Walker Art Center

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For the gallery in Liverpool, see Walker Art Gallery.
Walker Art Center
Established 1927
Location 1750 Hennepin Avenue
Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA
Coordinates 44°58′05″N 93°17′19″W / 44.96806°N 93.28861°W / 44.96806; -93.28861Coordinates: 44°58′05″N 93°17′19″W / 44.96806°N 93.28861°W / 44.96806; -93.28861
Type Art Center
Director Olga Viso
Website www.walkerart.org

The Walker Art Center is a multidisciplinary contemporary art center in Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States. The Walker is considered one of the nation's "big five" museums for modern art along with the Museum of Modern Art, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Guggenheim Museum and the Hirshhorn.[1] Begun in 1879 as the personal art gallery of lumberman Thomas Barlow Walker, it was formally established as a public art gallery in 1927—the first of its kind in the Upper Midwest. With the support of the Federal Art Project of the Works Progress Administration, which was establishing community art centers nationwide, the Walker Art Galleries became the Walker Art Center in January 1940. The Walker celebrated its 75th anniversary as a public art center in 2015.[2][3]

Its building, designed by Edward Larrabee Barnes and opened in May 1971, saw a major expansion in 2005: Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron's addition, clad in a shimmering aluminum-mesh facade, includes new gallery space, a theater, restaurant, shop, and special events space. Directly across from the museum are the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, which opened in 1988,[4] and the Cowles Conservatory.[5]


Visual arts program[edit]

Cover of the catalogue of the 1995 exhibition Brilliant!

The Visual Arts program is a mix of contemporary, historical, group, monographic, thematic, and media-specific shows. Certain artists have had their first major museum exposure in Walker exhibitions, among them Joseph Cornell, Frank Gehry, Julie Mehretu, Mario Merz, and Kara Walker. Chuck Close credits the museum and its then-director Martin Friedman for launching his career with the purchase of Big Self-Portrait[6] (1967-1968) in 1969.[7] In 1995, the museum displayed the YBA showcase Brilliant!.

Many of the works in the collection were exhibited, commissioned, or discovered during studio visits. Some relationships with artists—for example, Matthew Barney, Robert Gober, Jasper Johns, Ellsworth Kelly, Sherrie Levine, and Claes Oldenburg—have extended over many years and encompassed multiple projects, and the collection often reflects that commitment through deep holdings that follow the shifts and turns of a whole career. In recent years the Walker has begun collecting from groups who have remained outside the traditional artistic canon. These “alternative modernisms” include Japanese Gutai, Viennese Actionism, Italian Arte Povera, and Fluxus, all of which developed during the 1950s and 1960s. It currently has an exhibit of paintings by Marsden Hartley ("Roses") ("Maine Coastal Stillife"), some of which are part of the Walker's permanent collection. In its permanent collection there are also works by Cindy Sherman, Jeanne Dunning, Lucas Samaras ("Reconstruction"), Alex Katz, Charles Sheeler, and Siah Armajani. Kiki Smith donated a work in honor of Walker curator Siri Engberg.[8]

Performing arts[edit]

The Walker began presenting local dance, poetry, and chamber music concerts in 1940. In 1953, the volunteer-staffed Center Arts Council (CAC) was formed to organize a wider range of performances and film screenings. Out of CAC grew the Center Opera Company (later the Minnesota Opera) in 1963, led by John Ludwig and dedicated primarily to contemporary American opera and unique collaborations between opera and visual artists. By the time it disbanded in 1970, the CAC had already presented Merce Cunningham's first Minnesota performance (1963) and established its first artist commission, Alwin Nikolais' Vaudeville of the Elements (1965). Performing Arts was officially designated as a department in 1970.

Throughout the 1970s, the department sponsored events in a range of venues around the Twin Cities, increasing the visibility of contemporary dance, new music, jazz, and experimental theater and hosting an array of pop, rock, and folk concerts. The Walker launched significant program initiatives and established key relationships with a range of artists now considered masters—Cunningham, Mabou Mines, Philip Glass, Twyla Tharp, Meredith Monk, and many others—that continue today. In 2011, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, which has had "one of the longest and most fruitful associations with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company of any American museum", struck an agreement with the Cunningham Foundation to acquire as many as 150 of the art objects that have been central to the company’s dances, including sculptures, sets, costumes and other works by artists like Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns.[9]


Widely recognized for presenting a full range of moving-image art forms,[according to whom?] the Walker Art Center's film and video programs feature both contemporary and historical works. In the 1940s, the Walker identified moving images (mostly movies, but also experimental films) as integral to contemporary life. Artists of that time were experimenting with film’s formal properties, such as light, motion, and sound, while also separating film art from conventional narrative cinema.

