Under Wraps: What’s Happening with the Walker’s Siah Armajani Bridge?
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Under Wraps: What’s Happening with the Walker’s Siah Armajani Bridge?

Siah Armanani's Irene Hixon Whitney Bridge (1988) has been draped in plastic each weekend in May as it gets sandblasted, primed, and repainted. Photo: Brian Matthew Hart

Weekend travelers to downtown Minneapolis this weekend will again meet an impasse on Interstate 94, marked by an ominous sight: all lanes of traffic closed and the Irene Hixon Whitney Bridge—crossing from the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden to Loring Park—encased in plastic. The bridge—a 1988 artwork by Minneapolis-based artist Siah Armajani—is being restored by the Minnesota Department of Transportation, which is repainting the structure and will eventually be lighting it for the first time, according to the artist’s original plans.

Armajani is best known for works of public art, including bridges, gazebos, reading rooms, and other gathering spaces across the United States and Europe. The revitalized bridge will reopen to the public in late August, in advance of Siah Armajani: Follow This Line, a major retrospective exhibition co-organized by the Walker and the Metropolitan Museum of Art opening at the Walker September 9.

Color samples, also known as “drawdowns,” indicating colors for Siah Armajani’s bridge. Photo: Paul Schmelzer

The tri-colored bridge has an “elegant baby blue” on one end, as then-director Martin Friedman put it in a September 9, 1988 talk with Armajani, and a “Jeffersonian Yellow” on the other—inspired by the colors of Jefferson’s Monticello.  “Philosophically, I felt confident using it because of Jefferson,” Armajani told Friedman. “At the inception of the idea of democracy in this country, there were a lot of discussions about the nature of art, the nature of architecture, the nature of poetry in America… One of the main colors that Jefferson talked about extensively in a series of letters that he wrote to his nephew is the color yellow. And when you take that dissertation of Jefferson and put it next to Lissitzky’s dissertation about Constructivist color, they are identical. Verbatim. They are both revolutionary in demanding change and identification. So that was the reason for the color.”

Built in 1988, the 375-foot bridge spans 16 lanes of traffic. The design of the old Hennepin Avenue Bridge over the Mississippi River inspired the two sweeping curved arches of the Irene Hixon Whitney Bridge, which come together to form a “handshake” in the center. Also getting a makeover: the poem, commissioned by poet John Ashbery, that lines the interior of the bridge. New metal letters will replace the old, tarnished ones.

A snippet of John Ashbery’s “bridge poem.” Photo: Paul Schmelzer

Update: August 8, 2018

At last, the Armajani bridge is open again for foot traffic. New paint has been applied, John Ashbery’s poem is installed in gleaming new letters, and a new wooden deck is in place. The last remaining change? The bridge will be lit in the coming weeks, just in time for the September 9 opening of Siah Armajani: Follow This Line, the first comprehensive US retrospective devoted to the work of this Minneapolis-based artist.

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