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Garden as Gathering Place
Reflections on the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden

By Joan Rothfuss

Since its opening in 1988, the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden has acquired a comfortable patina befitting the well-loved and well-tended public space it has become. Its gravel paths, lined with mature linden trees, are firmly tamped; its perennial garden blooms lush in late summer, and ivy now creeps thickly over its stone walls. More than five million people have strolled the Garden to date, making it one of the most-visited attractions in the area. It is, in short, a lovely and thriving success, confirmation of former Walker Art Center Director Martin Friedman’s hunch that the Twin Cities needed just such a gathering place.

The Garden occupies eleven acres of parkland directly across from the Walker that had been undeveloped since the formal flower beds and hedges of the Armory Gardens were removed in 1966. Thanks to Friedman’s tenacity and vision, the site is once again a garden, one that unites two of Minnesota’s most cherished resources—its green space and its cultural life. To maintain it, he engineered a partnership between the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, which cares for the grounds, and the Walker, which oversees the artworks. At this writing, forty-five objects from the collection are installed there, including classic figurative bronzes by Jacques Lipchitz, Henry Moore, and George Segal; a huge cinder-block X by Sol LeWitt and an abstraction of steel plates and poles by Richard Serra; Frank Gehry’s leaping glass fish and Deborah Butterfield’s trompe l’oeil stallion; and a trio of cheeky, sausage-shaped benches in neon colors by Franz West. All these works contribute to the diverse experience the Garden provides, but its emotional and physical centerpiece is the monumental, photogenic Spoonbridge and Cherry, a collaboration between Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen that has become one of the Twin Cities’ most recognizable icons.

Among the Garden’s many charms is its relative stability, especially within the context of a society that seems more volatile every day. One can return often to visit favorite sculptures that seem more reassuringly settled as the seasons pass and the plantings mature around them. Yet the Garden is far from a static environment—its landscape is recurrently activated and enlivened by myriad Walker programs, including dance and music events, films, workshops, talks, exhibitions, and projects by artists-in-residence. The most recent addition, in the Garden’s southern extension, is a commissioned environment by James Turrell entitled Sky Pesher (2005). In this underground room, which is open to the changing skies, one can meditate on nature’s simultaneous calm and fluidity, attributes mirrored by the Garden itself.

—Excerpt from an essay by Joan Rothfuss, Curator, Permanent Collection, in the catalogue Bits & Pieces Put Together to Present a Semblance of a Whole: Walker Art Center Collections