At the new Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, artist Theaster Gates recently painted a salvaged statue with black tar before a small audience. The statue, tucked inside the piece “Black Vessel for a Saint,” was the final art element to install before the garden’s reopening.
“It’s a challenge to find an ideal time to install sculpture during a construction project,” said Walker Registrar Joe King.
King’s work isn’t over, however. The piece “Scaffold” met with loud protests from people who said the sculpture is insensitive to Native American history. Walker Executive Director Olga Viso said she’s willing to dismantle the piece and delay the opening a week to talk to elders.
“Prompted by the outpouring of community feedback, the artist Sam Durant is open to many outcomes including the removal of the sculpture,” Viso said in a statement. “He has told me, ‘It’s just wood and metal — nothing compared to the lives and histories of the Dakota people.’”
For more information about “Scaffold,” visit this story.
Prior to the spotlight on “Scaffold,” an ultramarine rooster had taken center stage at the park.
The piece by Katharina Fritsch, weighing a little under 8,000 pounds, was shipped from Switzerland in seven pieces and assembled onsite to stand on a 30,000-pound base. The rooster traveled well, save for a quarter-inch chip that needed a dab of touch-up paint.
The installation of the rooster raised a few eyebrows around the sculpture garden. Aaron Robinson sat at Dunwoody & Lyndale the day of the “Hahn/Cock” installation.
“Why the hell did they put a cock by a cherry? What are you guys doing?” he said.
The rooster made a group of joggers smile as they passed by on the Irene Hixon Whitney Bridge.
“Is that the name of it?” one woman asked with a laugh.
Fritsch’s piece was originally commissioned to stand in London’s Trafalgar Square for 18 months. At the 2013 unveiling, Fritsch told The Guardian she wanted to poke a bit of fun at the neighboring sculptures in the square.
“I’m a feminist, I must say,” she told The Guardian. “…As a German woman, when I first came to London, the area around Trafalgar Square seemed to be very much focusing on men — especially with fashion, with Jermyn Street. You have all these dandies, all these businessmen in their suits, who have to be powerful and successful. And they are a little bit posing like cockerels.”
Some in London opined that the piece was inappropriate for the square. Fritsch told Time Out London she didn’t mind a lively controversy, however.
“The ultramarine colour brings the whole thing together but it is particularly sensitive,” she said. “…I think it turned out bright and very nice.”
Walker tour guide Sandra Gunderson and her husband Neal walked along the Sculpture Garden’s pedestrian bridge shortly before opening day. Sandra said it will be nice for wheelchairs and strollers to easily navigate the garden. And the garden is much more visible from the street, she said.
“People driving by can see it better,” she said.
Landscape architect Tom Oslund said the idea of accessibility permeates the new garden design. The garden is now accessible in all corners, it features a more diverse spread of artists, and it offers more visual enticement to travel the entire grounds.
They replaced the large hedges bordering the garden’s “roofless rooms” with forsythia that will grow to about four feet high and bloom yellow each spring.
“The rooms are intact but they have been changed to create a much more transparent kind of connection,” Oslund said.
In the former conservatory building, the palm trees had grown too large for the structure, uneven floor tiles became a tripping hazard, and the cost to heat the humid building became expensive. In a redesign, architect Julie Snow said they opted for the ultimate in energy efficiency — only the roof remains.
“The idea was to say what happens if they just simply unplugged the conservatory?” she said.
Rather than find expensive glaze to make the building slightly more energy-efficient, they opted for an outdoor pavilion available for weddings, events and relaxation. (The entire grounds offers free Wi-Fi.)
Snow said the freshly cleaned glazing accentuates the longstanding neon piece by Mario Merz. The neon spells “città irreale,” meaning “unreal city,” a phrase from a T. S. Eliot poem.
“All of a sudden the Merz glows up there,” she said. “I think it’s a pretty powerful piece.”
The garden now incorporates an 80,000-gallon underground cistern to irrigate the site and neighboring baseball field. It’s similar to a system used at Edison High School.
The garden was originally constructed on wetland soils that had difficulty withstanding nine million visitors to-date. Construction crews even hit the water table during construction, causing the pit to fill with groundwater. They dewatered the pit to install the cistern, and a new sandy soil mix allows water to move through the ground.
“By putting in that soil, it’s going to be able to handle that traffic a little bit better,” said Marcy Bean, capital projects and stewardship specialist at the Mississippi Watershed Management Organization.
A new meadow with native plants at the garden’s low point to the north will act as a raingarden.
The Spoonbridge and Cherry pond also incorporates recycled stormwater. The pond had eroded over time, and it has returned to the shape of a Linden seed to match the artists’ original intent.
The Sculpture Garden originally opened in 1988, and the Park Board said it was among the first public-private urban sculpture parks of its kind in the U.S.
The garden renovation is part of a larger $75 million campus-wide project that includes a new entry pavilion with a green roof terrace along Vineland Place, the restaurant Esker Grove, a narrowed Vineland Place crossing and greener Hennepin Avenue frontage.
More than 60 pieces comprise the Sculpture Garden, and 18 of them are new pieces.
Eva Rothschild’s “Empire” is a spidery painted steel piece originally shown in New York’s Central Park.
“It is important to me that they look precarious, I want to create and show the ‘physical tension’ behind what they are doing,” she told The Independent in 2013. “…The ideal way to look at art is to be permanently confused.”
The iconic “LOVE” piece by Robert Indiana began as a Christmas card design in 1965 before it became popular — “too popular,” according to Indiana. The Indianapolis Star said he didn’t copyright the design and the stamps earned him a one-time flat fee of $1,000.
“’LOVE’ bit me,” he told NPR in 2014. “It was a marvelous idea, but it was also a terrible mistake. It became too popular; it became too popular. And there are people who don’t like popularity. It’s much better to be exclusive and remote. That’s why I’m on an island off the coast of Maine, you see.”
“Every piece has a story,” said Walker Registrar Joe King. “When I walk down the paths of the garden I’m replaying in my mind where they came from and how we put them in.”
He said the rusted Cor-Ten steel letters in “LOVE” are perfect for outdoor sculpture, because the rust seals and protects the metal.
With many modern art materials, like the aforementioned tar paint, King must investigate how to care for it to withstand Minnesota’s extreme temperature swings.
“Our sculptures live a pretty hard life,” he said.
The renovation underway since the fall of 2015 gave King a chance to put a fresh coat of paint on the sculptures. The closure was particularly helpful in painting the cherry, which needs to dry in temperatures above 50 degrees and would temporarily appear an unsightly gray for summertime visitors.
King said the Mark di Suvero piece “Arikidea,” featuring large steel beams and a central wooden swing, was a particularly complex artwork to take apart, given its joints and angles. Relying on documentation to figure out how to reverse the assembly and reinstall the pieces was key, he said.
Minnesota artist Kinji Akagawa recently replaced the cedar in his bench sculpture “Garden Seating, Reading, Thinking.” He said the reinstallation was a wonderful experience, though he had forgotten the type of wood he used and needed to look it up again.
“Art makes you quiet when you look around,” he said. “Their job is to draw us into the meditative state.”
His piece now sits on the Walker hillside, called the Wurtele Upper Garden, which overlooks the main Sculpture Garden.
“It’s always teamwork for Sculpture Garden pieces,” he said. “It’s always big. You cannot do it alone.”
Minneapolis Sculpture Garden
726 Vineland Place
After June 10, open 6 a.m.-12 midnight daily
Free Garden Tours thru Aug. 31
Meet at the Walker’s main entrance on the Wilf Family Plaza
Thursdays at 6 p.m.
Saturdays and Sundays at noon