Animating Space: On the Sculpture Garden
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Animating Space: On the Sculpture Garden

Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, Spoonbridge and Cherry, 1985–1988

To commemorate the inauguration of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden in 1988, the Walker dedicated an entire issue of the popular publication Design Quarterly to the innovative new space. Today, as we celebrate the quarter-century anniversary of this beloved art park, we revisit the cornerstone essay of that publication, written by one of the visionaries behind the garden, then-director Martin Friedman (now director emeritus).

The character of Minneapolis, unlike that of many urban centers, is open and expansive. A young city, dating from the mid-1850s, its downtown is only now beginning to take on the dense, high-rise geometry of a metropolitan complex. Its distinctive natural attributes are the Mississippi River, flowing to the east of the downtown business district, and a chain of lakes, part of the city’s extensive park system. Within that network is the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, occupying some seven and one-half acres [in 1992, a four-acre addition was completed, adding a northern sector to the Garden]. Popularly known as the Armory Gardens, this site once boasted a massive brick structure of pseudo-Romanesque design, constructed as a training facility for U.S. Army Reserves.

The ground under the Kenwood Armory was an unstable mélange of peat bogs and quicksand, and as early 1900s construction technology could not adequately cope with the resulting problems, the Armory’s fate was virtually sealed with the laying of its cornerstone in 1905. After the city building inspector asserted that its piers were not equal to the task of supporting the weighty structure, heroic efforts were made by the hapless contractor to stabilize it, but little assurance could be given for the building’s long-term prospects. Finally, in 1929 a definitive survey by military agencies proclaimed the building in danger of “immediate collapse,” and the city inspector ordered it evacuated at once.

Its usefulness to the military conclusively at an end, in December 1933 the Kenwood Armory was demolished by strategically planted charges of dynamite.

In 1935, ownership of the land once occupied by the Armory was transferred by the Minneapolis City Council to the Park Board, and a new chapter in its history began. For the next few decades, this carefully maintained acreage, with its precisely trimmed hedges and circles of ornamental flower beds, afforded local residents a tranquil oasis for Sunday afternoon family strolls. In 1967, however, it passed into history, like the Armory it once bordered. The construction of a major north-south segment of a new interstate highway required taking wide easements on both sides of the street, with the result that the Armory Gardens were erased, leaving the area barren except for a few venerable elms.

Throughout the metamorphoses of this parkland, its surroundings were also undergoing transformation. Directly to the south, the Walker Art Gallery opened to the public in 1927. Its fanciful Hispano-Moresque exterior fronted Lyndale Avenue, which by then boasted a stately and diverse procession of four great houses of worship: a Catholic basilica, an Episcopalian cathedral, a Methodist church, and a Jewish synagogue.

The Walker Art Gallery, whose walls were covered with the voluminous, eclectic collection of the Minneapolis lumberman and civic leader Thomas Barlow Walker, brought a significant new cultural dimension to this area of the city. This extensive aggregation of nineteenth-century painting, Chinese jade and ceramics, American Indian pottery, and European decorative art objects was open, free to the public. By placing it across the street from the Armory, he unwittingly helped determine the future use of that large parcel of city-owned land. With the opening in 1963 of the Guthrie Theater next door to the Walker Art Center, new audiences for the arts were developing, and during that decade, attendance at both the museum and the theater continued to grow. Even though the land across Vineland Place was an undeveloped field, it was also a bright green carpet in the summer over which visitors to both institutions would stroll.

From the late 1960s on, the seven and one-half acres of parkland across from the museum were occasionally made available to the Walker for installation of large-scale sculptures. The first was in connection with the 1970 exhibition, 9 Artists/9 Spaces, for which artists were invited to create pieces on sites throughout the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. Again there was a whiff of the future in what transpired on the vanished Armory’s site. As his contribution to the exhibition, the young Minneapolis-based sculptor, Siah Armajani, laboriously carpentered an 85-foot long wooden bridge, smack in the middle of the field. Its trestle-like structure was vaguely evocative of rough-timbered bridges throughout the American countryside–but with a remarkable difference. At its center, Armajani’s bridge suddenly rose to a gabled peak, to accommodate a lone pine tree planted beneath it-an arresting, provocative, and anti-functional image. As to its prophetic qualities, in 1985, Armajani would be invited by Walker Art Center to design a decidedly functional pedestrian bridge to connect the old Armory Gardens site to Loring Park.

