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As Sculpture Garden closes to expand, the Walker remembers the man who created it

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The Sculpture Garden is now closed.

The 19-acre outdoor art space in Minneapolis is undergoing renovations and an expansion – including more trees, more space, a new entry pavilion for the Walker, and 16 new pieces of art for the Sculpture Garden.

Work on the new features actually started last summer, but Tuesday marked the official groundbreaking. The Sculpture Garden, including the iconic "Spoonbridge and Cherry," will be closed until June of 2017.

Remembering the Sculpture Garden's creator

The groundbreaking came just one day after the death of Martin Friedman.

He was the Walker's art director for nearly three decades, from 1961 to 1990. And during that time, he moved the museum toward the contemporary arts – a move the Walker says "grew its reputation globally."

He also developed and oversaw the creation of the Sculpture Garden, which opened in 1988. The New York Times quickly heralded it as “the finest new outdoor space in the country for displaying sculpture.”

Friedman was also there for construction of the Edward Larrabee Barnes–designed building that houses some of the Walker (the brown brick cubed portions). He was awarded the National Medal of Arts in 1989.

Together, the museum and Sculpture Garden draw 700,000 visitors every year, making it one of the most-visited modern are museums in the U.S.

Walker Curator Joan Rothfuss wrote about Friedman's impact on the Walker website, saying in part:

"It is, in fact, hard to overstate his contribution to the quality of cultural life in the Twin Cities, although he himself gave much of the credit to the traditions and aspirations of his audience. 'In Minneapolis, the great mass of the public is tolerant and interested, and there is a layer, an informed intellectual layer, we could look to,' he said. 'I came on the scene at a propitious time.'"

And the Walker's executive director, Olga Viso, also shared her thoughts on the Centerpoints blog, noting his attention to detail:

"'Friedman perfection'" was conveyed in a variety of ways, most notably through the telling of the apocryphal 'turning snow' story, in which Martin purportedly directed the Walker’s building maintenance crew to go outside with shovels in subzero Minnesota weather to 'turn the snow' around the museum. The goal: to ensure that a pristine carpet of fresh white would set the Edward Larrabee Barnes building off just so. This was, of course, essential before any winter opening at the Walker."

The Walker has a page dedicated to unpublished reflections about Friedman and his tenure.

He died at the age of 90 at his home in New York.

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