Walker Art Center

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Siah Armajani, Irene Hixon Whitney Bridge


Twin Cities-based artist Siah Armajani is known for his pioneering public works, which have helped to redefine the social function of art both in this country and abroad. More than simply art for public spaces, Armajani’s bridges, plazas, and other public art pieces—at once utilitarian and symbolic—are intended to reflect the ideals of a democratic society and to foster discourse and learning in the communities they inhabit.

Armajani explored the bridge as a metaphor for passage in a number of his early conceptual models and works. In 1970, for example, for the exhibition 9 Artists/9 Spaces, he fashioned an 85-foot-long, rough-timbered wooden bridge. Rising quite surprisingly to a gabled peak at its middle, it sheltered a lone pine tree planted beneath. The idea of passage became decidedly more functional with Armajani’s full-scale commission for the Irene Hixon Whitney Bridge, which allows pedestrians to cross the sixteen lanes of streets and highway that had severed the Garden from neighboring Loring Park for many years. The artist’s design incorporates the three basic types of bridge structure: beam (across its fir-planked, horizontal span), arch (for the eastern portion), and suspension (for the western portion). To underscore the sense of transition from one part to the next, Armajani painted each half a different, atmospheric shade: pale blue for the upward arching portion and yellow, recreated from the hue that Thomas Jefferson used at his home, Monticello, for the inverted arch. Affixed to the upper lintel of the span and running in each direction across the bridge are the words of a poem—a meditation on movement, place, order, and crossing—which Armajani commissioned specially from the renowned American poet John Ashbery.


Community Voices

Narrator: Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak.

To me the construction of the sculpture garden said a lot about who we were and our maintenance and growing of it says a lot about who we are. This could have been a, you know, a nice little bunch of sculptures sitting out there with freeway going by and a chain link fence going over the freeway. But it’s not, it’s a great urban place with one of the most inspirational bridges, and going over the freeway becomes this uplifting experience. Imagine if that was a chain link fence? And isn’t it great too that Siah Armajani is from here? But you stand up there and you look down into the garden and it looks great and you look over to the skyline and you look down into Loring Park and the freeway, strangely and wonderfully becomes part of the experience, that instead of going “Oh my god, it’s another freeway I want to stand away from it,” that motion and energy becomes part of what animates the whole space and somehow taking a freeway and a busy street next to it and making it somehow part of that experience is part of the magic of that bridge and says a lot about how we have oases we disappear into but the bridge really shows that we use art to lift us up even in the most mundane thing like driving in a car.

Artist Comments

Artist Comments

Community Voices

Irene Hixon Whitney Bridge
Siah Armajani
Minneapolis Sculpture Garden