Anton Gag painting ‘Attack on New Ulm’ pulled from Capitol
Minnesota Historical Society announces decision on Capitol artwork displays
ST. PAUL — The battle for “Attack on New Ulm” is over. The painting will no longer be displayed at the State Capitol, the Minnesota Historical Society announced Thursday.
“Attack on New Ulm” depicts the battle of New Ulm during the 1862 US-Dakota War. It was created in 1904 by New Ulm artist Anton Gag and in recent years has become a source of controversy over its portrayal of the Dakota people.
The decision to remove the painting came from the Minnesota Historical Society’s Executive Council after adopting a recommendation from of its Ad Hoc Committee about artwork displayed at the Capitol. The removal of the oil painting is one of several recommendation made by the committee. “Eighth Minnesota at the Battle of Ta-Ha-Kouty” painting will also be removed from exhibition at the Capitol. Both painting depict conflicts between white settlers and Dakota people.
Meanwhile, six paintings depicting Civil War scenes will remain in the governor’s reception room, and portraits of Minnesota’s past governors will be displayed on a rotating basis.
According to the press released issued by the Minnesota Historical Society: “Neither painting is original to the Capitol design and both are painful reminders of our shared history. The ‘Attack on New Ulm’ portrays one incident during the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862, which not all Dakota supported. This painting should not be the primary portrayal of American Indians who lived in Minnesota for more than 10,000 years.”
The press release also said discussions are still ongoing on how best to interpret American Indian history within the Capitol, including interactions with other cultures and the contributions of American Indians today.
“As the ‘People’s House’ our beloved Capitol is an active public building and compelling icon,” Stephen Elliot, MNHS director and CEO said. “We respect its historical significance and integrity, and also recognize that what is displayed there today and tomorrow reflect who we are as Minnesotans. MNHS places a high value on ensuring that every Minnesotan visiting the Capitol, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender or position in life, should feel welcome and respected in its spaces and ideally represented in its art.”
New Ulm local George Glotzbach has been at the forefront of the push to keep “Attack on New Ulm” on exhibit at the Capitol. He and others argue the painting represents the shared history of our people. Now with the painting coming down, Glotzbach will push to bring it back to New Ulm. It is currently owned by the Historical Society.
“I am willing to make every effort for the MNHS to send it to New Ulm on permanent loan,” Glotzbach said. His concern is the painting will be hidden away somewhere in the Historical Society archives, effectively censoring the work from the public.
“I want it on public display somewhere,” he said.
Glotzbach said he could not speak for other people on whether the image was “painful,” but said his ancestors were inside the barricade during the actual Battle of New Ulm and he does not hold anything against the Native Americans of today.
Glotzbach is uncertain if the MNHS would be willing to loan the painting to New Ulm, but felt it was worth the effort to negotiate. Glotzbach is fairly confident the MNHS would be willing to loan New Ulm the painting.
“It was painted by a New Ulm artist, about the biggest event in New Ulm’s history,” Glotzbach said. “We’ll see that it is respectfully displayed and documented and interpreted.”
In addition to the decision to remove the “Attack on New Ulm,” the MNHS accepted the recommendation to retain the six Civil War paintings in the Governor’s Reception Room and Anteroom. The paintings “Father Hennepin at the Falls of St. Anthony” and “The Treaty of Traverse des Sioux” in the Reception Room will be relocated and interpreted more “robustly” elsewhere in the Capitol, the Historical Society said.
The society also announced that the 38 governors’ portraits would not all be exhibited at one time, but would be grouped with added interpretation and exhibited on rotation.
Every effort will be made to reinstall artwork at the Capitol in a timely fashion. However, not all of the artwork will be in place when the Capitol opens on Jan. 3, 2017.
Over the past 3-1/2 years, the state of Minnesota has undertaken a $310 million restoration project to preserve the Minnesota State Capitol, the first comprehensive restoration since it was built in 1905. Since a major part of the historic significance of the Capitol is its artwork, most of the paintings and murals have been cleaned and repaired for the learning and enjoyment of visitors for the next 100 years.