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Controversial Sculpture in Minneapolis Will Be Dismantled and Ceremonially Burned

After protests from the local Dakota nation, Sam Durant’s “Scaffold” will be taken apart starting tomorrow.

Protest signs on the fence near Sam Durant's "Scaffold" (2012) in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden
Protest signs on the fence near Sam Durant’s “Scaffold” (2012) in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden (photo by Sheila Regan/Hyperallergic)

Artist Sam Durant’s contested sculpture “Scaffold” will be dismantled in a ceremony beginning tomorrow at the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. The work combines the forms of seven historical gallows used in US government–sanctioned hangings between 1958 and 2006; one of those is the gallows on which 38 Native American men were hanged in Mankato, Minnesota, at the end of the US-Dakota War of 1862 — the largest mass execution in the history of the country. Local members of the Dakota nation protested the installation of “Scaffold” in the Walker Art Center’s public sculpture garden last week, saying that the work was traumatic. “When I first saw it, I had this huge anxious feeling and broke down in tears,” Kate Beane, a Dakota woman who works as a community liaison for the Minnesota Historical Society, told Hyperallergic.

Durant and Walker Art Center Director Olga Viso responded to the outcry by apologizing and agreeing to meet with members of the Dakota community to discuss the fate of the work. “I offer my deepest apologies for my thoughtlessness. … I am open and ready to work together with you,” said Durant in a statement addressed to the Dakota people. “I regret the pain that this artwork has brought to the Dakota community and others. … I am in agreement with the artist that the best way to move forward is to have ‘Scaffold’ dismantled in some manner and to listen and learn from the Elders,” said Viso in a statement of her own.

The two joined Dakota Spiritual and Traditional Elders and representatives from the four federally recognized Dakota tribes, the Walker Art Center, and the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board for a mediation process. The outcome was announced yesterday. Under the terms of the agreement, “Scaffold” will be dismantled starting at 2pm tomorrow in a ceremony led by the Dakota Spiritual Leaders and Elders. It will take at least four days to remove the wood, which at the end of the process will be burned ceremonially somewhere in the Fort Snelling area; the exact location and date have yet to be determined. The sculpture’s steel and concrete understructure will also be taken apart over the course of several days. A Native construction company will lead the project, donating its services in exchange for the Walker’s paying for the Dakota elders to travel to the ceremony.

In addition, the Walker has agreed “that it does not intend to construct this artwork again,” and Durant “has committed to never create the Dakota gallows again.” He will also transfer the intellectual property rights for “Scaffold” to the Dakota people.

The Minneapolis Sculpture Garden remains under construction and will reopen to the public on June 10.

A view of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden with Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen's “Spoonbridge and Cherry” (1985–88) at right and Sam Durant's "Scaffold" (2012) at left (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic)
A view of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden with Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen’s “Spoonbridge and Cherry” (1985–88) at right and Sam Durant’s “Scaffold” (2012) at left (photo by Sheila Regan/Hyperallergic)
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