By the late 1960s it was evident that the 1927 building could no longer contain the museum’s rapidly expanding collection nor the many exhibitions, educational programs, and other activities being generated. A more ominous concern was the realization that Thomas Barlow Walker’s structure was not immune to the unstable soil conditions that had plagued and ultimately sealed the fate of the Armory. This was not a new problem, as over the years, chunks of terra cotta from the Walker Art Gallery’s 1927 elaborate churrigueresque facade would occasionally drop and shatter, to the dismay of the museum’s governing body. In 1941, as part of an extensive remodeling program, the pastry-gun ornamentation overlaying the exterior of the building was eliminated in favor of a more austere, somewhat characterless “moderne” facade. (The name of the museum was changed at that time to Walker Art Center.) Decisive measures were called for.

In 1962, the New York architect Edward Larrabee Barnes was engaged by the Walker to study the building, with the idea of correcting its foundation problems and adding substantial gallery and auditorium space. After Barnes had made extensive studies exploring these possibilities, it was clear that more than remodeling was needed. The Walker Board agreed with the architect’s recommendation to demolish Mr. Walker’s monument and begin all over again on the same site. In January 1969, the wrecking ball punched a gaping hole in its facade. For over two and one-half years the Walker Art Center, operating from temporary offices in downtown Minneapolis, presented exhibitions, concerts, and education programs in borrowed locales throughout the community. On 15 May 1971, a spacious new Walker Art Center building, designed by Barnes, opened to the public and to critical acclaim. A distinctive interior feature was a helical plan that allowed visitors to move easily from one level to another. Equally distinctive were the building’s cube-like volumes, sheathed in dark violet brick, which culminated in three roof terraces for the display of sculpture.

Effective as these terraces were for many installations, it was evident, even then, that there would be occasions when considerably more space would be required for large-scale works. Fortunately, the city-owned parkland north of the Walker continued to be available for such purposes on a project basis. An especially prophetic use of this land coincided with the 1971 opening of the museum’s new building when, as part of the inaugural exhibition, a 40-foot-high, brightly painted steel beam sculpture Are Years What? (For Marianne Moore), by Mark di Suvero, dominated this site.

After a brief hiatus, a constructive new relationship developed between the staffs and governing bodies of Walker Art Center and the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board with the result that the institutions joined forces for a common objective, the creation of a large-scale public sculpture garden that would make optimum use of this land and be an unprecedented civic and cultural amenity. Spacious areas for works of art, a reflecting pool, a conservatory for permanent and temporary horticultural displays, and a pedestrian bridge that would link the garden to Loring Park were elements of the program presented to Edward Larrabee Barnes. The first version of the plan showed six sculpture plazas deployed symmetrically on each side of a broad allée ran north and south; the northernmost part of the garden containing a large circular pool. Later, because more space was required for large sculptures, the six plazas became four larger ones, each 100 feet square.

Barnes’s formalistic approach was inspired by lingering impressions of Renaissance and eighteenth-century Italian gardens, with their broad allées and intimate enclosures, formed of carefully clipped walls of greenery. Collaborating with him on the layout of the garden for Minneapolis was the landscape architect Peter Rothschild, of the New York firm Quennell and Rothschild. To those of us who would have the task of installing works of art in these outdoor spaces, Barnes’s concise design afforded spaciousness and a welcome sense of order. The tree-lined, roofless rooms were ideal settings for sculptures of various sizes, from human-scale bronzes to towering constructions in steel. The final plan included a second allée running east and west. These walkways would be lined with linden trees planted twenty feet on center, thus providing intimate spaces for small-scale works of art.

At an early stage in the design process, several artists identified with large-scale outdoor projects were invited in as collaborators. One of the first was Siah Armajani, who by the mid-198os had become a major figure in public art.

