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Have the Vikings fumbled their chance for quality public art at the new stadium?

MinnPost photo by Bill Lindeke
Last year, the Vikings announced a “distinct monument,” a Viking ship-themed sculpture for the plaza outside the stadium.

Its deep black tiling nearly complete, logos and letters fully mounted, the contours of the new billion-dollar Vikings stadium have crystallized in downtown Minneapolis. Walk the perimeter and you get a sense of how the building meshes with surrounding streets amid the fast-changing, re-branded “East Town” neighborhood.

Apart from purple hordes, the last missing ingredient might be the U.S. Bank Stadium’s public art. Last year, the Vikings announced a “distinct monument,” a Viking ship-themed sculpture for the plaza outside the stadium. But the announcement last week of the latest public art addition, a horn-themed sculpture on a stadium plaza, was met with quiet groans from the local arts community. Compared to art at other Twin Cities stadiums, the two public artworks read more as advertisements than art, and might be the latest in a long line of fumbled opportunities for Minnesota’s football team. 

Quasi-public spaces

Stadiums hold an odd place within the public-private spectrum. In some ways, they’re public spaces full of diverse people mixing informally, and almost always built with significant public subsidy. On the other hand, they remain privately purposeful. Most stadiums are singly focused around a private entertainment business, and they’re often designed to maximize team revenue.  

This tension places stadium public spaces in an odd position. For example, during the off-season, the Twins’ stadium sits empty for six months, its sidewalks part of the Warehouse District. It prompts the question: To what extent should a stadium’s sidewalks and plazas be a regular part of the city’s streets?

“There was a huge opportunity that hasn’t been pursued,” Colleen Sheehy told me. “I’m disappointed there wasn’t more of a public process with the Vikings stadium to create something or commission something truly significant for our metro area and our state.”

Sheehy runs Public Art Saint Paul, which funds, maintains, and shapes public art projects. For Sheehy, art represents a key way that people connect in public places.

“Public art has been part of our human and cultural heritage forever, and in contemporary cities, it helps to create public places that are vibrant gathering places, where a lot of people from different walks of life can come together,” Sheehy replied when I asked her to explain public art. “It also can build support for arts communities by giving opportunities to create significant works in the public realm.”

(For some context, contrast the new art planned for the Vikings’ stadium with the public art around the old ’80s era Metrodome, which fellow MinnPost columnist Andy Sturdevant gamely explored back in 2012. Or the public art arches at the Blue Line’s “Metrodome station,” installed when that line was completed a decade ago, designed by a local artist named Andrew Leicester.)

Artistic input

For Sheehy and others, the most jarring part of the Vikings’ process was its lack of input from the local arts community. Minnesota and the Twin Cities have a thriving arts scene, yet the team decided early on in the planning process to outsource much of its planning to a California-based consultant.

“It’s really clear that they weren’t interested in getting any input from actual locals that understand the culture of art and Minnesota artists,” Cheryl Wilgren Clyne told me.

Wilgren Clyne, a local artist who has run multiple Twin Cities galleries over the years, was one of the key people involved in the public art projects around the new Saint Paul Saints ballpark.

Courtesy of the St. Paul Saints
Meander, a public art project outside CHS Field, home of the Saints, designed by local arts firm Futures North.

Instead of public artworks around the building, the bulk of the Vikings’ local art efforts focus on the interior. Earlier this year, the team called for local artists to line the walls with specially commissioned stadium-themed art. The result will be what the stadium partnership manager calls “a museum-quality stadium art collection.”

While the list of winning artists includes some of my favorite local painters, the art displayed on the concourses — all new work themed specifically around the stadium — will be accessible only to ticketed fans and therefore not really public. And, for Wilgren Clyne, the process seemed to take place without artists’ input. 

“I think speaking to artists or experts in art that have training in the field would be a really good idea for the Vikings,” Wilgren Clyne said. “The public art selection committee right now, they’re primarily people that are business owners and people that do not have training in the arts. [With] the hundreds of thousands of dollars of art that they’re purchasing, they should have an art director that knows how to take care of it.”

