‘Ordinary Pictures’ to open at the Walker; ‘The Clean House’ at Macalester

Courtesy the artist; Anton Kern Gallery, New York; Marc Foxx Gallery, Los Angeles; Corvi-Mora, London; and the Modern Institute/
Anne Collier, Stock Photography (Gestures), 2013

We’re awash in images: in ads, commercials, and emails, on billboards and all over the Internet. Most of the commercial images we see – up to 70 percent, by one estimate – are stock photos.

Stock photos are big business. Sooner or later, almost everyone needs a picture of a sunset, a beach, a baby or a business meeting. They get one from a service like Getty Images or Corbis and pay a fee. It’s easier and cheaper than hiring a photographer.

Stock photos are so ubiquitous that it’s no wonder artists have used them as inspiration and materials. A new exhibition opening Saturday at the Walker, “Ordinary Pictures,” features works by 45 artists spanning 50 years of playing with and around stock photos and commercial photography.

Two years in the making, the show was curated by Eric Crosby, the Walker’s former associate curator of visual arts who was hired away last August by the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh. Crosby, who also created the exhibition catalog, returned to Minneapolis for the installation and opening. On Thursday, he led a group through the galleries, pointing out some highlights.

“Ordinary Pictures” is a conceptual show full of provocative ideas. Crosby considers Louise Lawlor’s “Portrait” – a parrot against a red background – a key work. We see its head in profile, one eye staring. Red backgrounds are often used in commercial photography. The parrot’s eye suggests the camera’s eye. Parrots are copycats; they can mimic the human voice. Is photography just mimicry?

Amanda Ross-Ho’s “OMEGA,” 13 feet tall, is a giant replica of a darkroom photograph enlarger given to the artist by her parents, both photographers. Almost every part of it was made by hand, in exacting detail. The enlarger has been enlarged. It’s a monument to a disappearing technology that carries personal history for Ross-Ho, including replica scorch marks on the base made by her father’s lit cigarettes.

Christopher Williams’ print of plastic corncobs references the fact that many materials used in photography are made from corn. Mungo Thomson’s “People” is a magazine full of photographs of visitors to museums, galleries and art fairs, with the art Photoshopped out. Everyone seems to be staring at a blank space.

Louise Lawler, Portrait, 1982
Courtesy the artist and Metro Pictures, New York
Louise Lawler, Portrait, 1982

Steve McQueen’s “Once Upon a Time” slide show appropriates the images from the Voyager “Golden Records” sent into space in the 1970s and sets them to a soundtrack of glossolalia – indecipherable vocalizations. Viewing them, we’re the aliens. (McQueen went on to direct the Oscar-winning film “12 Years a Slave.”) Liz Deschenes’ “Green Screen #4” is a printed photograph of an actual green screen – not the original thing itself, but it could act like one. 

“Ordinary Pictures” has stock photos at its core, but don’t expect kittens. (Although there is at least one kitten, and a tiger.) It’s thinky, meta and sometimes puzzling. It’s also interesting, fun and new. The relationship of contemporary art to the images all around us is overlooked and under-researched. Crosby sinks his teeth in. Stock photos are seen but not seen; now we’ll see them differently. The show closes Oct. 9.

***

We think we have our ear to the ground, but TPT’s “MN Original” keeps showing us artists we don’t know or don’t know well enough.

We were familiar with ceramic artist and Carleton College professor Kelly Connole from her rabbit sculptures, which can seem more sensitive, intelligent and compassionate than some humans. Most ceramic artists use clay to craft vessels; Connole tells stories.

This week’s new “MN Original” gives too-brief glimpses of her installation last year at Northern Clay Center: a dead (clay) zebra with thousands of white porcelain butterflies, created after the death of Connole’s mother and the sudden death of a Carleton studio art major she knew. Connole sought, and found, beauty in mourning.

In 2014, Pearce Bunting had the must-have-been-daunting task of starring as Garrison Keillor on “Radio Man,” a play by Keillor at the History Theatre. As Keillor winds down his long tenure as host of “A Prairie Home Companion,” it’s poignant to watch Bunting as Keillor, and to see Keillor watch Bunting during a staged reading of the play.

