After ‘Scaffold’ controversy, Minneapolis Sculpture Garden to reopen this weekend

Mark Manders’ “September Room (Room with Two Reclining Figures and Composition with Long Verticals)” is among the new sculptures at the revamped Minneapolis Sculpture Garden // Photo via Walker Art Center Facebook

After a dramatic course of events over the past two weeks, the Walker Art Center and the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board are set to open the newly renovated Minneapolis Sculpture Garden this Saturday, June 10th.

Originally scheduled to open on June 3rd, the Walker and the park board delayed the opening after outrage over one of the sculptures, “Scaffold” by artist Sam Durant, erupted in the last week of May. The park’s reopening was to be a touchstone achievement for the museum’s current director, Olga Viso, a moment that has now been tarnished by the controversies surrounding “Scaffold.”

It remains to be seen whether the renovation, which brings a more international and new generational perspective to the park, as well as more works by women artists, will earn back the goodwill of a disillusioned public.

Among the women artists featured is German artist Katharina Fritsch, whose giant blue rooster is called “Hahn/Cock.” The Walker has been collecting Fritsch since the 1980s, and owns virtually all of her multiples, which are on display inside the museum. “This was an artist we wanted to have greater visibility in the U.S.,” Viso said. “She just turned 61 and she’s one of the most important sculptors working today.”

In the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, Fritch’s piece promises the same kind of grandeur as Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen’s famous “Spoonbridge and Cherry.”

According to Viso, “Spoonbridge and Cherry” was originally conceived as the key destination piece of the park, back when the whole thing only took up seven-and-a-half acres in 1988. Even when the park was expanded by four acres in 1992, there was never an equivalent artwork drawing visitors to the north section of the park.

“Once you hit the ‘Spoonbridge and Cherry,’ that’s kind of the be-all and end-all of the experience,” Viso says. “It was hard to get people to explore and go further in the garden.”

“Hahn/Cock” being installed in the sculpture garden and process shots from its construction // Installation photo by Gene Pittman, courtesy Walker Art Center, process photos courtesy of Matthew Marks Gallery

Early in the planning stages, Viso says landscape architect Tom Oslund recommended that there be a second monumental piece at the north end of the park. “Tom Oslund said to me from the beginning, ‘You’re going to need another ‘Spoonbridge and Cherry,’” Viso says.

Fritsch originally created “Hahn/Cock” as one of a series of commissions displayed in London’s Trafalgar Square. The square, which commemorates a British victory over the French, offered the perfect opportunity for Fritsch to have a little fun. Amidst generals on horseback and giant granite and bronze sculptures of male war heroes, Fritsch made the blue rooster statue as a tongue-in-cheek sendup to that tradition.

“Katharina is very respectful of how her piece is in dialogue with Claes’ work,” says Viso. The sculptures are placed in such a way to give each work it’s own independence. She hopes that like Oldenburg and van Bruggen’s work, “Hahn/Cock” “is going to be an icon as well that I think is respectful and extends the same traditions that the “Spoonbridge and Cherry” really tries to do.”

Eva Rothschild’s “Empire” in a previous installment // Photo by Jason Wyche, courtesy Public Art Fund, NY

Other sculptures by women artists include the Jungle-gym-looking “Empire” by Irish artist Eva Rothschild; “Rapture,” a bronze sculpture of a female figure who has slain a wolf, by German-born American artist Kiki Smith; and the large, tangled web of a sculpture called “Untitled (Gate)” by Monika Sosnowska.

Some of the artists, including Mark Manders and Theaster Gates, are creating their first permanent works for the park. The Chicago-based “social practice” sculptor Gates is creating a kind of tempietto, or a small, circular Renaissance temple. The architectural structure will be made from recycled black bricks, and will house a statue of St. Anthony that Gates salvaged from a demolished church on Chicago’s South Side.

Mark Manders’ sculpture, meanwhile, called “September Room (Room with Two Reclining Figures and Composition with Long Verticals),” has a prominent spot facing the museum, with eerie female figures, divided in half, looking hauntingly toward the south.

Kiki Smith’s “Rapture” // Photo by Richard-Max Tremblay

Besides new sculptures in the garden itself, which is on park board land, the Walker also is placing artwork on the other side of Vineland Place, on the Walker campus. In total, there are 60 pieces on both sides, up from the 40 sculptures that were there originally, according to Viso.

The Walker and the park board went to the state legislature four times before they were able to get the $8.5 million in bonding money they needed to renovate the garden. They also received an additional $1.5 million grant from the Mississippi Watershed Management Organization for innovative stormwater management systems in the project.

According to Dana Murdoch, the park board’s design project manager, the land where the Sculpture Garden sits was originally a marshland. The new landscape design brings part of the land back to its original state, with sections of fresh meadow, filled with native plants and walkways that are almost like boardwalks. In addition, an underground cistern near “Spoonbridge and Cherry” can carry 80,000 gallons of overflow stormwater and pond water, Murdoch says, and the excess water will be used to irrigate the entire garden.

The “Spoonbridge and Cherry” pond itself will also revert to its original shape, which Oldenburg and van Bruggen intended to be based on the shape of a linden seed. Over time, that shape has shifted and eroded. The renovation includes re-lining the pond and establishing a more distinct edge so it won’t change shape anymore.

“Double Curve” by Ellsworth Kelly // Photo by Gene Pittman, courtesy Walker Art Center, Minneapolis

Murdoch has played a key role in bringing the new garden renovation to fruition, guiding the community engagement process that has sought input from the public about needs and wants for the park. Among the improvements people wanted: better restrooms, winter access (including more engaging activities during the winter months), food options, trash and recycling receptacles, more gathering spaces, and, of course, free WiFi.

Murdoch says the park board and museum are considering more ideas for the future, like food concessions, an ice rink, and more.

Another piece of feedback that came out of the community engagement sessions was to create better access to the park. Originally, there were barriers that were supposed to mitigate sound pollution and vandalism, which have been replaced so that it’s easier to view the garden from outside of it. “We really made an effort to try to not have it feel like a closed off space,” Viso says. “I think overall it feels incredibly porous.”

When the Sculpture Garden first opened in 1988, it became internationally recognized as one of the first major urban sculpture parks of its kind. With its new renovations, but a contentious rollout, it remains to be seen whether the new iteration can live up to its reputation.

Correction: “Spoonbridge and Cherry” is a work created by both Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen. A previous version of this story credited the work solely to Claes Oldenburg.

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