A rendering of the new “Horn” sculpture planned for Medtronic Plaza in front of the Vikings’ stadium.

Critiquing the new Vikings stadium art so far

The newly unveiled 100-foot-long sculpture called “The Horn,” designed by Minneapolis-based public placemaking firm Alliiance, will be placed on Medtronic plaza between the light rail station and the main entrance. According to the team, the work “is an aesthetically striking sculpture, consisting of two flowing ribbons … polished and seamless mirrors, reflecting the many faces of the community who come to explore and interact with the sculpture.”

But the new piece hasn’t impressed the local public art community.

“You can see that Medtronic’s name is all over it,” Jack Becker said this week. “It’s not really best practices to have the corporate sponsor’s name on the artwork itself. That just doesn’t happen, and it’s pretty poor taste.”

Becker runs the St. Paul-based nonprofit Forecast Public Art (publishers of Public Art Review, a national magazine on the topic). He points to the Twins’ Target Field Plaza as an example of stadium projects doing public art right. The plaza’s largest feature is a massive kinetic sculpture that covers the parking ramp, and moves and undulates in the wind.

Photo by MG McGrath
“Wind Veil,” a large piece of public art outside Target Field installed in 2010, masks a large parking lot.

“Wind Veil by Ned Kahn is the most expensive public art project in Minnesota history, and shows naming rights at its best,” Becker told me. “It’s a cool piece that has several functions. Kahn cares about the environment, about making invisible things visible. And it also masks an ugly parking garage. People don’t know what’s behind it because they are so transfixed by the artwork.”

MinnPost photo by Bill Lindeke
Target Filed Plaza during its opening season.

Years ago, Becker met informally with team officials and offered suggestions: a public art treatment of the new skyway connection, or using artists to help design a window treatment that would reduce the amount of migrating birds killed by the stadium’s new reflective glass facade. (In a pun that I cannot but help repeating, Becker called a potential public art and bird-proof glass project “killing two birds with one stone.”) 

According to both Sheehy and Becker, the combination of the Vikings’ two projects lack the transcendent quality of public art at other stadiums.

“The work that has been apparently accepted for the outdoor spaces seems more like advertising to me than public art,” Sheehy said. “The ship seems like such a literal object, more designed to be an advertising platform. And the horn sculpture … it could be interesting. But to me, it has Medtronic’s name on it, so it ends up feeling like it’s a billboard.”

Missing the field’s goal

Much like public/private tensions surrounding the neighboring downtown park, the public spaces around the Vikings stadium fall into a gray area. Yet if the experts are right, the new artwork for the team is a missed opportunity because, while most of the attention in the new stadium will be on the playing field, for people who don’t attend games the stadium’s streetscape will be just as important.

“You have to consider the source,” Jack Becker said. “It’s about branding, it’s about their identity being the most important thing. They’re trying to go a good job of that, and you know, the Vikings’ horn, I guess it fits that criteria.”

When the Super Bowl comes to Minneapolis in 2018, instead of public art and architecture that highlights the local arts community, it appears the new stadium’s artwork will be just another team advertisement and corporate sponsorship opportunity.

“It’s a huge building right in the middle of our city, a huge amount of money with a lot coming from the public,” Colleen Sheehy said. “I aspire for more.”

Comments (19)

  1. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 05/19/2016 - 09:32 am.


    The point of a stadium for the taxpayers who paid for it, is to provide a venue for the playing of winning football. Everything not related to that purpose is kitsch. Let’s not pretend the stadium is some sort of cultural epicenter, there to rival the MIA, or something other than architectural eyesore in downtown Minneapolis. As functional as pigs are and can be, they are not improved by the wearing of lipstick.

    • Submitted by Andy Sheepleton on 05/22/2016 - 01:47 am.

      I agree

      The Minneapolis ‘Art Community’ has a penchant for ugly or unoriginal. Claes Oldenburg created his ‘Clothespin’ sculpture in 1976 and almost 10 years later after scale art was all over the place the ‘Art community’ in Minneapolis came up with a giant spoon and cherry, which by this point was derivative. From the ugly museum at the U to the unoriginal spoon, I just don’t see what the Minneapolis ‘Art community’ has to offer. There is no seminal work of art in Minneapolis. I can’t see how there is anyone in the twin cities area who can really offer very much and I don’t support the stadium being used by someone of limited talent who wants this project to be their springboard to art fame. More likely it will be a springboard to mediocrity.

