All posts in “Roxy Paine”

Shaping New Sightlines: The Olympic Sculpture Park’s Evolving Landscape

Walking through the Grove at the Olympic Sculpture Park, it’s easy to forget you’re in a city. As the path descends, the flickering Aspen leaves, purple pops of Oregon grapes, and thick layers of ferns make the urban landscape feel suddenly distant. One could almost mistake the path for a hike outside city limits were it not for the landmark that emerges at the end: Tony Smith’s sculpture Stinger, a square, geometric fortress made of slick, black steel.

The Olympic Sculpture Park’s landscape merges artistic, natural, and urban landscapes of the Pacific

Northwest, via the innovative design by architects Weiss/Manfredi and Charles Anderson Landscape Architecture. The Z-shaped Mosley and Benaroya paths guide visitors from the PACCAR Pavilion and surrounding cityscape at Elliott Avenue and Broad Street, down 40 feet to the waterfront below, bringing them through four landscapes that reference regional ecosystems along the way: the Valley, the Meadows, the Grove, and the Shore.

When the sculpture park opened in 2007, the plant palettes that filled those environments were 95% native to the region—an unusual accomplishment at the time and one that established the park as an early model for future parks’ design. Julie Parrett, a former project manager for Charles Anderson Landscape Architecture, explained, “Ten years ago, there weren’t a lot of examples of corporate campuses or institutions that were working with native plants extensively. A couple of universities were doing it but it was pretty rare. . . . One of the unexpected outcomes was creating habitats that we didn’t even necessarily know we would create, for both birds and marine life.”

Over the past ten years, the park’s landscape thickened and flourished around the sculptures and architecture, filling in with denser grasses and taller trees. This is due in part to the way the native plant species are maintained with limited human intervention. Bobby McCullough, Head Gardener since the sculpture park opened, described, “Unlike strict, well-groomed, extremely maintained gardens, the sculpture park landscape is meant to constantly evolve, so we have to let it grow as it succeeds and replace what fails.”

Humans aren’t the only species to appreciate this approach. The natural landscape has also encouraged wildlife to return to the once-toxic stretch of Seattle’s urban core. McCullough pointed to the Shore as an example of a new habitat that has become established since the park’s opening: “We allowed the shrubbery and grasses along the waterfront to grow more on the natural side, which has enabled it to become a bird sanctuary. Even though we clean it up once a year to remove the dead grass, we try not to touch it very much because it’s become an active habitat area.”

The Olympic Sculpture Park experience feels especially unique in the moments when the landscape, art, and design come together before our eyes. Whether this happens while sitting on one of Louise Bourgeois’s Eye Benches, spotting a seal on the Puget Sound, or watching crows perch in the steel branches of Roxy Paine’s Split, the land brings new insights to the way we see the art, and the art frames the natural world in ways we wouldn’t ordinarily see. Over time, the park’s sightlines will continue to shift and evolve, promising new encounters with every visit.

—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: Natali Wiseman. Photo: Benjamin Benschneider. Photo: Paul Macapia. Photo: Paul Macapia. Photo: Paul Macapia. Photo: Paul Macapia.
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Object of the Week: Split

Roxy Paine’s polished stainless steel tree Split rises fifty feet high above SAM’s Olympic Sculpture Park, brazenly confronting its natural surroundings with its own manmade-ness.

In many ways, Split embodies contrast. Smooth and reflective, it rejects the rough texture and earthy brown color of tree bark. There is an immediately recognizable contrast between its machine-age manufacturing and the organic growth process of trees, a juxtaposition heightened by the earth on which Split is installed. Within the work itself, Paine has built up the sculpture in such a way that its two main limbs diverge, heading in opposite directions, as if visualizing some internal conflict in the tree, like two camps of its cells decided their differences were irreconcilable and they roughly parted ways. Nearby, in Neukom Vivarium, a nurse log gives birth to life in varied forms while the log itself decays—a celebration of natural regenerative processes that have been occurring for a long time. In Split, we see something quite different, as the artist confronts us with our views and actions related to art, nature, and beauty, in a relatively new world of industrial production.

Yet Split shares with its woody neighbors a common tree-ness. Its form tells us straight away that it represents a tree. Though made, not grown, it, too, had to be planted.

The act of planting a tree holds a special significance. It is a generative act, one that makes a positive contribution to the landscape in the form of an oxygen-producing, eye-pleasing, life-giving organism. One factor that makes it special is the longevity of the reward. Planting a tree requires the investment of a certain amount of time and labor, but we have a sense that it’s well worth it because trees last (longer than us, often). The lifespan of the tree, and the richness of the reward for planting it, overwhelms any cost. Good vibes attend the planting of a tree because we have a sense that what we’re doing will benefit so many folks beyond ourselves. Here’s another rewarding quality to planting a tree: our investment multiplies. We can’t exactly watch it happen, but with patience, over time, we can mark a tree’s growth. The payoff continually increases. This is the ecological equivalent to putting away savings.

In 2017 SAM will celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Olympic Sculpture Park, itself a remarkable contribution to Seattle, and home to important works like Split. Moving from one year to the next always provides a chance to reflect on transitions and trajectories, and after this turbulent year, that seems especially the case. As we turn over a collective new leaf at SAM, in our city, in our country, and in our world, my hope is that we remember the value of planting, of making positive additions, each of us in our own unique way.

—Jeffrey Carlson, SAM Collections Coordinator

Images: Split, 2003, Roxy Paine (American, b. 1966), polished stainless steel, height: 50 ft. Seattle Art Museum, Gift of the Virginia and Bagley Wright Collection, in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum, 2016.17.3, © Roxy Paine, Photos: Benjamin Benschneider.
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