Puttering Around with Art

Minnesota spends a lot of time each year covered with snow. LOTS of time. Eight months to be exact.  Once the snow finally leaves after the last insane-making storm in early May, the denizens of Minnesota have had enough of staying indoors. Luckily, the art follows them with plenty of outdoor opportunities for participatory culture. One such exhibit is going on all summer at the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden.

This summer, to celebrate the 25th year of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden near the WalkerArt Center, visitors will have a chance to plunk down $12 for a quick eight holes of miniature golf. The holes are designed and built by artists, architects and mini-golf aficionados. Several dozen submissions were whittled down by jury to 15 (two 8-hole courses that share a final hole).

The experience of this course is as diverse as the holes that are pieced together. This is the first course in five years for the Walker, so people have been participating in droves. I wouldn’t begrudge anyone their chance to participate and take in some culture, but sometimes when everyone does, it diminishes the experience you can have with a particular piece. It reminded me of how visiting the Louvre can be an amazing, life-changing day wandering spacious halls packed with fascinating and enriching pieces at your own pace, but as soon as you turn the corner to the Venus de Milo section, life becomes sharp elbows and camera flashes in a race to see the piece, mark the bucket list, and move on to the next thing with little time, opportunity or possibility for appreciation. Some of the holes at the course resembled this type of experience since they created bottlenecks in the flow of the course and led me to feeling rushed to get through to the next tee.

This happened particularly with a hole called “Earth Avenues” where you needed to putt into one of two holes at the top of a long, steep incline. Too hard and you bounced right back to the beginning. Too soft and you just didn’t make it up the incline. We watched five people ahead of us try time and time again just to get off the tee box.  The rules state that you can only take 6 strokes per hole, so after their six strokes, they each eventually gave up. Judging by pictures of the course, several holes have been altered over time to accommodate real-world play. Golf, and art, are works in progress.

Other holes benefited greatly from simple design that led to new ways of looking at the game, and life in general for that matter. “Move Your Hole” has six holes, five of which are filled with a plank of wood with hole-shaped cement. Players can hit their ball to the currently open hole, or move the plank of wood to close the hole, open a new hole, and make life more difficult for their competition. Another hole “Be a Sculpture” allows your competition to place themselves on the course in an effort to get in the putter’s way as he or she tries to get to the hole. Yet another hole asks for cooperation between players to use a bunch of gnomes set up like a foosball table to get the ball into the hole without having to count strokes.

The shared final hole for both courses is “18 Holes in One: Collapsing the Masters Narrative.” Feeding both courses into one hole creates another bottleneck in play, but allows for a bit of reflection. The hole is a topographical representation of Augusta National Golf Course, and you can choose any of the 18 holes to be your end goal.

I loved how these holes put new twists in the way we see mini-golf, which is typically a pretty simple game with a simple goal – get the ball to the hole with the least strokes possible. These holes provided a post-modern take on a linear tale that questions the traditional sports narrative with whimsy and mischief.  It felt like Jorge Luis Borges’ short story, “Garden of the Forking Paths” – infinite choices in play are laid out all at once and taunt you with the possibilities. This is true of all sports to a degree, but the artists behind the mini-golf holes have put the idea in sharp relief. However, one still goes through the holes in a predetermined order, so the effect can only be taken so far.

Other holes took more traditional, yet equally interesting routes. One hole “Mega Golf” is a miniature set of the Walker Art Center and sculpture garden inside a 10 foot diameter golf ball – playing with large and small scale at the same time. Another hole, “Ames Room,” gives visitors a fun opportunity to learn about forced perspective.

As a bonus, mini-golf passes also allow for free admission the Walker Art Center across the road, where you can cool off and take in the current exhibits on display – and once again, I’m reminded of the miles of relatively empty wings at the Louvre compared to the well traveled greens just outside.

Various Artists, Artist-Designed Mini Golf, Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, WalkerArt Center, Minneapolis through September 8, 2013

Nicola Cerpenter, Susanne Dehnhard Carpenter and Bryan Carpenter, Minneapolis Sculpture Garden

Nicola Cerpenter, Susanne Dehnhard Carpenter and Bryan Carpenter, “Garden Gnome Foosball,” Artist-Designed Mini Golf, Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, Minneapolis, photo by Walker Art Center

Nicola Carpenter, Bryan Carpenter, Susanne Carpenter and Sean Donovan, Minneapolis Sculpture Garden

Nicola Carpenter, Bryan Carpenter, Susanne Carpenter and Sean Donovan, “Be a Sculpture!,” Artist-Designed Mini Golf, Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, Minneapolis, photo by Walker Art Center

David Lefkowitz and Stephen Mohring, Minneapolis Sculpture Garden

David Lefkowitz and Stephen Mohring, “18 Holes in One: Collapsing the Masters Narrative,” Artist Designed Mini Golf, Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, Minneapolis, photo by Walker Art Center

University of Minnesota  Environment and Community Class, Minneapolis Sculpture Garden

University of Minnesota Environment and Community Class, “Mega Golf,” Artist Designed Mini Golf, Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, Minneapolis, photo by Walker Art Center

Jeffrey Pauling and Tyler Whitehead, Minneapolis Sculpture Garden

Jeffrey Pauling and Tyler Whitehead, “Holey Lighted,” Artist Designed Mini Golf, Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, Minneapolis, photo by Walker Art Center

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by Joel Hagen
in Focus on the Midwest

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