Andrew Blauvelt, photo courtesy of Walker Art Center
Since taking the position of design director at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis in 1998, Andrew Blauvelt’s title and responsibilities have expanded steadily. In 2005 he added curator to his title, then in 2010 he also became chief of audience engagement and communications. During his 14 year tenure at the art center, he has curated internationally recognized shows, increased the museum’s community involvement through such projects and public programs as the upcoming skyways show that will surely provoke discussion, and has been the leader of the Walker’s design studio, a recipient of more than 80 design awards that recognize the institution’s renowned graphic communications.
The Walker Art Center, Herzog & de Meuron building, photo courtesy of Walker Art Center
The Walker Art Center began as a collection in 1879, in the home of successful lumber baron, Thomas Barlow (T.B.) Walker, whose residence was very near where the institution stands today. Formally established in 1927, the Walker became the first public art gallery in the Upper Midwest. In 1988 the adjacent Minneapolis Sculpture Garden opened and represents a unique partnership between the city, which owns the land, and the art center, which fills it with temporary and permanent works of art.
Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, photo courtesy of Walker Art Center
The Walker’s long-standing focus on modern/contemporary art began in 1940s. Its 1971 building by Edward Larrabee Barnes became a national model for museum design with its elegant white terrazzo floors, and galleries with a graduated ceiling height that spiral around a central access core. In 2005 a major expansion, designed by Herzog & de Meuron, opened. With its innovative building design, Sculpture Garden, and progressive exhibitions and public programming, the Walker is a destination point for local, national, and international artists, designers, and visitors.
1971 Edward Larrabee Barnes building, 2005 Herzog & de Meuron building behind, photo courtesy of Walker Art Center
On recent warm September day in Minneapolis, Andrew agreed to answer some questions about the role design played in the Walker’s distinguished history and what he’s up to in 2012 and beyond.
Mason Riddle: Historically, architecture and design have played important roles in the Walker’s programming. Could you list a few examples of projects, exhibitions or publications?
Andrew Blauvelt: The Walker became an Art Center in 1940 and since that time it has had a design program. The early projects included Everyday Art Quarterly (EAQ), the first museum journal on design, which later became Design Quarterly (DQ). The Idea House Project, which was a museum-sponsored program for modern architecture, was also initiated in the 1940s. The Walker created a design gallery, one of only a few museums (not be confused with decorative arts) to do so in the United States, until the early 1960s when museum director Martin Friedman arrived and did away with dedicated galleries. His wife, Mickey Friedman, became a design curator, one of many women who have had that role at the Walker since the 1940s. She established the Walker’s modern day presence in the design world with a series of major exhibitions in the 1970s and 1980s: Mississippi: Image of the River; Tokyo: Form and Spirit; Architecture of Frank Gehry; Graphic Design in America; and, the Architecture Tomorrow series.
Since those early days the Walker has also had an in-house design studio that produced the graphics, initially for exhibitions and simple communications, as well as exhibition design. Later it also produced EAQ and DQ magazines. During that time, Martin hired Peter Seitz, then a recent Yale graduate who was also in the first student class at Ulm, the successor school to the Bauhaus in Germany. He introduced a truly modern and more European focus to the graphic design at the Walker. This was in the 1960s.
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