Paul Schmelzer: Signifier, Signed

March 23 – March 29, 2017

Opening Reception
Art Gallery and Art Commons
Thursday, March 23, 2017
7 – 9 pm

Paul Schmelzer has a rare autograph collection. Like many collectors, he’s gathered signatures from artists and musicians, filmmakers and politicians—figures like artist Yoko Ono and Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon, Civil Rights icon John Lewis and filmmaker Wim Wenders. What’s unusual: they’ve all signed his name, “Paul Schmelzer.”

This strange collection was inspired by Schmelzer’s experience with a young family friend: upon meeting a revered musician the boy asked for autograph. But when the musician handed over his signature over, the 8-year-old boy responded in frustration:

“Not your name. Mine!”

After regaining his composure, the musician scribbled out his own name and rewrote the boy’s.

Years later, inspired by the memory of this experience, Schmelzer began asking celebrities—through the mail and in person at concerts, readings, and art openings—to sign his name. A name that, in his own words, is “a Germanic, doesn’t-roll-off-the-tongue, un-famous-sounding thing.” The project serves as both a critique of celebrity and a celebration of those who have shaped his beliefs, either positively or negatively.

Signifier, Signed includes signatures from more than 75 celebrities, including high-profile artists and architects (Matthew Barney, Frank Gehry, Maya Lin, Laurie Anderson), musicians (Jeff Tweedy, Dave Brubeck, Henry Rollins), filmmakers (Peter Bogdanovich, Wim Wenders, Errol Morris), a few infamous politicos (Pat Buchanan, Jesse Ventura), some who have passed on (Sen. Paul Wellstone, Merce Cunningham, Spalding Gray, Julian Bond, Earth Day founder Gaylord Nelson), and one unmistakable cartoon voice (the man behind Homer Simpson, Dan Castellaneta). The project also includes misinterpretations from the assignment, including the 40 or so who didn’t understand it and signed their own names (like Robert Redford and the late great James Brown), or returned requests for “fan mail” with preprinted 8 x 10s glossies.

Collectively, writes Schmelzer, the project comprises “a weird kind of self-portrait, one in which ego and self-deprecation unite and signifier and signed are muddled.”

The collection has long been documented through a project website and will be publicly shown for the first time at the Law Warschaw Gallery, introduced by a short essay by critic Ben Davis.

About Paul Schmelzer

Paul Schmelzer is a writer and editor based in Minneapolis. A former political journalist, art blogger, and editor at Adbusters magazine, he is currently managing editor of Walker Reader, the Walker Art Center’s online magazine. His writings about art and activism have been published by, Art in America, Cabinet, Hyperallergic, Raw Vision, Utne Reader, and many others. He lives in Minneapolis’ Longfellow neighborhood with his wife, Linda, kids Kai and Olivia, and exuberant border collie, Angus.

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Don Celender: Destiny of a Name and Other Works

March 23–March 29, 2016
Second Floor Lounge, Janet Wallace Art Center
Open during Gallery Hours

Pioneering American conceptual artist Donald D. Celender (1931-2005) engaged artists, politicians, executives, working people—individuals from across all different segments of society—in artworks that questioned and examined the definition and role of art and artists. Using surveys and letters, Celender turned mundane correspondence into works of art which existing largely in the imaginations of his audience.  His interest in conceptual art as “a valid vehicle for reiterating and expanding the scope of the artist as an originator of ideas as well as a maker of objects” came to fruition with the launch of his ‘Corporate Art Movement’ in December 1969.  Business executives were mailed proposals for impractical, if not downright impossible, projects using their companies’ products.  Those letters, along with replies, captured the interest of Ivan Karp, who would go on to represent and exhibit Celender’s works at his New York O.K. Harris gallery.

Celender went on to produce other ‘Art Movements’ including Political, Religious, Affluent, Academic, Cultural, Mass Media, and Organizational.  His work, Destiny of a Name, featured in this exhibit, asked individuals from all walks of life whether their surname influenced their vocation. Taken together, these letters and responses invite humor, irony, and sometimes discomfort, in the audience/ reader.

Celender joined the Macalester Art Department faculty in 1964 and taught until 2004. Professor Ruthann Godollei, Chair of the Art Department, recalled, “His exploration into public and private attitudes towards the arts…were exhibited to generate conversation and new thinking about art.”

Co-curated with the DeWitt Wallace Library, Archives and Special Collections

Mobile Making: Make Your Own Artball Cards
Wednesday, March 29
11:30 – 1:30 pm
Art Commons

Whether your inspiration comes from Don Celender’s Artball Cards or Baseball Card Vandals, join us for this pop-up makerspace and explore your own creativity. 

Hosted by the DeWitt Wallace Library