Jul 16, 2012 • By

What is that statue?

For some people, choosing a paint color for a living room wall is overwhelming.

But what if your job was to design and choose sculptures outside a corporate headquarters?

In the early 1980s, General Mills learned about the plan to build an Interstate highway (I-394) in front of our headquarters in Minneapolis. The roadway was going to change our land and surrounding area substantially.

It meant that General Mills was about to become a whole lot more visible.

Bruce Atwater was the chairman of the company at the time. He thought it was important to do something on our site that would distinguish General Mills from other corporate headquarters that might one day spring up along the new freeway.

So, over the next six years, about 14 art projects were completed on our grounds. All but two of them were commissioned pieces. And, almost all of them still stand today.

As the company’s art curator, Don McNeil oversaw the projects that changed the exterior appearance of General Mills – a task not suited for the faint-hearted. (Hear Don talk about the process in this audio clip).

“Because we were moving around a lot of dirt for this re-landscaping, we were really able to offer artists any kind of site they wanted,” Don recalls. “We could say, ‘What kind of site do you want? We’ll build you a site.’ And that really excited a lot of the artists that we ended up working with.”

Every day this week on A Taste of General Mills, we’ll take a tour of what Don considers the highlights of our outdoor art collection.

Man with a Briefcase

It’s appropriate that the first piece that we’re focusing on is a sculpture that passers-by on Betty Crocker Drive can’t miss – and that employees here see every single day.

Jonathan Borofsky’s Man with a Briefcase is a sculpture that arrived in 1987. The 30-foot tall, 13 ½-foot wide, and 2 ½- inch thick corten steel cutout of an anonymous, white collar worker is one of the most noticeable pieces in our outdoor collection.

“Although it’s clearly a figure, I think it’s actually more about landscape in that the figure is actually defined by what’s behind it. And what’s behind it really changes constantly, depending upon where you’re standing, depending upon the light conditions, depending, obviously, upon the season.”

In this video, Don provides more detail about Man with a Briefcase and why he appreciates it.

You can see the sundial effect that Don talked about in that interview, in this photo.

Don says a lot of people wonder how deep the sculpture goes. He tells us it only goes about 2 ½ feet underground.

Still, Man with a Briefcase isn’t going anywhere. It stands up straight through any kind of weather because it’s attached to a substantial concrete footing underneath.

Here are some photos, from the installation.

Editor’s note: After we posted this we were contacted by blog reader Joe Campion, who shared this picture of a photo he had framed of the cutout of the statue. It shows him standing next to the cutout. Campion says it was made at Lukens Steel Co. in Pennsylvania – they called it the “big man” there. And, they and actually cut two of them out.

Man with a Briefcase

This is the first post in a series about the outdoor art at our headquarters in Minnesota. The second was “Did something fall off a UFO?” The third was “A welcoming wall of stone.” The fourth was “Table top.” And, the fifth was “A big bowl of Cheerios.”