A paramount objective, from the outset, was to construct a pedestrian bridge from the new Sculpture Garden to Loring Park, on the other side of the interstate highway. Such a bridge would help correct what many regarded as a serious wrong: the abrupt separation of the old Armory Gardens area from Loring Park and downtown Minneapolis, caused by the drastic interposition of I-94, with its sixteen lanes of non-stop traffic. A footbridge spanning the turbulent traffic below, it was reasoned, would be perceived as a symbolic as well as physical effort to reconnect two long separated green areas of the city.

Armajani has long been intrigued by the qualities of order and function expressed so directly by eighteenth- and nineteenth-century anonymous architecture and engineering, from cast-iron bridges, to town squares. These he regards as precursors of utilitarian public art, to the production of which he has devoted himself so wholeheartedly. His design clearly evoked the grand period of late nineteenth-century American industrial structures, but at the same time projected a distinctly romantic character. Armajani’s design for what would be designated the Irene Hixon Whitney Bridge envisaged a 375-foot steel truss construction, twelve feet wide. On each side of this elongated walkway and overlapping at its center would be two great steel catenary arches, one rising to a height of eighteen feet above the walkway floor, the other, similarly proportioned, swooping downward–one arch the exact reverse of the other in a metaphoric handshake across the highway. His bridge would be supported by four piers–two in the middle of the highway, one at each end. To stress the singularity of each half, the floor of the section closest to Loring Park was to be made of wood, and that adjacent to the Sculpture Garden of steel. (For safety code reasons, however, this idea had to be abandoned in favor of an all-wooden floor.) The bridge’s color, Armajani felt, should be recessive, even atmospheric, with the Loring Park side light blue and the Sculpture Garden half pale yellow. A third color, dark gray-green, would define the bridge’s four vertical supports and its ramps. Pedestrian access would be via stairs on each side, or the long ramps for persons with disabilities, which would also serve as viewing platforms overlooking Loring Park and the Garden. From the outset, following his penchant for incorporating lines of text in his sculpture, Armajani decided to use some lines by John Ashbery in the bridge, a poet whose response to the American ethos coincides with his own. Ashbery’s words, written specifically for this project, will be cast in bronze and embedded in the bridge floor, to be easily read by those crossing the bridge.

With the enthusiastic response of the Walker, the Park Board, and the State highway officials, the elegant linear construction by Siah Armajani became a reality. Its final form is close to what Armajani had envisaged, a symbol of serenity as well as transition.

While the Irene Hixon Whitney Bridge provides a dramatic entranceway to the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden from the east, major access from the south is off Vineland Place, opposite the Walker. Three granite stairways descend into its space; the widest, the center one, is aligned with the entrance plaza of the Walker-Guthrie complex. Dramatically defining this main entrance is an imposing pair of 14-foot high columns by the sculptor Martin Puryear, monumental granite sentinels quarried and shaped in Cold Spring, Minnesota.

Puryear’s proposal for two columns was predicated on being able to find granite blocks of sufficient size. But, as he would learn, finding granite blocks of such grand scale is one thing and shaping them to a desired form can be another. The most outwardly perfect stone can harbor fissures not evident on its surface, and there was the risk of serious damage to the blocks during the lathing process. Sawyers at the Cold Spring Quarry were more than up to the challenge, and Puryear worked closely with them throughout the delicate process, spending long nights in the shop watching the massive stones turning on the huge lathe–a nerve-wracking experience, at best, the sculptor recalls. Finally, the successfully shaped stones were transported to Minneapolis, where giant cranes gently lowered them to their permanent location.

Like the overlapping arches of Armajani’s bridge, Puryear’s columns, titled Ampersand, are inversions of similar forms. There is a dynamic interrelationship between these stately pillars, well beyond what would have been achieved had they been more conventionally deployed. Though they echo the symmetry of the Garden, standing as they do at either side of the entrance plaza, they subtly subvert its formalism, says Puryear contentedly, “by standing symmetry on its head.” They have extraordinary presence: on one level they are redolent with allusions to antiquity, to Egypt and the classical world; on another, the contrast between their rough and finished surfaces invites us to see them as symbols of metamorphosis. At the same time, his iconography invariably calls to mind forms in nature, such as rocks, seed pods, tree roots, and mountains.