  2. Submitted by Pat McGee on 05/19/2016 - 09:41 am.

    The entire project misses the”mark”

    The stadium itself is a monstrosity; evoking the image of a dead beached whale. Did anyone expect public art to salvage it? No one that I know. Just saying.

    And the gall to charge for tours and such an exorbitant amount!

    • Submitted by Pat Berg since 2011 on 05/19/2016 - 09:55 am.

      Black tile

      I don’t remember the whole thing being black in the artist renderings – or if it was, I missed that detail.

      But as built, that huge black looming presence is nothing but ominous and ugly.

      Who’s the genius who came up with “black tile” as the color scheme for the exterior?

  3. Submitted by Matthew Steele on 05/19/2016 - 10:21 am.

    I’m surprised Medtronic, a company whose own mission statement is to do work to “…alleviate pain, restore health, and extend life,” would want anything to do with the Vikings and the NFL, organizations whose core product relies on life-altering, brain-destroying violence and the ongoing failed cover-up of that reality.

    Unless maybe Medtronic was still under the false assumption that this was the Peoples’ Stadium rather than a Vikings/NFL television production facility.

  4. Submitted by Andy Sturdevant on 05/19/2016 - 11:49 am.

    Rest in pieces, Metrodome Seven-String Guitarist.

    He lasted for months over there near Chicago Avenue much longer than I thought he would, longer than the other cutout metal sports figures. At some point he was bent in half, and his ultimate fate is not known to me. I’ll find out someday, I hope.

    Incidentally, “Demolition,” the Peter Busa mural at Valspar mentioned in the 2012 column, was painted over in 2014.

  5. Submitted by kaimay terry on 05/19/2016 - 12:01 pm.

    A big PR hoax

    May be many Minnesotans have forgotten that Medtronic headquarters is no longer in Minnesota, it has moved to Ireland! To put salt in the wound, Metronic was able to get both our Senators to support a bill to delay the miniscule tax that Obama wanted to levy on the medical device industry in order to pay for the expansion of health care access in Obama Care! So now Medtronic has succeeded in plastering its name for an in your face display to confuse Minnesotans that this is their beloved Minnesotan company forever. Very clever PR moves. There is very little that we citizens can do about it.

  6. Submitted by Suzanne Joyce on 05/19/2016 - 01:06 pm.

    It’s broken. Can we send it back? 🙂
    It leaked all over in the first big rain
    Who agreed to a design with so many seams and angles in a place with weather like Minnesotas,anyway? Someone from the desert? The whole thing is even a bigger debacle than I thought from the beginning!

  7. Submitted by Kim Munholland on 05/19/2016 - 05:07 pm.

    Vikings stadium

    Why do our public institutions constanty look outside for architects? They did it with Orchestra Hall going to a firm in Montreal. The result? an ugly lobby and a ruined Peavey Plaza. They did it with the Walker under Kathy Halbrech. The result? An entry on one of the busiest streets and intersections in the city that is unusable unless you park three blocks away. The firm was Swiss and got a Pritzker, but not for the Walker, which has impossible interior communications and looks like an oversized wedding present from the outside. On the other hand, the renovation of Northrup auditorium, done by Hammel Green, won prizes and has rave reviews. Now we come to the comparison between the Vikings stadium’s public art from a California company with the public art, local firm, for St. Paul’s baseball stadium. Of course, we can take the cynical route and say why does it matter since the Viking’s stadium is the ugliest building in town. The only problem is that we the taxpayers get to pay for these mistakes and then have to look at them

  8. Submitted by Steve Paprocki on 05/20/2016 - 08:12 am.

    Jack Becker

    I love Jack Becker’s honesty and willingness to speak up. He should have his own MinnPost column. There’s a lot of other recent and new public art that he and MinnPost should be covering.

  9. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 05/20/2016 - 09:56 am.

