The center cannot hold

Gabriel Shapiro

Unless you live under a very big rock, you’re aware that Coffman Union reopened last year after a protracted spate of construction and a whole bunch of hullabaloo. It’s nice to have the place back, not only so that we again have the opportunity to pay $9 for mediocre food, but because while it was closed, one couldn’t help feeling a bit off-center in its absence. Coffman serves several functions, and all of them lend it a centrality, making it more than just a physical space, but also the symbolic, sentimental location that represents the hub of student life here at the University. As Coffman is to the University, so the Walker Art Center is to the Twin Cities arts community. After a closing-night gala this Saturday, the Walker will shut its doors to the public for a year while an extensive remodeling and expansion project takes place.

As with many important art museums, the origins of the Walker lie in a large private collection. One of the cities’ wealthy elite, Thomas Walker, amassed the core of the Walker’s collection and subsequently exhibited it in the first gallery to open in Minneapolis.

The Walker moved to its present location in the 1920s, and a series of growth spurts followed. The building and collections as you see them today are mostly the result of construction in the late 1960s and early 1970s. During that period, the Walker went from being a solid, if somewhat provincial collection to being one of the premier art museums in the world, contemporary or otherwise.

It is interesting to live within a stone’s throw of a world-class facility. One wonders if Parisians often go to the Louvre, or St. Petersburg-ians go to the Hermitage. As the Walker prepares to close, it seems likely that locals will miss the galleries more than they might realize. The Walker draws regulars from around the metro area, the state and the country. For the casual visitor, the opportunity to see some of the best of modern art might be more significant than they initially expect. The “it’ll always be there” mentality that leads people to pass up excellent opportunities, like the Walker’s free Thursdays and guest appearances by some of the biggest names in a variety of art forms, from sculpture to film, will have to be reconsidered.

The Walker promises bigger, better and more interactive experiences for art enthusiasts upon reopening. For the time being, however, of you’re worried about how to say goodbye to the old Walker, seeing some great art or just missing one of those soon-to-be-legendary type events, you might just want to get your tickets, grab a pillow and head down for what must be one of the biggest parties in recent memory.