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In Bellingham, on the campus of Western Washington University, is a remarkable collection of public art. I spent many hours wandering and hanging out — sometimes hanging on — that art as a teenager. There was something that felt, in an ambiguous and hard-to-quantify way, truer spending time there than hanging out at, say, the mall. Guards would kick you out of either, but at least the WWU didn't care if I bought anything.
So when I moved to Seattle, I loved to visit the public art. There is quite a bit, although it wasn't collected in one convenient place. You could visit the Sound Garden at NOAA, at Magnuson Park (although, now doing so requires a photo ID), or the Black Sun in Volunteer Park. Others, that didn't include local bands using their names, are around, from Hammering Man, to Olympic Illiad on the Seattle Center grounds.
But it wasn't until the Olympic Sculpture Park opened that there was a collection of art in one place like I remembered from Western. And although I'll not comment on the quality of the art, or the collection itself (better critics than me can take that on, piece by piece, but if you read one thing about it, make it Jen Graves' invigorating investigation into Echo).
There are things I love about this park, but when it was opened I was disappointed by the heavy hand the museum brought. First, in a rule they later reversed, they prohibited personal photography — now it's just commercial photography for obvious reasons of reproduction rights. But second, they stop you from touching things. At Western, you can touch and interact with their Richard Serra. You can sit in the windows of Nancy Holt's Rock Rings. You can sit on the slope of Lloyd Hamrol's Log Ramps. Yes, it changes the work, but environmental work should be changed. That's the whole idea of it.
The Art Museum has different challenges here, in the corrosive salt air. Maintenance, without people interfering (I'm sure they do, in bad ways, people can be awful), is a huge issue. Apparently, the lawn around Calder's Eagle must be clipped by hand, lest the mowers hurt the legs of the piece.
But still, each touch that wears the surface, or erases the patina, proves that human connection. Where the bronze rubs bright shows where people touch the most, where the stones grow smooth shows where people sit. We do have the collected sculpture that I wanted for so long, and the park is an amazing resource and a great place to walk and watch the world. I just wish I felt less like I was in a mall while I did it.
But no matter, surely we can find some stories here, even if we can't detect their touch on the surface of the art.
For a little turd, that dog was fast. His grandmother's westie, who yanked his leash from Jules's hand when he stopped to light a cigarette (his grandmother would kill him if she knew he smoked), ran down the hill and straight into the park. But it was closed now, and surely he wasn't supposed to go in? But if he returned without that little shit, it would be his head. So calling and whistling, Jules entered, the footfall on the gravel loud in the night. But not as loud as when he heard the sound doubled from behind him.
It turns out identifying the gigantic bird, the size of a Metro bus, was difficult. It was the scale, said the ornithologist, and that made it hard to see detail. Also, the proportion was all wrong, and then there was the facade of the building it perched upon crumbling, and shedding brick to the ground, that made them keep their distance. But then, the giant thing took wing, and diving down first avenue, plucked an unsuspecting man right in its claws. Running to Broad, they followed the flight of the monster, watching it alight next to Roxy Paine's Split, the giant metal tree in the sculpture park. Where the bird impaled the poor man onto one of its branches. "Well," said the ornithologist. "At least we know now that it's a shrike."
The sculpture park would be safe, she thought. Her husband was at work in Bellevue, and so walking hand-in-hand with her girlfriend wouldn't be a thing. They walked up from the waterfront, past Love and Loss, the neon ampersand, and across the bridges into Serra's Wake. It was turning a corner and entering another corridor defined by the walls of the sculpture when she came face-to-face with the person she most wanted to not see: her husband. And they looked at each other in complete shock, since he was walking hand-in-hand with another man.
The protester set up his camp at first light. A folding card table, with his sign, in all black capital letters: SEATTLE ART MUSEM SUPPORTS PEDERASTY. He sat, in front of the fountain Father and Son, waiting to talk to people and explain how gross it was. But then people didn't really talk to him. But they did take a lot of pictures of him with the fountain behind.
The painter walked into the park, up the stairs in the southwest corner; she held the rail and pulled herself until she reached the gravel path. The wind, on this hot summer day, was light but nice against the skin. The Olympic Mountains were out, on the peninsula, and a container ship was passing by downtown. The painter looked at the pieces of art dotting the landscape, and remembered what was here before — lots of nothing. Toxicified land. She took a few steps to the rail, to better look down at the water, and the people on the path below. She recalled the studio she had for a few years many decades ago, with a window that overlooked Elliott Bay. There was a guy who used to do sculpture there. In fact, she remembered well the first time she met him.