Sidewalk Art Review: "The Talent Show" at The Walker

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a huge fan the classics of sidewalk art. I love my Whistler, my Manet, my Hopper, my Di Chirico, and even my occasional Mondrian. But, if you ask me, sidewalk art got a lot more interesting after about 1960. Perhaps the most famous examples are the Situationists, a radical group of Parisians who took art to the streets in a whole new way in the 60s, creating maps and games and tags on the streets. This side of the Atlantic, the Fluxus group did a lot of really great stuff that intervened in and interrogated everyday life. (In fact, you can see some of the Fluxus boxes at the Walker right now in the concurrent 1964 show.).

Things really started going after that. Right now at The Walker, as part of their exhibit, The Talent Show, you will find a bunch of hidden treasures of sidewalk art. I was happily surprised by the show, which is kind of a ‘best of’ exhibit featuring a bunch of interactive art since about 1960. This is the kind of stuff where the artist interacts with their audience, plays with the relationship between art and happenstance, improvisatory works that require quick reflexes and a healthy sense of ironic fun. As the Walker describes it,

“The Talent Show looks at art since the 1960s that coerces people to put themselves on view, exploring the range of complicated relationships that have emerged over the past four decades between artists, audiences, and participants.”

And its no surprise, then, that the street becomes one of the best stages for this kind of artistic play. When you wander through the show, you’ll eventually find yourself in what I like to call the Sidewalk Room. Here’s what you’ll find.

This one’s my favorite. It’s “The Girl Chewing Gum”, a 1976 work by an (incredibly boringly named) British video artist named John Smith. Just watch it for a few minutes. I think it speaks for itself. (It’s a bit like when I get my cat to “obey me” by telling her to “sleep all day and lick her butt once in a while”.)

Vezi mai multe video din Film

[Sorry about the ad, however it’s the best copy I found online.]

There’s also a bit of fun sidewalk play in involving hand-drawn street maps by the intriguingly avant-garde Dutch artist Stanley Brouwn, who seemingly made his living playing with people’s street movements. On display are two of his 1964 ‘maps’, where he asked strangers on the street to draw him maps to random destinations, and them stamped them with the simple message “This Way Brouwn.” At least in the world of urban planning and cognitive mapping, his efforts are pretty ahead of their time. [One of the Brouwn maps is pictured at top of this article.]

There is also an interesting example of the artistic possibilities of sidewalk detritus by the French artist Sophie Calle. She finds a man’s address book laying on the sidewalk next to a lamppost, and proceeds to try to ‘get to know’ the man without his knowledge by calling up all of his acquaintances in the book, one by one, and asking them about him. She proceeds as kind of a detective stalker journalist, documenting day by day her efforts in a Parisian art magazine. (Of course, it’s decidedly less creepy than my favorite sidewalk stalker artist, Vito Acconci’s hilarious Following Piece.) I was surprised by how touching I found her results, a lovingly detailed list of characteristics describing the book’s owner.

[The address book found on the sidewalk, and mined for its contents.]

Finally, right at the beginning of the exhibit, I found myself strangely moved by the photos of Japanese artist, Shizuka Yokomizo. In her series called “Stranger” (1998-2000), she left anonymous notes at people’s homes requesting them to, if they felt inclined, stand in front of their window for 10 minutes at an appointed time, and she would take their picture from the sidewalk outside. Ostensibly voyeuristic, the photos actually feel strangely intimate. They take the normal (necessarily exploitative) relationship between a photographer and her subject, and strip away every kind of personal relationship. The results capture an intense kind of loneliness that seems perfect for the empty homes of modern suburbia.

So, if you find yourself walking past the Walker, walk in the door and walk to the sidewalk room: you can call it The Walker walking walk. (wakka wakka!) --- [snip]

[Two of Yokomizo's anonymous interactions between artist and subject.]

P.S. The rest of the show is good fun too.


Big Weekend Shows why Downtowns are Vital

The weekend got me thinking about old photos showing downtowns in the 1950s with streets just filled with people. Downtowns were built on density and crowds and transportation links that connected people all throughout the city. As Fogelson shows in his book, for the 50 year period from 1900 - 1950, businesses and property owners in US downtowns could do no wrong. They raked in money left and right as crowds of people daily filled the streets. (For example, each day in 1920, roughly 270,000 people commuted into downtown St. Louis, a city of roughly the same size as the TC.) Department stores were clustered there, and most everyone did their shopping downtown. Public spaces and public events were radically different than they are today. You didn't have to 'attract' people to 'events' like you do today. The people were already there.

