The Walker Art Center announced Monday that it is postponing the reopening of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden until June 10 in light of controversy surrounding the gallows-like “Scaffold” sculpture.
Also Monday, the artist behind the sculpture that sparked angry protests outside the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden issued a statement addressing the anger it provoked.
In the statement, Los Angeles-based artist Sam Durant clarified that the intended audience for “Scaffold” (2012) was “white people who have not suffered the effects of a white supremacist society and who may not know it consciously exists.” He expressed remorse about not including dialogue or engagement with the Dakota people in the placement of the work at the Sculpture Garden.
“In focusing on my position as a white artist making work for that audience I failed to understand what the inclusion of the Dakota 38 in the sculpture could mean for Dakota people,” he wrote in the statement. “I offer my deepest apologies for my thoughtlessness. I should have reached out to the Dakota community the moment I knew that the sculpture would be exhibited at the Walker Art Center in proximity to Mankato.”
Olga Viso, executive director of the Walker Art Center, has said the sculpture will likely be taken down in response to the protests. She declined to comment Monday after the Walker announced it had delayed the Sculpture Garden’s scheduled June 3 opening.
“Scaffold” references seven U.S. state-sanctioned gallows executions, including the hanging of 38 Dakota in 1862 in Mankato, the Haymarket gallows hanging of four anarchists in 1886 and the 1936 public hanging of 26-year-old black man Rainey Bethea, among others.
“ ‘Scaffold’ seeks to address the contemporary relevance and resonance of these narratives today, especially at a time of continued institutionalized racism, and the ongoing dehumanization and intimidation of people of color,” Durant wrote in his statement. “ ‘Scaffold’ is neither memorial nor monument, and stands against prevailing ideas and normative history. It warns against forgetting the past.”
The protests over the artwork continued Monday, with signs hanging on the fence outside the Sculpture Garden. One sign said, “$200 for scalp of artist” and others listed the names of the Dakota warriors executed in Mankato.
“We are continuing to hold space here and remain peaceful,” said Graci Horne, who is Sisseton Wahpeton Dakota/Hunkpapa Dakota and has been leading organizing efforts. “I just wish it would be taken down now so we don’t have to live with it.”
Durant will be flying in from Los Angeles to attend a Wednesday morning meeting between Viso, a council of Dakota elders and a mediator. Representatives of the city and the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board will also be there. Plans for the sculpture’s likely dismantling will be put into motion after the meeting.
Durant’s previous work in Minnesota has focused on collaborations with American Indian communities, and much of his work is about anti-racist dialogue.
“Scaffold” first debuted in Germany at the Documenta Art Fair in 2012, and also made other appearances in Europe. Audiences there are far more removed from the piece’s uniquely American history.
Durant, however, has been interested in American Indian history and politics from an early age when he grew up in Boston. In 2002-03, he was an artist-in-residence at the Walker Art Center, where he did a piece called “Garden Project” (2002-03), working with American Indian youth at charter schools.
But those protesting the artwork said it suggests more of the same re-education about systemic racism to white people by people of color who already carry the burden of historical trauma.
“Why do we have to be responsible for your education?” said Horne.
At the site on Sunday, people roamed around and congratulated the Dakota people, took pictures of signs, or just appeared shocked by the sculpture altogether. Meanwhile, American Indians continued to share stories about the Dakota 38.
Some visitors were unaware of the controversy, or learned about it upon arrival to the Walker.
“I was surprised that it was even put up, based on the history of it and that the artist is not of a Dakota background, and it seems like an inappropriate place for it to be,” said Kaitlin Hughes of St. Paul, who was visiting the Walker and noticed the protests. “The controversy around it doesn’t make me want to see it more. I just hope that they remove it.”