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Erasing masterpieces and wheelchair tricks: art school on the Internet

Editor’s note: Every Friday, MinnPost arts writer Jeff Severns Guntzel designs a custom weekend tour based on a theme of Twin Cities galleries, museums, public art and performance spaces.

Has anybody pulled your coat lately about the virtues of the Internet? You should really check it out. It used to be that all you needed for a respectable art education was a museum in driving distance and a library card. These days you could scrap together the outline of your very own art dissertation from, gulp, Wikipedia.

But rather than defend that profoundly rash statement, let’s get on with this week’s tour. I roamed the galleries of the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis for a couple of hours and picked four works of art. For each artist, I dug through what could be found only on Google and Wikipedia and distilled that information to its most quirky essence.

Call me Professor Philistine if you must, but when it’s all over don’t tell me you didn’t have a good time.

1) Robert Rauschenberg, “Trophy III” (1960)

The materials in this one tell you what you need to know about Robert Rauschenberg: oil, charcoal, paper, fabric, metal on canvas, drinking glass, metal chain, spoon, neck tie.

This is the kind of work he did through the ’50s — collecting trash and other things of the streets of New York City. He says he “wanted something other than what I could make myself and I wanted to use the surprise and the collectiveness and the generosity of finding surprises. And if it wasn’t a surprise at first, by the time I got through with it, it was.” In a decades-long career that ended with his death in May of this year, he immersed himself in printmaking and performance art.

In 1953, with the courage he absorbed from a bottle of Jack Daniels, he approached William de Kooning, among the most celebrated artists in the world at that time, and told him we wanted one of his drawings so that he could erase it and frame it as his own. He tells the hilarious story of “Erased de Kooning” here in this charming clip…

2) Yves Klein, “Mondo Cane Shroud” (1961)

Courtesy of Walker Art Center

It’s almost boring now, but at the end of the ’50s it was something of a revolution for Frenchman Yves Klein to recruit women to remove their clothes, cover themselves in his signature blue paint, and press and roll their bodies against giant canvases or swaths of gauze. He called these pieces Anthropométries. More than five decades later you can put the process out of your mind if it doesn’t impress — and just enjoy the beauty of what became of it all.

Klein, who once sold empty spaces in New York City in exchange for gold for the mere psychic virtue of their emptiness, died one year after this recent Walker acquisition was purchased. He was just 34.

Here’s a look at the making of Klein’s Anthropométries — a ritual that is equal parts rote mechanics and uncanny grace…

3) Chuck Close, “Kiki” (1993)

Courtesy of Walker Art Center

Twenty years ago this December, painter and photographer Chuck Close suffered a spinal artery collapse. He was paralyzed from the neck down and eventually regained some movement in his arms and hands — even his legs. But he would be wheelchair bound for the rest of his life. He’s been a painter since the early ’60s. After what he calls “The Event” he adapted to his physical restrictions and kept painting. He straps a brush to his fingers and sets his enormous canvas on a contraption that can raise or lower it and spin it around. Oh, and there is this…

4) Ellsworth Kelly, “Red Yellow Blue III” (1966)

Courtesy of Walker Art Center

I’d like to sit near Ellsworth Kelly‘s “Red Yellow Blue II” for a day and count how many heads shake upon discovering it. I could explain it to you here or I could leave it to one of the most delightful women on this spinning top of a planet: The Milwaukee Art Museum’s chief educator of 45 years, Barbara Brown Lee. She nails Kelly here, and all that is between you and a Barbara Brown Lee talking is the brilliant opening sequence to this episode of her video podcast called “My KID could do that!”

That’s this week’s tour. It’s off to the Walker for you. Stand before these works and talk like you know it all. I’ll be the guy flicking you in the ear for it — because it drives me crazy. But this time I asked for it. Professor Philistine signing off.

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