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Following Sculpture Garden Controversy, Walker Art Center Forms Indigenous Art Committee

The Walker Art Center in Minneapolis is establishing the Indigenous Public Art Selection Committee in cooperation with a group of Native curators, artists, and cultural professionals. Its members, who requested that their names and affiliations not be disclosed at this time, are currently working with the Walker to commission a Native artist to create a site-specific work for its sculpture garden.

The Walker formed the selection committee in the wake of controversy surrounding an artwork it was planning to unveil in its newly opened sculpture garden last year. The piece, Scaffold, 2012, by the Los Angeles–based artist Sam Durant, was a two-story sculpture partly inspired by the gallows where thirty-eight members of the Dakota Nation were hanged in Mankato, Minnesota, in 1862. Shortly after it was installed, the museum came under fire for appropriating a narrative that is incredibly painful to the Dakota Nation.

Following an intense public outcry, the institution worked with a group of Dakota elders to address the matter. Ultimately, an agreement between the Dakota elders, the Walker, and Durant was reached, and Scaffold was dismantled and ceremonially buried by the Dakota Nation. In response to the uproar caused by the work, the Walker’s former executive director Olga Viso said: “I regret the pain that this artwork has brought to the Dakota community and others. This is the first step in a long process of healing.”

At the time, Durant also released a statement in which he apologized to the Dakota Nation and admitted that he and the museum should have reached out to their community before moving forward with plans to exhibit the work. The artist originally created the piece in order to engage with “the difficult histories of the racial dimension of the criminal justice system in the United States.” After protests erupted at the museum in May 2017, Durant transferred the intellectual property rights to the work—which was first exhibited in 2012 in The Hague and then at Documenta 13 in Kassel—to the Dakota elders.

According to the museum, “in order to keep the selection process moving forward with integrity and focus” the names of the committee members will not be released until an artist has been chosen. The open call for artists will be announced later this summer, and the new public artwork will be installed in the spring of 2020.

Siri Engberg, the Walker’s senior curator and director of exhibitions management, remarked, “We are extremely fortunate to be working with the expertise, knowledge, and creative thinking of this committee, who collectively will help bring an important new work of art to the Walker Art Center collection and to the Twin Cities.”