[A typical day on the crowded streets of Downtown Saint Paul.]

But suburbanization and cars changed all that. Today, its very different, and most of time (except around Nicollet Mall or the Warehouse district), the downtowns look like something out of a post-apocalyptic video game. A huge percentage of the downtown Saint Paul office space is sitting empty. (And, if it wasn't for the Target corporation, Minneapolis would likely follow suit.) Sure, a few people are moving back to live in the downtown areas, but its just a slim fraction of the kind of density you used to find.

And that's why Saturday was such a cool day for downtown Minneapolis and Saint Paul. First, you had an absolutely insane number of people show up for the Red Bull Flugtag, a way-better-than-advertised event that combined the folly of Icarus, the imagination of Galileo, and the aquatic gravity of Cannonball. By police estimates (which tend to under-report political protests), there were 90,000 people flooding the streets of downtown Saint Paul during the afternoon. That's as many people as I can remember being downtown during the RNC or the Obama rally.

[The streets and river valley fill with folks enjoying the ephemerality of flight.]

[A small part of the huge Flugtag crowd.]

Then, later that same day, a new crowd gathered around the Minneapolis riverfront to see the wonderful Aquatennial fireworks. Again the streets were filled and bustling, and even without the fireworks, it was an exciting place to be. And both these events could only have been held downtown. (Just imagine if they tried to get 90,000 people into Eagan or Anoka?)

[Crowds watch the awesome Target-sponsored fireworks display.]

Of course, with the freeway partialaly closed to cars, the traffic was supposedly horrendous. Just imagine how many people would have come downtown to see the Flugtag or the fireworks if we had a few more convenient transit lines up and running. How many of those car drivers would have taken the Central Corridor or the planned SW line?

I think the future of Downtowns is looking up. Ten years from now, the skies will be filled with Flugtags and fireworks!

[In 1910, Snelling Avenue resident Fred Parker participates in the 1st ever Saint Paul Flugtag with his hand-made flying machine. Img. MNHS.]


Sidewalk of the Week: South 50th Street

This time of year, as summertime approaches its zenith, when we find ourselves walking on sidewalks baking under the hot afternoon sun, I am grateful I live in a city with lakes: sandy shores, skipping light reflections, the odd smell of water, crowds lazing lazily, neon objects arcing gently through the air, the sounds of sisters being splashed by brothers, joggers and strollers and picnics, oh my. These lakes are a wonderful treasure, special sorts of sidewalks, public spaces of the first order, alive with people watching, places where personal space is a continual state of play, places where people gather to relax. How rare it is to have this kind of nature right in the middle of a bustling city, to have a lake be a part of everyday life, connected to your home or neighborhood. I haven't really seen anything like it. Sure, other cities may have their beautiful river valleys, ravines, gorges, oceans (pshaw), or sublime mountains. But lakes are something different. Usefully swimmable! Clean, practical, saltless, and just the right size!

[Shady sidewalk trees make for sun-speckled sidewalks, and doubling the size of front yards.]

My only complaint has always been that almost all of Minneapolis' lakes are surrounded by high-end residential homes. Take your pick of just about any of the lakefront shoreline areas in the city, and what do you find? A bunch of very nice, but very dull and boring city tax revenue streams. I bet they're very nice places for the folks that can afford them, but for the rest of us hoi polloi, the lakes are only good for walking, jogging, skating, swimming, gazing at, skiing upon, or renting watercraft within. (Well, that is quite a list.) But, what these lakes are missing are places to sit around and hang out nearby. If anyone has ever been to Madison and gotten the privilege of having a beer on the Union Terrace overlooking Lake Mendota, you'll know what I'm talking about. If it wasn't for the Lake Harriet bandshell, or Tin Fish, there would be hardly anywhere in the city to really enjoy a lakefront sidewalk experience.

[The Nokomis Beach donut / life preserver means there are small businesses nearby.]

So in my annual quest for the perfect summer in the city spot, I was delighted to find myself at the corner of 50th Street and 28th Avenue S. Here, at this obscure corner, you will find yourself at the perfect marriage of sidewalk and beach, nature and culture, sunshine and shade.

[Life's a beach when you're on the sidewalk in the summertime.]

[Walking to the beach from The Beach takes you through native prairie flowerbeds.]

