The Walker Art Center is known for its innovative presentations and acclaimed collections of contemporary art across the spectrum of the visual, performing, and media arts. Over the course of more than 100 years, the Walker has evolved from a privately held collection into an internationally recognized institution and civic resource. Founded in 1879 by lumber baron Thomas Barlow Walker, the Walker was established at its current location in 1927. Edward Larrabee Barnes’ award-winning building opened in 1971 and was expanded in 1984. The addition of a pioneering urban sculpture garden in 1988, and its subsequent expansion in 1992, created a landmark destination for the Twin Cities. In 2005, the Walker opened an expanded building and greenspace designed by Herzog & de Meuron that provided additional galleries to display its growing collections, as well as new spaces, such as a theater, to house and present multidisciplinary programs.
Special exhibitions have been a cornerstone of the Walker’s program, and they are, along with stewardship of the collections and management of commissions and artists’ residencies, the principal responsibility of the Visual Arts department. These three activities are interwoven in a way that makes each stronger, and they also reinforce the department’s goals to present and acquire the strongest work by the most compelling artists of the day; to make that art more accessible to audiences; to offer support to emerging artists; and to contribute to scholarship in the fields of art and cultural history. While aesthetic emphases have shifted with changes in taste and personnel, the goal of the Visual Arts program has remained true to the Walker’s institutional mission: to serve as a catalyst for the creative expression of artists and the active engagement of audiences.
In Summer 2017, the newly renovated Walker Art Center and Minneapolis Sculpture Garden will bring about a unified, single campus feel to the 19-acre expanse of urban green space. Notable changes include a new entry pavilion for the Walker and reconstruction of the 26-year-old garden, the greening of Hennepin Avenue, and the addition of trees and sculptures to the Walker hillside and the garden. Like the longstanding favorite Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen’s Spoonbridge and Cherry, a site-specific piece that anchored the garden’s 1988 design, the new campus will feature a range of commissions, bringing the Walker’s innovative Visual Arts programming outdoors.