All posts in “Behind the Scenes”

Beneath the Surfaces: Conservation and Care at the Olympic Sculpture Park

Stroll through the Olympic Sculpture Park on a summer day, and you’ll find yourself immersed in an overload of the senses. The Puget Sound scents the air around Alexander Calder’s towering sculpture, The Eagle, with a salty freshness, while the waves below lap in the wind. Uninterrupted sunlight warms the curving, concrete benches of Roy McMakin’s Love & Loss to the touch. Bike commuters coast along the Elliott Bay Trail, an urban artery connecting bustling downtown Seattle and the neighborhoods to the north. But while visitors enjoy the natural and manmade beauty of the park, the outdoor sculptures on view are constantly under attack by the very elements that makes the park so special.

This coalescence of elements within the Olympic Sculpture Park provides a different sensory experience when your job is to preserve its works of art. SAM’s Chief Conservator Nicholas Dorman explains, “It’s a pretty aggressive environment out there. When the sun does shine, it’s unimpeded and bounces off the Sound, creating very intense light levels. Unhindered wind also comes through, carrying salt and lots of pollution. All of these elements break down the sculptures’ materials over time.”

Love & Loss

Care for each sculpture in the park requires attention to a range of factors that include its materials and fabrication, the artist’s or foundation’s intentions, and SAM’s curatorial and exhibition design philosophies. It’s easy to understand that the illuminated ampersand in Love & Loss requires upkeep in order to keep glowing. However, even its concrete benches and paths are prone to deterioration. Once a sculpture requires intervention, the conservators must consider many questions before deciding on a solution. Liz Brown, SAM’s Objects Conservator, describes, “When I’m looking for a treatment system, I have to keep in mind everything from how the public might interact with the piece, to the artist’s intent, to how the sculpture and the materials we apply are going to react to the environment.”

Coating the surface of Love & Loss is one part of its conservation treatment. When the conservators found that the original acrylic-polyurethane coating wasn’t performing well within the interactive environment of the installation, Brown worked with artist McMakin to replace it with a water-borne acrylic paint designed for pools, which she reapplies every year in order to preserve the aesthetic he originally envisioned for the piece. By comparison, sculptures painted with matte, highly pigmented paints, such as The Eagle and Tony Smith’s Stinger, are susceptible to damage by human touch because oils and contact more easily mar and break down the underbound coatings. The park’s proximity to the Puget Sound also brings the problem of chloride corrosion, making the coatings’ maintenance essential to the preservation of the metal sculptures.

As summer approaches, much of the conservation work at the park moves from behind-the-scenes to more publicly visible processes. Brown will soon begin cleaning all of the art and treating areas where corrosion has appeared. Several larger projects will also take place. This year, she hopes to manage refabrication of the Love & Loss ampersand and to determine a painted surface that will work for that portion of the sculpture in the long term. The next time you’re at the park, sitting on Love & Loss may feel a bit different, knowing more about the care that lives both within and beneath its surface.

—Erin Langner, Freelance Arts Writer and Former SAM Adult Public Programs Manager

This post is the fourth installment in a series of stories exploring the history of the Olympic Sculpture Park in celebration of its 10th anniversary. Over the course of this year, we will continue reflecting on the Park’s evolution over the past decade.

Images:  Photo: Benjamin Benschneider. Love & Loss, 2005-2006, Roy McMakin, American, b. 1956, mixed media installation with benches, tables, live tree, pathways and illuminated rotating element, Overall: 288 × 480 in., Olympic Sculpture Park Art Acquisition Fund and gift of Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum, 2007.2, photo: Benjamin Benschneider, © Roy McMakin. Stinger, 1967-68 / 1999, Tony Smith, American, 1912-1980, steel, painted black, 6 ft. 6 in. x 33 ft. 4 1/4 in. x 33 ft. 4 1/4 in., Gift of Jane Smith, 2004.117, photo: Paul Macapia © 2006 Estate of Tony Smith.
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Ping’s Puzzle: Putting Together a New Narrative for the Asian Art Museum

While the Asian Art Museum is closed in preparation for renovation, our curators are staying busy. Hear from Ping Foong, Foster Foundation Curator of Chinese Art, on what she’s busy with and how it will impact the Asian Art Museum.

SAM: What are you working on while the Asian Art Museum is closed for the next 18 months?

PING: I’m hoping to convene a panel of senior advisors to help us address big-picture questions for the museum: What defines Asian Art? How can we define Asian Art in the 21st century? What are the boundaries of Asia that we want to talk about? What role does contemporary Asian Art play? What role does less represented areas of Asia play? The term Asia doesn’t refer only to East Asia (China, Japan, Korea) or South Asia (India and Pakistan). So one of the big questions is how to balance the stories the collection itself can tell versus the stories we ought to tell. So, basically I’m asking my elders for help.

A motivation for the proposed renovation is to better display South Asian artworks, correct?

Yes, this is not my area, so I found us expert help: a senior curator of South Asian art will join my team as a consultant so that we will have “three pillars” representing our collection—China, Japan, and South Asia. Another important question is what role must Islam play in the display of Asian art. Islamic art is not geographically specific. Right? So, we have on display right now downtown a room full of Islamic art, but then the question is should it also be included in the Asian Art Museum? Where do you draw those lines? That’s an important question to ask. And how do we ask these questions? Well a curator has a very important role in these things, but I like to have feedback. I want this to be part of a conversation.

How do you see this conversation impacting the future of the Asian Art Museum?

The theme that surfaces often is transcultural connections. There are objects that cannot be defined by religion. We want to talk about how artistic styles travel. Other things travel that you may not imagine. For instance, tattoos travel because they’re on the body. I like to think about the ways that color travels. I would love to make a room full of color talking about the way that trade connects Persia and China. Cobalt goes from one end of the world to the other end and gets made into something and comes back. This process of going back and forth can be demonstrated with objects.

In the meanwhile, what sort of Asian art will be on view at Seattle Art Museum?

Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors is on view this summer. People are very excited about that exhibition. Another reason to be excited is Pure Amusements: Wealth, Leisure, and Culture in Late Imperial China. It’s basically a scholar’s objects show with a twist. Certainly, you get to see some very important examples of well-known furniture, lovely Ming dynasty chairs, elegant brush pots, pens—the kinds of objects that a scholar might need for everyday life. But the theme of the show is that these things are not just necessarily belonging to scholars. They belong to people who aspire to join the community scholars, or to participate in scholar culture. These beautifully crafted objects may have been made for somebody who wants a scholar’s object, but is not a member of that class.

Also, it’s a chance to display things we’ve never displayed before. I found a set of very nice ink sticks that belonged to one of the most famous Chinese emperors. He lived in the 18th century and collected like a maniac. He was probably the greatest emperor collector on earth; no one had a bigger collection than him! These ink sticks are little and each of them looks like a tiny musical instrument. With an ink stick, you rub it with a little bit of water against the inside of an ink stone and you create ink you can use in paintings or calligraphy. They’re ephemeral, they disintegrate, but yet these ink sticks are so beautifully crafted.

Sounds like we won’t be missing out on Asian art in the interim. But what will you miss most while the Asian Art Museum is closed for proposed renovation?

Well, I miss a number of things. The offices, for example, those will change. They are historic offices. There’s history in sitting on those seats and that will go away. The plan right now is that where the current offices are will become perhaps the conservation studio and the administrative offices will move. So I will miss my beautiful window. I have a tree outside it. That was my favorite part about working in the park. As objects are concerned, I’ll miss my favorite Buddha.

What are you most excited about maybe in terms of the new space?

We’re planning on two new education spaces. Currently, we’re busting at the seams on Saturdays because we cannot accommodate all the kids who come to the museum. So we’ll have one space in the lower level, an art-making area, and a family area upstairs that is currently a gallery. It’s one of the most important parts of the proposed renovation because we just don’t have room for that currently.

Anything else you want to share about your future plans for the Asian Art Museum?

I think that the conversations we’re having with our advisory panel have to happen now, as I’m formulating ideas. And I do have some crazy ideas. I’m not sure if I can talk about them yet. It’s like this: Permanent collections—we’ve got to bring them a little love. You know? I want to put together a new and exciting narrative that people will love now and in the future.

– Chelsea Werner-Jatzke, Copywriter & Content Strategist

Photo: Natasha Gillett
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Get to Know SAM’s VSOs: John Jung-Simard

Originally from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, John Jung-Simard moved to Seattle in 1984. He received his bachelor degree in French from University of Washington and his masters in theology from Seattle University. He worked in a variety of settings including pubic health research and a library shipping warehouse before coming to SAM in 1997. Although there was a period in 2001 when John took on another job, he eventually came back to SAM, where he considers the job similar to being part of a family.

SAM: In the Brotman Forum, John Grade: Middle Fork has been on display since February. What stands out to you about this new addition?

John: John Grade’s Middle Fork sculpture is so large, it’s amazing it got completed. It’s the teamwork involved that amazes me the most.

What is your favorite piece of art currently on display at SAM?

Among many others, the Asante gold pieces on the 4th floor could be my favorites. They might seem inconsequential, but they’re actually prized possessions in that culture. I love so-called emphera, and these works could be seen that way. They are pristine and lovely. The Soul Washer’s Discs are really great.

Who is your favorite artist?

I love Cy Twombly. There’s a whole museum dedicated to him in Houston. His paintings look like children’s doodling, or graffiti, but I find it very moving: it’s like ancient scribbling on a wall from some obscure place.

What advice can you offer to guests visiting SAM?

Take it slow. Unless you’re here for a specific show, just go with the flow. That will help you find unexpected gems.

Tell us more about you! When you’re not at SAM, what do you spend your time doing?

I’m not a practicing artist, but I love art, old & foreign films, off-kilter music, and reading. I love animals, and often say hello to them, even when I’m driving in my car.

Katherine Humphreys, SAM Visitor Services Officer

Photo: Natali Wiseman.
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View from Above: How Art, Environment, and Community Come Together at the Olympic Sculpture Park

The Trust for Public Land Terrace resides at one of the Olympic Sculpture Park’s most active intersections. The Terrace is one of the best places to watch people gathered to picnic, sketch, and listen to live music on the grassy tiers of the Gates Amphitheater that cascade down to the valley. Richard Serra’s massive sculpture, Wake, looks especially striking with the surrounding landscape seen from the Terrace surrounding the PACCAR Pavilion. The contrast of the green firs, cedars, and hemlocks in the surrounding valley highlight the industrial steel sculpture’s organic color and forms.

 

The Trust for Public Land’s role as SAM’s partner in the creation of the Olympic Sculpture Park is embodied in the intersection between art, nature, and community that can be seen from the Terrace. The two organizations worked together to purchase and clean up the former Unocal (Union Oil of California) brownfield site that became the Sculpture Park. In turn, the park speaks to a number of environmental goals relevant to The Trust for Public Land’s mission. Shaun O’Rourke, the national organization’s Green Infrastructure Director, explained, “Increased urban green space is at the core of our mission to create healthy livable communities for generations to come . . . Cities need to think about how they can solve multiple problems at one time, and parks offer unique solutions for climate adaptation.” He went on to describe how the Olympic Sculpture Park addresses many of The Trust for Public Land’s Climate-Smart Cities program objectives by cleaning up and converting a former industrial site into one that has a more resilient coastline edge, connecting the city directly to the water, and reducing the heat island effect by introducing high-reflectivity pavement to the site.

When considering the environmental achievements of the park, Julie Parrett, a former project manager for the Charles Anderson Landscape Architecture firm that contributed to the park’s design, pointed to its storm water collection and drainage system. She explained, “Any precipitation that falls on the park’s eight and a half acres outflows directly into Elliott Bay, as opposed to being taken all the way over to a treatment center near Discovery Park.” This is possible because the Sculpture Park is filled with native plantings that don’t require the use of pesticides, herbicides, or insecticides that would contaminate the storm water—an important innovation 10 years ago that has since become more common in parks throughout the country.

The Trust for Public Land Terrace offers the vantage point it does because it sits atop one of the highest points of the park’s varied topography. As Parrett explained, many of the hills and valleys resulted from the addition of clean fill to the site. In this case, the fill was brought from the SAM’s building excavation downtown, whose expansion was being constructed at the same time. Instead of trucking in new fill from elsewhere, the Olympic Sculpture Park reused the excavation debris as landscape features.

Next time you find yourself relaxing on the Terrace, consider yourself integral to The Trust for Public Land’s aim of creating community cohesion by getting people outside. As Martha Wyckoff, national board member for The Trust for Public Land and SAM trustee said, “The Olympic Sculpture Park is not a static place. It’s dynamic by its landscape, by being an art center and as a major connector for how we flow through an increasingly dense part of our city.”

—Erin Langner, Freelance Arts Writer and Former SAM Adult Public Programs Manager

This post is part of an ongoing series exploring the history of the Olympic Sculpture Park in celebration of its 10th anniversary. Over the course of this year, we will continue reflecting on the Park’s evolution over the past decade.

Images: Photo: Robert Wade. Photo: Robert Wade.  Photo: Robert Wade.  Photo: Nathaniel Wilson.

 

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Photo Archive: Visual Evidence of SAM’s Enduring Impact

The photo archive at SAM begins in 1933 and spans 81 years to 2014, serving as a visual gateway into the expansive history of exhibits, programs, and events that have taken place here. The sheer scale of the photo archive is impressive: various sizes of negatives, color negatives and positives, prints, slides, CDs, and even floppy disks. The archive functions not only as photographic evidence of SAM’s expansion and influence over the course of its tenure, but also as a physical reminder of the advancement in photographic documentation technology.

 

 

In January 2017, we began taking inventory of all the materials in the photo archive. The project currently consists of assessing photographic materials, removing duplicates, improving the overall organization of the files through relabeling and rehousing, and inputting information about the exhibitions and events depicted in the photographs into a digital spreadsheet.

As we progress through the photo archive chronologically, we become more aware of how SAM’s presence in Seattle has inspired and driven the city to become a destination for experiencing art from around the world. The archive is a visual and tactile record of the breadth and scope of exhibitions, events, and community involvement that have shaped the Seattle Art Museum since 1933. Much of the material highlights the annual events that have taken place at SAM, like the Annual Exhibition of Northwest Artists (1914–1974), and the Annual Exhibitions of Residential Architecture (1950–1980), architecture tours organized by SAM volunteers of homes in the Puget Sound region.

 

 

A noteworthy event is depicted in a photograph of a prominent SAM donor, Mrs. Kress, greeting Queen Elizabeth in Washington DC in 1961. Mrs. Kress was in DC for the transfer of gifts from the Kress Foundation Collection to 18 US museums, including SAM.

 

 

Another is a photograph of two important figures in Seattle’s arts community past: SAM founder Dr. Richard Fuller and art supporter Betty Bowen, lighting candles on a cake made for artist Mark Tobey’s (of the Northwest School) 80th birthday party held at the museum.

 

 

In 1991, SAM moved from its original Volunteer Park location (now the Asian Art Museum) to its present downtown location on First Avenue. Highlights from the archive during this decade include a file from 1991 that houses color prints and slides documenting the installation of the marble Chinese camels (14th–17th century) at the new downtown location. The photos show installers wearing hard hats working together to elevate the sculptures, now located in SAM’s grand stairway.

 

In a file dated November 19, 1993 there is a public relations announcement with the headline “APEC Economies Present Seattle Art Museum with Gifts from Around the World” and a myriad of photos and newspaper clippings documenting the event. On November 19, 1993, the Asian Art Museum at Volunteer Park was the site of the 19th Asia Pacific Economic Conference leadership reception attended by heads of state from 15 Asia-Pacific nations. In a display of international goodwill, several economies participating in the conference offered SAM gifts of artwork from their respective nations. The conference also featured a piece by nine-year-old Skylar Gronholz, chosen as the piece that best represents the theme of “international economic cooperation” from a student competition. Skyler unveiled his work to President Clinton and the 15 world leaders during the conference.

 

A file dated February 11, 1994, a seemingly ordinary day, contains a series of prints documenting the arrival and greeting of SAM’s millionth visitor. There is no name listed in the file, but number 1,000,000 was photographed smiling and receiving flowers in front of the admissions desk as well as on her trip through SAM’s galleries. These documented moments within the archive showcase the involvement and enthusiasm of people inside and outside of Seattle who have fostered a space for SAM to successfully bring art to the community; effectively and accurately presenting SAM as a nexus of local engagement and international collaboration.

The Seattle Art Museum’s dedication to bringing art to Seattle residents and visitors alike is made visually evident in the photo archive. Through this project, our goal is to eventually make the archive more accessible. We believe greater access will lead to a heightened awareness and a more nuanced understanding of SAM’s involvement in the region and its enduring impact on the Seattle arts community.

– Kelsey Novick and Holly Palmer, Photo Archive Interns

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Get to know SAM’s VSOs: Sara Salvador

A Seattle native, Sara Salvador grew up surrounded by the fishing business and a love for the outdoors. Wanting to stay in state for college, she attended Western Washington University in Bellingham, WA, spending the majority of her time in the library or going on outdoor adventures. After earning her BA in History and Political Science, Sara moved back to Seattle, balancing working at SAM and a local law firm.

SAM: Seeing Nature: Landscape Masterworks From The Paul G. Allen Family Collection opened February 16 and runs until May 23. As our latest special exhibition, Seeing Nature has a lot to offer. What is your favorite piece in the exhibition?

Sara: This is a hard question because the entire exhibition is breathtaking. If I had to choose, it would be Gerhard Richter’s Apple Trees piece. Photo-paintings have always fascinated me because photography is one my side hobbies and I love the idea of combining two different art styles to create something new. Whenever I am in the gallery, I am always in awe of this piece.

What is your favorite piece of art currently on display at SAM?

Definitely Albert Bierstadt’s Puget Sound on the Pacific Coast. I fell in love with it when I first saw it because Bierstadt did a spectacular job capturing the famous PNW scenery. Additionally, it is impressive how the painting was from Bierstadt’s imagination because it looks like you can find this “scene” anywhere in the PNW.

Who is your favorite artist?

I recently discovered Gian Bernini after a friend showed me his famous Ratto di Proserpina. The statue is beyond amazing and there is so much detail involved. The Veil is also stunning and looks so realistic that I cannot believe it is made out of marble. Ancient sculptures are my favorite because of the amount of detail on such a hard surface.

What advice can you offer to guests visiting SAM?

Take your time! SAM has so much to offer when it comes to art and history. Spend time with the art and if you have any questions or insights, don’t be afraid to share it with a VSO. I always appreciate learning something new from a patron about an art object.

Tell us more about you! When you’re not at SAM, what do you spend your time doing?

Now that I am a college grad, I’ve been finding ways to keep myself educated and busy. So usually you can find me in a coffee shop reading or on my laptop researching whatever interests me. Sometimes if the weather is nice, I adventure around the city and discover new places to eat because I love food. Recently, I have been working at my grandparents’ shop, Linc’s Tackle, it’s been around since 1950. If anyone needs fishing equipment, check out my grandparents’ shop!

Katherine Humphreys, SAM Visitor Services Officer

Photo: Natali Wiseman
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Envisioning Equity: Migration Stories

SAM’s Equity Team has a vision: an inclusive museum where everyone can connect art to their lives in a welcoming and accessible way. Since early 2016, SAM has participated in the City of Seattle Race and Social Justice Initiative. A key outcome of this has been our Equity Team, formed in connection with “Turning Commitment into Action”—a multi-day training program for arts administrators examining historic racial disparities in our region and discussing ways to build racial equity.

“I’m excited about SAM’s commitment to prioritize time, resources, and support to build an equitable future here. The team’s contributions are essential to creating better access for our communities and fostering permanent change,” says Priya Frank, Associate Director for Community Programs and chair of the Equity Team.

SAM’s Director and CEO, Kim Rorschach agrees. “The team helps steer the museum towards the important work of inclusivity and considering equity in all our decisions. This progress will help us develop a more diverse audience that is representative of our region and remove barriers to entry.” Informed by feedback from mandatory all-staff racial equity trainings, SAM’s Racial Equity Plan was drafted. The team now acts as stewards of this larger vision to reach equity across all aspects of the museum. This includes examining artistic and educational programming, visitor experiences, recruiting practices, as well as staff development and career growth opportunities.

Although the museum recognizes that permanent change takes time and investment, initial changes are noticeable. Curatorial Coordinator Jenae Williams says, “The most tangible impact so far is the thoughtful consideration I overhear in meetings on installation planning or education programs.” This year the Equity Team organized free gallery tours focused on race and social justice, launched a new internship program for historically underrepresented participants, and created a book club inviting SAM staff to read The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson, a nonfiction work about the Great Migration in which African Americans fled the Jim Crow South and settled in northern American cities. The book club examined this historical event and increased staff familiarity with Jacob Lawrence: The Migration Series, on view downtown through April 23. “We organize internal events for staff to engage in equity-related conversations and emphasize how central equity is to all of our work, regardless of what department a person works in.” says Marcus Ramirez, Coordinator for Education and Public Programs.

The Migration Series exhibition is one example of integrating the Team’s strategic vision into SAM’s programming. Offering our Three-Day Free Day event over the opening weekend of the exhibition is another way we increased access to the entire community. SAM’s efforts as an advocate for Cultural Access Washington (CAWA) are also supported by our equity work. If approved in a future county-wide referendum, CAWA funding will help the museum offer additional free days and more educational programs accessible to all. As Jenny Woods, Manager of Volunteer Programs, says, “There is not one magic thing we can do to change the demographics of SAM, but the efforts of the museum within national conversations on equity will bring change.”

Over the next month SAM staff will be sharing stories from their personal and family history of immigration, migration, displacement, and community in a series called Migration Stories for the SAM Blog. Stay tuned for photos, quotes, creative writing, and interviews that will inspire thought on history and the figure of the migrant throughout time and in our contemporary moment.

– Chelsea Werner-Jatzke, Copywriter & Content Strategist

Photo: Natali Wiseman
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The Park In Balance: Siting the Olympic Sculpture Park Collection

Walking through the nature and art of the Olympic Sculpture Park, from the low-lying valley around Richard Serra’s Wake to the span of open water that fills the sightlines of Jaume Plensa’s Echo, one experiences an impeccable balance of nature and whimsy. “I think the way all of the art in the park works together, in combination with the way everything is spaciously placed, is what makes the Olympic Sculpture Park truly unique. You have breathtaking views, while the art can really stand on its own and be appreciated,” said Catharina Manchanda, SAM’s Jon and Mary Shirley Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art.

But, the process of achieving this effect was far from simple. SAM’s former Director of Exhibit Design, Michael McCafferty, led the process of arranging the park’s permanent sculptures within Weiss/Manfredi’s architectural design while collaborating with artists, curators, museum staff, and other partners. McCafferty approached the placement of the art as if he were working with a “very complex gallery”—a larger, outdoor version of the exhibit spaces he designed at SAM’s downtown location and the Asian Art Museum. He worked with a to-scale model of the Park that included the varied topography of its landscape, as well as miniature, hand-painted versions of most of the 21 works that were on view when the Park opened.

McCafferty began by placing the largest pieces that would be on view, such as The Eagle by Alexander Calder, the Sculpture Park’s founding gift from trustees Jon and Mary Shirley, as well as Stinger by Tony Smith and Typewriter Eraser, Scale X by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen. “I would take the various models of the sculptures and move them around and around, considering the best viewing angles for someone who will walk all the way around the piece while they’re in the park and also for someone driving along Elliott Avenue,” McCafferty said. The medium and smaller sized works were then sited, through a design that balanced their weights and masses with the larger sculptures and the landscape, in a spirit he likened to a Japanese garden.

Over the past ten years, the park has grown and changed. The Aspen trees around Stinger stretch taller, the grass beneath The Eagle has thickened and new sculptures have entered the collection. One of the most recent is Jaume Plensa’s Echo, a large-scale piece depicting a tranquil visage that was donated by trustee Barney Ebsworth in 2013. Maintaining the approach established during the Park’s initial design, Echo’s placement, looking out onto the Puget Sound, was made by considering the pedestrians and cyclists who pass beneath it, as well as those who approach it from the water. The location of Echo also thrilled the artist, as Ebsworth described: “Jaume Plensa said how wonderful the placement overlooking the Olympic Mountains is because the sculpture’s subject is from Greek mythology. It’s perfect because Echo looks out towards Mount Olympus.” This siting of Echo between nature and art, between open space and calculated design, between land and sea—embodies the ethos that makes the Olympic Sculpture Park a uniquely Seattle place to experience art.

This post is the second in our series of stories exploring the history of the Olympic Sculpture Park in celebration of its 10th anniversary. Over the course of this year, we will continue reflecting on the Park’s evolution over the past decade.

—Erin Langner, Freelance Arts Writer and Former SAM Adult Public Programs Manager

 Photos: Paul Macapia
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Blue Sun: Interview with Victoria Haven

Hovering overhead in the Olympic Sculpture Park’s PACCAR Pavilion is the work of Seattle native, artist Victoria Haven. Blue Sun is a wall drawing inspired by a 2015 video project where the artist filmed the large-scale demolition and development of South Lake Union over a ten-month period. One of the more dramatic examples of Seattle’s rapidly changing urban core, Haven captured over 500,000 still frames through her art studio window and created a time-lapse video piece. Editing and viewing this footage piqued Haven’s interest in the movement of light and shadow and how light impacts a space differently depending on the objects, or in this case architecture, it encounters. With the Olympic Sculpture Park as a canvas for light and shadow, Haven approached the PACCAR Pavilion with a curiosity and intent that she shares with us in this interview about the bold crystalline forms that traverse the entire length of the east wall. Blue Sun closes March 5—don’t miss it!

SAM: How do you see Blue Sun functioning as a sculptural painting in dialogue with the sculptures around it?

Victoria Haven: The first thing I did upon being offered the opportunity to create a work for the Pavilion wall, was to spend many hours in the space considering both the interior architecture (windows, walls, floor, chairs) and the exterior forms in the Sculpture Park; the most visible being Serra’s Wake to the North and Calder’s Eagle to the West. These colossal structures are incrementally transformed throughout the day as dramatic shadows appear and recede, based on the intensity and variety of natural light. I tried to capture this dynamic sensibility in the bold shapes and implied motion of my wall painting.

Also at play are the Olympic Mountains in the distance, which I consider an extended border of the park, as they are visible from nearly every vantage point—including the Pavilion where my work is sited. The composition and forms of Blue Sun are in conversation with these works and others (i.e. Tony Smith’s Wandering Rocks), in terms of scale and geometry, as well as being a direct response to the monumentality of the peaks to the West.

There is movement to this piece. Do you ascribe a narrative to the work? If so, is this narrative motion cyclical, linear, other?

There is an implied motion/movement in this work in that it is a sequence of forms presented horizontally, and (for most Western trained eyes) from left to right. These forms create an arc that points to the cyclical nature of the sun’s transit across the sky, referring to both daily and cosmological durations. In this sense, it operates as a narrative—or perhaps a framework or container for a narrative—by addressing two vastly different time-scales via repetition.

The geometric forms of Blue Sun appear in a lot of your work. Why are these forms useful or important to this piece?

I consider all of my work, whether in two dimensions or in three, to operate within the discipline of drawing. Line is the essential component of my practice, and I employ it as a tool which allows me to define and describe space.

When I first began making work that emphasized the space between two and three dimensions (i.e. the Oracles 1999/2009, Wonderland 2004, etc) it looked like a kind of DIY extrusion of the grid. I often begin with a single line or shape that mutates and proliferates to become an expanded wire-frame-like structure. The geometries I employ, though they may suggest mathematical systems, are usually intuitive and wonky.

Oracle 4, 2009, Victoria Haven

Wonderland, 2004, Victoria Haven

In the case of Blue Sun, I saw it in a flash. I had the vision of a large blue crystalline form repeating but transforming across the space (echoing the sun as it appeared in the time-lapse). It was one of those rare and lucky moments when the ideas that had been gestating in my mind merged instantly with the space in the Pavilion.

My challenge was figuring out how the piece would have the same strength of that original vision, with the emotional punch of something between joy and oppression. The space requires the work to have a powerful visual impact, from afar as well as up-close. To accomplish this I drew from my deep well of mind and body memory; drawing and painting line upon line and edge upon edge to create these enigmatic forms as well as the negative space that defines them.

You filmed 10 months of footage for Studio X, the piece that inspired Blue Sun. Did you watch all 10 months of the footage? What was it about the blue sun spots that made them jump out from within so much footage?

Yes!! I not only WATCHED all 10 months of footage, I (along with my studio assistant Elliot Bosveld) edited over 500,000 still frames that became the 24-hour time-lapse video, Studio X—a video projection which documents the radical transformation of this city, shot from the fourth-story windows of my studio in Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood.

In the process of filming and editing Studio X, certain recurring patterns unfolded. What struck me most as I sorted through day after day (293 in all) of altered city and sky, was not only the massive construction site my neighborhood had become, but the subtler recurring moments that stood out among the drama; the trees that would appear to wiggle in the distance, and the sun (when it showed up) stuttering across the sky in 30 second intervals.

Still from Studio X, 2015, Victoria Haven

I was captivated by how my low-fi camera transformed the glowing celestial orb into a blue blob, with a halo of fractured pixels and varying values. It was also this aspect of the sun’s repeated and consistent trajectory that opened-up the work beyond the frame-by-frame depiction of gentrification and development on a human scale toward a broader poetic geological timeline. I knew I wanted to isolate this feature and explore an abstract version of this phenomenon. This commission for the Olympic Sculpture Park Pavilion wall provided me with the perfect opportunity to do so.

—Chelsea Werner-Jatzke, Copywriter/Content Strategist

Images: Installation view of Blue Sun, 2016, Victoria Haven, American, b. 1964, acrylic, 57 x 14 ft., Seattle Art Museum, 2016 Commission, photo: Natali Wiseman. Installation view of Blue Sun (detail)Oracle 4, 2009, Victoria Haven, selenium toned silver gelatin print 19″ x 15.75”  Edition of 6. Wonderland, 2004, Victoria Haven, shelf paper, adhesive, Yupo, pins. View of title lettering from Blue Sun. Still from Studio X, 2015, Victoria Haven, dual screen video projection, dimensions variable.
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