For a billion bucks, a new sports stadium must have a massive transparent roof, state-of-the-art video screens, thousands of club seats and truckloads of beer.
Plus, plenty of art.
When it opens in 2016, the Vikings’ new U.S. Bank Stadium will feature about 500 artworks including roughly 200 commissioned paintings, sculptures, digital and installation pieces, plus 300 photos. The talent roster includes 34 Minnesota artists, ranging from nationally known figures such as David Rathman, whose paintings are in Walker Art Center, to a graffiti artist, a pyrotechnician, recent art school graduates and former Vikings star Carl Eller.
“I’m really excited about it and was very happy to be selected,” said Eller, who is, it turns out, a serious ceramic artist.
The Vikings and the family of the team’s owner, Zygi Wilf, are paying for all of the art which is expected to cost “several million,” said Tanya Dreesen, a Vikings vice president.
“This is a privately funded collection,” Dreesen said. “We are excited to make everybody aware that we are paying these artists. It’s putting artists to work, quite frankly, and their work will be displayed in public areas and our clubs and suites.”
Stadium art is a booming trend that can broaden a venue’s appeal beyond die-hard sports fans. AT&T Stadium, home to the Dallas Cowboys, for example, has a spectacular collection of murals and installations by Lawrence Weiner, Jenny Holzer, Mel Bochner, Olafur Eliasson and other international art stars that has made it a glossy setting for mega-concerts and even a 2012 simulcast of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” performed by the Dallas Opera.
“Art and sports are about drama and excitement and the Vikings collection will reflect that,” said Dreesen.
Three themes will shape the Vikings art: Minnesota’s geography, landmarks and people; the state’s sports teams; and Vikings players past and present.
Eller, a Hall of Fame defensive end who played for the Vikings from 1964 until 1978, is planning a sculpture about Minnesota lakes. It will consist of a dozen or more ceramic bowls shaped and glazed “to give you the feeling of water and motion,” he said. Displayed in a wall-mounted case, the bowls will be arranged to suggest state lakes from north to south. He’s planning to test some raku firing techniques to get the proper color and depth.
“I have been really tempted to toy with figures and symbols and stuff like that, but right now I’m getting the effect I want with the clay itself,” he said. “That’s part of the art.”
Eller, who took up ceramics as a hobby about six or seven years ago, has sold his pottery at art fairs in Edina and Bayport, Wis. One piece is in the collection of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. He lives near Wirth Lake in Minneapolis and expects to include that body of water with other favorite lakes.
“The medium is such an ancient, utilitarian craft, but it is art and it survives,” Eller said. “I think it represents civilizations in a very aesthetic way and I like that.”
The Vikings artists were picked from more than 1,100 applicants by Sports & The Arts (SATA), a California-based company specializing in stadium projects. Its previous clients include Yankee Stadium in New York City, the San Francisco 49ers’ Levi’s Stadium, the Marlins’ ballpark in Miami, the Orlando Magic’s Amway Center arena and the multipurpose Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.
“We were overwhelmed by the number of submissions, and they’re very good artists, so I think the Vikings’ stadium will top everything we’ve done before,” said Camille Speca, a SATA partner.
All projects will be new designs specific to the stadium. Plans range from realistic portraits of players to impressionistic landscapes, abstractions, mosaics and custom-designed Vikings shields and helmets. The team plans to commission more national artists later and is still developing the photography program.
St. Paul artist Lisa Friedrich will use gunpowder to burn stenciled images of Minnesota landmarks onto paper.
“I’m known as the “Gunpowder Girl” at art fairs around the Twin Cities,” Friedrich said. “It kind of shocks people, what I do. It’s safer than people think, but it surprises them.”
Graffiti artist Peyton Scott Russell, co-founder of Juxtaposition Arts in north Minneapolis, intends to make a large-scale sculpture incorporating creative lettering, old signs and lighting elements such as neon. At the Vikings’ request, it will be a riff on the team’s victory song, “Skol Vikings.”
“I want it to be large,” he said. “I want people to come into the space and say, ‘Whoa,” because that’s what graffiti does; it catches your attention.”