In 1973, the Film/Video Department was officially formed and the Edmond R. Ruben Film and Video Study Collection was established, along with an endowment to fund the development of the archive. Ruben, a leading figure in film exhibition in the Upper Midwest, and his wife Evelyn believed in collecting films as a way of preserving the art form. Today, with more than eight hundred fifty titles, the Ruben Collection brings together classic and contemporary cinema as well as documentaries, avant-garde films, and video works by artists. It is distinctive[according to whom?] for its holdings by visual artists that range from classics by Salvador Dalí, Marcel Duchamp, and Fernand Léger to extensive contemporary work by William Klein, Derek Jarman, Bruce Conner, Marcel Broodthaers, Matthew Barney, Nam June Paik, Wolf Vostell, and leading experimental artists who challenged the form and content of film, such as Paul Sharits and Stan Brakhage.[10]


The Walker Art Center maintains a professional, in-house design and editorial department headed by Andrew Blauvelt to fulfill its various communication needs. The department is responsible for the design and editing of all printed materials, including the creation and planning of publications such as exhibition catalogues, bi-monthly magazines, and books, as well as exhibition and event graphics, signage programs, and promotional campaigns.

Additionally, the department organizes design-related projects and programs, such as lectures, exhibitions, and special commissions. Over the course of its 60-plus year history, the department has organized many important exhibitions on architecture and design, and has served as a vital forum for contemporary design issues, bringing hundreds of world-renowned architects, designers, and critics to the Twin Cities through programs such as the Insights design lecture series, which celebrated its 25th year in 2011.[11] During the 1940s, the Walker built two "idea houses" exhibiting the latest in building materials, furnishings and architectural design trends.[12] From the late 1960s until the early ’90s, the museum's design curator Mildred Friedman helped conceive and stage exhibitions on, among other topics, the Dutch avant-garde movement De Stijl, the design process at the Modernist furniture company Herman Miller, the history of graphic design, and traditional and contemporary Japanese arts, crafts and culture. For more than 30 years, the Walker has also offered the Mildred S. Friedman Design Fellowship, a yearlong program for young designers.[13]

New media[edit]

The Walker’s New Media Initiatives group oversees mnartists.org, an online database of Minnesota artists and organizations that provides a digital gathering place for the local arts community. Through a partnership with the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, the Walker manages ArtsConnectEd,[14] an online resource for arts educators that draws from both institutions’ permanent collection resources.

In the early 1990s, the Walker developed äda'web, an early website dedicated to net art.[15] It was curated by Benjamin Weil and designed by Vivian Selbo. äda'web's first official project went up in May 1995, although it had been informally active since February of the same year.[16]

Education and community programs[edit]

Learning is emphasized as a core experience at the Walker through a mix of education programs, community building efforts, and interpretive projects. The department conducts community, family, interpretive, public, school, teen, and tour programs, as well as mnartists.org. Each division offers programs and activities in visual art, performing arts, film/video, new media, design, and architecture. To inform these undertakings, the staff work with Walker curators and partners from local organizations, artists, schools, and community groups. Advisory groups such as the Walker Art Center Teen Arts Council, Tour Guide Council, and the Parent Advisory Group are also implemented in the department for the Walker to further build relationships with its audience.


The Walker Art Center is on a 17-acre (69,000 m²) urban campus that includes both buildings and parks.[17] The north wing of the building opened in 1971 and was designed by Edward Larrabee Barnes. In 2005, an expansion designed by Herzog & de Meuron opened that doubled the size of the museum and added new galleries, a restaurant, and a 385-seat theater.

The Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, a collaboration between the Walker and the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, is a sculpture park on the north side of the Walker Campus.


