For Minnesotans who know Iranian-American artist Siah Armajani “only” as the man who designed the pedestrian bridge connecting Loring Park and the Sculpture Garden (“only” is in quotes because it’s a bridge), the exhibition that opens Sunday at the Walker will be a revelation.
“Siah Armajani: Follow This Line” is the first comprehensive retrospective of Armajani’s culture-spanning, inward-looking, outspoken art in all its variety, from small handmade maquettes of rearranged house parts (“Dictionary for Building”) to large-scale pieces like “Fallujah,” the artist’s “Guernica”-like response to the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq.
There are shirts covered with Farsi script, and large cityscapes of Minneapolis and Berlin created from Farsi script, and computer printouts thick with numbers. There’s a stack of paper 9 feet tall in a metal cage titled “A Number between Zero and One,” where every page is a different number between zero and one, stretched out to several decimal points.
There’s a plan for building a tower that would cast a shadow across the whole of North Dakota from east to west. And a small portable television Armajani bought for the sole purpose of “witnessing” the Apollo 11 mission and moon landing. He turned it on at 8:32 a.m. on July 16, 1969, and turned it off at 1:50 a.m. on July 24. Then he made it unusable. It’s kind of mind-blowing.
Walk-in reading rooms are named for anarchists, with books available to peruse. A “Room for Deportees,” complete with chain link and razor wire, is one in a series of rooms that speak powerfully to migration, deportation and displacement.
Small, three-dimensional models depict all kinds of bridges, including one based on the Fibonacci sequence. Just outdoors, the 375-foot Irene Hixon Whitney Bridge spanning Hennepin Avenue has been newly painted, spiffed up and reopened in time to be part of the exhibition by proximity. Starting this weekend, the bridge will be lit every night. That was the plan when it was originally completed in 1988. It took a few decades to happen.
Educated in philosophy, enchanted by math and space travel, inspired with poetry, Armajani has lived in the Twin Cities since 1960, when he fled Iran as a 21-year-old with risky political views. He came to Minnesota, where his uncle chaired the history department at Macalester College. He studied there and stayed here.
Today Armajani’s public art – more bridges, as well as gazebos, reading rooms and installations he calls “gardens” – are found across the U.S. and in Germany, France, Amsterdam and Spain. His studio art is lesser known, perhaps more personal.
The Walker owns 35 works by Armajani, the largest collection in the United States. “Follow This Line” includes more than 100 works, some borrowed, some newly discovered in Armajani’s studio while the exhibition was coming together and on display for the first time. Several pieces date from before 1960, when he was still in Tehran. The “Seven Rooms of Hospitality” series, which includes the “Room for Deportees,” dates from 2017.
The exhibition is a compelling combination of art and architecture, abstraction and conceptualism, politics, history, text, American vernacular and the immigrant experience. There’s a lot going on everywhere you look, but it’s never loud or strident. There’s beauty in everything, even the sad and disturbing works, and elegance in the execution and construction.
See it if you can, and take your time. It’s a golden opportunity to learn more about an artist who’s been living in our midst for all these years.
“Siah Armajani: Follow This Line” opens Sunday and closes Dec. 30. Several related events are planned, including a free artist talk in the Walker Cinema on Thursday, Sept. 20. FMI.
Tonight (Friday, Sept. 7) at SooVAC: Collab: Christopher E. Harrison + Laurie Van Wieren and Ekphrastic 3.0 reading. Over the next nine months, Soo Visual Arts Center will present a series of collaborations among artists of different disciplines. To kick things off, visual artist Harrison and dance artist Van Wieren have created a new work using Harrison’s solo exhibition “A Monster Anthology” as a setting. Ekphrastic 3.0 is an experiment in collaborative multipanel storytelling paired with short narratives. Doors at 6 p.m., reading at 7, performance at 8. FMI. Free.
Friday at Lyric Arts Main Street Stage in Anoka: “If/Then.” Lyric Arts’ artistic and executive director Laura Tahja Johnson has planned an ambitious 23rd season that spotlights stories by and about women: Yazmina Reza’s “God of Carnage,” Sarah Ruhl’s “Dead Man’s Cell Phone,” Jane Austen’s “Sense and Sensibility” (adapted by Kate Hamill), the musical “Evita” and more. The season begins with the Tony-nominated Broadway musical about a woman who follows two life paths, based on the choices she makes. With music by Tom Kitt, lyrics and book by Brian Yorkey. 7:30 p.m. FMI and tickets ($32-35). Closes Sept. 23.
Friday through Sunday at the Ordway Concert Hall: St. Paul Chamber Orchestra Opening Weekend: Jeremy Denk Plays Beethoven’s “Emperor” Concerto. The SPCO starts its 60th season with Terry Riley’s “In C,” Samuel Barber’s “Knoxville: Summer of 1915,” set to text by James Agee and featuring soprano Julia Bullock in her SPCO debut, and SPCO artistic partner Jeremy Denk performing Beethoven’s final piano concerto as he leads the orchestra from the bench. 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. FMI and tickets ($12-50; children and students free).
Friday through Sunday at Northern Clay Center: American Pottery Festival. Northern Clay is to pots what the Textile Center is to textiles and the Playwrights’ Center is to plays: a national center for important work. Their annual fundraiser and celebration of pots brings makers, clay lovers, learners, collectors and the curious together for a weekend of socializing, special events, artist talks, meeting clay celebrities (yes, they exist) and looking at pots by 25 potters from around the country at all stages of their careers. Tickets to the opening night party on Friday are $25; admission Saturday or Sunday is $5. FMI. Note: We walked through the galleries this morning at a media preview event. Visit Artscape’s Facebook page for sneak-peek photos, artist talk recommendations and more. As long as you’re there, like and follow our page. We’re ramping it up as an extension of Artscape.
Saturday in St. Paul: Selby Jazz Fest. With the Lao Tizer Band, Urban Legends of Jazz, Nachito Herrera. Siama’s Congo Roots, Elaina McRath, Minnesota State Band, Walker West Music Academy and the Selby Ave. Brass Band. 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the intersection of Selby and Milton. With family activities, artist displays and food. FMI. Free.
Saturday at the Northrop King Building: Salon des Refusés on a Stick. A show of work rejected by the Minnesota State Fair. Guests become the jurors, and when the show closes, cash prizes ($500, $300 and $100) will be awarded for the top three pieces. In Gallery #332. Noon-4 p.m., Also next Saturday, Sept. 15, noon-10 p.m.
Saturday and Sunday: “Dr. Falstaff and the Working Wives of Lake County.” So here’s what this is: a new opera adapted from an old one (Otto Nicolai’s “Die Justigen Weiber von Windsor”) that was based on a Shakespeare play (“The Merry Wives of Windsor”). It’s set in a fictional northern Minnesota town in the time of United States v. Reserve Mining Company, interspersed with songs by Bruce Springsteen and punctuated with slapstick and snacks. What snacks? Chocolate taconite tailings and beet Jell-O shots, to name two. This strange but wonderful creation is performed outdoors. We saw it and liked it a lot. Mixed Precipitation’s annual Picnic Operetta, now in its 10th season, is touring Minnesota through Oct. 7. It’s here in the cities this weekend, at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Bronx Park Community Garden (St. Louis Park) and 2 p.m. Sunday at the JD Rivers’ Children’s Garden (Minneapolis). FMI (including other locations) and RSVP. Suggested donation $10-20.