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Following Sam Durant Controversy, Walker Art Center Forms Indigenous Public Art Selection Committee

The Walker Art Center.

GENE PITTMAN/COURTESY WALKER ART CENTER

The Walker Art Center in Minneapolis announced today that it has created an Indigenous Public Art Selection Committee, which will be charged with commissioning a Native artist to do a public artwork for the museum’s sculpture garden. Its members were not named because “the committee has requested that their names and tribal affiliations not be released until an artist has been chosen,” according to a press release.

The museum’s release said the committee was formed in response to the controversy surrounding Sam Durant’s Scaffold (2012), a version of which was originally commissioned for Documenta 13 in Kassel, Germany. The sculpture, which was acquired by the museum in 2014, was intended to commemorate the hanging of 38 Dakota men in 1868. Scaffold was erected in the Walker’s sculpture garden last year, leading to a series of protests from Native American communities. After the outcry, the museum and Durant worked together to remove and dismantle the work, and then handed it over to Dakota elders, who buried its remains. The Dakota Oyate now own the intellectual property rights to the work.

In an ARTnews report last year, Durant called the decision not to establish contacts with the Dakota people prior to the work’s installation “a huge mistake.” The museum’s director at the time, Olga Viso, likewise apologized for the work, claiming “full responsibility.” (Viso stepped down from her position at the end of 2017, after ten years leading the Walker, and the museum is currently without a director.) Viso and Durant’s handling of the work’s dismantling was largely praised by curators around America.

This summer, the Walker will call for Native artists to propose work for its sculpture garden. A date for when the winning commission will be named was not detailed, though the museum said it has plans to install the work in the spring of 2020.

In a statement, Siri Engberg, the Walker’s senior curator and director of exhibitions, said, “We are extremely fortunate to be working with the expertise, knowledge, and creative thinking of this committee, who collectively will help bring an important new work of art to the Walker Art Center collection and to the Twin Cities.”

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