I recently spent a couple of weeks on Jury Duty at the King County Courthouse which brought me to downtown Seattle every day for the duration. There was a decent amount of downtime and a long lunch so I spent a lot of time walking around the city. Seattle is known for its public art (though the program has not near been as well funded nor as risk taking as it used to be) and there is lots to find in and around the city. My primary digital camera that I’ve been using for the last number of years had broken and I wasn’t quite prepared to replace it just yet. However I like keep a small point and shoot camera on my bicycle and I’d been shopping eBay looking for a good deal on one of those. I found one and so for the last couple of days of Jury Duty brought the camera.
Isamu NoguchiLandscape in Time (1975)
Stumbling across Isamu Noguchi’sLandscape in Time in front of the Federal Building was the imputus to bring in the camera instead of just using my cameraphone. A collection of carved (and cast perhaps) rocks strewn across the brick courtyard of the federal building, it is a difficult piece to photograph. After I took a picture of the plague with the piece information on a suit who’d just exited the building stopped and read the plaque – perhaps a long time employee who’d stopped seeing this art. This is one of several great Noguchi sculptures in the PNW the most famous of course being Black Sun (pictured at right) but my favorite is his Skyviewing Sculpture at Western Washington University.
There are also a number of pieces that I stumbled across that had no identifying plaque and seemed more temporary. The above piece is an example of this, for even though it seems to have been there a while it doesn’t seem embedded in the ground and there was no information about it. Other works, like the one at the top of this page, weren’t created as “public art” but is an old piece of commercial art that time and circumstance has transformed into art.
Anyway there is tons of public art all over Seattle and I have many more photos to upload. So take a look at my Seattle Public Art Set on Flickr and watch for updates.
In my previous trilogy of earthworks posts I alluded to another earthwork that I’d stumbled onto on my own, at Luther Burbank Park on Mercer Island. After working on that series of posts and becoming increasingly interested in earthworks in the Pacific Northwest I made a return visit to the park on an overcast November day. The piece in question is The Source created by sculptor John Hoge which was installed in the park in 1980. The official description of the piece from Hoge’s online portfolio is:
The Source (1980)
Earth and Stone
3 feet height
140 feet wide
220 feet depth Earth and stone sculpture which recycles lake water abstracting the cyclical process of water. This image shows an aerial view of the sculpture in the park. Located at Luther Burbank Park, Mercer Island, WA
I include the aerial photo from Hoge’s portfolio here (on the left) because it demonstrates once again an aspect of land art that I find so fascinating: the effect of time on these pieces. The three encircling grass embankments have such definition in this photo, sharply defined and clearly outlining and demarcating the piece. While an aerial view is always going to be different than the the view from the ground you can see in this linked photo from Hoge’s entry on the City of Kent’s Earthworks page, that it was just as clear in outline from that perspective as well.
In the above picture you can see the current much more rounded and worn down state of those embankments; undoubtedly softened somewhat by the longer grass it also clearly has compacted and settled down in the thirty years since its creation. Luther Burbank Park is the primary (almost only) park on Mercer Island so you don’t see the neglect that I saw at some of the other King County earthworks, so this softening is clearly a product of time and use. The other thing I find quite interesting from Hoge’s portfolio is the description: “Earth and stone sculpture which recycles lake water abstracting the cyclical process of water“. This earthwork, much more so than the other three I have written about, seems the most sculpturally. Lorna Jordan Waterworks Garden and Herbert Bayer Mill Creek Canyon Earthworks were built as integrated parts of a water management systems and Robert Morris”˜ Untitled Earthwork is just as explicitly a work of land reclamation whereas this piece strikes me as using the land to make a work of art, whose inspirations are the setting it is placed in and references (as you often see) to ancient earthworks. From the City of Kent’s excellent earthworks page, Hoge makes this statement about his processes and concerns:
“In my own work, my preferred choice of materials are the natural ones: stone and other earth products. I am particularly interested in stones’ naturally occurring characteristics, formations and textures. Much of my work strives to retain, enhance and abstract naturally-occurring shapes and lines through direct carving techniques. I then use textural gradations and stone polishes to create transitions between natural surfaces and worked surfaces.” – John Hoge from the City of Kent’s earthworks essays.
