Olga Viso, whose last year at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis has been mired in conflict over a sculpture that depicted gallows, will step down from her position as executive director at the end of the year, the museum announced Tuesday.
Ms. Viso took over the position in January 2008 and oversaw notable exhibits including a special project with the Guerrilla Girls and a Pop art retrospective. In 2017, a successful $75 million fund-raising campaign, an ambitious Merce Cunningham exhibit and the reopening of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden with over a dozen new works indicated a banner year in the making.
But the Sculpture Garden’s opening was derailed when protests emerged against one of its pieces, “Scaffold” by Sam Durant. The structure was meant to evoke gallows throughout American history, including those used to execute 38 Dakota Indians in Mankato, Minn., in 1862, and local Native American communities deemed it disrespectful. A lengthy debate and discussion led to the burying of the sculpture, and the museum’s board hired a law firm that is reviewing its handling of the controversy.
“I hold the Walker and myself accountable and apologize for really misunderstanding the context and impact it would have on the Dakota people,” Ms. Viso said in an interview with The Times in June.
Ms. Viso faced difficulties within the museum as well, as two dozen staff members had departed within the last year, out of a staff of just under 120. Some employees cited a work environment of long hours, high expectations, and a lack of openness to criticism.
“I think Olga’s legacy will be tied to the success of the Sculpture Garden and the Walker campus,” Fionn Meade, the Walker’s former senior curator and artistic director, said in an interview. “It’s a visionary success and I admire her for it. It came at a cost. That cost is still happening. And the institution will take a long time to recover.”
The museum’s board will search for a new director, and a team of four officials will lead the museum in the interim.