Walker’s Gallows Sculpture to be Burned

The decision brings an end to a week of controversy over the five-year-old sculpture.

MINNEAPOLIS – A controversial piece at the newly renovated Minneapolis Sculpture Garden will not only be removed, but also burned in a special Dakota ceremony.

Los Angeles based artist Sam Durant’s piece “Scaffold” contains elements of seven different gallows, including one used to execute 38 Dakota men in Mankato following the conclusion of the 1862 U.S.-Dakota War, reports MPR. That portion is what has drawn the ire of protesters in Minnesota over the past week.

Durant and the Walker Art Center have both apologized to the Dakota community for the piece since. Durant said in an open letter that the intent of the piece is the opposite of the response he received.

Scaffold opens the difficult histories of the racial dimension of the criminal justice system in the United States, ranging from lynchings to mass incarceration to capital punishment,” Durant wrote. “In bringing these troubled and complex histories of national importance to the fore, it was my intention not to cause pain or suffering, but to speak against the continued marginalization of these stories and peoples, and to build awareness around their significance.”

The sculpture will begin being disassembled Friday after a ceremony led by Dakota elders, reports the Pioneer Press. The wood parts of the two-story artistic piece will be kept on site until it is fully deconstructed. They will then be transported to a Dakota sacred site at Fort Snelling, where they will be burned.

Executive Director Olga Viso said staff for Walker first saw the piece in Germany, where the Dakota connection was not nearly so evident, reports MPR. The piece first went on display in Europe in 2012. Walker now plans to look into efforts to diversify both its board and staff as a whole, in an attempt to prevent such controversies from happening in the future.

“In this context and in this place the Mankato structure just had a different register,” Viso said, reports MPR. “And that context really mattered and as we came to understand that, I felt, our board felt, the institution felt it was really important to acknowledge that.”

The sculpture garden’s reopening is scheduled for June 10, and all parts of Durant’s piece, including the concrete and metal pieces, are anticipated to be cleared out prior to that date.

“It has been my belief that white artists need to address issues of white supremacy and its institutional manifestations. Whites created the concept of race and have used it to maintain dominance for centuries, whites must be involved in its dismantling,” Durant wrote in his letter. “However, your protests have shown me that I made a grave miscalculation in how my work can be received by those in a particular community.”

Anders Koskinen