    The answer

    …to the column’s rhetorical question in the headline is:


    • Submitted by Charles Holtman on 05/20/2016 - 12:02 pm.

      Ray, I’d say otherwise.

      “Fumbled” means failed intent. It is fair to surmise that the Vikings had no intent to provide for “quality public art,” merely to convert prerogatives over the space into as much financial return as possible. The city should have insisted on retaining the right over the siting of art in the public space. Presumably it failed to do so.

      And yes, that Medtronic branding text is dreadful (though it’s just a rendering at this point, maybe basic decency will intervene). But with the stadium and the even more dreadful umbilical cord from the SUV-stowage ramp to the stadium, any further visual insult is just incremental.

  10. Submitted by Kenneth Kjer on 05/20/2016 - 12:14 pm.

    Stadium Art

    The first thing I think of when I see what they call a Viking Ship is WW2 radar antenna, and the Horn, which has nothing to do with original Vikings, looks like someone opened a can of spam or an old can of coffee with the old style key and pulled the strip of metal on it as far out as it would go and then slapped the name Medtronic on it. Even the colored spray paint on the thing doesn’t make it look good. It is less the 2nd grade art.

  11. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 05/24/2016 - 06:55 am.


    It’s important to distinguish between why we build stadiums, and the arguments we use to support them. The main argument for stadium construction is that they are broadly beneficial to the economy. That this argument is not true is pretty widely accepted by economists and intuitively sensed by most of the rest of us who still wait patiently for our share of the profits from the numerous stadiums we have built and paid for in recent years. While it is true that stadiums are not broadly beneficial, something not far from that fact is true. Stadiums are immensely beneficial to segments of the community who have political influence greatly in excess of their numbers. We have in effect, a stadium building class in our community that in order to thrive needs stadiums to build. Certain odd policy consequences follow from that. Stadiums are always built with a complete lack of foresight which anticipates future needs. The Gopher Stadium can’t host baseball. The Twins Stadium and the Gopher Stadium can’t host NFL football. And none of these stadiums, built recently constructed, and at enormous taxpayer expense, Viking Stadium can’t host soccer. I don’t know what the next stadium project will be after this one, but what I do know is that none of our new stadiums will be able to host it. It’s a miracle of s lack of planning.

    That said, what do taxpayers get from stadium building? What we should get is quality sports teams to play in them. The problem is that while stadium builders have huge incentives to build stadiums, they have little incentive to make sure that good teams play in them. They can’t deliver on what gives their projects value and they are terrified that people might notice. What’s the solution? Misdirection, in big ways and small. The Vikings Stadium isn’t just where the Vikings play. It’s an architectural triumph. It’s has wonderful dining facilities. It has art just outside the building. Let’s build more of them.

    I might be mean spirited here, but I think it’s important to stay focused on what matters. Our sports venues depend for success, on the success of the teams that play in them. The relevance of each story, of each event, is tied to the success of the team playing in them. Let’s not allow ourselves be diverted by those millionaires and billionaires whose fortunes depend on their ability to persuade Minnesotans to take their eye off the ball.

    • Submitted by Sean Huntley on 05/26/2016 - 11:01 am.

      “The Twins Stadium and the Gopher Stadium can’t host NFL football.”

      Where did the Vikings play for the last two seasons?

      “And none of these stadiums, built recently constructed, and at enormous taxpayer expense, Viking Stadium can’t host soccer.”

      A.C. Milan vs Chelsea F.C.August 3rd US Bank Stadium

  12. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 05/26/2016 - 02:02 pm.

    Where did the Vikings play for the last two seasons?

    The Gopher stadium. The reason why the Vikings can’t pay in the Gophers Stadium is the building as it stands isn’t capable of generating sufficient revenue. It doesn’t have the luxury boxes the Vikings demand. Obviously, Gopher Stadium should have been built with the requisite luxury boxes, but it was politically easier not to, and it’s a rule of politics that what is easy is a lot more likely to happen and to happen sooner than that which is difficult.

    A.C. Milan vs Chelsea F.C.August 3rd US Bank Stadium

    Well, you notice they couldn’t get Leicester or Bayern Munich.

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