With the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden undergoing a $10 million renovation that will keep it closed until summer 2017, what are sculpture-addicted voyeurs to do?
Never fear, in the 28 years since Walker Art Center and the Minneapolis Park Board collaborated to build the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, a veritable 3-D art industry has sprung up in the Twin Cities. It’s now possible to admire and even to make sculpture at many Minnesota sites.
The top venues are the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum in Chaska, Franconia Sculpture Park near Taylors Falls, and the Western Sculpture Park in St. Paul. Together they display nearly 200 sculptures ranging from 20th-century masterpieces by international talents at the arboretum to an ever-changing array of new and experimental work at Franconia and Western.
The three sites differ in scale, scope and style, but all are indebted to the Minneapolis venture, which became a national model for arty landscapes elsewhere. Most notably, Chicago officials studied the garden’s design and its mix of public-private funding while planning Millennium Park, the $475 million extravaganza that opened in 2004 near the Art Institute of Chicago and the city’s lakefront.
“For the Walker to move outside of its walls was really embracing the public in a way few other museums had done,” said Colleen Sheehy, executive director of Public Art St. Paul, a nonprofit consultancy.
She well remembers the “dusty, weed-filled field” on the site that became a regional tourist attraction, with the “Spoonbridge and Cherry” sculpture by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen as its photogenic focus.
“To have this magnificent green space with top-notch works of art is such a boon to the Twin Cities; it really shows the power of art to create dynamic places where people want to be and hang out.”
‘A meditative environment’
The arboretum has 75 sculptures, many of which have been on its grounds for years. Its art program really took off, however, in 2013 when Wayzata collectors Alfred and Ingrid Lenz Harrison donated 23 works by a stellar array of 20th- and 21st-century artists.
The art’s global origin reflects the donors’ immigrant backgrounds. He is a former hedge fund manager from the British Isles; she is German. Their gift, which now numbers 26 pieces, features art from countries including Britain, Germany, Italy, France, Switzerland, Zimbabwe, Argentina, Russia, Tunisia and the United States. Among the top-name artists are Barbara Hepworth, Mimmo Paladino, Rudolf Belling, René Küng, Jesus Bautista Moroles and Craig Dan Goseyun, a San Carlos Apache.
The Harrison Sculpture Garden occupies 13 acres at the hilly crest of the 1,200-acre arboretum. Gardener Erik Lemke frames the art with flowers in complementary colors and carefully pruned shrubs. Other art can be found near the visitors center, in the woods, meadows and at lakesides. For next winter, the arboretum has commissioned English artist Bruce Munro to install seven light sculptures on the grounds and in the main building.
“The arboretum is really thinking of art as a portal to get people here all year, not just when our flowers are blooming in spring and summer,” said Wendy DePaolis, curator of art and sculpture.
Compared with the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden’s more intimate spaces, which are framed by traffic and city lights, DePaolis said, “right away you’ll notice the openness of our locale. People bring picnics and hold weddings here. The wind is constantly blowing at the high point, but it’s a very meditative and serene environment.”
Launchpads for young artists
Sculpture encounters at Franconia are notably interactive. Founded in 1996 by sculptor John Hock and pals, Franconia is a place where artists experiment and fabricate new work. At first they worked in an old barn on a 16-acre site, winning over skeptical farm neighbors by doing free welding and repairing broken implements.
As Franconia’s international reputation grew, so did its programs and aspirations. In 2006 the park moved a couple of miles to a 43-acre site where more than 100 sculptures dot the fields and groves. It now attracts 60,000 visitors a year and runs a robust program of sculpture-and-movement classes for schoolkids, summer music festivals, public iron pours and tours. More than 850 artists have worked there over the past 20 years, arriving from as far as Britain, Korea and China. A launchpad for young artists, it sends its interns to prestigious MFA programs around the country.
Visitors will find an array of unpredictable sculpture ranging from colorful play sites to minimalist steel slabs, sociopolitical constructions and performance videos.
“There are fewer object makers now,” said Hock. “The younger generation is doing all kinds of stuff; steel might be an armature but they’re working in straw or video or doing a performance that involves dance, music and a theater set. We’re trying to embrace it all.”
The 15 pieces at the Western Sculpture Park in St. Paul also come from Franconia. Started in 1998, the park’s sculpture program serves a largely immigrant community near the State Capitol and is managed by Public Art St. Paul. Art on view ranges from a monumental steel piece by internationally known Mark di Suvero to a huge, playful rabbit by Mary Johnson.
Minneapolis Sculpture Garden
A construction fence now surrounds the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden and all but the largest works — including “Spoonbridge” — have been put into storage or sent out on loan.
Three can be seen at Gold Medal Park near the Guthrie Theater and one each at the Minneapolis Institute of Art and the Weisman Art Museum. Thirteen more are at the Denver Botanic Gardens through Oct. 2. They’ll return to Minneapolis for winter storage and to the garden next summer.
The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, which owns the land, is overseeing reconstruction of the garden’s grounds, including new paths, trees and shrubs plus upgraded water management systems. Funding came from the state of Minnesota ($8.5 million) and the Mississippi Watershed Management Organization ($1.5 million).
Walker is expanding the garden onto the hillside it owns west of the museum. Plans call for a sculpture-lined “art walk” and groves of trees at the crest of the hill. Most of the grassy slope will remain open to serve as an informal amphitheater for events like the popular summertime Rock the Garden concert.
The combined site will occupy 19 acres, up from 11, making it one of the nation’s largest urban sculpture gardens. About 60 sculptures will be on display, including 16 new pieces, valued at $15 million, that the Walker is paying for with private funds.
“It’s going to be a really exciting transformation,” said Walker curator Siri Engberg. “We’re working with a whole roster of new artists who will join old favorites in a new landscape.”