Those who have spent time in the Walker Art Center’s galleries or the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden will have encountered major works of art gifted to the Walker’s collection by Judy and Kenneth Dayton, patrons who made a profound impact on the cultural institutions they supported, helping to make Minnesota a national hub for the arts. Together, the Daytons assembled a distinctive collection of American art. Their approach to collecting was driven by curiosity, passion, and lasting relationships: some of the artists whose works had pride of place in their home—such as Jasper Johns, Ellsworth Kelly, and Claes Oldenburg—became their close friends.
This exhibition pays tribute to the generosity of the Daytons, who over the decades enabled more than 550 artworks to enter the Walker’s collection, including many sculptures in the Garden. In 2000 the Daytons made headlines when they announced their intention to gift their personal collection to the Walker, a bequest fully realized in 2021 following Judy’s passing. On view in the current exhibition are significant paintings, sculptures, drawings, and prints by artists including Alexander Calder, Sam Gilliam, Philip Guston, Jasper Johns, Ellsworth Kelly, Roy Lichtenstein, Agnes Martin, Barnett Newman, Louise Nevelson, Martin Puryear, Cy Twombly, and Andy Warhol.
Kenneth Dayton (1923–2003) was one of five brothers who inherited Dayton’s department store, growing the family company into a retail powerhouse that included present-day Target Corporation. In the 1940s, the Dayton family committed their business to a standard of giving 5 percent of its pretax profits to the community, a philosophy soon adopted by other Minnesota corporations. Judy Dayton (1927–2021) became a member of the Walker’s Board of Trustees in 1966 at age 39. She assumed the role of board president in the early 1970s—making her one of the first women to lead the board of a major cultural organization in Minnesota—and ultimately served as a trustee with distinction for 55 years.
At the Walker, Judy and Kenneth Dayton’s philanthropic legacy is second only to that of founder T. B. Walker, who opened his art collection to the public 143 years ago. One of the Daytons greatest gifts was a trust, established in 1998 in support of Walker operations and programs. This has made possible—among many other things—impactful visual arts exhibitions; major new dance, music, and theater performances; hundreds of film screenings; and innovative educational and community programs. While the Daytons steadfastly declined public recognition of this foundational support, their legacy is one that has unequivocally transformed the Walker, and one that will shape the experiences of its visitors for generations.