Nothing spells “Minnesota summer” like a bridge closure. But now one of the Twin Cities’ most distinctive bridges is back.
Designed by Minneapolis artist Siah Armajani, the pedestrian bridge over Interstate 94 that connects the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden with Loring Park reopened Wednesday evening after a 3½-month fix-up job — just in time for an Armajani retrospective, “Follow This Line,” opening Sept. 9 at Walker Art Center.
Working on an artist-created bridge isn’t something that engineers at the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) usually do.
“This structure is not necessarily about the utility but about the form and what it does for the user experience,” said MnDOT project manager Christian Hoberg. “It was a new experience for me — I’ve always been very utilitarian and bare bones. This is a bridge that’s more than a bridge — it’s art.”
With its two sweeping curved arches that meet in the middle, the Irene Hixon Whitney Bridge — named for the longtime Twin Cities arts patron whose family largely paid for its construction — was commissioned for the opening of the Sculpture Garden in 1988.
MnDOT repainted it in two colors: “Jeffersonian yellow” and what then-Walker director Martin Friedman called an “elegant baby blue.” The yellow was inspired by Thomas Jefferson’s letters to his nephew, in which he spoke of the color as revolutionary.
The 375-foot bridge also includes a poem written for the structure by Pulitzer Prize-winning poet John Ashbery. New metal letters were installed as part of the renovation.
Hoberg met with Armajani several times and also coordinated with the Walker on updates and changes. Working with an artist involved a “higher attention to detail” than the typical bridge job, he said.
In addition to the more artistic updates, much of the bridge’s guts were also ousted. The wooden deck was taken out, with new slabs of treated southern yellow pine swapped in. Minor, routine structural repairs were done on the concrete and some of the steel, which had corroded over the years.
The bridge had a drape of plastic over it, mostly during the month of May, so workers could blast off the old paint and then repaint.
The wooden deck had previously been replaced in 2010. The original coating was done in 1988, when the bridge was first installed, but it didn’t last and was repainted in 1992.
The bridge was part of Friedman’s vision for the Sculpture Garden. In this new iteration, it will be lit up, with a line of lights running down the center of the steel overhead — a dream the artist had for the bridge from the start.
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