both amuses and challenges

Staging a show within a show as a critique of theatrical methods and conventions is not uncommon in experimental theater circles, but it’s not very often you see a company that has the courage to actually put a good show within a show for satirical deconstruction.There’s even more than that to the very impressive Ganesh Versus the Third Reich, now being presented at the Walker Art Center by Back to Back Theatre. The titular show is a resonant and visually striking parable about the Indian god Ganesh going on a quest to reclaim the swastika—a symbol that originated in ancient India and was realigned and repurposed by Hitler. Adding a layer to that show is the fact that it’s performed by actors with intellectual disabilities…and then Back to Back dramatizes the process of that show’s creation, with a director who does not have a disability (Luke Ryan) becoming increasingly frustrated as cast members raise ethical objections. This, of course, is the show we’re “really” watching.Ganesh operates on many levels, and works on all of them. The delicate matter of problematizing the artist-director relationship when intellectual disabilities are involved works so well here in large part because it’s so deftly connected to other questions of privilege and appropriation. Continue Reading

THEATER REVIEW | “(M)imosa” at the Walker Art Center: Four characters in search of an aesthetic

“It’s amazing that three naked people can be so boring,” said my companion as we walked out of (M)imosa/Twenty Looks or Paris is Burning at the Judson Church (M) at the Walker Art Center on January 24.I couldn’t disagree, but noted, “Well, I don’t know much about voguing, I’ve never seen Paris is Burning, and I couldn’t tell you what the Judson Church is. So I guess I need to do some research.”So I did.Voguing is a style of dance, inspired by the poses of models in fashion magazines like Vogue, that came out of New York’s underground queer subculture in the 80s. You might have seen it in that Madonna video, or in the 1990 documentary Paris is Burning. The Judson Church is a Greenwich Village house of worship where, from 1962 to 1964, a group of performers did pathbreaking work in the development of postmodern dance.Okay, now on to the program note.“(M)imosa is a choreographic collaboration between Cécilia Bengolea, François Chaignaud, Marlene Monteiro Freitas and Trajal Harrell. The work is the (M)edium version of Harrell’s Twenty Looks or Paris is Burning at the Judson Church. Continue Reading

THEATER REVIEW | “Testament”: She She Pop and their fathers bring “Lear” to life, lengthily, at the Walker Art Center

She She Pop’s Testament is unforgettable. It’s indulgent, starchy, often boring, and deeply moving. The German group “is a female collective,” states its program note. “The existence of male members and collaborators has but little influence on this fact.” Sorry, guys…or congratulations? Anyway, the male members onstage with Fanni Halmburger, Lisa Lucassen, and Ilia Papatheodorou for this production include Sebastian Bark along with Joachim Bark, Peter Halmburger, and Theo Papatheodorou—the fathers of Sebastian, Fanni, and Ilia.Shakespeare’s King Lear, a tragedy that involves a dying king dividing his property among his three daughters (it goes poorly), is Testament’s inspiration. Here, there are three fathers to go with the three daughters (or, as it were, two daughters and one son), and a raft of real-life concerns to address.The show is structured in Lear’s sequence of acts, and reference is made to Shakespeare’s text—displayed via projector—but at the show’s heart are a series of vignettes that discuss and dramatize these fathers’ relationships with their children. Continue Reading

THEATER REVIEW | Rude Mechs’ “The Method Gun” at the Walker Art Center: Avant-garde mockumentary

The Method Gun, the work by Rude Mechs that’s currently opening the Walker Art Center’s 2013 Out There series, is a mockumentary-style tribute to the fictional theater guru Stella Burden. Like the films of Christopher Guest (This is Spinal Tap, Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show, A Mighty Wind), The Method Gun both pokes fun at and pays tribute to its subject—in this case, collaboratively created theater.Burden, we’re told by the Rude Mechs performers, was an American theater artist who developed a cult following in the 1960s, then abruptly disappeared in 1972, leaving her troupe in the midst of a nine-year rehearsal period (Burden believed in giving a production plenty of time to find itself) for the single 1975 performance of what was to be their final show: Tennessee Williams’s A Streetcar Named Desire, performed without the characters Stanley, Stella, Blanche, or Mitch. The Method Gun includes descriptions of Burden’s method as well as recreations of both the rehearsals and performance of Streetcar.The show’s title refers to a loaded pistol that Burden habitually kept in the rehearsal space “to remind us that we could all kill each other at any moment.” Just how literally she meant that is a question that becomes highly pertinent near the end of the show. It’s one of many absurd theatrical devices imagined by playwright Kirk Lynn and portrayed with energy and dry humor by the five (or six, depending on how you count) performers onstage. There’s a dance with packing tape, an all-cast crying practice, and an unforgettable moment involving nudity and helium balloons.The Method Gun culminates in a vignette of virtuoso theatricality, precisely choreographed by director Shawn Sides. Continue Reading

