Two ways to describe the situation:
•Some well-intentioned activists spray-painted an important message on the Walker's iconic "Spoonbridge" sculpture.
•Some idiots who need to be hoss-whipped at high noon on the Nicollet Mall defaced the Walker's iconic "Spoonbridge" sculpture.
Which is preferable?
Correct: Neither, because both use the word "iconic," which I'm sick of hearing.
Anyway, Claes Oldenburg's "Spoonbridge and Cherry" is a delightful work, a symbol of the city. If it had Paul Bunyan standing next to it with a huge dish of ice cream, it would be kitsch, but it doesn't, so it's art.
Because it's famous, some jerks decided to appropriate it for their particular cause, and they spray-painted ...
... No, not going to give their cause any publicity. Let's just say it's one of those things people see on YouTube, post on Facebook, and ask people to click "Like" so that a grave injustice 7,000 miles away might be resolved.
On a brilliant spring afternoon, I wandered over to the Walker to view the damage.
The Sculpture Garden has some interesting pieces, but if you're not a fan of blunt, inhuman, abstract slabs you'll think the screens of trees were erected to shield your eyes from the art. All that metal, all that rust: It might be the only museum where you think you should get a tetanus shot before attending.
A few people were wandering around the hunks and slabs, but most of the visitors were snapping pictures of "Spoonbridge." The graffiti was already gone, because we are industrious and tidy.
I asked an onlooker if she was aware it had been vandalized; she said she'd heard something about that, yeah.
So: On a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being stony indifference to the cause for the rest of your life, and 10 being "sell the house and donate everything you own for great justice," how likely are you to be moved by a vandal's political sentiment painted on an oversized spoon?
"Not at all," she said.
So that might have backfired, guys. Just for future reference.
The Sculpture Garden wants more money for an upgrade. Lots of money. The Walker needs $8.5 million and hopes to get it from a bonding bill. The museum says the Sculpture Garden brings in $11.9 million annually in tourism dollars, and two-thirds of all tourists to our fair metro visit the garden.
I'd guess "Spoonbridge" accounts for about 99.9 percent, conservatively, because if that brilliant bit of whimsy wasn't there, it would be more difficult to pack 'em in for "The Goddess with the Golden Thighs," which appears to be assembled out of fossilized woolly-mammoth droppings.
Across the roaring river of I-94, there's Loring Park, an artwork of a different form.
On this day it was much more inviting than the Sculpture Garden -- the pathways rambled around the lake instead of marching in a grid. Every bench was occupied by someone basking in the April afternoon. An army of volunteers were planting flowers. Geese strutted around with their usual air of haughty entitlement. It's a timeless place no one seems able to ruin.
There's only one modern touch: a brown wooden box covering the defunct Dandelion fountain, something I wish they'd fix. And there's one piece of old-style sculpture: Ole Bull.
He was a famous violinist. Came here on tour but never lived here. Died in 1880. Norwegians put up the statue on a plinth so tall you have to crick your neck to behold the great artist, and the statue's enormous; last time I saw something metallic that size it was fighting with Optimus Prime in a "Transformers" movie.
There's a political message to the statue -- when it was erected in 1897, Norway was still part of Sweden, and Ole was a Norwegian nationalist. The subtext's evaporated over time, but you can still look up at the silent virtuoso and imagine his melodies.
He wouldn't fit in the Sculpture Garden. Aside from George Segal's weary, depressed man frozen in mid-trudge to the grave, the artwork is as abstract as you'd expect a Walker exhibition to be. Ole belongs where he is, and art like that doesn't fit the Walker's mission.
But should the Walker consider moving some pieces around or getting some new ones when the garden is rehabbed, consider this: When the miscreants wanted to get our attention, they tagged the thing that's big and bright and beautiful. They didn't scrawl a message on the side of Richard Serra's rusted slabs.
Maybe because the pigeons got there first.
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