Seattle's Olympic Sculpture Park

Abstract and Proposal

Katy Jeffery


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Public art has been pioneered by the city of Seattle, WA since the practice started to emerge on the art scene in the 1970s. In the approach to the opening of the Seattle Art Museum's Olympic Sculpture Park next summer, this article looks back on the development of the public art trend in Seattle since the 1970s and how the city came to lead the way.

The article examines the Olympic Sculpture Park specifically, discussing the architectural design by Weiss/Manfredi which links three separate sites on Seattle's waterfront to create the sculpture park. It questions the way that site specific commissioned pieces of work relate to the historical function of the site, formerly a fuel transfer facility serving the Puget Sound, and the location of the park within the urban landscape. Such works include that of Richard Serra, Mark Dion, Teresita Fernandez, Mark Di Suvero, Tony Smith, Glenn Rudolph and Alexander Calder.

Seattle's population has become particularly tuned in to the public art scene. With this in mind, the article calls to question the role of projects such as the Olympic Sculpture Park in ensuring the interest in public art is continued to upcoming generations.



Artforum is a notoriously densely factual publication which discusses fine art theory and contemporary events in the art world. Each edition of Artforum tends to contain an underlying theme, which is carried through the Features. Such themes often relate to contemporary events in the international art world. In the Summer 2005 issue, eleven artists, art critics and curators wrote features on the theme of the 'expanding geographic and conceptual topographies of contemporary practice' 1 all under the heading of 'Inside Out : Art's New Territory' . 2 In September, the theme followed by contributors was the 51st Venice Biennale, where as October's issue responded to a contemporary rush of interest in Michael Krebber through a series of reflections on his work. November's Artforum contained two features on the sculptures of Isa Genzken, while the December issue contained the annualtheme of highlights of the past year from around the world. The framework for contributions in Artforum involves Columns, Features, and Reviews. Within each category are regular areas of content. Under the Column heading fit Books, Film, Media, Tech, Performance, and Architecture articles of between 1000 and 2000 words. As discussed, the Features are thematic with some regular headings, for example 'In conversation', 'History Channel', '1000 Words' etc. Features vary in length but are the longest form of article in the publication, ranging from 2000 to 5000 words, which would be more suited to this proposal, for example, Gwen Allen's 'Avalanche' article, for example, which is approximately 4000 words. 3 At the end of each publication is a section of Reviews which deal with exhibition openings, and world art news. In November's issue, artist, Carroll Dunham writes a review of Elizabeth Murray's painting in the 1970s. The article has a contemporary relevance because of the simultaneous retrospective of Murray's work at the New York Museum of Modern Art. The proposed article is suited to this approach as it will discuss the roots of the public art trend in Seattle from the 1970s onwards, while maintaining contemporary relevance through discussion of the forthcoming opening of the Olympic Sculpture Park, specifically, the environmental implications of such a project in urban landscape.

The proposed feature on the opening of the Olympic Sculpture Park is appropriate to the large readership of Artforum. It is a contemporary subject, but, like the publication's articles, is grounded in art theory and contextualized within the development of public art over the last thirty years in Seattle.

Artforum allows writers to maintain their individuality to an extent regarding style. Although the overall tone is formal and the publication¹s articles are notoriously dense in fact. This is notable in Gwen Allen¹s article on Avalanche art magazine, ŒQuestions are posed unpretentiously, candidly, even bluntly: To Buren ³So what were you trying to do, exactly?² (December 1974); to Smithson: ³What exactly is your concept of a non-site?² (Fall 1970); to Matta-Clark: ³What¹s a metaphoric void?² (December 1974); to Girouard: ³So in what ways does the choice of medium become significant? Š¹ dense in fact. This is notable in Gwen Allen's article on Avalanche art magazine, 'Questions are posed unpretentiously, candidly, even bluntly: To Buren "So what were you trying to do, exactly?" (December 1974); to Smithson: "What exactly is your concept of a non-site?" (Fall 1970); to Matta-Clark: "What's a metaphoric void?" (December 1974); to Girouard: "So in what ways does the choice of medium become significant? ' 4 Dunham's article is written in a scholarly style, using lengthy sentences of complicated vocabulary. For example, 'But it was her constitutional inability to avoid subject matter that catalyzed both the exponentially increasing eccentricity of her work's physicality and the elaboration of a complex and subtle psychonarrative that characterized her unique development.' 5

Dunham also presupposes an audience understanding of certain theoretical themes. '"Shape" as an issue for painting was the demon spawn of the critical program initiated by Greenberg and elaborated by Michael Fried.' 6 This significantly narrows the audience of the article.

Allen's article of the same issue on Avalanche, however, appeals to a larger audience with a more accessible style. Her discussion of the art magazine remains formal, and dense in information. 'However, the image of Bueys, who was known for the radical ideas he espoused at the Dusseldorf

Academy as well as his influential role in the formation of the leftist German Student Party (DSP), surely also embodied the editor's own political leanings and their desire to challenge the status quo.' 7

Throughout most articles, contributors break up the text with the use of American colloquialisms, for example, in her article on Elizabeth Murray, Carroll Dunham refers to a painting subject as 'hokey' 8 to mean sentimental or melodramatic. She then goes on to describe an exuberant style of abstraction as 'rambunctious'. 9

In Dunham's article, this informality with regard to vocabulary is set against far more specialist terms, 'Most notoriously, Frank Stella's manipulation of the shape of the physical support in his work of the '60s was seen as an inevitable evolutionary step in the reduction of painting to its own medium-specific essence, and perhaps also as a way out of the cul-de-sac of graphic decorativism.' 10

The style of articles tends towards informative rather than opinionative, often highly descriptive in style; 'The magazine unfolds in a dense, layered manner, as texts and photographs cascade across the page, full-bleed images alternating with spare, white pages.' 12 Where notes are included, they are presented in the form of endnotes rather than footnotes, in the same form as the article.

The contemporary relevance of the opening of the Seattle Art Museum's Olympic Sculpture Park makes the subject of this proposed article appropriate to many of the more journalistic art journals, for example, Frieze, Contemporary, Art Monthly etc. But Artforum is unique in that, although its main interest is grounded in current affairs in the art world, it also allows for a more in depth theoretical discussion. Its audience wants more out of reading the articles than an update on contemporary events, but also to link them into the framework of art history and theory. 1 Artforum, Summer (2005)

2 Artforum, Summer (2005)

3 Gwen Allen, 'In On the Ground Floor: Avalanche and the SoHo Art Scene', Artforum, November (2005)

4 Gwen Allen

5 Carroll Dunham, 'Shapes of Things to Come: The Art of Elizabeth Murray', Artforum, November (2005)

6 Carroll Dunham

7 Gwen Allen

8 Carroll Dunham

9 Carroll Dunham

10 Carroll Dunham

11 Gwen Allen

12 Please see Appendix A

Interview with Albert Heta

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