Scaffold, 2012, at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. Photo: Evan Frost

Walker Art Center’s Board Calls for Independent Review of Its Handling of Scaffold

Following the controversy surrounding Los Angeles–based artist Sam Durant’s sculpture Scaffold, 2012, the board at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis has hired a law firm to review the staff’s decision to dismantle the work, Sheila M. Eldred of the New York Times reports.

The piece, which was inspired by seven executions, including the hanging of thirty-eight Dakotas in Mankato in 1862—the largest mass execution in United States history—was considered offensive by American Indians. Some claimed the sculpture, which was meant to be a permanent fixture in the center’s revamped sculpture garden, was a monument to genocide. A public outcry in May led to protests and an appeal to the center for its removal.

In response, Durant and the museum’s director, Olga Viso, apologized to the Dakota Nation, held discussions with tribal elders, and, ultimately, decided to dismantle the installation and give its remnants to the Dakota people. After pledging to increase its efforts to reach out to American Indians about public programming and events at the institution, the center faced backlash when it opened its retrospective of Jimmie Durham in June, due to doubts about his Cherokee ancestry.

Members of the American Indian community are frustrated with recent events and remain uncertain as to whether the center’s relations with American Indians will actually improve. Ron Leith, a representative of a Native group of elders, said, “We really haven’t gotten anywhere.”

Viso has acknowledged that the center has a lot of ground to cover. She said, “There’s understandably mixed emotion at a time like this, when we’ve been through a lot and there’s a lot of trust to rebuild, and I’m deeply committed to that, and to the staff and continuing to position the Walker as a platform.”

While board president Monica Nassif said that she fully supports the board’s decision to order an independent review of the situation, including Viso’s decisions regarding the work, she also praised the director’s handling of Scaffold: “She stuck her neck out and spoke openly.”

Viso first viewed Scaffold at an exhibition in Europe and, shortly afterward, approached the center’s board about acquiring the piece. In 2014, the institution bought it for $450,000. After the Dakota Nation oversaw the dismantling of the two-story work in June, it deliberated for some time on what to do with the materials. Earlier this month, tribal elders announced that it will bury the wood from the piece in a secret location in Minneapolis.