This little street is one of the few places where commercial real estate and Minneapolis Lakes come together, almost touching, to create a little lakeside / sidewalk isthmus. You can walk or stroll from the lake through the garden to the coffee shop and bakery and back again. In a sense, they are almost indistinguishable. Seeing the two guys sitting and drinking their coffee, shirtless, tanning their already leathery skin in front of a be-flowered teal canoe, while the whole neighborhood read the newspaper, chatted, or biked by... and only a block away lurked the lure of the beach, where time slows to a languid crawl, and (perhaps) the best swimming in the city awaits. All this corner really needs is a rooftop patio.

So, go jump in a lake, Malibu. I'll take my 5oth Street, where the beach meets the pleasant pace of everyday life, and stress seems to evaporate in the warm summer sun.

[You can't really see it in the photo, but just on the other side of those trees is a beautiful lake and beach.]

[The perfect spot.]


*** Sidewalk Weekend! *** #41

Sidewalk Rating: Sunshine!

And the good times keep rolling right along. This summer is been pretty perfect for sidewalks so far. Don't let up. It's a stroll-a-marathon. Take it one day at a time.

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[Bedlam Patio, RIP! I will so miss sunning myself between a rock (all the freeways) and a hard place (Riverside Plaza).]

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[File this next to the Bladeless Fan in the Mis-uses of Technology file.]

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[I like a good painterly painting.]

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[Undoing the 60s, one Moses freeway at a time.]

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[The only thing that could improve this would be a Zombie Skateboard Army.]

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[Somehow I missed posting this awesome bit of freedom on the 4th of July.]

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[Click to see the after pic!]

Reading the Highland Villager #20 (July 21 - August 3 Edition)

[Basically, the problem is that the best source of local streets & sidewalks news in Saint Paul is the Highland Villager. This wouldn't be a problem, except that its not available online. I'm reading the Highland Villager so that you don't have to. Until this newspaper goes online, sidewalk information must be set free.]

Total # of articles about sidewalks: 10
Total # of articles about sidewalks written by Jane McClure: 8

Title: Graffiti vandalism gives way to art along Midtown Greenway; former taggers put their talents to good use along Minneapolis trail
Author: Chas Jensen

Short short version: Piece about former graffiti taggers doing a mural on the backside of one of the old industrial factory buildings along the Eastern edge of the Minneapolis greenway. Includes some history about the former "free wall" policy, where Mpls Police allowed tagging only in certain spots in the city. The policy was abandoned before Rybak took office.

Title: Work to begin on controversial Snelling median
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: [At long last] a pedestrian median will be built along the six blocks of Snelling near Macalester College. [Amazingly, this obvious traffic calming & pedestrian safety amenity was 'controversial' in the St Paul's car-culture political blender. -Ed.] Work will be done by the time classes kick off in the fall.

Title: Public art unveiled for 15 stations on Central corridor light-rail line
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: LRT officials have seen a preview of some of the designs for art at the LRT stations along University. Some of the art "features large birds in flight", "incorporates scientific equations", draws on parts of a railroad locomotive, or "reflects that area's past as a manufacturing center".

Title: Light-rail disruptions previewed
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: LRT officials are letting businesses know how long and when construction will affect driveways and access to buildings during the construction season. Lots of details! [It sounds really complicated! -Ed.]

Title: BZA denies variances for creation of duplex near SPA
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: Someone living on Randolph Avenue wanted to convert her home into a duplex, but the board of Zoning Appeals said no.

Title: Commission favors rezoning of Merriam Park bakery site
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: An old gluten-free bakery on Marshall Avenue will be zoned "traditional neighborhoods", which allows the new [falafel?] business to sell more of its products off-site.

Title: Owner appeals BZA decision to deny triplex in Lex-Ham
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version:Someone living on Laurel Avenue wants to convert his home into a triplex. The Board of Zoning Appeals said no. The person is appealing. [Presumably to the BZAA, the Board of Zoning Appeals Appeals? -Ed.]

Title: Dayton Ave warehouse owner gets interim use permit for auto storage
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The aforementioned man who bought the old warehouses under the end of Ayd Mill Road will, after all, be allowed to place cars and car parts inside it.

Title: West End pet grooming biz told to sit
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: An extremely pun-laden article on the layover of a nonconforming use permit for a pet groomer on Clifton Street. The pet groomer is not conforming to code because it lacks off-street parking, among other things.

