Highbrow Mini Golf and Different Approaches to Public Art

Last week, on our way out of Minneapolis, we swung by the Walker Art Center and took a quick walk around one of its most recent additions, “Walker on the Green: Artist-Designed Mini Golf.” Across the way from the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, the outdoor course features a dozen or so miniature golf holes designed by […]

Last week, on our way out of Minneapolis, we swung by the Walker Art Center and took a quick walk around one of its most recent additions, “Walker on the Green: Artist-Designed Mini Golf.” Across the way from the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, the outdoor course features a dozen or so miniature golf holes designed by artists – some revisiting classic mini golf cliches (like the larger-than-life Paul Bunyan hole), others giving the retro game an avant-garde spin (like an intimidating plastic bottle and rope gauntlet).  We liked the interactivity and playfulness of the ‘collection’; while kids and adult putt-putted their way around the art, they talked about which holes (pieces) they liked, which ones were tough, which ones were ‘neat’ – a completely hands-on, and unique, exchange between the art piece and its spectator.

“Walker on the Green” got us thinking about public art and its role in engaging and interacting with its viewers. Coincidentally, we came across an interesting post from Jason Fried at 37Signals’ Signal vs. Noise about the contrasting approaches to public art he witnessed in Seattle and his home, Chicago. Having visited Seattle’s new Olympic Sculpture Park on a recent trip, Jason was surprised and a bit put-off by the numerous signs surrounding the public sculptures that pleaded visitors, “PLEASE DO NOT TOUCH,” and that “even the lightest touch harms the art… help the art survive.” Jason compared this to Chicago’s public art, which includes (among others) an oversized face which spouts water on nearby visitors and Millenium Park’s Cloud Gate, an enormous reflective lima bean which is constantly surrounded by people of every age, touching and playing with it, walking through it and running around it. Jason reflected upon this different approach to public space art he saw in Seattle, and was left with a feeling of separation, disappointment:

Public art in a public outdoor space in the middle of public paths and public lawns yet you can’t touch it. The only interaction is visual. It’s standoffish. It feels like a missed opportunity.

After the mini-golf experience, we walked over to the famous Spoonbridge and Cherry centerpiece of the Sculpture Garden – a spoon resting on its back with a cherry on its tip. Naturally, the enormous piece was accompanied with a sign that read, “Please Do Not Climb” – doing so would be dangerous (and a liability). So we stood there and admired the fantastical sculpture from afar spout water from its cherry’s stem, sweating through our clothes on a hot summer’s day, imagining what it’d be like to climb across that big white spoon and feel the splash of its water-spouting cherry.

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