The museum moved to its new building in 1971. Across a street to the north was an open field, once a formal garden, owned by the Minneapolis Park Board. The museum and park board collaborated on developing the 7.5-acre sculpture garden that opened in 1988. The grid of four outdoor galleries enclosed by tall evergreen hedges was laid out by Edward Larrabee Barnes Associates, with Quennell Rothchild & Partners (QR+P). A lawn to the north features the iconic Spoonbridge and Cherry by Claus Oldenberg and Coosje van Bruggen with QR+P. Barnes also designed the Cowles Conservatory, with interior gardens by Michael van Valkenburgh Associates and Barbara Stauffacher Solomon. Van Valkenburgh returned in 1992 to design a 3.5-acre northern garden addition: a simple arc path with a hedgerow and lindens between the original and the addition, a 50-foot by 100-foot plaza for temporary displays, and a 300’-long steel arbor with perennial borders.
An addition by Herzog & de Meuron with local architects HGA and French landscape architect Michel Desvigne opened in 2005. With the Guthrie’s 2006 departure a sloping “Open Field” was transformed in 2010 by architects VJAA and HGA and landscape architect Coen+Partners.
To improve flexibility and sustainability the gardens were redesigned in 2017 by Oslund and Associates. While formal “bones” were respected, walls and fences were removed to improve access, the conservatory became a pavilion, and a meadow improved stormwater management. The Open Field was revised again as the Wurtele Upper Garden by Inside Outside, working with HGA to integrate the landscape and an inviting new northern entry to the museum.