Title: Lowertown rising; Downtown St Paul's once bustling center of commerce is experiencing another boom
Author: Lisa Heinrich

Short short version: Trend piece on all the restaurants moving into the area around Mears Park. Features lots of history of lowertown, facts about the density, commercial activity, etc., including how "in 1875, 70 percent of saint Paul's residents lived within a mile of downtown". Also a few tidbits about the old warehouse buildings down in there.


Reading the Highland Villager #19 (July 7 - 20 Edition)

[Basically, the problem is that the best source of local streets & sidewalks news in Saint Paul is the Highland Villager. This wouldn't be a problem, except that its not available online. I'm reading the Highland Villager so that you don't have to. Until this newspaper goes online, sidewalk information must be set free.]

Total # of articles about sidewalks: 6
Total # of articles about sidewalks written by Jane McClure: 5

Title: Chicago firm is awarded contract to build St. Paul portion of Central Corridor light rail; $205.1 million bid comes in below estimated cost.
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: You've probably already seen this, but some company named "Walsh Construction" is going to be doing the work on the stretch of the LRT from DT StP all the way to the Mpls border. Good news? The project came in almost $50M under the target budget. Construction begins immediately. [I am amazed how gradually this whole project was approved. There was never a moment when the Federal or Local gov't announced, "Yes, the CCLRT is approved." Rather, there were a series of tiny and imperceptible clearings of hurdles, where the project received this tiny bit of approval or went forward through some committee or this report came out, or whatever. It's strange seeing bureaucracy inaction in action. -Ed.]

Title: With financing OK'd, work will begin soon on Carondelet Village; $60.4M project will give highland 259 new units of senior housing by 2012
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: Report on a new senior housing project at the corner of Randolph and Fairview for old Cathoics and Presbeteryians, funded with a bunch of TIF money from the city.

Title: Univeristy businesses get a break; forgiveable loans help in replacing lost parking
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The City Council has $1.3M in loans to businsses along University Ave. to help build off-street parking lots to make up for the loss of on-street meters due to LRT construction. The loans are interest-free, and would be forgiven if the lots are "maintained for seven years." [Q: How many parking lots does $1.3 M buy you? A: Not many. -Ed.] The only catch appears to be that construction needs to get going very quickly. [Also, there is an example of where a mixed-use developments were meant to go in, but instead a surface parking lot will be built. For example, the corner of University and St Albans. Does this city really need more surface parking lots? -Ed.]

Title: St Paul gets to work rezoning land along Central Corridor
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: This great article for planning wonks details how the Planning Commission is struggling to come up with a new zoning code for along the LRT line. The current designation of "TN" or "Traditional Neighborhood" doesn't allow for enough density for the street, capping out building heights at 55 feet. The commission may raise that with a new TN code that allows for 150 foot buildings. Two other potential problems: conflict b/w office space along University and the mostly vacant office buildings in DT StP, and concerns about whether or not "auto-oriented" businesses [e.g. drive through chain thingies, car repair thingies] will be allowed on the street in any capacity. [Currently, the street is riddled with drive-thorugh chain thingies and car repair thingies. -Ed.]

Title: Hopes for home improvement store kept alive in Midway; RK Midway and neighbors still taling compromise on 4.5-acre development
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The latest in the [ridiculous] saga of the potential Home Depot/Lowe's that is slated for the old Snelling bus garage site at Snelling and Univesity. The developer is holding out for a tall sign, but neighbors and the city council don't want it. At the moment, the City Council is split along its usual pro-business v. pro-citizen lines, with Members Bostrom, Harris, and Helgen in favor of letting the company and devleopers do whatever they want, and Members Carter, Lantry, Thune, and Stark likely to side with the neighborhood groups.
[Honestly, as if this building is not going to be built if they can't have an extra 30 feet in height for their sign? The City Council should stick to their guns. The developer will cave and build the store anyway. -Ed.]

Title: Group makes energy innovation central to light rail line
Author: Frank Jossi

Short short version: Really interesting piece on the potential for a district energy system being built along University Avenue that would link up the waste heat from the huge Rock-Tenn facility with a bunch of the buildings along University Avenue. [Really, really good idea! -Ed.]
Added bonus: photo of the top of the [godawful] Spruce Tree Center, which now has solar panels on its rooftop. I guess anything's worth a try to "spruce up" that ugly and empty building?