Curating a Garden’s History in the Best Buy Aperture
Opening in conjunction with the newly renovated Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, Cultivating the Garden highlights materials from the Walker’s collections, archives, and library. A mini-exhibition in the Best Buy Aperture, it investigates cycles of engagement and growth over the garden’s nearly 30-year history. Here, following an internship that crossed departments, from Education and Visual Arts to Registration and Design, Elise Armani and Lexi Herman discuss the relationship between the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, the Aperture, and the Walker Archives as interstitial sites for collaborative engagement.
The Walker Library and Archives contains thousands of institutional and artist files that document—among other things—every action, event, or performance to occur in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. Our research for Cultivating the Garden began here, sifting through a wealth of garden-centric materials to assist in contextualizing the June 2017 reopening of the Garden. The archive provided a unique lens through which to view this history, as each object and article we engaged possessed its own sense of time. Photographs, newspaper clippings, and timelines marked occasions long past. Artists’ models, sketches, and commission letters were marked by potentiality, holding within them future possibilities, some realized, some forgotten, and others yet in consideration.
We simultaneously pulled both official commission documents dating to the origin of the garden and shaky home video footage from years recently passed. Selection in this context is closer to grabbing a handful of moments than a sequential overview. Given this, we struggled with how to frame the Garden’s robust history, realizing quickly that any curated selection couldn’t possibly be conclusive.
An extension of the Walker created in partnership with the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board, the Sculpture Garden was born out of collaboration. Positioned physically in-between the Walker Art Center and the greater Minneapolis area by way of Loring Park, it acts as both a site of transition and a point of access to the museum. In a similar fashion to the archive, the garden accumulates its own history, stories, and methods of organization.
In gathering information on the history of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, we began to notice cyclical patterns within the garden. Artists, audiences, and community organizations alike returned to the site, some seasonally, some yearly, and others only periodically, together yielding a series of cross-disciplinary and cross-temporal collaborations that have made up the history and future of the Garden.
In contrast to the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden and Walker Archives, the Best Buy Aperture does not have a long institutional past. While the space existed previously in other forms, its current state has a short history dating back only to its recently closed inaugural exhibition. The small gallery space is situated in the Walker Art Center’s “Public Art Loop”: a pathway that guides visitors from the Hennepin Avenue entrance, past the gift shop and galleries, through to the garden regardless of admission. The legacy of experimentation at the Walker continues in this space, which is dedicated to cross-departmental collaboration and publicly accessible exhibitions that illuminate aspects of the Center. Operating on its own timeline, the Best Buy Aperture integrates objects from the Walker Library & Archives alongside works from the collection.
In our recently realized exhibition, Cultivating the Garden, the curated materials contextualize changes in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden and assist in facilitating potential responses to the posed question: “How does a sculpture garden grow?” The exhibition spotlights the legacy of the garden through three different case studies and accompanying themes of icon, passage, and growth that emerged in our initial archival investigation. Each theme showcases historical and future engagements with the garden, illustrating the continued dialogues occurring in the garden over time.
One place where dialogue is exemplified is the cottonwood tree and basalt stone planted in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden in 1997 in homage to Joseph Beuys. The tree was planted by members of the Walker Art Center Teen Arts Council (WACTAC), as part of a larger Minnesota based series of plantings led by independent Minneapolis curator Todd Bockley. Bockley’s project, entitled “7,000 Oaks Minneapolis” after Beuys’ own 7,000 Oaks, took place across sites in Minneapolis, St. Paul, and Cass Lake. Beuys’ original project was conceptualized as an ecological intervention in response to rapid urbanization. In 1982, Beuys generated the planting of 7,000 oak trees, each accompanied by an upright basalt stone. Fifteen years later, the 7,000 Oaks Minneapolis project continued this effort carrying the project overseas and into a new community. The project was a collaboration across many entities that included Bockley, the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board, the Walker Art Center through its Teen Arts Council, Cass Lake Reservation, and the Beuys estate. The Garden provided the necessary facilitation for this collaboration to occur. Now 20 years later, relationships to the work continue to be built, as the project informs Theaster Gates’s recently commissioned work for the reopening of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden this June.
By providing a number of perspectives and questions, rather than conclusions, the Best Buy Aperture yields a conceptual space for considering new approaches to history, interpretation, and engagement. Beyond cultivating the history and potentiality of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, we hope that Cultivating the Garden calls into conversation the Best Buy Aperture, Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, and Walker Archives. Together the spaces work to complicate the construction and experience of time through exploring the past, emphasizing the history of collaboration while suggesting the continued potentiality of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden.