On June 10, the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden reopened after a major infrastructure renovation designed tl make this beloved destination more sustainable and environmentally friendly for generations to come. In tandem, the Walker Art Center opened its new hillside landscape—the Wurtele Upper Garden—which added five acres of new green space overlooking the Garden. Animating this 19-acre expanse, made up of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board’s 12-acre property and Walker’s seven-acre campus, is a total of 60 sculptures, including 18 new works. This collaborative redevelopment project offers visitors a seamless experience for viewing art in a natural urban park setting that is free to everyone, 365 days a year.
An Urban Prototype
The Minneapolis Sculpture Garden was born 30 years ago out of the collaborative foresight of the Walker’s director emeritus Martin Friedman (1925–2016) and former Park Board Superintendent David Fisher. In the mid-1980s, they together forged a model of public/private partnership that resulted in one of the most expansive and influential urban sculpture parks in the country—and one that today is among the crown jewels of the Minneapolis Park system. Since its opening on September 10, 1988, the Garden has served as a prototype for other signature urban sculpture parks across the country. Following his retirement from the Walker, Friedman went on to serve as advisor for the Donald J. Hall Sculpture Park at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City and Madison Square Park in New York City. Other parks, including Millennium Park in Chicago and the Olympic Sculpture Park in Seattle, sent delegations to Minneapolis to study its collaborative operating structure and its creators’ aspiration to make art “central to the lives of everyone.” At the dedication ceremony in 1988, Gov. Rudy Perpich declared the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden “an artistic triumph” that enhanced the quality of cultural life in Minnesota. He applauded the “unique blend of artistic vision, environmental beauty, social generosity and professional optimism” that the Garden exemplified.
During the 30 years since, the partnership between the Walker and the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board has served some nine million visitors and provided a signature destination that unites two of Minnesota’s most cherished resources—its parks and its cultural life. To maintain the Garden, the Park Board manages the grounds and ongoing infrastructure needs, while the Walker selects art works and curates public programs, including ever-popular annual events like Rock the Garden. In 2009, shortly after my arrival as director of the Walker, we embarked on a major collaborative effort with Park Board leadership to renovate the Garden’s aging grounds and infrastructure, including the Cowles Conservatory. Construction finally commenced in 2016, following the awarding of $8.5 million in bonding funds from the State of Minnesota two years earlier. This investment, championed by Gov. Mark Dayton, was bolstered by an additional award of $1.5 million from the Mississippi Watershed Management Organization to support innovative storm water management systems and a landscape plan that effectively returns the four acres on the north end of the Garden back to its natural wet meadow habitat, once borne of glacial melt waters flowing east to the Mississippi River.
At the heart of our collaborative planning was an intention to bring a civic-minded approach that focused on visitor experience rather than proprietary interests. We worked with our respective design teams—Tom Oslund and Julie Snow on the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden Reconstruction Project and Petra Blaisse, John Cook, and Joan Sorrano on the Walker campus renovations—to ensure a design consistency across both projects that would reinforce a seamless visitor experience. Unifying design gestures can be seen in the parallel plant selections, lighting and walkway treatments, and the recurring motif of rectangular tree groves syncopated across the full 19 acres. These tree volumes further reinforce the original design intentions of the Garden’s founding architect, Edward Larrabee Barnes, whose outdoor “rooms” or “galleries” played off the orthogonal geometries of the Walker’s 1971 brick-clad building, which he also designed. In addition to working together to create a cohesive design aesthetic, the Walker and the Park Board also partnered with the City of Minneapolis to leverage aspects of the Hennepin/Lyndale roadway improvement project to further enhance the pedestrian visitor experience. The narrowing of Vineland Place at the crosswalk from an 80-foot to 38-foot expanse was pivotal in forging the critical visual connection between the two campuses. This modification also significantly improved public safety for visitors crossing Vineland Place.
