One man’s art…

The Walker Art Center in Minneapolis seems to have been taken by surprise by the reaction of Native Americans to the latest installation in its Sculpture Garden. We don’t know how they could not have foreseen that Native Americans, especially the Dakota, would be offended by “Scaffold,” a 2012 piece by California artist Sam Durant that makes a statement about “white supremacist society” by building a gallows similar to the one used to hang 38 Dakota men condemned by a military tribunal following the U.S.-Dakota War in 1862.

Wouldn’t they know this is a sensitive point for Native Americans across the country? Couldn’t they tell from the fact that Native Americans ride each year in early winter from South Dakota to Mankato, arriving each year on the anniversary of the execution?

So far the Walker has delayed the opening of its Sculpture Garden and has said it will disassemble the sculpture. The artist has apologized for failing “to understand what the inclusion of the Dakota 38 in the sculpture could mean for the Dakota people.”

Good art sometimes challenges social mores and shakes the status quo. It can be offensive at times and accusatorial toward those who need to be shaken up. And it can be hurtful to people who have been victimized. Artists and those who display art should understand this, and be ready to defend themselves for the criticism that they should know will erupt.

The fact that the Walker and Durant weren’t ready for the fallout from the Dakota people and their reaction to “Scaffold” shows they did not think this through very carefully.


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