Five years have passed since the Walker Art Center last hosted an artist-designed mini-golf course on its Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, and artists responded to the pent-up demand with gusto.
Sixty proposals arrived from teams of Minnesota artists, architects and designers, of which 15 were chosen. Each team got $3,500 to develop and build a single hole. Naturally the designs had to be artful and function for golf, but they also have to survive play by an expected 50,000 golfers and withstand Minnesota’s capricious summer weather.
Art-savvy players will find sculpture concepts echoed in this year’s design, which is divided into two different courses. Each has seven unique holes and they share an eighth. Aaron Dysart’s clever “Rock! Garden” hole is a tip of the hat to a new Jim Hodges rock sculpture next to the Walker. As a bonus, Dysart’s colorful rocks conceal a snare drum, a cymbal and a xylophone that clang merrily when hit by a golf ball.
“Be a Sculpture!” by the Carpenter-Donovan family may look like a minimalist floor sculpture — a big rectangle of Astroturf with gravel footprints — but it turns into a tricky and very fun hole when other golfers position themselves on the footprints to muddle their partners’ play.
“Holey Lighted,” by Jeffrey Pauling and Tyler Whitehead, is an awesome bit of sculpture, a 10-feet-tall perforated canopy of plasma-cut steel arching over an ankle-high landscape of steel mountains through which players must putt. And fans of the phallic rock sculptures of Minneapolis sculptor Zoran Mojsilov will be amused by the tower of rocks in the “Zen Rock (the) Garden” hole, which is an oasis of sand and rocks.
Other games come into play too. “Le Bagatelle de Bagatelle,” by Karl Unnasch, is essentially an overgrown pinball machine cleverly designed to look like a French chateau and formal garden. Its golf-ball topiaries are adorable obstacles, but there’s not much for a golfer to do because the ball is controlled by gravity, not skill.
In a riff on croquet, one hole lets players rearrange panels to block balls and move the hole itself. There’s a cute foosball game played with golf-ball-kicking garden gnomes. But the weight of the cumbersome “Tilt-A-Putt” hole — a huge mirrored platform that has to be tipped to roll balls into holes — will stymie kids and some adults.
Playing with scale, U of M art students house one of their holes in a walk-in geodesic dome where balls bounce through a miniature model of the Sculpture Garden, complete with a dollhouse-sized Walker Art Center. Golf is only an afterthought in their second piece, which is a room-sized 3-D optical illusion; its distorted checkerboard floor and empty picture frames trick viewers into “seeing” people in the room as much taller or shorter than they are.
There are some head-scratchers, though: a post-apocalyptic landscape of melted trash bags from which balls drop onto a sandy delta; an unfinished ant farm hole and a strangely meta riff on the famed Augusta National course.
The course will appeal to the playful types interested in an outing and puzzling through the art. The holes, while diverse, occasionally will appeal to the serious putt-putter. Mostly, though, it’s an excuse for a fun walk in the park.
When: 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Thu.-Sat., 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Sun.-Wed. Ends Sept. 8.
Where: Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, Hennepin Av. S. & Vineland Pl.
Tickets: $12. Additional same-day rounds half price. 612-375-7600 or www.walkerart.org.