Federal Art Project class at the Walker Art Center (1941)

Established in 1927, the Walker Art Center began as the Walker Art Gallery, the first public art gallery in the Upper Midwest.[5] In 1939 the newly formed Minnesota Arts Council was granted control of the building on Lowry Hill, along with its art collection, and set about efforts to create a civic art center. With the assistance of the Works Progress Administration, building improvements were made and the Walker Art Center opened in January 1940.[18] Daniel Defenbacher, who led the Federal Art Project's Community Art Center program, left the WPA to become the first director of the Walker Art Center, the largest of the 70 art centers established by the program during his tenure.[2]

Opened in April 2005, the new expansion nearly doubled the size of the Walker Art Center. The expansion designed by Herzog & de Meuron includes increased indoor and outdoor facilities, allowing for a better usage of resources.[5][19]


Cargill Lounge
  • 1879 – Lumber baron Thomas Barlow (T.B.) Walker opens the first public art gallery west of the Mississippi at his residence on Hennepin Avenue in Downtown Minneapolis
  • 1927 – Walker Art Galleries opens in Minneapolis, on the current Walker Art Center site.
  • 1940 – Funded by 1939 Works Projects Administration (WPA) grants, Walker Art Galleries becomes the Walker Art Center. Under its first Director, Daniel Defenbacher, it began to add modern and regional art to the eclectic collection gathered by T. B. Walker. It opens to the public with exhibitions Ways to Art, Parallels in Art, and Trends in Contemporary Art, signaling its new interest in Modern Art. Defenbacher and his wife Louise Walker Defenbacher collaborated on Design Quarterly, which showcased good modern design in housewares and furniture. Spring Dance Festival, organized by Gertrude Lippincott, is the first performance event at the Walker.
  • 1942 – Franz Marc, Die grossen blauen Pferde (The Large Blue Horses) (1911) is the Walker's first acquisition of Modern Art.
  • 1946 – Everyday Art Gallery, curated by Hilde Reiss, opens as the first exhibition space dedicated for design in a U.S. museum. Everyday Art Quarterly (later renamed Design Quarterly) begins publication as the first U.S. museum journal on design.
  • 1948 – Edward Hopper, Office at Night (1940) acquired.
  • 1950 – Walker art school closed. Defenbacher replaced as Director by H. Harvard Arnason.[20]
  • 1954 – Georgia O'Keeffe, Lake George Barns (1926) is acquired.
  • 1963 – Walker Art Center establishes the Center Opera Company, which later becomes the Minnesota Opera. Guthrie Theater opens adjacent to the Walker. John Cage, with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, presents first Walker performance.
  • 1964 – Dominick Argento's Masque of Angels performed by the Center Opera Company as first Performing Arts commission.
  • 1967 – Andy Warhol 16 Jackies (1964) acquired.
  • 1969 – Major acquisitions include Chuck Close, Big Self-Portrait (1967–1968)
  • 1970 – Performing Arts Department is formed.
  • 1971 – New Walker Art Center opens, designed by Edward Larrabee Barnes.
  • 1972 – Film/Video Department is established.
  • 1976 – The Walker becomes a public institution; T.B. Walker Foundation establishes museum endowment.
  • 1978 – Laurie Anderson performs as part of the Perspectives series, copresented with the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra. Summer Music & Movies in Loring Park begins.
  • 1988 – Minneapolis Sculpture Garden opens, designed by Edward Larrabee Barnes. Commissioned works include Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen's Spoonbridge and Cherry (1985–1988)
  • 1989 – Out There series of experimental performance art and theater begins.
  • 1990 – Regis Dialogues, a series of film retrospectives and interviews with noted filmmakers and actors, begins with Clint Eastwood and James Ivory.
  • 1992 – Minneapolis Sculpture Garden expansion opens.
  • 1996 – New Media Initiatives Department is formed with Gallery 9, a web site for net art, launches with Piotr Szyhalski, Ding an sich (The Canon Series) (1997), the first new-media commission.
  • 1998 – Charles Ray, Unpainted Sculpture (1997) acquired.

Art Performs Life: Merce Cunningham/Meredith Monk/Bill T. Jones, a multidisciplinary exhibition, celebrates the Walker's long-term relationships with the artists. ArtsConnectEd, a web site featuring the collections of the Walker and the Minneapolis Institute of Art, launches.