In commissioning sculptures for the Garden, one objective was to have a number of works of utilitarian as well as aesthetic character. As a walk-through sculpture, Armajani’s bridge meets that criterion. Equally “useful” is Jackie Ferrara’s Belvedere, a stately wooden construction formed of innumerable lengths of cedar, which serves as reception, stage, and seating area for those entering the Garden from the southwest.

Since the 1970s, Ferrara has produced table-top sculptures that, to some observers, look like site models for ritualistic events, their forms suggestive of altars, portals, and ceremonial seating. Although these sculptures suggest architectural models, they are not, says Ferrara, studies for specific sites, but are her meditations on architectural forms.

For the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, Ferrara has created a deck-like structure whose floor plan is in the shape of a giant “T.” At its widest end, two benches face one another, and at its narrow end, a pair of 10-foot high Egyptoid pylons form a ceiling-less passageway whose stepped outer walls are wider at the base than at the top. Window-like perforations in these walls provide a play of light and shadow within the roofless space that, on occasion, will be the setting for small-scale musical or theatrical events.

A spectacular focal point in the Garden is the 29-foot high Spoonbridge and Cherry fountain designed by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen. Located in the Garden’s northern sector and rising from a free-form pool is a gigantic pale gray spoon to whose tip is improbably affixed a deep Bing-red cherry–a Brobdignagian vision. Both elements, the spoon and cherry, were fabricated of aluminum over steel superstructures and coated with successive, sanded-down layers of epoxy fairing compound. The spoon bowl rests on an earth mound within the 150-foot long pond, whose sinuous contours echo those of a linden tree seed. (Lindens line the major allées of the Garden.) At the base of the cherry’s stem is a circle of valves from which water flows to make the surface of the cherry gleam; from the top of the curved stem a fine spray is emitted which Oldenburg has described as “not a sprinkle of water, but a haze. It’s meant to catch the sunlight and to create an occasional rainbow.” In the winter, the spoon and cherry will almost certainly be topped with piles of snow-the vision of a super sundae.

Because no conventional pool or fountain would do, it was inevitable that Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, his wife and collaborator, should take on the job. When the duo was invited by the Walker to make a fountain for Minneapolis, the issue of themes, especially those related to this region, inevitably came up. Oldenburg, who was born in Stockholm, and whose father served as Swedish Consul in Chicago, already had some perspective in this area, which he had visited as a child. The massive Carl Milles stone sculpture of an Indian in St. Paul’s City Hall remains an indelible memory.

On a snowy day in 1987, Oldenburg arrived at the Barnes office, carrying a small model of the fountain. Those in attendance, Barnes, Peter Rothschild, Mildred Friedman, and I, had no notion of what it would look like. With an apprehensive glance around the room, Oldenburg slowly removed the layers of Kleenex, in which it had been swathed to protect it from the weather, to reveal a captivating object that was greeted with broad grins and applause. There it was–a spoon, whose bowl rested on a small island in the center of a free-form pond and contained a rubicund cherry.

The spoon was not a new leitmotif in Oldenburg’s art. A longtime connoisseur of popular culture objects, especially those whose idiosyncratic forms suggested points of departure for his own work, Oldenburg in 1962 had purchased a novelty spoon whose bowl rested on a glob of fake chocolate. This image stayed with him and no doubt helped inspire the ennobled version of this ubiquitous dining utensil. In a 1967 drawing, he compared Chicago’s Navy Pier to a giant dessert spoon extending well into Lake Michigan. The spoon materialized again in a 1967 lithograph, this time as a monumental bridge. Under its high-arched handle a fleet of sailboats skims across a tranquil blue sea. His first designs for the 1000-foot Batcolumn sculpture, installed in 1977 at the entrance to Chicago’s Social Security Administration building, envisaged a gigantic spoon whose bowl was embedded in the ground, but whose handle rose some forty feet above it. Eventually, however, the baseball analogy took over.

