Outsider art | Monocle

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Running a sculpture garden in a region infamous for its polar vortex winters can be a formidable task. “Our registrar always says, ‘These sculptures have a hard life,’” says Mary Ceruti, executive director of the Walker Art Center, a contemporary art museum in Minneapolis that commissions and preserves the pieces in its public garden. Every artwork – from the stone benches inscribed with disquieting sentences by Jenny Holzer to Spoonbridge and Cherry by Claes Oldenberg and Coosje van Bruggen, an icon of the Twin Cities – must be hardy enough to stay upright in sub-zero winds. “Minnesotans don’t mind it, of course,” says Ceruti. “Our snowshoe walks through the garden always sell out.”

The Walker has long been an ambassador for Minneapolis. It grew out of the art collection of a local lumber baron, Thomas Barlow Walker, who built the museum in 1927. The centre has since earned a reputation for championing performance art, as well as spotting underappreciated artists internationally and bringing them to the Midwest. Ceruti has continued that tradition since taking the reins. The promising Iowa-based artist Jordan Weber was invited to create work at the Walker and collaborated with a community organisation in the historically under-invested north of the city to turn a vacant plot of land into an urban farm and verdant oasis. The project broke ground in 2020, just five days after George Floyd was murdered by a Minneapolis cop. “The city was having difficulty functioning at that point,” says Ceruti, yet Weber and the rest of the Walker team pushed on even as the city was engulfed by protests.

The success of the farm, which opened in 2021, has underlined a renewed sense of purpose for the institution. Ceruti has urged her team to think beyond the museum’s campus and look for ways to reactivate some of the more underserved parts of the city, especially through community partnerships, pop-ups and performance.“We are not urban planners or economic developers; we are an arts institution,” she says. “But part of our role is bringing in artists who can help build the imagination of the city. Rather than trying to get everything back to the way that it was 20 years ago, it’s about thinking, ‘What does the new version of Minneapolis look like?’ Artists can be part of that conversation.” 


The Cabinet (from left to right)

Christopher Stevens Chief of Advancement “Our rock. Raises money and knows everybody in town”

Doc Czypinski Associate Director, Exhibition Installation “Runs our installation team and art handling.” 

Michael Muenchow Engineering Manager “Ensures buildings are the right temperature.”

Keith Parker Director of Operations “Came from the State Department.”

Peter Hannah Lead Preparator “Great technical skills.”

Joe King Director of Collections and Exhibition Management “Takes care of the art.”

Felicia O’Brien Director of Business Development “Brought in to think entrepreneurially.”

Amanda Hunt Head of Public Engagement, Learning and Impact “Connects people through art.”

Pavel Pys Curator, Visual Arts “Manages our collection.”

Mary Ceruti 

Executive director 

Ceruti ran the Sculpturecenter, a museum in New York’s Long Island City, for 19 years before becoming executive director of the Walker Art Center in January 2019. A seasoned curator with dozens of major exhibitions under her belt, Ceruti says – somewhat modestly – that she was brought in for her ability to hire curators and has a knack for spotting early-career talent: “You want people who can share perspectives but also question each other because that makes for sharper thinking,” she says.

Philip Bither McGuire Director and Senior Curator, Performing Arts “Creates unconventional theatre performances.”

Pablo de Ocampo Director of Moving Image “A truly great collaborator.”

Siri Engberg Senior Curator and Director of Visual Arts “Knows the collection intimately.” 

Henriette Huldisch Chief Curator and Director of Curatorial Affairs “Incredible art expertise and a great eye.”

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