Both campuses also bring more green to downtown Minneapolis’s western gateway, known as the West Downtown Cultural District, an area that encompasses Hennepin Avenue from the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden to the Mississippi River. The Garden’s 11-acre footprint has increased to nearly 12 acres thanks to the generosity of the Park Board, which turned over additional land (part of the Parade Stadium parking lot) to create a dynamic western entrance that can more readily accommodate buses and tour groups. This added acreage also afforded expanded restroom facilities (formerly in the Conservatory), more spaces for art, and a flexible seasonal event lawn which this year hosts the Walker’s Artist-Designed Mini-Golf. Further green space for the Garden came as a result of the city’s roadway improvements along the Hennepin/Lyndale corridor as well as at Vineland Place.
This redevelopment effort offered me and the Walker’s curatorial team the opportunity to significantly revise, and indeed reimagine, the Garden’s art program, which had not been substantially altered since the mid-1990s. It was then that Friedman’s successor, Kathy Halbreich, added two major new works by Dan Graham and Jenny Holzer to the front sculpture quads along Vineland Place, areas that Friedman had designated as rotating spaces for new sculpture. While the Walker’s visual arts curators had similarly added several works by Kris Martin, Pierre Huyghe, and Danh Vo to the garden around 2010, planning for the full-scale redesign of the art program in the Garden only began in earnest in 2012, one year before the Garden turned 25 years old. That year’s acquisition of Jim Hodges’s Untitled steel-clad boulders marked the first monumental proposition for the Garden’s future. Sited at the crest of the Walker’s yet unfinished hillside landscape, it introduced the potential of unifying sight lines across the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden and Walker Art Center properties. This was a key first gesture in advance of commencing the formal design process for the Garden’s landscape in 2015 with landscape architect Tom Oslund.
Principles of the Past
It was at this time that I and Walker colleagues—in particular, senior curator Siri Engberg and former artistic director Fionn Meade—began to take a more holistic approach to developing the curatorial program for the Garden. The first step was looking to the past—to the distinguishing characteristics of Martin Friedman’s founding plan for the Garden and his defining curatorial choice. His selections in the mid-1980s centered on several types or genres of sculpture, including figurative bronze statuary, modern abstraction, site-specific works integrated into the urban landscape, and sculptures with more of a utilitarian purpose. Friedman intended to ground visitors early in their viewing experience with a brief history of outdoor sculpture. This meant starting with more traditional and accessible figurative statuary near the Garden’s entry before introducing more contemporary ideas around abstraction and newer forms of public art that were site-responsive and integrated into the Garden’s design. Friedman’s parade of bronze statuary, situated along the main central alleé of the Garden that commenced at the crosswalk at Vineland Place, included works by George Kolbe, Marino Marini, Henry Moore, and Ruben Nakian, to which he added a selection of newer voices, including American sculptors George Segal, Judith Shea, and Deborah Butterfield. He offered Butterfield the opportunity to make her first outdoor bronze work, establishing another key curatorial tradition in the Garden: artists’ first works.
Another pervasive genre of sculpture represents a modern abstract sensibility epitomized by the works of Magdalena Abakanowicz, Mark di Suvero, Ellsworth Kelly, Sol LeWitt, Louise Nevelson, Richard Serra, and Tony Smith. To these masters, whose works became key focal points in the Garden, Friedman also brought the works of then-younger sculptors in response. Examples include Scott Burton, Jackie Ferrara, Jene Highstein, and Martin Puryear. Friedman also inaugurated a commitment to commissioning new site-specific works, including Puryear’s Gog & Magog (Ampersand) (1988), as the gateway to the new Garden, and Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen’s Spoonbridge and Cherry (1985–1988), as the Garden’s “joyous focal point,” as Friedman put it. He also invited the creation of sculptures that would serve utilitarian purposes, including sculptural benches by Kinji Akagawa and Philip Larson that would be positioned at either ends of the east-west alleé; Jackie Ferrara’s Belvedere (1988), to double as a convening and event platform; and Siah Armajani’s monumental Irene Hixon Whitney Bridge (1988), which would provide a pedestrian connection between the Garden and Loring Park.
Another critical concern for Friedman was the placement of signature sculptures in key locations, including the Cowles Conservatory. Initially conceived as an observation platform, the conservatory eventually became a greenhouse that served as a heated passageway from the surface parking lot to the Walker Art Center as well as a gallery to house Frank Gehry’s monumental Standing Glass Fish. The semicircular grotto at the eastern periphery of the east/west alleé offered another prime location, which served as the backdrop for Jacques Lipchitz’s Prometheus Strangling the Vulture II (1944/1953) for nearly 30 years. Also central to Friedman’s thinking was the inclusion of a water feature, a design that started first as a reflecting pool proposed by Barnes that eventually became the pond of Spoonbridge and Cherry, conceived by Oldenburg and van Bruggen in the shape of a linden seed. With its delicate spray of water, Spoonbrige and Cherry offered a playful contemporary take on the traditional garden fountain with its colorful, outsized Pop aesthetic. The orchestration of these decisions resulted in a Garden that surprised, delighted, and provided the public with a gateway to experiencing the more adventurous artwork presented inside the walls of the Walker Art Center.
A Garden for Art Today
Twenty-five years later, Friedman’s choices around figuration and abstraction, site-specificity and functionality, and a commitment to commissioning artists’ first works remained foundational approaches for me and the current staff to build upon and invest in. In 2014 we began the process of setting parameters for identifying compelling new art for the Garden. Foremost in our consideration was the desire to introduce a new generation of artists who could bring fresh new thinking and perspectives on the genres already represented, as well as respond to the site’s unique history and context. From the outset we agreed that it was important to secure a group of ambitious first works by emerging sculptors ready to work outdoors and at large scale, as well as a selection of existing works by distinctive artists who were not ubiquitous examples already present in other sculpture gardens around the US. Knowing that we had additional acreage to fill, the focus on scale continued to be an important consideration, as did more formal concerns related to color, texture, and materiality. I had a strong desire to go beyond traditional bronze and steel and bring a greater diversity of materials to the Garden. It was also imperative for all involved that we both address the dearth of female artists and artists of color represented in the Garden and acknowledge that the Garden’s strong focus on American art no longer reflected the global focus of the Walker’s multidisciplinary program. Continuing to ensure that the voices of Minnesota artists were prominent was another critical priority.
To squarely address concerns around gender balance, we focused on several key areas. First we identified a generation of younger female sculptors who actively explore principles of abstraction. Engaging these artists would provide a contemporary counterpoint to the iconic male sculptors who have long anchored the Garden, most notably Ellsworth Kelly, Tony Smith, and Richard Serra; it was our intent from the beginning to preserve Friedman’s original installation of these three artists in the northwest quadrant. Rather than cluster the new works by female sculptors together in an adjacent quad, we ultimately chose to disperse their works in key locations across the entire 19 acres. The works made of painted bronze and polished and painted steel can be seen sited along a relative north-south axis that will commence with Nairy Baghramian’s new commission on the crest of the Walker hillside (to be installed in September 2017) and proceeds to Liz Larner’s X (2013), which marks the Walker’s new entrance. Continuing the axis is Monika Sosnowska’s 2014 work Untitled (gate), which greets visitors along the new entry on Vineland Place, and Eva Rothschild’s Empire (2011), that commands the Garden’s northeast quad. These sculptures are further linked by the progression of Jenny Holzer’s The Living Series (1989), 28 benches that have been re-sited from their original placement in the southeast quadrant to extend along the main north-south alleé. The Holzer benches replace Friedman’s original parade of older figurative bronze statuary, much of which has been taken off view or offered on loan to other institutions, including the Minneapolis Institute of Art, which is currently exhibiting Jacques Lipchitz’s Prometheus Strangling the Vulture II (1944/53).
The Garden’s legacy of figuration is anchored by key works by Henry Moore, George Segal, and Judith Shea, which are complemented by the addition of more recent figurative sculptures by Tony Cragg, Gary Hume, Kiki Smith, and Thomas Schütte. This sequence of works is arrayed historically along the Garden’s east-west pathway, culminating in Matthew Monahan’s monumental Hephaestus (2013), a new work of patinated bronze, rebar, and stainless steel that is centered in a vine-covered niche. Monahan’s gentle giant pays tribute to the ancient Greek god of metallurgy and the sculptural arts (in an echo of the grotto’s previous inhabitant, Lipchitz’s bronze Prometheus, it was Hephaestus who chained Prometheus to the rock in Greek mythology). Standing 12 feet high, the work brings a sense of monumentality and scale to the Garden while giving context to Mark Manders’s adjacent September Room (Room with Two Reclining Figures and Composition with Long Verticals) (2017).
