Tour guide Nancy Beach ushered her group to some shade on Saturday and grabbed her microphone. “Welcome to the grand opening of the revised, refurbished, renovated Minneapolis Sculpture Garden,” she said, asking: “How many of you have been here before?” All raised their hands.
“What do you notice, just after a quick glance around, that is different?”
“The blue rooster!” someone shouted.
The massive, ultramarine rooster, “Hahn/Cock,” commanded visitors’ attention at the Sculpture Garden’s long-anticipated reopening Saturday after a multimillion-dollar, yearslong makeover.
Teens pulled out selfie sticks to capture the matte fiberglass bird, by artist Katharina Fritsch. Families took photos with the four-letter “LOVE” sculpture by Robert Indiana, another new work. Visitors also reunited with the iconic “Spoonbridge and Cherry” — its red shiny from a recent paint job.
All day, a steady stream of visitors celebrated the Sculpture Garden, a partnership between the Walker Art Center and the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, with 17 new works from a new generation of artists, as well as old favorites in new spots.
But a sculpture removed from the garden cast a shadow over Saturday’s event. The reopening had been pushed back a week after American Indian leaders protested the inclusion of “Scaffold,” a sculpture modeled partly on the gallows used to hang 38 Dakota men in Mankato in 1862.
During speeches Saturday, officials acknowledged the controversial sculpture dismantled a week earlier.
“Today is about a celebration of our modern garden in the present,” U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar said, standing with Olga Viso, the art center’s executive director, and others. “But it is also about history. As we learned so painfully in the last few weeks, it is about how, in the present, we remember and respect the past.”
Klobuchar told the crowd that her husband, John Bessler, grew up in Mankato, a few blocks from where the 1862 mass hanging took place, and later wrote a book about the executions: “Legacy of Violence: Lynch Mobs and Executions In Minnesota.” Not everyone knew about “this heart-wrenching story,” she said. But because of recent protests, meetings and the sculpture’s removal, “many more now do.”
The Walker’s mistake, Klobuchar continued, “jarred us into remembering that history has a way of repeating itself if not respected and remembered.”
Klobuchar, Viso, Lt. Gov. Tina Smith and Park Board superintendent Jayne Miller then cut the bright blue ribbon as onlookers applauded.
The rooster rules
Throughout Saturday’s celebration, the rooster’s profile was prolific. It popped up on buttons, notepads and volunteers’ T-shirts. Inside the Walker’s new entrance, the gift shop hawked blue rooster T-shirts, tea towels and pint glasses.
It also appeared on a very bright dress: Walker board member Nina Hale wore a yellow frock with the blue bird on its side. She crafted the dress herself, sewing on its rooster feathers, dyed for the occasion.
“I love whimsical, animal-related things,” said Hale, who founded the ad agency Nina Hale Inc. “I love that piece. Have you seen it up close yet? It’s beautiful.”
The Walker and the Park Board nabbed $8.5 million in state money to rebuild the garden’s infrastructure and $1.5 million from the Mississippi watershed district to create an 80,000-gallon cistern that stores stormwater to irrigate the garden and part of the adjacent baseball field. (One bonus: Using untreated water in the “Spoonbridge and Cherry” fountain might mean fewer touch-ups to the red paint.)
The garden’s makeover, the final piece of the Walker’s $41 million campus redesign, is meant to connect the gardens on either side of Vineland Place, drawing people from the garden to the Walker’s new entrance and into its galleries. While the Walker does not own the land beneath the sculptures, “people experience this as a continuous space,” Viso said. “It was like a Rubik’s Cube of design problems to try to solve together.”
Much of the garden that greeted visitors Saturday was covered in fresh sod, including over land where "Scaffold" stood just days earlier. But signs also asked people to keep of new prairie plantings — a nod to a new landscape.
Four acres on the garden's north end feature a meadow of native plants where surface water will ebb and flow, acknowledging the bog-like conditions that sunk an armory that was once there.
"We're working with it, as opposed to against it," said Tom Oslund, the project's landscape architect.
Around midday, the crowd at “Hahn/Cock” had momentarily waned when a dozen men in jerseys swarmed the statue.
One guy threw a soccer ball over the rooster’s top. That ball was connected to a long piece of twine, which was connected to a series of scarves, tied together. Suddenly the blue rooster had a scarf of his own. The group asked a tourist to snap their photo, then crouched down to take their own with a selfie stick.
A security officer made his way to the group, looking stern.
The men explained: They’re a club that cheers on the Tottenham Hotspur, an English soccer team out of London, whose crest is a cockerel. When they heard about the giant blue rooster, “We thought, oh, that’s absolutely perfect,” said John Eichten of Minneapolis. “We’ve gotta do something for it.”
The guys pulled up the photo the volunteer had taken and sighed: The picture had cropped out the chicken’s head.