Take a tour through some of the large, stunning artworks of the Olympic Sculpture Park with Carrie Dedon, SAM’s Assistant Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art. This audio tour offers a history of the park and new views of artworks that have become iconic elements of Seattle’s waterfront.
One of the largest works, Wake by Richard Serra, is located in the park’s valley, in the Northeast corner. For artist Richard Serra, space is a substance as tangible as sculpture. He uses materials and scale to alter perception and to engage the body, encouraging consciousness of our relation to space. Follow along as Dedon shares the artist’s process and leads you through various ways to experience the work depending on how you approach it.
The Olympic Sculpture Park is SAM’s third location and it opened January 2007. Covered in monumental artworks, this award-winning nine-acre sculpture park on the waterfront is Seattle’s largest downtown green space and is just one mile north of the Seattle Art Museum. As the site of prior brown field, restoration was at the heart of the development of the park as well as integration of the urban core of the city with the wild coast line designed to foster the recovery of salmon habitat. The park is open all year and always free.
SAM Docent, Mary Wallace is taking us to Seattle’s waterfront to wander the Olympic Sculpture Park and do some close looking at the monumental sculptures that call the park home. Mary Wallace is one of SAM’s talented and trusted docents. Docents volunteer a ton of their time learning about the art at SAM to lead tours for art lovers of all ages. While we can’t have in-person tours at the moment, we hope you will follow Mary’s tour on your phone the next time you visit the Olympic Sculpture Park.
We’ll start first with a big shiny tree. It is called Split and it is a tree made of steel. The branches are made of 20 different sizes and the tree was designed by artist Roxy Paine on a computer. Look closely and notice lines, shapes, colors, and texture. Compare Split to the Garry Oak that’s planted next to it. Make a list of the similarities and differences between these two trees. What about the sculpture looks real? What looks unreal? Is this tree realistic or abstract? Think about a way to describe this shiny tree. If you touched it, how would Split feel? Can you smell it? Could you taste it? You can see it. Could you hear wind going through its branches? Would the branches move? Why do you think the artist made this tree? The artist, Roxy Paine, likes to make artificial versions of nature. He thinks it is interesting to control nature and this is his way of doing it. What are other ways that we control nature: building dams, burning forests, having wolves go back into forests. Would you like to have a tree like this in your yard? Why do you think it is called Split?
Take a picture of this tree with your mind and pack up your senses. What were those senses again? Put it all in your memory bank. We are going down this hill and into that greenhouse where we will meet another tree.
Welcome to Neukom Vivarium where a nurse log lives.
Once upon a time, there was a beautiful tall evergreen tree that was about 100 years old. One winter there was a lot of snow, and rain, and wind and the tree was blown back and forth for many days. Eventually it was blown down. It laid on the forest floor for about 10 years growing all sorts of things on it. One day, an artist named Mark Dion, saw it and decided that it must go to live in a museum. It lives inside this building now. But how does it live if it cannot get rain, sun, wind and soil? Look around and find the sprinklers, the green tinted glass and the fans.
Once a year, a gardener brings dirt to put all around the tree. How is this tree like the one you just saw? How is it different? Is this tree alive or is it a dead? Is it an artificial tree like you just saw? If it is dead, how come things are growing out of it? What do you think is going on here? This is a nurse log and it is decomposing all the time. That is how things grow from it. What is decomposing and what makes it decompose? Since it is decomposing all of the time to support new growth, eventually this nurse log will disappear. Any stick that has growth of moss, lichen, or fungi is also a kind of nurse log. Is this art or is it nature? Do you wonder if this was a good idea to bring this tree out of the forest and put into a museum? Why do you say that?
Remember what Split looked like and what the nurse log looked like. Which one would you like to have in your back yard? Make room for this nurse log next to Split in your memory bank.
Walk uphill through the Meadow. You’ll pass a big red sculpture on the right, called The Eagle as you head to the big sculpture at the end of the path on the left. Stop once or twice to look at it as you walk. How does it change as you get closer? What shapes, colors, textures, materials do you see? Is the piece realistic or abstract? What do you make of this? Why do you say that? What does it remind you of? Why would the artist make this? What would you call it?
Its name is Bunyon’s Chess. What senses are you using to enjoy this? Sight for sure, and maybe the smell of the salty air that surrounds the art. The artist likes to use wood to remind you of forests and waters that keep them green and healthy. He also likes to use materials like steel and wood from buildings that have been torn down. The artist likes for his sculptures to move. When the wind is strong, what part of this sculpture do you think moves?