2012 British Arrows Awards at the Walker Art Center: You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll cheer

In his farsighted 2000 book Nobrow, John Seabrook argued that the defining feature of contemporary art and culture is the collapsing distinction between cultural products and the marketing campaigns meant to sell them. There aren’t many illustrations of his thesis more pure than the annual British Arrows Awards screenings at the Walker Art Center: people paying to watch TV ads at a venerable museum of fine art.If that sounds absurd, the proof is in the pudding—or, as we’d say, “dessert.” There’s something sweet, decadent, and delicious about settling in to watch a few dozen top-notch ads, with no breaks for Raymond or Kramer or Frasier. The fact that the ads are all British means both that American audiences are unlikely to have seen them before and that everything seems just that much more charming. “This is a million times cuter because these kids are British,” said my friend during an otherwise unremarkable ad about a rolling Kool-Aid stand.If you’re a fan of the Arrows Awards—formerly known at the British Television Advertising Awards, renamed to reflect the fact that an increasing amount of video advertising happens online rather than on television—you’ll never be disappointed, but if you’ve never gone to one of the Walker screenings, this is the year to start. Continue Reading

ART REVIEW | Cindy Sherman at the Walker Art Center: When is a self-portrait not a self-portrait?

Introducing the new Cindy Sherman retrospective to the press corps at the Walker Art Center on November 8 (it opens to the public on Saturday, November 10), Museum of Modern Art curator Eva Respini mentioned the exhibit’s relevance “in the age of Facebook.” That’s the kind of phrase that’s often used synonymous with “in 2012,” whether or not the speaker intends to actually say anything substantive about online identity—but in this case, it was apt. Social media, Facebook in particular, now force many of us to engage questions of identity, artifice, and representation on a daily basis, and those are questions that are very relevant to Sherman’s 35-year body of work.Sherman’s practice is perhaps the most focused and consistent of any major artist of her generation: she takes photographs of herself. As Respini made a point to clarify, however, though Sherman’s body is her major subject, her photographs are not self-portraits. From the very beginning of her career, in the 1970s, Sherman has been posing as characters in photographs that she creates entirely herself. Continue Reading

“Have a magical night and a titillating tomorrow”: Uptown’s favorite liquor cashier, Beck DeRobertis of Lowry Hill Liquors, sells booze and a movie

There are many things to like about Lowry Hill Liquors. First, it’s one of the cheapest places to buy alcohol in the Twin Cities. Second, they give away a bag of free ice with every purchase. Finally, if you’re lucky, you’ll be rung up by cashier and burgeoning filmmaker Beck DeRobertis, who always has a funny catchphrase to say as he rings you up—and if you’re a football fan, will likely commiserate with your team’s success or failure of the week. Currently, you can also purchase a copy of his comedic short film, Wingman, which the MCAD grad wrote, directed and starred, for $5 at the counter.DeRobertis is hard to miss. Continue Reading

SUNDAY PICK | At the Walker Art Center, a rare glimpse into Depression-era Minnesota life

Today, making a movie is as easy as pulling out your phone—but in the 1920s, moviemaking equipment wasn’t something the average person carried around in his pocket. That’s what makes the James Dimond Home Movie Collection so valuable: the Dimond family captured life in the Midwest between 1927 and 1935, including visits to Minnehaha Falls and Camden State Park. The movies are now in the collection of the Walker Art Center, where they are screening daily until September 16.

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Field of Reads at the Walker Art Center: If you build it up, you’ll be bummed

Expectations are weird. A natural occurrence of that silly brain of ours, having them often doesn’t do any good at all. Mostly, having expectations just leads to unwarranted disappointment about things that we could have made the most of if we’d approached them with no expectations and a good attitude. Having Great Expectations can lead to falling in love with a girl who has been trained to never requite that love. Continue Reading

ART REVIEW | “This Will Have Been: Art, Love & Politics in the 1980s”: The end of the world at the Walker Art Center

One way to understand This Will Have Been: Art, Love & Politics in the 1980s—a touring exhibit that opens at the Walker Art Center on June 30—is as the answer to a riddle. The riddle is this: if the story of art ended in the 1960s with the apotheosis of abstract expressionism and the immediately subsequent trip through the post-modern wormhole into a world where everything is art and nothing is art, why is contemporary art still so fun and fascinating today? The answer, implicitly suggests exhibition curator Helen Molesworth, lies in the decade she calls “the end of the 60s.”Politics and aesthetics are never entirely independent, and they’ve rarely been less so than in the 1980s—so it’s impossible to understand the decade’s increasingly prominent place in art history without considering why the decade has come to seem increasingly pivotal in history generally. A defiant portrait of Ronald Reagan by Hans Haacke is one of the first things you see when you enter the installation of This Will Have Been at the Walker, and indeed, Reagan towered over that decade and has cast the shadow of his revolution—profoundly conservative policies wrapped in the bright cloak of “springtime in America”—over every decade since.Walking through the exhibit at a press preview on June 29, Molesworth called the show “an opening gambit” for reevaluating art in the 80s, and the best thing about the exhibit is that it opens its story to multiple perspectives and interpretations. Molesworth is alert to the ways in which both art and life were reinvented in the 80s, and neatly balances her exhibit’s four themes—”Democracy,” “Desire and Longing,” “Gender Trouble,” and “The End is Near”—on that fulcrum.The exhibit is so well-balanced, in fact, that among the many iconic works on display, it’s impossible to choose one as the show’s centerpiece.One candidate would be Julian Schnabel’s haunting 1982 portrait of Andy Warhol—painted near the end of Warhol’s life, showing scars from his near-fatal shooting by Valerie Solanas. Continue Reading