September Room consists of five patinated bronze sculptures arrayed to fill the entire 10,000-square-foot area, a quadrant demarcated by low granite beds filled with forsythia. Its tallest element stands at 17 feet, while its smallest provides chairs scaled for visitors to sit on. This new commission represents the first permanent public art work by the artist, who was also concurrently commissioned to create an outdoor fountain for the city of Amsterdam. Manders’s monumental grouping combines human forms, architecture, and everyday objects to suggest both the ancient and the new. He draws upon sources ranging from ancient Greek sculpture and modernist design to technologies and machines of the past. In doing so, September Room effectively creates interplay between contemporary and timeless elements that link the various art historical trajectories represented in Garden. Manders’s highly textured surfaces also translate the materiality of his indoor works, made from less durable materials like wood and clay, to the permanency of bronze outside. To do so, the artist worked with a variety of metal casting techniques that allowed him to simulate the detail of wood grain and the crackling of modeled clay.
Manders and Monahan’s monumental figures provide strong contemporary focal points for the new Garden in the same way that Spoonbridge and Cherry, Gog & Magog (Ampersand), and the Irene Hixon Whitney Bridge functioned as anchoring landmarks in the Garden’s first iteration. The re-siting of Mark di Suvero’s Arikidea (1977–1982) to the largest sculpture island in the Garden’s north meadow has a parallel purpose in the reconstructed Garden, along with the addition of Robert Indiana’s iconic sculpture, LOVE (1966–1988), nearby. Similarly Kris Martin’s For Whom… (2012) becomes a portal to the Garden’s reimagined north entrance; Alexander Calder’s The Spinner (1966) orients visitors to the Garden’s more expansive western entrance; Aaron Spangler’s Bog Walker (2016) crowns the green roof above the new Walker entrance; and Alexander Calder’s Octopus (1964) and James Turrell’s Sky Pesher (2005) announce the new Fiterman doorway leading into the Walker facility at the top of the Walker hillside. Early in the redesign process, landscape architect Oslund underscored the need to identify iconic large-scaled works to function in this capacity. In particular he underscored an opportunity in the meadowland for a new work that would potentially be as commanding and iconic as Spoonbridge and Cherry. This is when the potential of bringing Katharina Fritsch’s monumental Hahn/Cock (2013/2017) became a singular aspiration.
There was no doubt among the Walker team that if we were to bring an iconic new work to the Garden to be in dialogue with Spoonbridge and Cherry, it needed to be the work of a major female sculptor. Fritsch, a German artist whose works have been strongly represented in the Walker’s collection since the 1990s, seemed ideal. The artist’s Pop-inspired aesthetic, which mines archetypal forms and symbols from popular culture, myth, and religion, acknowledges a legacy in Oldenburg’s art of the 1960s. Deeply influenced by Oldenburg’s drawings as a graduate student in Germany, Fritsch had recently completed a monumental new commission for London’s Trafalgar Square in 2013. For a year, her 13-foot ultramarine blue rooster graced the empty plinth of the heraldic national square commemorating a British military victory over France. Envisioning the second version of Hahn/Cock in the American Midwest opened up the potential of a whole new range of associations related to the region’s farming and poultry industry as well as vernacular myths like Babe the Blue Ox. Fritsch’s wry, feminist send-up of monumental military statuary—Hahn/Cock presents an enlarged blue cockerel in the place of a general mounted triumphantly on horseback—seemed fittingly complementary to Spoonbridge and Cherry, which conversely subverts the traditional garden fountain. To emphasize Hahn/Cock’s monumentality and function in its new context, Fritsch designed a trapezoidal pedestal for the Walker’s version of the sculpture, which was engineered to withstand Minnesota’s 100-degree temperature fluctuations. On its painted stainless steel pedestal, Fritsch’s Hahn/Cock will stand more than 20 feet tall in the reconstructed Minneapolis Sculpture Garden.
