Walker to remove controversial gallows sculpture

About 100 protesters gathered at the art center Saturday and celebrated when they heard the exhibit would be “destroyed.”

Katie Lauer

A new gallows-inspired sculpture at the Walker Art Center will be removed from the museum’s grounds after public protest, the museum announced Saturday.

The two-story wood and metal sculpture, entitled “Scaffold,” features seven gallows, including one which represents the 1862 execution of 38 Dakota men in Mankato, Minnesota. Around 100 protesters came to the art center before Walker staff fulfilled their requests.

The decision to remove the piece came just days before it was set to debut at the Sculpture Garden grand reopening June 3.

Olga Viso, the Walker’s director, said in a statement that she agreed with the artist, Sam Durant, that the structure should be demolished.

“I regret the pain that this artwork has brought to the Dakota community and others,” Viso said in a statement. “This is the first step in a long process of healing.”

The method of removal will be decided at a meeting with Traditional Spiritual Dakota Elders on May 31.

Rep. Peggy Flanagan, DFL-St. Louis Park, and member of the White Earth Nation, was the one to initially share news of the removal with the protesters.

“It’s a great thing,” Flanagan said about the decision. “I think asking folks to gather here may have spurred a response that came more quickly than they would have done otherwise.”

While she is excited about the progress within the last 24 to 36 hours at the Walker, Flanagan said this isn’t a new issue for Native communities.

“It is a huge problem,” she said. “I work at the Capitol, and there’s some messed up art depicting Native people, and it hurts us. When you see outdated images of indigenous people, it allows you to treat them less than human. The Native community is invisible to too many folks.”

For Janice Bad Moccasin, a Dakota Prayer Elder from Shakopee, that was one of the reasons she got involved protesting at the Walker.

“It was important to be down here and pray and say this is coming down, no matter what,” she said. “Most Dakota women are all survivors of historical traumas. That’s our voice of resilience: ‘Take that down.’ We’re in a time of reclamation.”

She was one of many who spoke to the crowd in front of signs that said, “Take It Down,” “Execution is NOT Art” and “Give Space to NATIVE ARTISTS.”

“I’m glad [the removal statement] happened, but we need to keep paying attention,” Bad Moccasin said. “It’s a small victory right now.”