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« The Mencius Vision | Main | Putting Duke in Perspective »

April 23, 2007

Seattle's New Sculpture Park

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --


The red, dinosaur-like object on the left that looks like it's about to attack the Space Needle over to the right is actually an eagle.

Well, "Eagle" is the title of the 1971 Alexander Calder sculpture you're looking at. It was donated to Seattle's new Olympic Sculpture Park (a branch of the Seattle Art Museum) by Jon Shirley, retired Microsoft president, and his wife, Mary.

The sculpture park opened in January, not without its share of controversy. Perhaps the most contentious item was the fact that the park wiped out the trolly barn for Seattle's popular waterfront trolly line featuring antique rolling stock from Australia. Until a new barn gets built, trolly riders get the thrill of a free transit bus ride along Alaskan Way and the docks.

The site was difficult in that it straddles three sets of railroad tracks and is partly on a hillside and partly on the shore of Elliott Bay. Setting aside the trolly barn issue, my judgment is that the landscaping works pretty well. This is because, when the sky is clear and the Olympic Mountains are visible, visitors get a fine view.

As for the sculpture, it's Modernist Establishment pretty much to the core.

Let's take a look at some other pictures I took last month.


The setting
This is looking north along the Elliott Bay shore. Behind the people in the upper-right are the railroad tracks.

Enjoying the view
Across Puget Sound are the Olympic Mountains -- in a National Park.

Sky Landscape I - Louise Nevelson, 1983
Oh, yeah. The sculpture. I'll show a few starting with this Nevelson.

Typewriter Eraser, Scale X - Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, 1998-99
My guess is that it isn't functional. And it's low-tech. Coming next, a giant Delete button.

Love & Loss - Roy McMakin, 2005
Below the ampersand, in white, are the other letters in the title. Tom Wolfe was right -- this "art" is literally writing.

Wake -Richard Serra, 2004
According to the Seattle Times, this weighs 300 tons and measures 125 by 46 feet.

Something familiar
Ah, a human figure growing out of sculpted stone ... how interesting! Oops. It's not in the Olympic Sculpture Park. I took this photo by an entrance to Vienna's Stadtpark last fall.



posted by Donald at April 23, 2007


And just who did you pay to {Photoshop|Gimp} the sunshine into these images?


Posted by: Don McArthur on April 23, 2007 9:56 PM

How deliciously human the last sculpture is! Thank God somebody took the trouble to study nature and create something beautiful, rather than something "deep"!

Posted by: BTM on April 23, 2007 9:59 PM

The Stadtpark bit set off a fit of nervous laughter. ;)

Posted by: A Guest on April 23, 2007 10:10 PM

Looking at that big Serra sculpture gave me an ah ha! moment. My home museum, the Ft. Worth Modern, hosts another one that you can see here:

I hadn't made the Serra connection before, and my wife just looked at me like I've been in a cave for the past 20 years, because he's a Big Deal.

She told me that the Ft. Worth Serra was transported here on a boat (from where?) and you can see water marks on that rust finish that came from the journey.

Standing inside is like being in a big tulip bud, and the kiddos like to tap on the sides and listen to the echoes.

I think Serra walks an interesting line between landscape-architectural and sculptural which wouldn't be if his work was smaller.

Posted by: Joel on April 23, 2007 11:17 PM

How did Calder ever get his reputation? It's one of the great mysteries of life to me how people paid him good money to create one utterly banal giant metal sculpture after another. I've personally seen five or ten of them, and never got the slightest pleasure out of one. No sense of fun, no sense of tragedy, no sense of tenderness, no...sense!

Calder is to sculpture pretty much what a bad 1950s or 1960s public housing project is to urban architecture--a big, official, dispiriting, tasteless, expensive...bummer!

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on April 24, 2007 12:53 AM

What -- no Henry Moore biomorphic blob?

Posted by: ricpic on April 24, 2007 5:35 AM

Don't hold back on us, Friedrich. Tell us how you really feel.


Posted by: Charlton Griffin on April 24, 2007 9:17 AM

Ah, Vienna Stadtpark...nostalgic days of a semester abroad in college. I must return, you have assisted my sense of purpose.

Otherwise, I am fully in FvB's corner (like I'd have any right or credentials to argue with him!). But talk about a big immobile bummer. It's like the beauty of Seattle is required to salvage the landscape from the big metal monsters.

Posted by: annette on April 24, 2007 10:17 AM

Friedrich, I've always had a nearly opposite reaction to Calder. I love the whimsy, the lightness, the fun.

Posted by: ptm on April 24, 2007 11:20 AM

Would it really hurt to have one, just one representational/figurative sculpture in a sculpture park? And they have the audacity to tell people not to touch the "works" (of sheet metal). I remember the trolley barn wasn't exactly attractive but I'd say it was a lot better looking than this scrap metal junkyard.

I highly recommend checking out the representational sculptor 'Frederick Hart,' perhaps the most skilled sculptor in our lifetime. He designed the sculpture at the Vietnam Memorial in DC of the 3 Soldiers as well as a facade of the National Cathedral. He received little to no recognition by the art world.

Frederick Hart: The Artist the Art World Couldn't See by Tom Wolfe (for the NY Times)


A sample of a Boston Globe art critic criticizing his work (see last part of article):
"Deft, but behind his time"
"His work has all the overblown passion of a Barbara Cartland romance."
"His figures are all Barbie beautiful, and his ideas have the substance of soft-swirl ice cream."

Gotta love the open-mindedness and tolerance of the art, design and architecture world.

"If you don't do it my way, I suggest you commit suicide." -Josef Albers

Posted by: John on April 24, 2007 9:21 PM

Don -- Cross my heart, it was actually sunny that day. But the rest of the year will be gawdawful, so stay as far away from nasty Seattle as you can.

Friedrich, ptm -- Back when Calder's mobiles first appeared, they were considered "fun." Perhaps I got imprinted at the wrong life-cycle stage -- I still look at them that way. And they move which makes them more interesting to look at then the typical abstract sculpture. But that's about it. His static sculpture -- "stabiles" -- are run-of-the-mill Modernist, in my opinion.

ricpic -- No need for a Mooreblob in the park because there already was one on a plaza in front of an office building downtown.

John -- There is one representational sculpture in the lot. But it's controversial because it is a naked man facing a naked boy (about 10 feet apart). Museum officals insist that it represents father and son, not ... well, you can probably guess the alternative.

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on April 24, 2007 11:05 PM

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