My wife and I braved some foul weather in downtown Seattle last week to take a quick walk through the Seattle Art Museum’s (SAM) new Olympic Sculpture Park. Many of the usual line-up were there: Calder, Oldenburg, Smith, and Serra. Calder providing the evocative color punch that the gloomy skies and grey city skyline so dramatically demands. This same color coated all of the chairs that rested along the descending paths of the park and I was thrilled to see that the chairs were free of any constraints— they could be moved about at will to accommodate any sort of gathering. No ungodly park benches designed to discourage transients from sleeping (McMakin’s Bench may be an exception; the jury is still out). No utter lack of seating to encourage consumers to spend money rather than sit and chat.

I can only assume that Oldenburg’s presence was requested because you can’t have an expensive sculpture park without an Oldenburg. The object Claes chose to enlarge was a most obscure and nearly forgotten curiosity from my childhood: the typewriter eraser. I recognized it immediately and it tickled me to think of such an antiquated bit of practicality being memorialized in a city known for its close connection with a certain software giant.

Who also made an appearance. Naturally.

Tony Smith’s pieces were the macho geometric forms one would expect but a nod of appreciation is in order for the insight that situated these polished black crystals amidst a grove of young aspens. The trees will grow to create a startling seasonal contrast with Smith’s forms and it is this relationship that is worthy of praise.

The most surprising work was Serra’s Wake which follows the conventions of much of Serra’s work: large curving walls of steel situated carefully to create dichotomies of enclosed and open space. They rose up like the hulls of the container ships that plow through the Puget Sound; rusted and stoic in their push forward across a gravel sea. From a distance you witness them listing ever so slightly in the wind and up close you stare up to where their profiles meet the sky and you feel a momentary bought of disorientation as the scudding clouds interact with the curve of the steel to create a rolling sensation. Having never experienced a work by Serra in person it was rewarding to realize just how effective such minimalism can be and, furthermore, that it can be employed to completely different effect in different locals. For Seattle these forms are ships. For New York such forms were barriers.

And while I’ve devoted plenty of text to a few of the most notorious sculptors* represented by SAM’s park I want to end with an image of the sculpture that I personally felt the greatest affinity towards: Roxy Paine’s Split. Stark, steely, and subtle— much like the Sound itself.

*I’ve chosen not to even address the works by Louise Bourgeois, Louise Nevelson, or Ellsworth Kelly; all of whom are equally well known as the gentlemen discussed above. Bourgeois’ Father and Son would require a few stiff drinks and an entire post of its own which, I’m sorry to say, would be giving it more attention than it deserves.

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