As anyone knows who has read my novel on art and creativity, Maud’s House, I am a sucker for art in unusual places or unusual art in expected places. The Twin Cities is full of such wonderful surprises. Here’s the story of just one. I wrote this article in 2009, but I recently revisited the sculpture garden and was delighted to find a few wind chimes still left, wooing us with their musical whisperings.
The lovely thing about taking a blind man to a sculpture garden is that he can touch all the artwork—something frowned upon by most museums and galleries. I should know; a security guard almost tackled me once when he thought I was trying to shake the hand of a sculpture in the Rhodin Museum in Philadelphia. That was ridiculous, of course; that sculpture had hands the size of hubcaps.
The troublesome thing about taking a blind man to a sculpture garden is that the art is humongous—and often modern. So on this Saturday afternoon, I found myself in the Walker Sculpture Garden trying to make sense of modern art to someone who could not see it and had a heck of a time wrapping his arms around it
Then we came upon the grove of trees across from Minneapolis’ most famous outdoor installation, a cherry balanced in the bowl of a reclining spoon. And suddenly art made sense. A wonderfully crazy artist named Pierre Huyghe had the idea to hang 50 wind chimes in the trees and let the wind play music. The chimes project was inspired by John Cage’s 1948 score “Dream.”
The chimes included wind pipes that seemed to hum in different tones as they jingled gently in the wind. I felt surrounded by praying monks in a temple in some exotic land. Surely, this was the true sound of OM. Huyghe made a pipe for each note of Cage’s composition. So as you walk under the trees you hear the hum of the pipes sprinkled with the laughter of the chimes, and each moment is different according to the wind’s whim. The randomness is so Cage and so enchanting.
As I watched one person after another enter the grove of wind music, I realized we were all reacting in a similar way. We lift our chins into the breeze, close our eyes, and smile. The air bathes us in music, a sound so natural that it seems part of the trees and sky and us. When the wind shifts, we feel spray from the “Spoonbridge and Cherry” sculpture fountain in the center of the garden. We are happy.
My blind friend Neal, who will record about anything anywhere, immediately bemoaned about leaving his recording equipment behind. The bells of the Basillica of St. Mary nearby sounded and, for the first time that I can remember, I grew impatient with that usually pleasant song. I wanted to hear the wind music—not church bells, not speeding cars on Hennepin, not people talking. I never wanted to leave that vortex of soothing sound.
I love the sounds Minnesota makes with wind and trees, with pines that roar and aspens that clack. It makes me think I am lucky to live here. And now there is another reason, 50 of them, in fact. When the wind chimes come down, as they eventually must, this grove won’t be the same, ever again, for many people. We will walk through here and remember a Saturday afternoon when nature serenaded us and a blind man heard art.