Of all of the earthworks I’ve looked at The Source has the least information online and the material linked in this post are about all I can find. This piece was built during that the era that the King County Arts Commission (now 4Culture) was heavily promoting and investing in radical public art projects. Hoge was hired to document and liaise with Herbert Bayer during the construction of the Mill Creek Canyon earthwork and while he is perhaps not as well known (and certainly not the degree as Robert Morris) this is I think as great a piece as the others. It is perhaps its more sculpturally nature and does not that combination of public works with works of art that is a major component of many of the well known pieces, this but I think in many ways that adds to it. Perhaps its form invokes Spiral Jetty a bit too closely, which is another piece that I think is more art for arts sake but also like Spiral Jetty, I think The Source fits perfectly into its environment and was clearly constructed for it. I think its form is fantastic – the whorls that end in a little basin in the central stone that like an alter has steps leading up to it; the stone lined channel that runs down to Lake Washington; the embankments that surround the stones and evoke those same whorls but also prehistoric structures like BrÃº na Bóinne who over time become little more than grass covered mounds. And most charmingly the little stone offset from the central structure that evokes nothing more than the heelstone at that greatest and most well known of all earthworks, Stonehenge.
Check out all of my photos of The Source at Flickr.
The most recent of the three Washington State earthworks that I visited on my earthworks tour is the Lorna JordanWaterworks Garden from 1997. Of the three earthworks I’d visited on this day this one in Renton WA was the only one I’d been to before. It is more or less on the route between the Lake Washington Loop and the Interurban Trail and I the first time I ever rode on the Interurban Trail I had checked out the park. I usually never had much time, either on my way somewhere else or reaching it at the end of a longer ride so this was the first time I took the opportunity to really explore it. It was though toward the end of the day and the sun was sinking into smoke filled skies (making for a rather apocalyptic looking sun) . This does lead to some of my photos being a bit blurry as the sunlight waned.
Map of Waterworks Garden
Waterworks Garden is the most intricate of the three earthworks, with five separate garden “rooms” each with a distinct character to them. The once again excellent Earthworks pages on the city of Kent’s website contains a decent overview on Waterworks Garden and Lorna Jordan’s website features pictures that showcase it in its prime (note that this is a Flash site and I can’t link directly to the Waterworks Garden pages. They are located under the Portfolio heading). Being built so much later then the other earthworks it incorporates decades worth of of theory and practice in the making of earthworks, which has by this time fully absorbed the reclamation theme which Robert Morris wrote about (which is s0mething you don’t see in pieces such as Smithson’s Spiral Jetty, De Maria’s Lightning Field or Serra’s Shift). Jordan’s particular muse is water and her pieces often work with the material in context of reclamation: this piece for instance is a wastewater treatment plant.
"The Knoll", the first garden of Waterworks Gardens
“Stormwater runoff is collected from the grounds of the wastewater reclamation plant and put through 11 ponds where contaminates and sediments are allowed to settle. The water is then released into the wetlands which sustain plants, microorganisms and wildlife. The stormwater treatment ponds and the wetlands form an earth/water sculpture that funnels, captures and releases water.”
– from the City of Kent Waterworks Garden page
The Garden is on a hill and the water is presumably pumped up there and then gravity pulls it through the various treatment ponds that make up the combined artwork/processing plant. The entrance at the top is a very ceremonial garden whose large monolithic columns give it the feel of a Stonehenge or BrÃº na Bóinne. Artistically cut out sections of tile with rusted grates over them makes the presence of water felt amongst this stonework. This garden and the Grotto are the most obviously shaped and have a more public art feel. In between these two are the much more earthwork style portions of the piece. The second garden is a series of larger pools which begin the stormwater treatment. A path wends its way through these pools, each one descending down the hill.
"The Funnel", the second garden of Waterworks Gardens
From the Funnel, the open ponds become smaller and more in trees and then you enter the Grotto. Even more so than the Knoll, the Grotto is through and through a sculpted garden that wouldn’t be out of place in a formal English garden. A rounded space with fountains and pools of water that are allowed to have brilliant green scum floating upon them. The Grotto is constructed from concrete (or shotcrete apparently) in the shape of a seedpod and is finely detailed on every surface. Nature in the form of trees, vines, shrubs and the aforementioned pond scum has been allowed to run rampant making the Grotto even more mysterious as if you had found an abandoned garden in the woods. A nice tranquil spot in the middle of this earthwork it does once again embody the overall feeling of neglect that I experienced at all of these earthworks. Being more of a park than Robert Morris”˜ Untitled Earthwork it is closer to the Mill Creek Canyon Earthwork and had about the same level of neglect, though not the amount of trash that had piled up there. It is instructive to look through the City of Kent Earthworks Site and other resources to see how these earthworks looked in their prime. Each of these earthworks cut shapes into the terrain that is mostly obscured due to overgrown plants (though the goats seem to keep Morris’ earthwork in an approximately original condition).
