After Protests from Native American Community, Walker Art Center Will Remove Public Sculpture

Hyperallergic, Sheila Regan
May 29, 2017

"Less than a week before the Walker Art Center was scheduled to open its newly renovated sculpture garden, it announced that one of the major new works added to the park will be removed.

The sculpture in question, “Scaffold” (2012) by Los Angeles-based artist Sam Durant, is a giant structure made of steel and wood, placed adjacent in the park to “Spoonbridge and Cherry” (1985–88) by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen. Originally created for Documenta in 2012 in Kassel, Germany, the piece had been installed at the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, a partnership between the museum and the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, for more than a month, but it wasn’t until late last week that it became the subject of controversy.

On Friday afternoon, the Walker’s Director, Olga Viso, posted an open letter on the museum’s website saying that she didn’t anticipate how the work would be received in Minnesota, especially by Native audiences. “Scaffold,” she wrote, depicts seven different historical gallows used in hangings sanctioned by the US government between 1859 and 2006. One of the gallows the piece represents was used to hang 38 Native men in Mankato, Minnesota at the end of the US-Dakota War of 1862, the largest mass execution in the history of the United States.

Social media and local news erupted after Viso’s letter was posted. Politicians, leaders of several arts organizations, Native American artists, and tribal groups, including Minnesota’s Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, condemned the work for several reasons. Critics said the piece was problematic because it was made by a non-native artist, that it is triggering historical pain — especially given that the Walker sits on land once used by the Dakota people — and that a public park next to whimsical sculptures depicting a giant cherry and a large blue rooster is not an appropriate place for a memorial. Criticism also centered on the aesthetic of the piece itself, which turns the forms of historical hanging gallows into something that looks like a children’s jungle gym."