The cherry, on the other hand, is a recent addition to Oldenburg’s iconography and was contributed by Coosje van Bruggen. She describes its origins, in part, as a slightly subversive reaction to the geometry Barnes used in designing the Garden. Its symmetrically ordered spaces, she says, reminded her of Versailles and its etiquette, especially the table manners Louis XIV imposed on his court. The giant spoon, thus, is a visualization of a comedy of manners. On an abstract level, the cherry’s oblate form works superbly against the elegant linearity of the spoon in an arresting manifestation of equipoise.

Those who have been associated with Oldenburg on large-scale projects have quickly learned that for him the model stage is only the beginning of the lengthy process of creating the final piece. While some artists are content to allow professional fabricators to take over the job of turning their maquettes into large outdoor projects, he is always attentive to every detail. Such involvement is basic to his aesthetic, and problem solving is part of his art-making process. He delights in devising ways to translate his ideas from drawings and models to large-scale durable materials. Because of the variety of forms he uses, special fabrication techniques often have to be developed.

Constructing the Spoonbridge and Cherry involved several entirely new challenges; each was ingeniously met by Lippincott. Though his shop is equipped to handle most contingencies, especially complex projects are sometimes farmed out to other fabricators. Thanks to the demands of the Spoonbridge and Cherry project, the languishing New England boat building industry experienced a brief flurry of activity. The contract to build the super cherry went to Paul Luke’s East Boothbay boatyard in Portland, Maine. This was a first for the fifty-year-old shipyard.

While the mammoth cherry was beguiling residents of Portland, the 52-foot spoon was causing quite a stir in Bristol, Rhode Island, where it was under construction at Merrifield-Roberts’ shipbuilding firm. Although New England has been distinguished for its flatware as far back as Colonial times, a spoon of such proportions was unprecedented. There was a certain appropriateness in choosing two boatyards to construct both elements of Spoonbridge and Cherry, especially as Oldenburg had thought about such themes as Viking ships and Indian canoes during the early stages of designing the fountain. Photographs of the spoon’s fabrication show men swarming over its arched and elongated structure, fitting and welding compartmentalized units similar to those in seagoing vessels. Once their structures were completed, the spoon and cherry were shipped to New Haven for finishing.

In developing the specifications for the Garden, the Walker and Park Board officials agreed that a glass conservatory would be an important, highly useful component. Coincidentally, one of the many schemes produced by Edward Barnes in the late 1960s for a new Walker Art Center building showed the museum relocated in the center of the parkland that now constitutes the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. His plan also envisaged another building, a glass-walled conservatory at the north end of the site.

The arguments for including a conservatory in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden were several: it would allow visitors to enjoy works of art in verdant natural surroundings throughout the year; it would provide a welcome passageway, especially in winter, from the parking lot at the Garden’s northwest edge to the Walker-Guthrie complex; and it would be a place where the public could enjoy new approaches to horticultural displays, especially in relation to sculpture. As plans for the Garden developed, the conservatory, positioned at the west end of the east-west axis, became its dominant architectural feature.

The Sage and John Cowles Conservatory is a tripartite structure, consisting of a 65-foot square center house whose prism-like apex rises an equal number of feet, and two side houses. Another idea fortuitously surfaced: the installation of a 22-foot high wood and glass fish designed by the architect Frank Gehry for his 1986 retrospective exhibition at Walker Art Center. Indeed, it was the prospect of placing this sculpture in the Conservatory that enabled the Walker to find sponsorship for its fabrication. Standing Glass Fish thus became one of the first site-specific works to be created for the new Garden. Once the decision to install it was made, it was clear that an overall scheme was urgently required to accommodate the permanent and temporary displays destined to occur throughout the building.