"The Passage", the fourth garden of Waterworks Gardens.
The last two gardens The Passage and The Release are the filtering of the processed stormwater into a wetland and are harder to take distinct photographs of. The Passage is akin to walking on a path through a wetland, with shallow lakes, swampy regions, marsh grasses and other flora that you’d find in these areas. The Release was pretty wooded and became a stream eventually, the final release of the water back into nature. On Lorna Jordan’s site you can see pictures, maps and models that show all of these areas a lot clearer than I was able to photograph them. The park also contains the Springbrook trail which connects to other regional trails. Its a great park with a combination of the artwork mixed with the water reclamation and recreation. Well worth visiting and makes for a nice way to begin or end one’s earthworks tour.
This is the last of the three earthworks I visited on my August 1st earthworks tour. There is however a fourth earthworks I’ve visited on Mercer Island which I plan to revisit and write up at a later date.
In the last month I’ve managed to see a number of fantastic art exhibitions, several in San Francisco and in the last few weeks two in Seattle. This is the first of several posts covering these shows that I’ll post over the next couple of days. While chronologically not the first show I will cover this post will be about Target Practice: Painting Under Attack 1949-78 at the Seattle Art Museum. I’d been looking forward to this show for a while thanks to some early advertising from SAM who rarely seem to have shows within my interest (20th and 21st century art for the most part with plenty of exceptions). It promised to have quite a bit of my favorite artists as well as a artists I was unfamiliar with. The show opened while I was away on my bicycle tour but I caught it the first weekend after my return. The show turned out to be even more impressive then I had figured, extended well beyond SAMs holdings in getting a number of impressive loans and introducing me to several new artists that I was quite taken with.
The theme of the exhibit is Painting Under Attack which the exhibit organizer, Micheal Darling describes thus:
“For the artists in the show, painting had become a trap, and they devised numerous ways to escape the conventions and break the traditions that had been passed down to them over hundreds of years. This phenomenon occurred in all parts of the world, and the exhibition documents why artists felt compelled to shoot, rip, tear, burn, erase, nail, unzip and deconstruct painting in order to usher in a new way of thinking.”
This sort of exhibit is always interesting in that it takes an idea and then searches for evidence to support it. This of course can range from highly speculative in the case of artists who would speak rarely of their motivations, intents and processes to pretty direct from those artists whose published manifestos are an embodiment of your theory. I’d say in general I accept his basic thesis but barring some of the specific manifesto writings I’d say most of it comes from the struggle that every great artist makes to find their own voice. Working in the shadow of the western canon and the arising dominance of the New York School it doesn’t seem too much of a shock that conventions had to be pretty subverted in order to overcome them. The aftermath of WWII with its unprecedented horrors certainly seems to be a catalyst for at least some of the first stages of this phenomenon and it is interesting that the artists that Darling begins with were both from countries (Italy and Japan) defeated in that war.
Shimamoto Shozo Work (holes), 1950
Shimamoto Shozo(Japan) whose Work (holes), 1950, is pictured above, along with Lucio Fontana (Italy) nearly simultaneously began tearing into their canvases a gesture that seemed to arise directly from the defeat and devastation of their countries. I’d been at least passingly familiar with Fontana, but Shimamoto Shozo was new to me and it was the above work that really captivated me in the first room. A large painting its barren surface adorned with almost Twombly like scribblings seems to be more decayed than attacked. This one seems to capture a sense of defeat and despair but also feels germane to the present day, a timeless work that applies beyond its immediate circumstances. The Fontana works with their increasingly elegant cuts seem much more of their time and place and dwindle as time goes by. The first room seemed to serve as an extract of Darlings thesis, covering more time and more themes. Along with the starting points of the Fontana and Shimamoto’s it included the Johns target that is the advertising image for the show which being an iconic Johns was great to see in person. As one moved through the first three rooms there were several other works by Johns, around a half dozen in total. As there is currently a show focusing exclusively on the use of the light bulb in Johns work going on at the Henry right now (more on that in another post) it is a good time to be a Johns fan in Seattle.
