A controversial sculpture inspired by gallows used in prominent U.S. government executions — including the mass execution of 38 Dakota Indians in Mankato, Minn., in 1862 — will be removed from the sculpture garden at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis and ceremonially burned after generating an outcry among members of Native American groups.
The sculpture, a work by Los Angeles artist Sam Durant, had previously been erected at the Documenta exhibition in Germany in 2012 and Jupiter Artland in Scotland in 2014. Titled “Scaffold,” the piece was set to be one of the new featured works in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, a public art park that has been under renovation since 2015 and was originally scheduled to reopen this weekend.
“The wood will be removed and taken to the Fort Snelling area, because of the historical significance of this site to the Dakota Oyate [nation], where they will ceremonially burn the wood,” read a statement posted to the museum’s website on Wednesday evening. “The location logistics will be determined in a meeting with Steve Elliot, executive director of the Minnesota Historical Society, and the Spiritual and Traditional Dakota Elders. The date of this ceremony will be announced as soon as it is confirmed.”
The decision followed a Wednesday meeting between representatives of the Walker (which manages the sculpture in the park), the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (which owns the land) and representatives from the four federally recognized Dakota tribes, as well as Dakota spiritual and traditional elders. It was led by an independent mediator, Stephanie Hope Smith.
As part of the deal, Durant committed to never re-creating “Scaffold.” The work will be dismantled beginning Friday afternoon by a group led by Dakota elders.
The piece had raised concern among local Native American communities that it trivialized the largest mass execution in U.S. history. Among the protesters was at least one descendant of a Dakota man who was hanged in 1862.
The controversy also draws attention to the paucity of contemporary Native American representation in American museums. (Durant is white.)
“They can make this a learning moment, and showcase Dakota and other Native artists at their gallery more,” Kate Beane, a Dakota historian, told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “They can speak with us and not about us.”
Durant was not available for comment, but in a statement released over the weekend, he wrote: “In bringing these troubled and complex histories of national importance to the fore, it was my intention not to cause pain or suffering, but to speak against the continued marginalization of these stories and peoples, and to build awareness around their significance.”
The artist, who has exhibited his work at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, has long engaged marginalized episodes of struggle and violence in relation to race in U.S. history.