Above: The completed retouching of Siah Armajani’s bridge. Photo courtesy of MNDot.
Few Minnesota summer construction experiences spell inconvenience like a bridge closure. But now the Irene Hixon Whitney Bridge by Minneapolis-based artist Siah Armajani is back.
The pedestrian bridge, which crosses I-94, connecting the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden with Loring Park, is all fixed up for Armajani’s first comprehensive retrospective, “Follow This Line,” opening Sept. 9 at Walker Art Center.
The bridge closed April 23, and officially reopened Wednesday around 4:45 p.m. Working on an artist-created bridge isn’t something that engineers at the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MNDot) usually do.
“This structure is not necessarily about the utility but about the form and what it does for the user experience,” said Christian Hoberg, MNDot Project Manager. “It was a new experience for me – I’ve always been very utilitarian and bare bones. This is a bridge that’s more than a bridge – it’s art.”
Hoberg noted that working with an artist has been a very different experience than with engineers. The Armajani bridge involved a “higher attention to detail.” MNDot coordinated with Armajani and the Walker on updates and changes. Hoberg met with Armajani several times throughout the project.
The two-tone bridge was repainted in “Jeffersonian Yellow” and what then-Walker Director Martin Friedman referred to in 1988 as an “elegant baby blue.” The yellow was inspired by Thomas Jefferson’s letters to his nephew, in which he spoke of the color as revolutionary. The bridge, with its two sweeping curved arches that meet in the middle, also has text from John Ashbery’s “bridge poem,” which got new metal letters.
In addition to the more artistic updates, much of the bridge’s guts were also replaced. The wooden deck was replaced, with treated southern yellow pine. Minor, routine structural repairs were done on the concrete and some of the steel, which had corroded over the years.
The bridge had a drape of plastic over it, mostly during the month of May, so that workers could easily blast off the old paint and then repaint.
The wooden deck had previously been replaced in 2010. The original coating was done in 1988, when the bridge was first installed, but it didn’t last and was repainted in 1992. The bridge was part of Friedman’s vision for the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden.
Above: The bridge seen in its plastic wrap. Photo: Brian Matthew Hart. Used with permission from the Walker Art Center.