Walker: Controversial, gallows-like sculpture to be dismantled

- A controversial addition to the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden may be taken down after its presence sparked protests on Saturday. "Scaffold," a large wooden structure, is based off of a mass-hanging of 38 members of the Dakota tribe in Mankato in 1862.

For many in the Native American community, the sight of the “Scaffold” structure in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden was piercing. The 1862 execution is considered one of the most traumatic experiences in their history.

“When I pulled up and saw this, I kind of caught my breath,” said Representative Peggy Flanagan. “I can’t believe just how outrageous and hurtful and trauma-inducing it is.”

The Walker Art Center’s executive director Olga Viso said she regrets the pain the artwork has brought to the Dakota community.

Viso apologized in a letter to The Circle, an American Indian community newspaper.

"I should have engaged leaders in the Dakota and broader Native communities in advance of the work's siting, and I apologize for any pain and disappointment that the sculpture might elicit," Viso wrote.

Protesters say the Walker’s plans to change the sculpture are an important first step.

Artist Sam Durant created “Scaffold” based on the execution in Mankato during the Dakota War, the largest mass execution in history. It was set to occupy a prominent place in the Sculpture Garden, which is set to reopen next weekend.

“To put it in a sculpture garden when you’ve got a cherry on a spoon, and a gigantic blue chicken, it seems pretty inappropriate, and I don’t know how on earth it got this far,” said Flanagan.

As word spread about the sculpture, the backlash grew.

“They didn’t consult with anybody,” said Graci Horne. Horne helped organize the protest just outside the construction site.

“Art is a healing mechanism,” said Horne. “And that’s what we need to do for our native people.”

The protest, both on site and online, paid off. The Walker announced on Saturday that the artist, Sam Durant, has agreed to changes in the sculpture. These changes could include dismantling it altogether.

"It's just wood and metal,” said Durant in a statement to the Walker. “Nothing compared to the lives and histories of the Dakota people."

The exact changes will be made in consultation with traditional Dakota tribal elders. Due to the piece’s deep roots in their history, many think that the elders should have been consulted from the beginning.

“I see that they wanted to create tension by provoking awareness,” said Horne. “By provoking history, but they didn’t do it the appropriate way.”

Meetings with the elders will take place on Wednesday. During the meeting, decisions will be made about what will happen to the sculpture.

Protest organizers say the protest will continue until then. Organizers feel they can use the attention to highlight what they see as other inappropriate depictions and uses of Native American culture.

A full statement by the Walker's executive director is below:

"Because we are keenly aware of how important the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden is to the community, city and state, we have been taking the public response over the last 24 hours very seriously.

"The responses have overwhelmingly conveyed and expressed anger and sadness that Scaffold has caused the Dakota community and beyond.

"As the Executive Director of the Walker, I regret the pain that this artwork has brought to the Dakota community and others.

"Prompted by the outpouring of community feedback, the artist Sam Durant is open to many outcomes including the removal of the sculpture.  He has told me, 'It’s just wood and metal – nothing compared to the lives and histories of the Dakota people.'

"I am in agreement with the artist that the best way to move forward is to have Scaffold dismantled in some manner and to listen and learn from the Elders.  The details of how and when will be determined by Traditional Spiritual Dakota Elders at a meeting scheduled with the Walker and the artist on Wednesday, May 31 with the support of a mediator selected by the Elders.  This is the first step in a long process of healing.

"We will continue listening and communicating to the public as plans develop in partnership with the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board."

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