More than a dozen members of the Minnesota House sent a letter Tuesday to Olga Viso, director of Walker Art Center, expressing their disappointment and frustration that she did not consult the Dakota American Indian community before the “Scaffold” sculpture was installed in the revamped Minneapolis Sculpture Garden.
In addition, Dakota elders met Tuesday night to talk about a unified response to the sculpture before a meeting Wednesday morning between the elders, the sculptor and officials of the Walker and the Minneapolis Park Board.
The two-story-high sculpture by Los Angeles-based artist Sam Durant was based in part on the hanging of 38 Dakota tribal members in Mankato in 1862. Durant said it was intended to raise awareness about capital punishment and address America’s violent past. Critics and protesters called the work, which looks like a viewing platform or wooden jungle gym, insensitive, saying it trivializes Dakota history and genocide.
Viso said Saturday that the piece will be dismantled. On Sunday, she said the sculpture “likely” will be taken down in response to protests. The Walker also announced Monday that the opening of the Sculpture Garden, which long had been planned for Saturday, will be pushed back to June 10.
The letter to Viso signed by 18 DFL House members said, in part, “We appreciate that the Walker Art Center has decided to remove the art work ... and that the Walker is taking steps to have a dialogue between management, artists and the Dakota people. However we are writing to convey our deep disappointment that Dakota communities were not consulted before the Walker made the decision to exhibit ‘Scaffold.’
“The manner in which public contemporary art represents the historical trauma and loss suffered by Dakota people matters,” the letter said. “The appropriation and depiction of historical trauma suffered by Dakota people through the visual representation of a gallows, which also serves as a play structure for children adjacent to a mini golf course, was extremely disturbing to many. Context matters.”
Durant created the work in 2012.
This past weekend, he expressed remorse about not including dialogue or engagement with the Dakota people.
The elders’ meeting Tuesday night, which drew about two dozen people to a gallery on E. Franklin Avenue in Minneapolis and was not open to media, was to identify the 12 elders who would meet with city and museum officials, learn elders’ wishes regarding the sculpture and decide who will be in a working group to plan a ceremony and talk about how to involve the Dakota community in future discussions “about art and truth-telling.”
“We call for all Dakota to pray for wisdom and healing,” the meeting announcement said. “We ask all non-Dakota allies to not take action on our behalf; please respectfully allow us space to conduct our process in our way and timing so that we may heal.”
It said there would be a joint news conference at 2 p.m. Wednesday to announce “any logistical decisions made” at Wednesday morning’s meeting.
Pat Pheifer • 612-673-7252