Art in the open

Click here for an audio slideshow on the Sculpture Garden’s 20th Anniversary


"Spoonbridge and Cherry,” that delicious pop art fountain at the center of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, over the years has become a symbol — maybe the symbol — of Minneapolis.

One could argue this city had nothing in particular to do with spoons or cherries before 1988, when the public got its first up-close look at Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen’s sculpture. Twenty years on, it’s the playful background of a million tourists’ snapshots.

Maybe that speaks to the power of public art. Or, it simply could be due to the charm inherent in a fantastically oversized utensil.

There will be more to celebrate than that one iconic sculpture when the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden marks 20 years with a summer-long anniversary party. For two decades, Edward Larrabee Barnes’ garden has been both a beloved outdoor gallery and a treasured urban retreat.

Peter Eleey, visual arts curator for the Walker Art Center, said the garden was designed, in part, to reflect and satisfy the two great passions of Minneapolitans, “which is their cultural life and their outdoor spaces.”

It is a hybrid space — part park, part gallery — and so you see joggers huff and puff as they pass a school group studying one of Alexander Calder’s steel sculptures. An errant Frisbee might disrupt your contemplation of Judith Shea’s mystifying “Without Words” but, hey, that’s why we love the place. Right?

Out of the museum, into the garden

“It wouldn’t be right if people came here exclusively to wander around and look at the art,” Eleey said. “If the art only stands as a backdrop for sports and other sunbathing activities people want to do here, of course that’s perfectly fine with us.”

And so, this summer, people will crowd the garden for Rock the Garden, guaranteed to be one of the biggest concerts of the year in the Twin Cities. But they’ll also come to watch renowned dancer Trisha Brown and her dance company reprise influential work she premiered at the Walker during a 1974 residency.

“Design for the Other 90%,” opening this month, is the type of serious, ambitious exhibition that normally would draw viewers into the Walker, but this summer it will flow from the museum into the outdoor spaces.

Staged in a series of pavilions, the show highlights low-cost solutions to problems plaguing the world’s poor, said Andrew Blauvelt, design director and curator for the Walker.

“It’s a different kind of design show,”
Blauvelt said. “Most people associate design with the First World and most people’s definition of design is a luxury thing.”

Instead of designer shoes or designer bottled water, “Design for the Other 90%” focuses on how good design can provide the necessities so many lack, like safe drinking water, cleaner energy and improved access to education.

Artist-designed mini golf returns this year, also with an ecological theme. One water hazard will replicate, on a mini scale, the real-life trash slick now floating in the Pacific Ocean. More than a hazard, it’s an environmental nightmare.

Up close and personal

From May on, it’s a summer schedule packed with art, dance, theater, film, and rock ‘n’ roll in the great outdoors. Still, people never have needed a particular reason to wander through the sculpture garden.

It draws people year-round, even when snow covers the cherry like a layer of vanilla frosting. It may be because the garden allows a casual relationship with its artworks, not the arms-length encounters that take place inside a museum’s walls.

“Automatically, the kinds of things that are out here are those that are designed to withstand the elements and withstand people touching them and climbing on them,” Eleey said. “You can have a different sort of physical interaction with the things that are here, whereas the museum is a place for things that are more fragile.”

Eleey and others will be watching the crowds this summer, observing their interactions with the garden’s sculptures. The anniversary, he acknowledged, is also a time for curators to think about the future of the garden and how it might grow or change in the years to come.

Not that anything moves too quickly in the sculpture garden. After all, Eleey said, it’s much harder to move a two-ton bronze than it is to replace a painting hanging on a wall.

The sculpture garden is a comfortable place for many people, and Walker curators plan to keep it that way.

“It has a relevance and familiarity to people that they can keep coming back to,” he said.

It’s a bond between a city and a garden, 20 years in the making.


1907 Construction of the Kenwood Armory, begun in 1904, is completed.

1927 Thomas Barlow Walker opens his Walker Art Gallery opposite the Armory grounds

1933 The Armory, in serious disrepair, is razed. The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board takes ownership of the site by 1935.

1971 The Walker Art Center reopens two years after the original building was torn down.

1988 The Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, designed by Walker architect Edward Larrabee Barnes, opens Sept. 10.

1992 A 3.5-acre addition brings the total area of the garden to about 11 acres.

2005 The Herzog & de Meuron-designed addition to the Walker opens in April.

2008 The sculpture garden celebrates 20 years.

Minneapolis Sculpture Garden 20th Anniversary Events

Admission is required, unless noted. See for ticket information.

May 24

Artist-designed mini golf runs May 24–Sept. 7 in the green space near the Vineland Place entrance. Open 10 a.m.–8 p.m. Wednesday–Sunday.

May 24

“Design for the Other 90%” runs May 24-Sept. 7 in the sculpture garden. Open 11 a.m.–5 p.m. Tuesday–Sunday, plus Memorial Day and Labor Day. Free.

June 1

“Big Ideas for a Small Planet,” a series of half-hour Sundance Channel documentaries on ecological themes, screens June–August daily starting at noon in the Walker Art Center lecture room. Free.

June 5-7

“Small Metal Objects,” a play by Back to Back Theatre, runs June 5–7 in the sculpture garden.

June 7

Birthday Bash featuring live music, dance and art activities in the garden is 10 a.m.–3 p.m. June 7. Free.

June 21

Rock the Garden featuring Andrew Bird, The New Pornographers, Cloud Cult and Bon Iver is 4 p.m.–11 p.m. June 21. (Sold out.)

July 5-7

“A Moving Spectacle,” a performance of influential early works by Trisha Brown Dance Company members, is 10 a.m.–3 p.m. July 5 in the garden. Free.

July 14-August 18

“Elected!,” this year’s Summer Music and Movies series, runs 7 p.m. Mondays in Loring Park July 14–Aug. 18. Free.