Facing city condemnation, Powderhorn's political art yard enters last days

Andrew Moore says that his sculptures have offered him "therapy."
Andrew Moore says that his sculptures have offered him "therapy."
Olivia LaVecchia

On Tuesday morning, Andrew Moore gestured to his lawn, pointing at the latest addition to his ever-evolving sculpture yard.

Past the toilet warning against "Shitty Hall," behind the baby doll painted in homage to Trayvon Martin, were fresh orange letters: "Minneapolis City Council and City Inspection pushing blacks out of their home."

On Monday, after years of scuffles with the city of Minneapolis, Moore got the official notice: an orange flyer taped to his front door, announcing that his house was condemned.

"I still feel blessed, because it took them 18 years to get me out of here," Moore says as he sips a Mountain Dew. "But all this has to come down."

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Moore has lived in his Powderhorn Park home for 20 years, and used his lawn for his sculptures, which he calls "reality art," for about 18 of them.

Over those years, both the sculpture yard and Moore himself have become neighborhood institutions.

"He plows everybody's sidewalk, and he's kind of like a bridge in the neighborhood," says Rob Yedlin, who has lived across the street from Moore for six years. "I think it's just a loss of an important member of the community, and a loss of a landmark to be honest."

Moore says that city inspectors have targeted his house ever since he questioned why he needed a special permit for his sculptures, but not for a bird bath. His official troubles as a homeowner, though, started around eight years ago, and resulted in the city revoking his rental license over code violations.

Moore outside his home. Click to enlarge.
Moore outside his home. Click to enlarge.
Olivia LaVecchia

In May of this year, Moore's application to renew his emergency assistance from the county didn't go through. Strapped for cash, Moore came home one day and the lights were out. About three weeks ago, the city shut off the water, and Moore, facing condemnation, negotiated a deal to sell his house to We Buy Ugly Houses.

Now he, two of his children, and his sprawling art installation have just a few days to clear out.

Moore, a father of five, began crafting sculptures when a job at the Re-Use Center made him realize that piles of useful objects end up in the landfill. He started small, with just a few painted placards. But his yard quickly became a way for Moore to respond to life's knocks.

"The main thing I do is I use it for therapy," Moore says, a way to channel his anger. But it's not just personal: It's his way of communicating with people he might not otherwise reach.

"I wanted to be the kind of artist that connects the dots," Moore explains. "I realized that in the inner city, a lot of kids aren't educated; they can't read. But they can put a picture together."

In 1999, after a fight to get his newborn son back from a foster family, Moore found himself increasingly frustrated, and decided to channel that restlessness into making his sculptures bigger and more political.

He started with a spade-shaped table that remains a centerpiece of the installation today, and added a giant Jesus statue that he pulled from a dumpster. He connected different sculptures with tubing and paint, throwing into the mix, he says, "stuff that I thought would wake people up."

About four years ago, Moore's art shifted again. He lost a job he had held for 20 years, and found himself -- "a black ex-con with a big mouth" -- struggling to find work.

"I started getting angry," Moore explains. "I wasn't able to get a job and take care of my kids the way I wanted to."

While he looked for work, he also made his art more explicitly about the issues he saw plaguing him and his community: racism, poverty, violence, and political inequality.

Another section of Moore's yard. Click to enlarge.

"I don't want people to only see white picket fences," Moore explains. "I want people to see that Trayvon Martin is America and always has been."

With mere days to be out of his home, Moore doesn't know exactly what's next. He's trying buy a motor home. He's considering escalating what he calls his "battle against the city." And he's harboring dreams of creating a "special piece" of sculpture in collaboration with local gang members, but says that, without a place to work, he's not certain he'll be able to keep making art.

One thing's for sure: Over the next few days, he is going to dismantle his yard installation.

"I know Minnesota calls itself an art state, but the Walker Art Center wouldn't take this," Moore says, sweeping his arm across his yard. "It's coming down. If people want a piece of it, they should come get it."

-- Reach Olivia LaVecchia at [email protected] or on Twitter at @olavecchia

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