Kelly Connole
MN Original
Kelly Connole

This whole “MN Original” episode is emotional, the final segment especially so. Launched in 2014, Giving Voice Chorus is for people living with Alzheimer’s and other dementia and their caregivers. Everyone gets together and sings.

Researchers have been exploring the relationship between music and the brain. It seems that people with Alzheimer’s retain music memory.

We hear from people with Alzheimer’s, caregivers and volunteers about the importance of the chorus to their lives. “It’s like having a date again,” says a wife of a man with early Alzheimer’s. “It’s an activity we can enjoy together and, ironically enough, make new memories,” says the sister of a woman with Alzheimer’s. Three cheers for the power of music.

“MN Original” airs Sunday at 6 and 10 p.m. on TPT 2. It goes live on the website today (Friday). 

The picks

Tonight (Friday, Feb. 26) on your teevee: “The Big Beat: Fats Domino and the Birth of Rock ’n’ Roll.” A new film about the life and music of the New Orleans piano legend. Filmmaker Joe Lauro spent five years visiting, talking and betting on pool with Domino before he agreed to take part in the documentary. PBS’ “American Masters” is broadcasting the premiere on Domino’s 88th birthday. 9 p.m. on TPT2; rebroadcast at 3 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 27. FMI.

Tonight and tomorrow at Macalester’s Janet Wallace Fine Arts Center: Sarah Ruhl’s “The Clean House.” Stephen Yoakam directs Ruhl’s 2005 Pulitzer Prize-nominated play about a middle-aged California couple and their new maid. Performed by students in the college’s Theatre and Dance Department. Friday at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at 2 p.m. and 7:30. FMI. Tickets ($7-$2) here.

Saturday at the Minneapolis Central Library: 5th Annual 90-Second Newbery Film Festival. Each year, kid filmmakers create movies that retell the stories of Newbery-winning books in about 90 seconds. The best films are shown at screenings all over the country, co-hosted by founder James Kennedy and other children’s authors. Here Kennedy will be joined by Kelly Barnhill, whose latest book is “The Witch’s Boy.” 3 – 4:30 p.m. Free, but for sure register here, and read the advice about when to arrive and why.

Robert Robinson
Robert Robinson

Saturday at Hamline Church United Methodist: Robert Robinson. The great gospel singer solo and with three vocalists, backed by bass, drums and gospel pianist Sam Reeves. 7:30 p.m. Free, but a $10 donation (or whatever you can give) is welcome. Can’t come Saturday? Robinson and Reeves will fill in for Sunday morning’s sermon by doing “audio divina” – musical scripture interpretations updated in a prayerful gospel style. 10 a.m.

Sunday at Hennepin History Museum: 420 Archive Fireside Chat. Prohibition didn’t repeal itself. Marijuana use is slowly being legalized for medicinal and even recreational use. These changes happen because people and organizations work to make them happen. Based in California, the 420 Archive is working to preserve the history of the marijuana movement, including efforts by the Minnesota Grassroots Party and people like Minneapolis-born Mary Jane Rathbun (Brownie Mary). Its president, Joe Hoover, who works for the Minnesota Historical Society, will give us the straight dope. 3 p.m. Free with museum admission ($5).

Tuesday at Northrop: Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Founded in 1958 by Alvin Ailey and a group of young African-American modern dancers, the Ailey company forever changed the perception of American dance. The company first performed in the cavernous old Northrop on Feb. 22, 1971, and has returned many times since; this will be their 20th performance here and their first in the new Northrop. The program includes a new work by Ronald K. Brown, “Open Door,” fusing African forms and rhythms with music from Arturo O’Farrill and his Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra; Ailey’s “Cry,” a tribute to black women everywhere; hip-hop choreographer Rennie Harris’ new work “Exodus,” set to gospel and house music mixed with spoken word; and Ailey’s signature masterpiece, “Revelations,” inspired by his childhood – a work seen by more people worldwide than any other existing modern work. 7:30 p.m. FMI and tickets ($54-$74). Performance preview at 6:15 in the Best Buy Theater.

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