Another new landmark is Theaster Gates’s site-specific commission Black Vessel for a Saint (2017), a 20-foot architectural structure situated prominently in the Garden’s north meadow. Taking the form of a tempietto, a small, circular Renaissance temple, the work will serve as an open-air, secular-sacred sanctuary for Minneapolis. Black Vessel for a Saint points to Gates’s larger strategy of civic-minded art making that ties together his material practices with his interest in revitalizing under-resourced communities. The artist is best known for his work on Dorchester Projects, a growing neighborhood of vacant buildings on Chicago’s South Side that he renovated and rehabilitated to house libraries, archives, and collections, as well as to host performances and community gatherings. The Walker commission, the artist’s first permanent outdoor sculpture, also marks an evolution in his practice—one that involves not only a repurposing of existing materials but also, as the artist says, an “insertion of new modular units into the world.” The structure’s exterior is composed of custom-made black bricks, created by grinding down and reusing salvaged bricks. After this, Gates’s first time using this material, the artist plans on using them in future sculptural and architectural projects. He aims to start a brick production program in his Chicago studio as part of his ongoing workforce production and training efforts.
The tempietto will house a concrete statue of St. Laurence, salvaged from a demolished church in Gates’s neighborhood and sprayed with a dark roofing product, referencing both his tar paintings and his father’s profession as a roofer. Before finding its final resting place in the interior structure of this Garden sanctuary, the statue traveled widely—from Chicago to Venice, Italy and Bregenz, Austria for several exhibitions. The patron saint of librarians and archivists, St. Laurence holds a book in one hand and a quill in the other, recalling Gates’s practice of restoring spaces to house abandoned libraries and archives with the ultimate aim of increasing diversity of access and giving visibility to lost or invisible histories. A space for reflection and meditation, Gates’s commission will soon be a vital place for small gatherings and performances in the Garden.
Black Vessel for a Saint engages with other works in the Garden that adapt archetypal forms of art and architecture to explore past and present, secular and sacred, including Kris Martin’s bell For Whom… Martin’s I-beam construction supports a large bronze bell that swings soundlessly every hour. It too provides a wordless meditation on time’s passage. Absent of its clapper, the decommissioned bell comes from a church in the German village of Minheim, where it was removed because it failed to register a perfect tone. Martin salvaged the former church bell, which now swings in tandem with the hourly chiming of bells at the nearby Basilica of St. Mary and other churches in the neighborhood. Taking its name from John Donne’s famous poem of 1623, the work is emblematic of the kind of meaning-of-life questions that Martin ponders in many of his other art works, including Anonymous II (2009), a human medical skeleton that the artist buried in an unmarked grave on the Walker hillside in 2009 to honor the nameless individual whose body was donated to science decades earlier. Martin’s unmarked grave on the Walker hillside is memorialized only via the GPS coordinates that are registered in the work’s legal document housed in the Walker’s collection archives.
Martin’s invisible sculpture exists in fascinating counterpoint to Danh Vo’s Tombstone for Phùng Vo (2010), a work that by contrast exists as a literal object that will be nestled in one of the tree groves of the Wurtele Upper Garden. Vo’s piece takes the form of a black marble tombstone with a gold-leaf inscription: “Here lies one whose name was writ in water.” The engraved stone is intended to be the grave marker for the artist’s father, Phùng Vo, a Copenhagen resident who is still very much alive. In the Garden, Vo’s tombstone serves as a placeholder emblematic of a contractual agreement between the artist and the museum. Upon Phùng Vo’s death, the stone will be shipped to Denmark and placed over his grave in Vestre Kirkegård cemetery, where the Walker has purchased a grave plot. In exchange, Phùng Vo’s will bequeaths to the institution four artifacts of personal significance, including a gold crucifix with a chain, a Dupont lighter, an American military class ring, and a Rolex watch. Whereas the tombstone will rest within the protective enclave of the Walker until it is sent to the cemetery in Copenhagen, these four objects will be part of Phùng Vo’s daily life until he dies. After the tombstone arrives in Copenhagen, the artifacts will be delivered to Minneapolis where they can be installed in a vitrine designed by the artist. Danh Vo’s conceptual project suggests the impermanence of life as well as art and presents a conceptual proposition that seeks to transcend institutional structures as well as material existence.
