The House of Oracles


I am writing in response to the article entitled “House of Oracles: Gazing upon Huang Yong Ping at the Walker” by Aaron Johnson-Ortiz which ran on Nov. 1. In the article Mr. Johnson-Ortiz does a remarkable job of summarizing Huang’s innovative and politically charged work. As a Chinese-born artist living in France, Huang is in a unique position to provide new insights and criticisms of both China and the Western world; he does this with incredible gusto, creating hauntingly powerful artworks in the process. However, Mr. Johnson-Ortiz took the story in a different direction toward its conclusion when he stated that the “Walker cannot help but treat the artist as a rarity brought in from a safari hunt,” and going on to claim that the Walker’s “recent inclusion of artists of color, third-world artists, and women artists [is] supposed to make us forget the way [they] have been historically excluded.” As an institution the Walker must strongly argue that Mr. Johnson-Ortiz has not looked at the Walker’s collection, exhibition history, performing arts series, or film screenings with an exceptionally critical eye–presenting artists from around the world has been at the core of the Walker’s practice for decades, and is, in fact, something about which the Walker takes great pride.

The Walker has organized in-depth exhibitions examining artists that had been under-recognized, such as the Brazilian modernist Hlio Oiticica (1993) or the American sculptor Kiki Smith who is receiving her first comprehensive retrospective at the Walker this coming February. It has also curated survey exhibitions exploring an international array of artists, such as “Unfinished History” (1998) and “How Latitudes Become Forms: Art in a Global Age” (2003), to name only a few of the exhibitions that have introduced artists from around the globe to both the Twin Cities and the United States. The Walker has hosted and commissioned performances by artists from nearly every continent and has two ongoing film series, “Global Lens” and “Women with Vision,” that introduce directors from around the world to the Twin Cities–many of these directors simply would not be seen by our local audiences if it were not for the Walker’s ongoing commitment to making their voices heard.

The Walker does not present these artists because they are exotic “others,” as Mr. Johnson-Ortiz implies, but rather to continually support and nurture new forms of artistic expression regardless of its country of origin, or the sex and color of its artist. Each of these somewhat arbitrary categories bears little importance in our global artistic community; what matters is the content and form of an artist’s expression and the emotional, intellectual, and/or aesthetic impact.

Mr. Johnson-Ortiz’s belief that some artists are selected and presented at the Walker as “tokens” inaccurately reflects the Walker’s vision and its commitment to expanding the dialogue surrounding contemporary art and culture.

The author is the Director of Marketing and Public Relations at the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis.