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Olympic Sculpture Garden - Review by cat c | Seattle Art Museum

Seattle Art Museum

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Olympic Sculpture Garden 6/15/2007

Part natural area (native species), part outdoors museum with a couple dozen contemporary sculptures, and part spectacular viewpoint (Elliot Bay and the Olympic mountains), this newest addition to the Seattle Art Museum also partakes of his proximity to the tourist-inflected Waterfront--hence it similarity to an amusement park--as well as to Myrtle Edwards Park (home of the 4th of July Fireworks display). Thus, it tries to be many things to different people. The sculptures--mostly by very well known names in contemporary American art--tend to be easy to overlook and hard to find, as they blend into the surroundings. But Alexander Calder's "Eagle," which used to be be on the front lawn of the Seattle Asian Art Museum in Volunteer Park--where it was completely out-of-place--benefits greatly from its new surroundings and takes on a breathtaking aesthetic significance. Tony Smith's "Wandering Rocks" are largely lost in a small wooded area. Richard Serra's "Wake" has a large "courtyard" to itself and is meant to be walked through and next to, enhancing its towering undulating curves which suggest the prow of a ship. Louise Bourgeois's "Father and Son" fountain--by its proximity to the Waterfront---has a schmaltzy quality, worsened by the literal interpretation given to it by the Museum's own publicity. Her ocular black marble "benches," likewise, lose their odd visual/tactile qualities by being placed so close to the same entrance on Alaskan Way and thus made available to pedestrians, on which they will immediately plunk themselves down. See for more representative works of Bourgeois. The "Vivarium" is difficult to find and often closed. You really need a map (available at the Paccar Pavilion, the visitors' center) to find about half of the sculptures. Part of the excitement of this park is its location, with freight trains running through it at various times of the day (or night), Elliott Avenue suddenly thrusting itself out of the ground at mid-levels. The day I went a young African-American couple was letting their four kids trample and race through the strips of delicately planted native species, even though there were signs everywhere asking people to respect the plants and to stay on the gravel path (I suppose that's the fault of white people, too). There weren't any skateboarders on the concrete areas. The park itself faces West, so a blazing afternoon sun obliterates much of the pleasure that might otherwise be had strolling in zig-zag manner down to the shore. There are metal red chairs scattered on the "viewing" terrace above the Calder. Rarely has an outdoor sculpture "garden" (though this is really a park) incorporated art into both the urban and natural environments in such a spectacular fashion (think of the Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden in D.C.). more
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