Robert Rauschenberg Erased de Kooning, 1953
The rooms were somewhat thematic after the introductory room, focusing first on destruction whose primary attraction to me was Rauschenberg’s Erased de Kooning (pictured above). I’ve long been a Rauschenberg fan and this of course was an important milestone in his career. Being able to see it in person, how faint the remaining de Kooing is, the rather abused nature of the paper to be able to examine it as close as one wants was a heady experience. Other pieces in this room included another Johns (Untitled (Cut, Tear, Scrap, Erase.)) , two Yoko One piece’s one you could walk on (Painting to Be Stepped On), another you could hammer a nail into (Painting to Hammer a Nail). This later work had become a sort of patron bulletin board in that most patrons hammered in a piece of a paper they had written, or drawn on or was some sort of found object. This event was rather celebrated amongst the local Seattle are art wags but for me it was a lot more indicative of the contemporary art. While there is plenty of great contemporary art there really is an overabundance of that which is “art, because that is what artists do”. So much of this has little going for it: no ideas, no technique, no style, no engage. While an individual piece can survive without one or more of those, it has to have something. Modern art critics have to engage with contemporary art and you often find them having to champion these artifacts of self-absorption, which I think is the case here. Yoko probably would find it a larf though.
Jasper Johns Canvas, 1956
The following room focused on works that questioned the whole artifice of a painting and its frame handing in galleries, mainly by focusing on the backs of paintings. There was a Lichtenstein of the back of a canvas done in his inimitable style, a picture of the back of a Warhol, a neon lit frame and most compellingly I thought the above Johns. That small picture doesn’t capture the layers of gray ladled onto the back of this painting, obscuring everything but its dimensionality. In contrast to this black hole of grey is Richard Jackson’s SAM, wall painting, which looks as if the most vibrant pop art was created on canvases which where then pressed against the wall and moved around like a five year old finger painting. The canvases were then allowed to dry against the wall their final destination cemented where he placed them, their dusty yellow backs and stretchers contrasting with the bring colors strewn on the wall. SAM has put out a video of the making of this intriguing and captivating piece which I’ll inline below.
There was a full room installation viewable from this room and the edge of another room, which was of newspapers and paint on the floor, which honestly did little for me. Then there was quite a few video works, most of which I was too burnt out to spend the time with. This is the first exhibit at SAM that I feel the need to return to, having been supersaturated by about half way through. Two more pieces in the concluding room though, cleared my eyes and demanded a contemplation. One was the first of Rauschenberg’s combines a small little Untitled piece from 1954 that was more painting then sculpture which also included a squeezed out paint tube as part of it. The room this was in featured many paint tubes: run over by trains, in a series squeezed onto plastic and so on. In the final room there was the most compelling Andy Warhol I’ve ever seen: Oxidation Painting 1978. This piece was twelve panels, each probably around 6″x6″ square that had been coated with a copper paint. Warhol and other Factory members then urinated on it, which led to the paint oxidizing in these intricate patterns. Conceived as the end of the attack on painting (we have photorealism to look forward to in the next decade) I personally found the aesthetics of this piece to be far more interesting then the juvenilia. As someone who enjoys rust, decay and the futility of man’s creations against time this piece captured much of that essence. Below is an example of one of these, but not the one on view at SAM (I wasn’t able to find an image)
Andy Warhol Oxidation Painting, 1978
This was an impressive show with lots of great works and lots of pieces I was unfamiliar with, even from artists I knew fairly well. There is also a fantastic catalog, whose essays I’m still working through, but is well worth picking up for the images alone. I can’t seem to find a SAM online store, so perhaps in person is the only way to get it, which would be a pity (update 09.02.09: you can now get the catalog at Amazon). The show also includes an audio tour, which I for one rarely indulge in, wanting to form my own opinions. However they did get Laurie Anderson to narrate it, which I have to admit is pretty cool. I’m going to try to visit this one again before it closes and perhaps I’ll see what Laurie has to say. A preview of the audio tour can be heard here. Anyway if in town, or coming to visit in the next few weeks, this show runs through September 7th and is must see in my opinion.