Artistic Significance Report -
Public Art on the Nicollet Mall
Minneapolis’ principle downtown street, Nicollet Mall, faced a complete renovation requiring the removal of all the public art installed since the 1960s. The Public Arts Program had to determine the fate of work by eight artists owned by the City – the artwork which should return to the Mall, joined by four new works to be integrated into the design by James Corner Field Operations, and the public art that should be relocated or de-accessioned. I was engaged to produce a report analyzing the artistic significance of the existing artwork.
The first step was to assemble an archive documenting the work, from the oldest, the Sculpture Clock by Jack Nelson installed in 1968 as part of landscape architect Lawrence Halprin’s acclaimed original design for the Mall, to multiple works installed in the early 1990s during the Mall’s first renovation. Creating an archive was critical because none existed.
I interviewed six living artists, photographed their original twenty-year-old models, and digitized drawings and construction documents. I contacted the estate of one artist and spoke with curators and museum professionals who were specialists in the others. The historic work by Jack Nelson proved most illusive; I combed the 1960s archives at the Minnesota Historical Center Gail Family Library and online art bibliographies at the University of Minnesota for resource materials. Read the fascinating story of the Sculpture Clock here.
The artwork on Nicollet Mall was considered – not only for its artistic significance and its importance to the artist’s career – but for how it contributed to the history of public art and impacted the design of the city. I collected, studied and analyzed urban design and planning documents from each design and construction period for Nicollet Mall.
The final results are a complete archive and a reasoned multi-dimensional analysis of the cumulative impact of each artwork. The archive will reside at Minneapolis Central Library and Minnesota History Center.
Five of the eight historic artworks have been restored and in 2017, carefully integrated into the new design for Nicollet.