Add Bunyon’s Chess to your memory bank and leave room for one more sculpture.
Walk east and down the steps into the Valley. There is a large sculpture in front of you. Think about describing it: color, shapes, texture, materials. Is it realistic or abstract? Walk down the steps to the gravel. What senses will be used to look at this piece: sight, and maybe the smell of the trees and plants around it. We can’t touch, but what does your sight tell you about how the surface might feel? How is it like Bunyon’s Chess that you just left: both are made of steel. Richard Serra is the artist who made this piece and he calls it Wake. What are three definitions of the word, wake: wake up, wake from a boat, a ceremony to honor a dead person. The artist made this piece in honor of a friend who died.
There are five parts of Wake and the artist invites you to run and/or walk through them. Remember to look up to the sky as you do. When you get to the other end, share how you felt and what you thought going through it. Why did the artist make five parts instead of one? How would it feel going around just one part? Did it look different when you got to the other end? Is Wake realistic or is it abstract art?
There are steps on the left. Go up those steps towards the building at the top. Stop twice on your way up, turn around and look at Wake. Does it look different? Why do you say that? Go to the railing at the top and look back at Wake. How does Wake look from the railing? Do you see anything different in the top of Wake?
How are Bunyon’s Chess and Wake alike and how are they different? Which one would you like to have in your yard?
Have a seat in the grass or in the red chairs outside of the PACCAR Pavilion. Sit and look at the views. Think about one thing you will remember from your tour today. Think about the reasons to remember them. Was it because of the story, or the way the sculptures were alike or different, or the shapes you saw, or the materials, or the way it made you feel? Take one sweeping view of the Olympic Sculpture Park as you leave and wave goodbye to all of the art you saw.
“They recreate a surrealistic landscape with the long shadows and I love them, they are all the time changing.”
– Regina Silveira
Brazilian artist Regina Silveira takes us through Richard Serra’s Wake at the Olympic Sculpture Park to share her love and appreciation for how it connects to her installation Octopus Wrap at the PACCAR Pavilion. Listen in as she recalls Richard Serra’s statement on his childhood memory of visiting a shipyard and how it influenced his work throughout his life. Visit the sculpture park in any season to experience the shifting shadows of this monumental sculpture, it is always free. You can see Silveira’s immersive installation at the park through March 2020.
If you live in Seattle, now is about the time when you might find yourself feeling lethargic, despondent, and perhaps a bit irritable. SAM’s got the fix for your Seasonal Affective Disorder and it’s not vitamin D, it’s SAM Lights! Thursday, December 14, 6–9 pm get outside despite the cold and join us at the Olympic Sculpture Park for a luminous evening amidst iconic sculptures. There’s something for everyone with performances, food trucks, art activities, and Z Path lit by luminaria. Here’s a preview from two of our partners who will be bringing interactive art activities into the park just for you.
Sensebellum, a company specializing in blending interactive art and tech, is proud to present the Arborealis Tree Lighting System! Over 120+ light fixtures placed in 14+ trees around the Olympic Sculpture Park will light up the night as patrons walk around the grounds.
All of the trees are synchronized by custom software and are driven by an interactive kiosk where a map of the park becomes the interface. Press this button here and you hear a sound and see some light dance from branch to branch. What about that one over there? Better grab a friend because a good ol’ jam session just might occur! Whatever your style, it will sure to be a sight to see and we are sure very excited to bring out one of our favorite installations for all to enjoy!
Bop Bags is an interactive inflatable installation by the Seattle Design Nerds. Partly inspired by fungi that sprout in the wet season these inflatables appear to have burst forth in colorful bloom and are a reminder that our rainy season is still a vibrant one. These eight cuddly orbs invite touch and play by shifting color when tapped or “bopped.” Visitors are encouraged to tap on the surface of this series of gigantic cuddly lanterns which respond by changing colors.
Work together to create a symphony of illumination! As visitors descend through the Gates Amphitheater, the inflatables lure passersby from the path with their subtle glow and bubbly personality. Placed in a sympathetic arrangement to Richard Serra’s Wake, the orbs reward both play and patience. The Seattle Design Nerds are an all volunteer non-profit organization dedicated to design in the public realm. We focus on making exciting things for the public that can be experienced in unexpected locations and ways.
Images: Courtesy of Seattle Design Nerds & Sensebellem.
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.
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
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.
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.