Sculptor Kinji Akagawa’s relationship with the Walker goes almost to his first days in Minneapolis more than three decades ago. Commissioned to create a work to inaugurate the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden in 1988, he also worked to transform the art lab into a Japanese studio for the exhibition Tokyo Form and Spirit in 1986. Currently, he is designing a Peace Bridge with artist Jerry Allan to be installed at Minneapolis’ Peace Garden at Lake Harriet. In the April issue of Walker, we ran a brief interview with him on our membership page; his ideas about getting lost and the “meandering walk” of art are worth repeating here.
Your contribution to the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, called Garden Seating, Reading, Thinking (1987), is a bench, but it’s more than that. How did it come to be?
When I got the commission, I said, “If the bench is just for physical rest, you can buy one through a catalogue. Catalogue number five, OK, order the bench.” Martin [Friedman, former Walker director] was kind enough to say: “Well, give me something else.” So I made the piece, but not just as a bench for physical rest. Intellectually, you have to rest within that kind of context; emotionally, you have to rest looking at all the sculpture. I included a reading lectern and used familiar, Midwestern materials: fieldstone and basalt from St. Croix. The bench provides psychological rest, intellectual rest, and physical rest.
You’ve said that the Garden extends the idea of art into the social and natural realms. Do you think the new Walker’s architecture expands on those ideas?
My idea of gardens from my Japanese background is the importance of a meandering, aimless walk. There are surprises, with rocks and water and sky and reflections and shadows. The Minneapolis Sculpture Garden is very formal in the European aesthetic sense; maybe the idea of garden has to expand a little bit more. Besides the formality, trees are growing, and 10 years later, it’s another experience. The new Walker has elements of this meandering and surprises. We experience narrowness, openness, height, and all these physical sensations.
With those winding hallways, it’s easy to get lost—which is a bit like your meandering walk.
Giving us the opportunity to get lost is, I think, part of the museum’s job. You have to get lost. When you’re lost, you really pay attention to look again. The sense of being lost physically is to reexamine one’s own position, and no longer just assume a relationship to one’s surroundings or the architecture. That’s a very important part of life.
You have a work in the Garden, and you’re an art professor at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. You’re already kind of an art insider. Why does a guy like you need a Walker membership?
[Laughs] We all are interdependent. Because of the Walker, a lot of my students, my generation, my culture have been supported. That’s a wonderful thing. It’s not membership as in “I’m a member” or in terms of belonging, nor is it about financial contributions. It’s being supported and being supporting. That’s just community.