The Walker Art Center is supported in part by a grant provided by the Minnesota State Arts Board through an appropriation by the Minnesota Legislature from the State’s general fund and its arts and cultural heritage fund.[22] To ensure the Walker’s creative independence, then-director Kathy Halbreich forswore millions of dollars in potential state aid for the museum's $73.8 million expansion in 2005, a decision that resulted in a one-year salary freeze, some staff cuts, and the elimination of the Walker’s new-media art program.[23]

In 2011, the Walker Art Center reported net assets of $243 million. Its annual expenses were $22 million, and its endowment was at $152 million. The museum director's compensation is at around $375,000.[24]

Audience Engagement[edit]

As of 2011, total attendance was at about 590,000 visitors, out of which 22% were Teen and Youth Visitors.[25]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Abbe, Mary (2007-09-11). "Walker Art Center hires 'rising star' to take helm". Star Tribune (Avista Capital Partners). Archived from the original on 2007-12-17. Retrieved 2009-06-02. 
  2. ^ a b Rash, John (January 30, 2015). "The Walker's WPA roots are still relevant today". Star Tribune (Minneapolis, Minnesota). Retrieved 2015-06-21. 
  3. ^ "Walker Art Center Marks 75th Anniversary with Major Institutional Advancements Including Campus Renovation, New Staff Appointments, and Expanded Cross-Disciplinary Programming". Walker Art Center. March 31, 2015. Retrieved 2015-06-20. 
  4. ^ Amelar, Sarah (July 2007), "Walker Art Center", Architectural Record 
  5. ^ a b c Walker Art Center, "History", Walker Art Center Minneapolis Sculpture Garden 
  6. ^ Chuck Close, Big Self-Portrait (1967-68) Walker Art Center, Minneapolis.
  7. ^ Mary Abbe (June 5, 2012), Former Walker director Martin Friedman toasted in New York Star Tribune.
  8. ^ "Annual Report" (PDF). Walker Art Center. 2008. p. 55. Retrieved May 4, 2013. 
  9. ^ Randy Kennedy (March 16, 2011), From the Backdrop to Their Own Stage New York Times.
  10. ^ Works by Wolf Vostell at the Walker Art Center
  11. ^ "Insights 2011 Design Lecture Series — Calendar — Walker Art Center". Walkerart.org. 2011-03-01. Retrieved 2014-01-26. 
  12. ^ "The Walker Idea Houses". Hennepin County Library Tumblr. 
  13. ^ William Yardley (September 9, 2014), Mildred Friedman, 85, Dies; Curator Elevated Design and Architecture New York Times.
  14. ^ artsconnected.org
  15. ^ Adaweb.com
  16. ^ Weil, Benjamin. "A Brief History of Äda'web". Walkerart.org. 
  17. ^ Walker Art Center "Saatchi Gallery".
  18. ^ "Administration of the State WPA/FAP: Minnesota, [Walker Art Center] 1940". Archives of American Art. Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved 2015-06-21. 
  19. ^ Ouroussoff, Nicolai (April 15, 2005). "An Expansion Gives New Life to an Old Box". The New York Times. 
  20. ^ "Oral history interview with H. Harvard Arnason, 1970 Mar. 3–9". Oral history interviews. Archives of American Art. 2011. Retrieved 17 Jun 2011. 
  21. ^ "Walker Art Center Timeline" (PDF). Walker Art Center Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. 
  22. ^ "Support - Walker Art Center". Walkerart.org. Retrieved 2014-01-26. 
  23. ^ Carol Vogel (March 20, 2007), Influential Director Resigns at Minneapolis Art Center New York Times.
  24. ^ Shane Ferro (July 25, 2012), As MOCA's Money Woes Simmer, A Look at How Major Museums' Finances Work ARTINFO.
  25. ^ "2010-2011 Walker Art Center Annual Report". Walkerart.org. Retrieved 2014-01-26. 
  26. ^ Grace Glueck (November 10, 1990), A Museum Chief Greets the Fray New York Times.
  27. ^ Carol Vogel (September 12, 2007), Hirshhorn Director to Head the Walker in Minneapolis New York Times.

External links[edit]