Sam Durant: ‘I chose to do what I did freely’
The artist behind ‘Scaffold’ explains why he’s OK that his work was taken down.
The grassy mound at the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden lies empty.
Last month, a controversial sculpture by L.A. artist Sam Durant stood on the site. Titled “Scaffold,” it was a representation of seven gallows from historic U.S. government executions, including those of abolitionist John Brown in 1859, four anarchists in Chicago’s 1886 Haymarket affair and the 1862 hanging of 38 Dakota men in Mankato, Minn. — the largest mass execution in U.S. history.
“Scaffold” had been exhibited in Europe previously, but in the Sculpture Garden, operated by the Walker Art Center, it sparked a media firestorm. Activists said it trivialized one of the ghastliest episodes in Dakota indigenous history.
“It’s not art to us,” one Dakota protester told the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
In early June, Durant, who is white, came together with Dakota elders and museum officials and agreed to remove “Scaffold.” He also signed intellectual rights to the piece to the Dakota.
“I have no intention of making a representation of that again,” says Durant. “They asked me, ‘How do we know you won’t do this