From the outside, the renovated and expanded Walker Art Center is a study in contrasts: the unadorned rectilinear bricks of the “gallery tower” and the precarious steel-mesh diagonals of the new “theater tower” create a sort of conversation between modernisms of the high- and post- varieties. Inside, though, it’s much as it ever was: the exhibit spaces still hew to the old idea that art is best viewed in a big white box, which, actually, I’m very much in support of. Rather than opening with a big special show, the Walker has chosen to break its galleries in with a handful of exhibits assembled from pieces in its permanent collection.

[The Walker's old and new towers]
Lawrence Weiner’s pithy motto has never been more apt.

The old, numbered galleries are largely unchanged, although for those who over the years got used to seeing the same pieces in the same locations, the current arrangement is a little disorienting. (Robert Rauschenberg shouldn’t be over there! Nam June Paik should be over there! Where’d that stack of collectible lithographs go? Who moved my cheese?) The American abstract expressionists still hit in the leadoff spot, but behind them are contrasting works from Japan, Austria, and Italy dating from the same time period. A number of exhibits group artists by theme rather than time: artists that play with mythologies, or that work in nontraditional materials. Continuing the high-modernist/post-modernist debate, a pair of “quartets” pits a squad of abstract sluggers (Jasper Johns, Joan Mitchell, Robert Motherwell, and Ellsworth Kelly) against a pick-up team of contemporary artists (Sherrie Levine, Kara Walker, Robert Gober, and Matthew Barney).

[corner view of new tower]
The jagged, steel-mesh exterior is a little intimidating from close up.

Of particular interest to my media-addled brain was a large assemblage of video and video-related art. From Jeff Wall’s too-sharp cibachrome lightboxes to Chantal Akerman’s roomful of TVs displaying crowds to Rineke Dijkstra’s voyeuristic studies of nervous club kids, a lot of contemporary art uses film, video, and media in general — both the idea and the material — as its subject. This isn’t just multimedia for multimedia’s sake, though. Shirin Neshat projects herself onto two screens and into two worlds to create a double gaze that turns itself onto the viewer and forces him or her to pay attention to Neshat’s meditations on religion, race, gender, and history. And of course, no video art exhibition would be complete without a little Bruce Nauman, except of course for the fact that there’s no such thing as “a little” Nauman.

[view of the back of the building]
The asymmetric, diagonal lines are the result of either a sci-fi sensibility or an accident with a pair of scissors.

The Walker has been heavily plugging its expanded theater and film facilities, but I didn’t get to see any of those on this visit, because I got hungry and needed to go get lunch. I guess I could have eaten at the new Wolfgang Puck restaurant that they keep making a huge deal of, but if I wanted to eat at a chain restaurant, I could probably go to Big Bowl and spend less.

[newspaper-cutout 'open' sign]
Open! It really is.