Paying Their Dues: The Walker Art Centre Controversy

BY Katrina Kufer / Jun 4 2017 / 19:22 PM

The Walker Art Centre to ceremonially dismantle contentious the Sam Durant work publicly called “a monument to genocide”

Paying Their Dues: The Walker Art Centre Controversy
Photography by Rosa Maria Ruehling. Image courtesy the artist, Blum & Poe, Paula Cooper Gallery, Praz-Delavallade and Sadie Coles HQ.
Sam Durant. Scaffold. 2017.

Los Angeleno Sam Durant’s work Scaffold, a two-storey sculptural composite in the museum’s sculpture garden of representations of seven historical execution gallows in place in the US between 1859-2006, will be removed.

Following particular outcry and physical on-site protest from Native American groups, who indicated that one of the gallows referenced included the mass execution of 38 Dakota Indians in Mankato, Minnesota in 1862 – the largest in US history – it also received backlash on social media as “a monument to genocide” or a “hate crime.”

The Walker Art Centre, the Dakota Nation and the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board have since reached an agreement on how to remove the artwork. As of 2 June, Dakota tribal elders began overseeing the dismantling and ceremonial burning of the work in the Fort Snelling area, where Dakota people were imprisoned following the 1862 US-Dakota war. Executive director Olga Viso issued an apology reading, “I regret the pain that this artwork has brought to the Dakota community and others,” adding that Scaffold had a public response the institution did not foresee. 

Durant also issued a statement reading: “I made Scaffold as a learning space for people like me, white people who have not suffered the effects of a white supremacist society and who may not consciously know that it exists. It has been my belief that white artists need to address issues of white supremacy and its institutional manifestations. Whites created the concept of race and have used it to maintain dominance for centuries, whites must be involved in its dismantling. However, your protests have shown me that I made a grave miscalculation in how my work can be received by those in a particular community. In focusing on my position as a white artist making work for that audience I failed to understand what the inclusion of the Dakota 38 in the sculpture could mean for Dakota people. I offer my deepest apologies for my thoughtlessness. I should have reached out to the Dakota community the moment I knew that the sculpture would be exhibited at the Walker Art Centre in proximity to Mankato.”

Durant confirmed he would never recreate the Dakota gallows and transferred all intellectual property rights to the Dakotas, while the Walker Art Centre will begin holding public forums to increase outreach to Native American communities as well as commission works from Native American artists. 

For more information visit