When the San Francisco landscape architect Barbara Stauffacher Solomon and Michael R. Van Valkenburgh, who teaches at Harvard and practices landscape architecture in Boston, began their collaboration on the Regis Gardens for the three glass houses, their charge was quite direct. Gehry’s giant fish was already a “given” for the center house and their first task was to incorporate it into their scheme. Before this project, they had not worked together, but its slightly eccentric character–an interior landscape some 250 feet in length with a fish as its focal point–persuaded them to join forces. They treated Gehry’s sculpture with all due reverence, siting it on a high pedestal over a lily pond whose four raised sides are faced with the same speckled red-orange brick used on the floor throughout the building. Around the fish, they planted rows of Washingtonia “feather duster” palms to create a somewhat unlikely Nilotic tableau. Only slightly more solemn in conception, but no less fanciful, was their treatment of the north house, for which they designed the permanent installation. They divided its long interior with four 14-foot-high green arches, through which visitors can stroll. These shiny-leafed arches are grown on a steel framework that contains networks of plastic “veins” coursing with hydroponic growing solution; masses of ficus vines, nourished by the solution, intertwine, completely covering their underlying structures. Between these evergreen installations seasonal plantings bloom.

Unlike that of the formally defined north house, the south house space is open and flexible, with sections of its brick floor easily removed for special installations. The first temporary display in the south house was designed by Van Valkenburgh and Solomon and consists of a series of planes, wire screens that march across the floor like elements of a multi-part minimalist sculpture. Over these screens night-flowering jasmine, and sweet peas will climb in riotous profusion during the Conservatory’s first year. Subsequent installations in this area will no doubt be less formal, especially those created by artists who may move large mounds of earth about to form sculptured shapes, and utilize vegetation, rocks, and other natural materials as their media.

For a small-scale 1985 exhibition of his architectural projects held at the Castello Rivoli, outside of Turin, Gehry had designed a 30 foot long wood and glass fish that appeared to be swimming serenely across the gallery floor. During a visit to the exhibition, Mildred Friedman and I were so taken with the fish that we decided to explore the possibility of having one of that scale made for Gehry’s Walker show. Once sponsorship was secured, Stearns and his crew began constructing the large version in his Venice, California workshop some six months before the September 1986 opening of the Frank Gehry exhibition at the Walker. Four weeks before the opening date, Stearns and his staff began assembling the many components of the 22-foot high creature in the Walker’s Concourse. The first element of the fish to be constructed was an armature consisting of heavy wooden beams, from which glass sections of the fish would be supported by stainless steel rods. The overlapping diamond-shaped slabs of 8-inch glass were adhered with thick applications of whitish silicone glue, a process that resulted in a rich, scalelike texture.

When the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden opened in September 1988, most works of art on view were drawn from Walker Art Center’s permanent collection. Among the persuasive reasons for constructing the Garden were the rapid growth of this collection and the lack of space to exhibit it adequately, especially many of the museum’s long-held bronzes. These included a number of sculptures by European twentieth-century masters, ranging from a mid-1920s idealized female nude by Georg Kolbe to Henry Moore’s archetypal organic abstraction, the 1960-1961 Reclining Mother and Child.

A more recent acquired sculpture that would benefit from substantial installation space was Charles Ginnever’s huge 1976 welded steel Nautilus. Such works, the Walker staff felt would take on new resonance when seen against trees and sky, and under changing conditions of light- in short, in the context that a sculpture garden could provide. The Barnes plan met these concerns by providing space along the Garden’s allées for medium-scale works, and generously-proportioned areas for larger ones.

In addition to some eleven sculptures from the museum’s collection, and a monumental Alexander Calder 1974 stabile Black Flag, on long term loan from the artist’s family, installed in the Garden were many temporary commissioned works for Sculpture Inside Outside, the Walker-originated exhibition that opened a few months before the Garden’s dedication. This overview of the accomplishments of seventeen young American sculptors filled four of the museum’s galleries, its roof and street level terraces, and occupied two sculpture plazas and the east bank of the Garden. Two of these works, Martin Puryear’s Ampersand, the pair of gray granite columns discussed earlier, and Judith Shea’s figure grouping Without Words, have since been acquired for the museum’s collection.

The sculptures from the Walker’s collection installed along the north-south allée of the Garden offer visitors an ambulatory introduction to some major thematic and stylistic ideas of twentieth-century art. These include two early 1960s figurative pieces by Henry Moore; Marino Marini’s melancholy Cavaliere (Horseman) (ca. 1949); a great 1959 sculpture in the form of a key by Giacomo Manzu, the heavenward-reaching probes are a pair of tall-hatted cardinals; Reuben Nakian’s rough-surfaced primal Goddess with the Golden Thighs (1964-1965, cast 1988), and tent poles by Isamu Noguchi made for Martha Graham’s 1950 dance piece Judith that were originally carved in balsa, then cast in bronze.

