The Walker Art Center will remove one of its new sculptures after protests

The Sculpture Garden is set to reopen on June 3 after two years of renovations.
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The Walker Art Center will remove one of its new sculptures that some people find offensive.

The piece at the center of the controversy is "Scaffold," a sculpture of a gallows – that's the wooden structures typically used to hang someone during an execution. It was created by Los Angeles artist Sam Durant, and partly inspired by the 38 Dakota Indians who were hanged in Mankato in 1862 – the largest mass execution in U.S. history.

As one of 18 new structures at the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, "Scaffold" isn't even open to the public yet. But word of its installation got out on Friday, and the response was overwhelmingly negative, with many saying the sculpture was insensitive and that it trivializes genocide. Some also called it cultural appropriation, because the artist is white.

Critics gathered outside the Sculpture Garden to protest and hang signs on the fence.

The Walker's Executive Director Olga Viso initially responded in an open letter in a local Native American paper, explaining why the art center chose to display the work and apologizing for not consulting with the Native community beforehand.

But as public outcry on social media and protests outside the Walker carried on Saturday, Viso put out a statement saying the sculpture would likely be removed. It says in part:

"As the Executive Director of the Walker, I regret the pain that this artwork has brought to the Dakota community and others.

Prompted by the outpouring of community feedback, the artist Sam Durant is open to many outcomes including the removal of the sculpture. He has told me, “It’s just wood and metal – nothing compared to the lives and histories of the Dakota people.”

I am in agreement with the artist that the best way to move forward is to have Scaffold dismantled in some manner and to listen and learn from the Elders."

Viso said Dakota Elders will help determine how exactly the artwork should be taken down at a meeting scheduled with the Walker and Durant on Wednesday, May 31.

"This is the first step in a long process of healing," Viso wrote.

Protesters cheered outside the Sculpture Garden Saturday when they heard the news that the sculpture would be removed, the Star Tribune says.

“It’s a small victory,” one demonstrator told the paper. “It happened so fast. We were prepared to be in a marathon with this.”

The Sculpture Garden is set to reopen on June 3 after two years of renovations.

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