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Walker Art Center opens Frank Gaard Poison & Candy

The Walker Art Center presents Frank Gaard Poison & Candy an exhibition on view January 26–May 6, 2012.

Frank Gaard, “Untitled,” 1977. Oil on canvas, 60 x 10 inches Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN. Gift of the Associates of the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, 1993.

Known for his brash personality and his inimitable art practice, Frank Gaard has made an indelible mark on the Twin Cities’ visual arts community. Frank Gaard: Poison & Candy, the largest-ever survey exhibition of Gaard’s work, runs from January 26 through May 6, 2012 at the Walker Art Center.

This survey of over a 100 works features monumental tableaux paintings from the 70s-80s, signature portraits of friends, and fellow art-world denizens, a raucous installation of new work that includes paintings on DVDs, CDs, and 78-rpm records, a selection of his extraordinary diaristic and at times salacious sketchbooks, and original drawings and issues of Artpolice, the cult zine Gaard published from 1974 to 1994. The exhibition will also include ephemera including drawings, record album covers, and hand-lettered promotional materials Gaard designed for gallery exhibitions and other events.

Since the late 1960s, Gaard has forged a deeply personal and idiosyncratic style that borrows from classic Sunday comics such as Dick Tracy and the Katzenjammer Kids and the history of Modernism, as embodied in the work of artists Marcel Duchamp and Piet Mondrian. Combining his vibrant, highly-saturated palette of deep jewel tones, unsullied pastels, and retinal fluorescents with a profound tendency toward comedic satire on an operatic scale, Gaard’s imagery borders on the iconographic. Cartoon-like faces with exaggerated features populate his paintings, as do crowned and spectacled self-portrait busts, snow shovels, swans, panties, and ponies. According to the artist his fantastical, sometimes ribald imagery stems in part from early-childhood traumas and a life lived with bipolar disorder. For nearly 30 years, Gaard has also undertaken a serious study of Jewish mysticism and the Kabbalah, having converted to Judaism in 1982. His frequent use Hebrew textual references and the Sephiroth or “tree of life” as a formal and conceptual construct in his paintings provided him, in the difficult early years of his mental illness, with a readymade of sorts that he could use as a compositional device so that, in his words, “he didn’t have to keep reinventing the universe over and over.”

For more than four decades, Gaard has been an elemental part of the Twin Cities art scene, revered by many as a mentor and simultaneously scorned by others for his uninhibited persona and bawdy artistic style. He arrived in 1969 to take a professorship at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design and later launched his underground zine Artpolice, which he co-published with several other artists and former students, and which developed a cult following worldwide. The illustrations in Artpolice ranged in subject from current events to politics to graphic sex, presented in a licentious comic strip style but also featuring Gaard’s signature brand of intellectualism and social critique. Though Artpolice ceased publication in 1994, Gaard’s diaristic, no-holds-barred observations and commentary on society and art continue on his must-read blog (see

The Walker has had a sustained relationship with Gaard since the mid-1970s, when it began collecting his work (some 20 works from the Walker collection are in this exhibition). Three major paintings were purchased in 2010, and the following year, Gaard gifted an important early painting currently on view in the collection exhibition Midnight Party. The Walker also presented the exhibition Viewpoints—Frank Gaard: Paintings in 1980.

Gaard was born in Chicago in 1944. He received a B.F.A. in 1967 from the Art Institute of Chicago where he also had his first museum exhibition, a group show of Chicago artists juried by Walter Hopps and Lawrence Alloway in which his work was seen alongside major figures associated with the Chicago Imagists such as Jim Nutt, Gladys Nilsson, Karl Wirsum, and Ed Paschke. In 1968 he earned an M.F.A. from the California College of Arts and Crafts, where he studied under and was greatly influenced by Peter Saul. He has received grants from the Pollock-Krasner Foundation, the Bush Foundation, and the McKnight Foundation. His work has been shown in local, national, and international exhibitions and is in the permanent collections of the Walker Art Center, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Museum of Modern Art, New York, among others.

Frank Gaard: Poison & Candy is organized by the Walker Art Center and curated by Betsy Carpenter, curator, visual arts. The exhibition is made possible by generous support from The McKnight Foundation.

Walker Art Center
1750 Hennepin Ave
Minneapolis, MN 55403

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