Along the Garden’s broad east-west allée are several recently completed sculptures by a younger generation of artists. George Segal, the senior figure among them, is represented by a darkly patinated bronze, a moody Walking Man (1988), and Deborah Butterfield by Woodrow (1988), a cast bronze, welded assemblage of a horse. At both ends of this allée are benches created by Minneapolis artists Philip Larson and Kinji Akagawa. The alcove at its eastern terminus houses a well-known Walker icon, Jacques Lipchitz’s neo-baroque 1944, cast 1953 bronze, Prometheus Strangling the Vulture II. Those entering the Garden from Vineland Place by the long stairway to the east have a closeup view of Richard Stankiewicz’s 1980-1981 Grass whose spiky forms suggest a monumental rusted steel cactus. Surrounding the Oldenburg-van Bruggen Spoonbridge and Cherry fountain in the Garden’s north sector are Calder’s Black Flag, Ginnever’s Nautilus, David Nash’s tri-legged wooden Standing Frame (1988), and Barry Flanagan’s fantastic bronze Hare on Bell on Portland Stone Piers (1983).

Although the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden is now a reality, several issues are still to be resolved about its future. One is the ultimate size of the Garden. The twenty-five-year agreement between Walker Art Center and the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board states that the Garden will eventually incorporate the three and one-half acres of parkland directly north of it. At present, this land is occupied by a softball diamond, which has city-wide use. But according to the agreement, when a new site is found for the ball field and funds are secured for its relocation, the Sculpture Garden will then occupy the full length of the large plot of city-owned land on which it is situated. [In 1992, this expansion was realized; designed by Michael Van Valkenburgh, the four-acre addition included the 300-foot-long Arlene Grossman Memorial Arbor and Flower Garden.]

Other issues related to the Garden’s future are its artistic and educational roles. With its permanent collection and prominent changing exhibitions, it is bound to be a lively forum for many artistic approaches. On occasion, visitors to the Garden might witness a sculpture actually taking form, and be able to discuss some of the ideas behind it with the artist. Such one-on-one contacts with artists can do a great deal to build popular understanding for their work; they can also heighten the artist’s awareness of the real world outside of museums and galleries.

Art in the public sector has certainly had its share of reaction recently, ranging from admiration to outright hostility. One of the best ways to develop an appreciative audience for such activity is to make as much good work available as possible–by increasing its critical mass. Doing so is one of the major goals of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. And if its offerings should inspire individuals, corporations, and public agencies to take a chance on sponsoring the efforts of young artists, so much the better. Although the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden is a circumscribed site, it is certain to have influence well beyond its confines. Sound arguments can be made for having other locales throughout the region designated for display of outdoor works, some of which might be co-sponsored, like the Minneapolis Sculpture ]Garden, by private and public organizations. There is no shortage of such public sites–along malls, lake-shores, and the riverfront, and even rooftops visible from the heights of surrounding buildings would lend themselves to such purpose.

The Walker Art Center, through its partnership with the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board in creating the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden and its association with the University of Minnesota’s Landscape Arboretum, is reaching out to an audience significantly larger than the museum-going public. For a substantial portion of the area’s population, the Walker’s formidable geometric facade, even though animated by a profusion of sculptures on its roof and street-level terraces, may still seem a somewhat remote presence, even a fortress of art. Clearly this is a perception that needs to be dispelled, especially as one of the museum’s long-avowed missions is to attract new and varied audiences for the arts. The Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, by introducing vast numbers of visitors to the imaginative forms and ideas of contemporary sculpture, will help achieve this objective. On the basis of what they encounter in the Garden, many visitors will surely make their way across the street to see what Walker Art Center itself has to offer.

Excerpted from Martin Friedman’s essay, “Growing the Garden,” in Design Quarterly No. 141 (1988), published by MIT Press for the Walker Art Center.


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