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Martin Friedman, Walker Art Center director, commissioner of Spoonbridge and Cherry, dead at 90

July 16, 1981: St. Paul Mayor George Latimer with Martin Friedman (left) pose with a camel sculpted by Nancy Graves, as part of a 10th birthday celebration of the center's building.

July 16, 1981: St. Paul Mayor George Latimer with Martin Friedman (left) pose with a camel sculpted by Nancy Graves, as part of a 10th birthday celebration of the center's building.

To say that Martin Friedman had an impact on the landscape of Minnesota culture would be an understatement. For about 30 years, Friedman served as art director of the Walker Art Center, and under his direction the museum grew to be the international powerhouse that it is today, exhibiting groundbreaking art shows, commissioning original dance works, and hosting international theater troupes.

During his time at the museum, Friedman also helmed the creation of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, which opened in 1988. Friedman personally commissioned several pieces that have gone on to become iconic landmarks for the city, including  Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen's Spoonbridge and Cherry.

Many credit Friendman with launching the careers of several noted artists, including Chuck Close, whose Big Self-Portrait remains one of the museum's more notable purchases, and Merce Cunninghamm, who created a variety of original dances through Walker commissions over the years before his death in 2009.

Friedman, who retired from the Walker in 1990, died Monday at this home in New York City. Though he struggled with cancer, it is believed that congestive heart failure is the cause of death. He was 90. He is survived by his daughter, Lise.

Those looking to pay tribute at the gardens will have to wait awhile, as the area is currently receiving a major overhaul, with plans to re-open in the summer of 2017.

Former Walker curator Joan Rothfuss penned a tribute to Friedman; you can read it here. Current Walker executive director Olga Viso also wrote a piece on Martin Friedman’s legacy.

Champagne and Marcel Duchamp in 1965.

Champagne and Marcel Duchamp in 1965.

Take a look below for some highlights courtesy the Walker Art Center archives: