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Burn calories, see art: explore Seattle Art Museum's Olympic Sculpture Park

Situated on the shore of Elliot bay at the north end of downtown, the Seattle Art Museum's Olympic Sculpture Park is definitely worth a visit. If possible, time your walk through the park for day's end on a sunny day, as the sunset views over the bay are quite spectacular. Be sure top sport comfortable shoes as there are unpaved trails to walk, and at times, as common in downtown Seattle, the inclines may be quite steep.

The Eagle, Alexander Calder
Peter Germonpre 2014
Alexander Calder's The Eagle with Seattle Space Needle in background
Peter Germonpre 2014

For an urban sculpture park, the area is quite large and the sculpture density reasonably low, affording the visitor the experience of discovering works while at the same time enjoying the majestic bay views and grand backdrop of Seattle Center's Space Needle. When comparing to other significant sculpture parks in the country, the experience is more akin to visiting St. Louis' Laumeier rather than the sculpture park at say the Chicago Art Institute or the Houston Art Museum.

One of the highlights of the perk's collection is The Eagle, a large, bright red painted steel stabile from 1971 by Alexander Calder. Its bold, angular construction and bright color creates a nice contrast both with the surrounding greenery and the sky. As the sculpture soars upward, the Space Needle backdrop lends additional visual impact. On a whimsical note, the park provides chairs in a matching red, allowing visitors to relax a take in the site.

Another significant work in the park is Typewriter Eraser. Constructed from stainless steel and painted fiberglass, it is a collaborative work from 1999 by the artist couple Coosje van Bruggen and Claes Oldenburg. While the object reference may be obscure to younger generations, those of us who grew up using type writers are very familiar with it. Oldenburg and van Bruggen create abstractions of every day objects through magnification and material substitution. While the source object's proportions and details are meticulously reproduced, the utilitarian object is rendered a non-functional fine art object. While Typewriter Eraser is clearly visible to vehicle traffic on Elliott Avenue; in the park, it is hidden and discovered by exploring a trail in a reed area of the park.

Also of note are Tony Smith's Stinger and Wandering Rocks, both from 1967 and both made of steel that is painted black. Both works are contemplative in nature, and discovered downhill the trail from Typewriter Eraser. Wandering Rocks is encountered first. It consists of five geometric "rocks" located on both sides of the trail and placed in a circle, thus defining a space that is both united and divided, creating an environment that eloquently blurs the boundaries of art and nature. At the bottom of the hill, Stinger, the larger of the two, is constructed as a large geometric u-shape, allowing visitors to explore the piece from the inside as a meditative spatial enclosure.

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