This summer, I took a look back through the photo archives for the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden during its opening day as a new park. While working on this project, I discovered many of the collaborative processes involved in the creation and success of the garden. The following is an account of my research and findings in regards to their historical context surrounding the garden.
Perhaps the most influential collaboration in the creation of the park, Martin Friedman, the Walker’s director from 1961 to 1990, and David Fisher, Minneapolis Parks and Recreation superintendent, worked towards creating an urban sculpture garden where visitors could gather in celebration of the arts. Friedman approached Fisher with concerns about the future of the land that sat across from the Walker. The two of them worked out the logistics of turning that land into a 7.5-acre area that would become host for a variety of sculptures while remaining functional and accessible to the public. Through this partnership, the Walker took on the responsibility of the artistic aspects of the park and the City of Minneapolis would monitor the maintenance. (For more, read Martin Friedman’s essay, “Growing the Garden,” in Design Quarterly No. 141 (1988), published by MIT Press for the Walker Art Center.)
Now that Friedman and Fisher had discussed the logistics of how the park would be run, they were in need of an architect to design the grounds. Friedman turned to Edward Larrabee Barnes, a New York–based architect responsible for the construction of the 1971 Walker building, in hopes that he would return to the area to design the park. Barnes accepted the architectural position as the head of the project and began plans for the renovation. Working alongside Barnes in the design and construction of the garden was landscape architect Peter Rothschild. Barnes and Rothschild began the project by researching and gathering inspiration from 18th-century Italian gardens. In their plans for the garden, Barnes and Rothschild incorporated traditional allées that separate formal green areas, resembling gallery spaces for the sculptures. These roofless green spaces divided the land and created a symmetry that is a staple of their inspirational 18th-century gardens.
When considering the land on the west side of the garden, Barnes and Rothschild worked with Alistair Bevington, a trained architect working primarily in sculpture involving stained glass. Bevington was responsible for the design and construction of the Cowles Conservatory. Donated by Sage and John Cowles, the space would feature permanent and seasonal floral displays that highlighted both native and exotic plants. Bevington worked alongside Barnes and Rothschild to create a glass building in order to house these plants, while still featuring sculptural works and remaining consistent with the aesthetic of the park.
Throughout all of the planning and construction, the architects worked with individual artists in order to create a space that assisted in the viewing of their sculptures. One of the more obvious examples of this collaboration can be seen when looking at Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen’s Spoonbridge and Cherry. Oldenburg and van Bruggen were asked to create a large-scale fountain that would be located centrally in the garden. The consideration of the location of this sculpture in relation to the rest of the park and the surrounding landscape, creates a monumental and iconic view for this artwork. Barnes and Rothschild not only considered the needs of the large-scale sculptures in their design, but also found ways to incorporate the environment in the viewing of smaller works. The location of George Segal’s Walking Man may draw viewers to the lonely figure walking along one of the garden’s paths.
After the park was completed and ready for public viewing, the Walker hosted an opening-day ceremony on September 10, 1988. Once Friedman and Fisher performed the ribbon cutting, the public was invited to walk around the garden and partake in events inspired by the design of the park.
Educating the public on the sculpture garden through the creation of art and the interpretation of what they are seeing was a large emphasis of the 1988 opening festivities. The education program used inspiration from both the artworks and the landscape to create workshops for the public to participate in. One of the most popular workshops, Mini-Sculpture Gardens, provided each person with a square-foot box of soil that could then be turned into their own sculpture garden. During this workshop, students created mini-sculptures for their gardens and planted trees throughout their landscapes. The Sculpture Ahoy! workshop gathered inspiration from Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen’s Spoonbridge and Cherry and encouraged participants to create boats that could be sailed on the body of water surrounding the sculpture. Other workshops offered during the opening day included Sculpture Ahead, where participants were given a hat to create paper sculptures on, and Primary Flowers, in which students could spray paint white flowers with the primary colors. These workshops allowed participants to collaborate with one another, as well as the design of the park.
In support of this educational philosophy, a variety of musical artists were invited to perform during the opening day. The Minnesota Pop Orchestra, Moore by Four, and Preston Reed warmed up the Vineland Place stage for the featured performance. The Spoon Band with Charlie Mcquire and Pop Wagner offered an interactive performance for the public to participate in. Inspired by the Spoonbridge and Cherry, the band used wooden spoons in their songs to create a beat. They also provided viewers with spoons and instructions on how they could be used to tap along and follow the beat of the music.
Aside from the education workshops and musical performances, those who attended the 1988 opening day were invited to observe and interact with the sculptures. Due to the movement and curiosity evoked by Arikidea, Mark di Suvero’s 26-foot high installation was a crowd favorite. Many visitors took advantage of the suspended wooden platform that hangs down from the steel beams above and explored the industrial, yet airy, structure. Di Suvero was one of many artists present during the opening day that were available to offer reflections and insights regarding their work. In addition to di Suvero, artists such as Brower Hatcher, Frank Gehry, and Martin Puryear enjoyed the opening day festivities.
The opening day of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden exemplified the main concept of why the park was created, as an outdoor space where the public could gather in celebration of the arts. During the opening day, the public was invited to partake in education workshops, musical performances, and of course, viewing the park. The archived photos and history that I have uncovered through my research show the success that collaboration had from an early idea to the development and opening of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden.