On June 10, 2023, the Walker Art Center will open an exhibition of major works of modern and contemporary art gifted to the museum by Judy and Ken Dayton, which the museum described as distinguished patrons whose philanthropic legacy over the course of five decades helped to shape the Walker’s collection, with significant works by some of the most groundbreaking artists of our time.
Between 1969 and 2022, Ken Dayton, whose family’s business grew into the present-day Target Corporation, and his wife, Judy Dayton, a longstanding member of the Walker’s board, amassed a significant collection of 20th century art. Some of the artists the couple collected became their close friends, according to a release from the Walker.
Over time, the Daytons gave 550 works of art to the museum as well as important financial gifts to support the Walker’s operations and expansion of its program. The forthcoming exhibition, which “honors their remarkable generosity,” will feature 25 paintings, sculptures, drawings, and prints gifted over the course of their long engagement with the institution, including works by Sam Gilliam, Philip Guston, Jasper Johns, Ellsworth Kelly, Roy Lichtenstein, Agnes Martin, Louise Nevelson, Martin Puryear, Cy Twombly, and Andy Warhol, among others.
The Dayton’s contributions to the Walker were second only to the museum’s founder, T.B. Walker, and have been essential to the growth of both the museum’s collection and its program. “Judy and Ken Dayton made an enormous impact on the Walker,” said Siri Engberg, Senior Curator of Visual Arts. “Their generosity and genuine appreciation for art and artists was matched by their love of community—they set the standard for how philanthropy could shape the cultural fabric and life of the Twin Cities.”
Judy and Ken Dayton made their first gift to the museum in 1969—Louise Nevelson’s monumental sculpture “Sky Cathedral Presence,” which will be featured in the upcoming exhibition. Many more gifts would follow, including 8 major outdoor works in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. In 1988, the Daytons gifted nearly 200 original Jasper Johns prints to the museum, establishing the largest collection of the artist’s prints in the country. The Daytons also made significant contributions to the institution’s endowment in support of the Walker’s operations and programs. Their enduring generosity was critical to the development of the Walker’s robust, and often experimental, contemporary arts programming and helped the museum establish its reputation of championing young and emerging artists as well as those working in new artforms. In 1998, when the couple downsized their home, they gifted 27 works to the museum by artists including Jean Dubuffet, Sol LeWitt, Josef Albers, and Robert Rauschenberg. In 2000, the Daytons announced their intention to gift their personal collection to the Walker, a bequest that was fully realized in 2021 following Judy’s passing.
“Among Friends” will feature key works gifted by the Daytons, including Andy Warhol’s iconic “Flowers” screen print from 1964; a series of Cy Twombly’s later drawings on paper; Mark Rothko’s No. 44 (1955), one of the artist’s monumental canvases in deep shades of red; striking geometric works by Ellsworth Kelly and Roy Lichtenstein; a serene painting by Agnes Martin from 1980; the bronze “Flashlight” (1960/1988) and “Green Angel” (1990), by Jasper Johns; “Attar” (1953), a painting by Philip Guston; Sam Gilliam’s “Lattice” series of lithographs from the eighties; and “On the Great Steeple” (1965), a standing sculpture by Alexander Calder, among others.
Judy and Ken Dayton’s philanthropy helped to establish Minnesota as a national hub for the arts. Judy Dayton (1927–2021) became a member of the Walker’s Board of Trustees in 1966. She assumed the role of board president in the early 1970s, making her one of the first women to lead the board of a major cultural organization in Minnesota, and ultimately served as a trustee with distinction for 55 years. Ken Dayton (1923-2003) was one of five brothers who inherited Dayton’s department store, growing the family company into a retail powerhouse across the country. The Dayton family would revolutionize philanthropic giving across their beloved city of Minneapolis; in the 1940s, they committed their business to a standard of giving 5% of its pretax profits to the community, a philosophy soon adopted by other leading Minnesota corporations. This exhibition celebrates Judy and Ken’s generosity of spirit and pays tribute to their impact on the Walker and the cultural legacy of Minnesota at large.
The Walker Art Center stated that they’re “grateful to Judy and Kenneth Dayton for the extraordinarily generous gift of their art collection and unparalleled support over five decades.”