Another work that continues to investigate the theme of memorial is a sculpture located on the Walker campus that provides a historical tribute of a far different order. It is a piece that reimagines a Sol LeWitt artwork created to inaugurate the 1988 opening of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. Designed as a pedestrian crosswalk connecting the Garden to the museum, LeWitt’s artwork graced the surface of Vineland Place for nearly eight years before it was removed in 1995 due to harsh weather conditions. A new version of it can now be found in a more sustainable location on the rooftop terrace of the Walker’s brick-clad building overlooking the Garden. Realized in 2016 using granite pavers, this version was given by the artist’s family to the Walker in memory of the late Martin and Mickey Friedman. It also honors Angus and Margaret Wurtele, the lead donors who contributed funds to build the new Wurtele Upper Garden.
LeWitt’s reimagined crosswalk provides a fitting capstone to a sequence of compelling art works across the 19-acre campus that provide quiet spaces of sanctuary and reflection to observe the passage of time and changing seasons. Turrell’s Sky Pesher (2005), which was commissioned during the Walker’s building expansion in 2005, is given new significance on the Walker hillside with Petra Blaisse’s new landscape design and meandering walkways that journey visitors through the hillside. Harnessing natural light throughout the day, Turrell anchors the Walker’s elevated landscape powerfully, as does the new commission by Philippe Parreno situated on the inside of Cargill Lounge but visible from the Wurtele Upper Garden. The kinetic effects of Parreno’s syncopated window blinds and flashing marquee endow the Walker’s main facility with life and a waking personality.
A Work in Progress with Many Hands
Together, the 18 new works that join the existing 40 works in the Garden add a range of diverse artistic expressions by artist hailing from nine countries. The selection increases the number of women artists represented and spotlights two Minnesotans, Frank Big Bear and Aaron Spangler. But this opening presentation also represents the beginning of an art program in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden that will include temporary and permanent works, live events, as well as seasonal installations like Pierre Huyghe’s magical wind chimes, sited this summer in the 40-foot cottonwood tree of the north meadow. A tribute to the experimental sound artist John Cage, the chimes are tuned to a score by Cage and activated by weather and wind, thus harnessing the artist’s essential principle of chance operations. Already in the works are several new commissions that will be unveiled over the next two years, including a continuation of Seitu Jones’s and Ta-coumba Aiken’s Shadow Spirits project, which was first inaugurated on Nicollet Mall in 1996 and was recently reinstalled there following the city renovation of the site. Eight new Shadow Spirits designed by the local sculptors will be unveiled in the Garden’s sidewalks in June of 2018.
Over the last five years, it has been a pleasure to work with so many artists around the world to imagine the future of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. Many talented curators have been involved in this effort since 2012, including former colleagues Darsie Alexander, Andrew Blauvelt, Betsy Carpenter, Eric Crosby, Fionn Meade, and Bartholomew Ryan, who helped in the early thinking around potential sculptures. I am especially grateful to Meade—who helped initiate new commissions with Nairy Baghramian, Theaster Gates, Philippe Parreno, and Mark Manders—as well as visual arts curators Siri Engberg, Pavel Pyś, Vincenzo de Bellis, Victoria Sung, and Misa Jeffereis. All have been exceptional partners at different stages of this project and in realizing the Garden’s complex reinstallation. Engberg, the Walker’s Senior Curator in Visual Arts, has been an especially critical partner—indeed a dynamic force—as official project manager for the Garden’s curatorial program and reinstallation. Bringing years of experience and knowledge of Walker collections and history, as well as strong relationships with many artists represented in the Garden, she has passionately shaped and meticulously stewarded the project together with Deputy Director David Galligan, who oversaw construction on behalf of the Walker, Registrar Joe King, and Program Services Director Cameron Zebrun, and lead sculpture installer Peter Hannah who have been heroic collaborators in orchestrating the deinstallation, conservation, and relocation of more than 60 sculptures since October 2015.
