Hidden among rather loud art at the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden — a giant blue rooster and the Spoonbridge and Cherry — there's a symphony of chimes blowing in the wind.
Though this installation of tintinnabulation has been a feature of the garden for more than a decade, some frequent visitors only noticed the chimes this summer, when a small crew recently installed them in a large linden tree adjacent to Parade Stadium.
On a regular walk through the garden with a friend visiting from Massachusetts, Bob Perry paused and looked up.
"I saw the lift and I thought they were trimming the tree," he said. "Then we started to see the chimes everywhere."
A Walker Art Center employee in a boom lift and another in tree-climbing gear spent about 11 hours over two days hovering high above ground assembling the chimes. A third co-worker waited below, clipping chimes equipped with carabiners onto ropes. Sending them up one by one, each chime added to the crescendo.
The sight of the installation process garnered some attention, but it was the sound of the art piece that really piqued visitors' interest.
"This is like my old neighborhood, but I never noticed the installation at all," said Golden Valley resident Tessa Gunther on a recent stroll through the garden with her husband and stepson.
"We were sitting over there and then the breeze was so beautiful and then you could hear the chimes. Yesterday was so stuffy and sticky — there was no breeze. And I thought we hit a perfect day for this ... the lovely sound because of the breeze."
The art of chance
"Wind Chime (after 'Dream')" was introduced to the Sculpture Garden in 2009. French artist Pierre Huyghe created the piece in 1997 consisting of 47 chimes made of aluminum polyethylene strikers, power-coated aluminum wind catchers and nylon cords.
The 288 tubes making up the 47 chimes symbolize the 47 measures of John Cage's 1948 "Dream" composition. The single five-minute piano melody was originally created for a choreographed piece by Merce Cunningham, who was Cage's lifelong collaborator.
Cage often used the element of chance in his composition process and that remains a key feature of Huyghe's piece, said Greg Sullo, one of three exhibition installation technicians responsible for assembling the chimes.
"It's a chance composition. All the notes are up there, but it's up to the wind," said Sullo, who has a master of fine arts in sound arts. "The piece is constantly being played just by the elements depending on if there's wind and what direction the wind is coming. The notes are rearranged and sort of up to an element of chance."
Walker senior curator and director of visual arts, Siri Engberg, said in an e-mail that with Cage "embracing randomness," different creative options became possible in areas of art, music, poetry and dance. She said Huyghe also "liked the idea of leaving things to chance with his sculpture."
"The piece then relies on the wind to 'activate' it," Engberg wrote, "so as the wind blows, the piece of music recomposes itself on an endless loop."
Huyghe's chimes previously hung from a cottonwood tree in a more central location of the Sculpture Garden, but Sullo said the Walker decided to "take a chance on a different tree" this year. "It will be interesting to see how maybe that changes somebody's experience and how the piece works," he said.
The Walker is working with the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board forestry department to ensure trees aren't damaged by the chimes, which is why the piece is rotating around the Sculpture Garden.
A favored feature
During the installation, Walker exhibition technician Jonathan Karen strapped on a harness similar to rock climbing gear and used a rope to hoist himself up above the highest branches — some of which the former arborist ended up trimming. He occasionally asked Sullo to send his water bottle up by clipping it onto the rope with a carabiner to stay hydrated in the midsummer heat.
An established system based on the height and weight of each chime helped Sullo select which one to send up next. When Karen or co-worker Peter Hannah asked for a "5-5," that indicated the largest chimes in the bunch, 42 inches long weighing and 22 pounds. "0-0" is the lightest chime, representing the rest note in Cage's composition. That chime has no wind catcher, instead a single aluminum tube hangs among the noisier pieces to complete the installation.
Hannah said that visitors have told him the chimes have become their favorite feature of the Sculpture Garden. Earlier this summer, he got lots of questions about why they weren't up.
Typically, the chimes are strung in May and taken down in October, when they are wrapped in blankets and stored in a wooden crate. This year, however, the installation was delayed until mid-July because of the pandemic.
The late start created a bit of a time crunch for the installation crew, who had to race to get the chimes up before the Pride Festival last weekend in nearby Loring Park. The Pride Beer Dabbler was held in the Sculpture Garden, as was a production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream."
The minimalist set was right next to the linden tree. The audience gathered on blankets and lawn chairs, some leaning against the base of the tree, with silver chimes glistening above. In the quieter scenes when the breeze was just right, the installation served as a sort of impromptu pit orchestra.
Before the play, before the beer drinkers and swarms of people dressed in rainbows descended, Jodi Anderson took a quiet walk through the Sculpture Garden with her dog, Hattie. Though she'd visited the garden before, this was the first time she'd noticed the chimes. She stopped to take a picture of them.
Anderson said she was going to send the photo to her family. It's a tradition among her kin to give a wind chime to a friend or family member who has lost a loved one.
They started the tradition when Anderson's mother died. So the ringing chimes in the Sculpture Garden reminded her of her mother, as do the chimes her father has in his breezy backyard on the North Shore.
"We always joked mom was working up a storm," she said.
Kim Hyatt • 612-673-4751