The Walker team is ever grateful to Park Board Project Manager Dana Murdoch for her patience, precision, and expert management of the planning, design, and construction of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. She and landscape architect Tom Oslund and his associate, Tadd Kreun, were especially sensitive and thoughtful partners in working through the installation and project development challenges around the placement of large-scale art works and evolving new commissions that at times could present daily issues to address. Oslund and his team were always up for testing out endless aesthetic considerations, producing myriad CAD models and sun studies and laboring with us over the design and placement of virtually every artwork, as did Joan Sorrano and John Cook on the placement of art on the Walker hillside. The Mortenson construction team, most notably Bob Nelson, Leslie Lyons, Kevin Swanson, and Erin Saewert, were always happy to collaborate on the aesthetic projects with us, including letting us periodically commandeer the driver of heavy equipment vehicles to stand in for large-scale sculpture to better determine placement. After the design team identified a responsible and sustainable strategy for the preservation of the Cowles Conservatory, the talents and sensitivity of Julie Snow and her team resulted in a more transparent, open-air pavilion that visually connects the Cowles Pavilion to the entire garden. And Weisman Art Museum Director Lyndel King provided the perfect home for Frank Gehry’s Standing Glass Fish, which will remain on long-term loan to the University of Minnesota.
More than 40 individuals, families, and existing acquisition funds provided generous support to enable the Walker to commission and acquire the new art works. Indeed, 14 of the 18 new works carry the names of donors who donated artworks outright or made contributions to either completely or partially fund their purchase. In addition, the Weisman Art Collection in Los Angeles authorized use of a special fund created in 1987 by Fred Weisman to purchase sculptures for the Garden. The late Fred Weisman initially funded the purchase of Spoonbridge and Cherry and created the fund at the Walker to support the purchase of outdoor sculptures into perpetuity. The new artworks in the Garden were also made possible through the allocation of resources from the T.B. Walker Acquisition Fund administered by the Acquisition’s Committee of the Walker’s Board of Trustees. This committee was ably chaired by trustee Elizabeth Redleaf over the last three years. We are immensely grateful to Redleaf for her leadership during this exceptional period, and to the 20 members of the committee who enthusiastically championed our curatorial choices and supported the evolution of the commissioned artworks in powerful ways.
A Platform for Artists and Audiences
Thirty years ago, Martin Friedman created the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden in partnership with the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board out of a desire to “extend the cultural life of the city into public life.” His vision, which continues to evolve today, remains a beacon that embodies the Walker’s mission to be a catalyst for the creative expression of artists and the active engagement of audiences. It continues to underpin the Walker’s purpose to catalyze the connections between artists and audiences by offering a multiplicity of platforms for visitors to experience the most compelling art being produced today, whether experienced inside, outside, or online. The new Minneapolis Sculpture Garden and Wurtele Upper Garden, which offers free wifi across the full 19 acres, is born of the spirit of experimentation and innovation that is central to the Walker’s mission. Its expression is reflected in the art we show, the events we present, and the way we engage a multiplicity of audiences and the diversity of the communities of the state of Minnesota. Indeed, our pursuits are devoted to activating the questions that shape and inspire us as individuals, cultures, and communities in an ever-changing world.
At a time in which the arts can help us better apprehend ourselves, and the world and communities we inhabit, the words John F. Kennedy wrote in 1962 resonate profoundly. They underscore for me the importance of both civic leadership that values the arts and spaces like the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden that inspire creativity and foster mutual understanding, as well as responsible citizenship:
[The] life of the arts, far from being an interruption, a distraction, in the life of a nation, is very close to the center of a nation’s purpose—and is a test of the quality of a nation’s civilization.
Editor’s Note: This essay originally included multiple references to Sam Durant’s Scaffold, an artwork that has since been removed from the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. Its removal was the result of a mutual agreement between Dakota Spiritual and Traditional Elders, representatives from the four federally recognized Dakota tribes, the Walker Art Center, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, and the artist Sam Durant.