The Curator's Eye: SAM’s Olympic Sculpture Park

Fleeting Pleasures

Olympic Sculpture Park was made for timeless masterpieces, but this summer, it’s invaded by transient works by five West Coast artists. Why? “To infuse the park with freshness,” says Seattle Art Museum assistant contemporary curator Marisa Sanchez. “There are surprises.”

Jenny Heishman, Summer in the Park, 2010, canvas, aluminum, paint, boxwood shrub, polystyrene foam, epoxy, marble tiles, grout, 10 x 4 x 4.5 feet

So, what’s that awning jutting from the park’s tall concrete wall? “Jenny Heishman grew up in Florida,” Sanchez explains, “and her work is informed by golf courses, Disney World, all these artificial simulated experiences with nature.” The playfully pointless awning is reminiscent of Michael Graves’ cartoonish Orlando behemoth hotels. “The day we installed it we heard from the people in the office over there, asking, ‘What is it?’ It could be a hot dog stand.” Nearby lie Heishman’s boxwood turtle topiary and “beach towel” – a marble-tiled trench for sunbathers.

Andrew Dadson, Van-couver’s prince of darkness, painted the grass black to honor the site’s toxic industrial past but colorful wildflowers struck back. “Ad Reinhardt meets Heidi,” says Sanchez. In the trees, Whitney Biennial veteran Jessica Jackson Hutchins’ ceramic humanoids loll in hammocks made from her kids’ clothes. In the park’s garage, Mungo Thomson’s recordings of birdsongs play, slowed down to a sixteenth of their original speed so that they sound like whale songs; upstairs, you hear whale songs sped up to sound like birdsongs. “The belly of the pavilion seemed to make sense for the whales.”

In tall grass, Whiting Tennis’s wooden replica washer/dryer and 1950s hi-fi console decay in the sun and rain. “This is the view I wanted you to see,” says Sanchez. As Tennis hoped, his work makes the adjacent, permanent di Suvero sculpture look like junk too. “They look like abandoned objects in some salvage yard,” says Sanchez. No matter how often you’ve been to OSP, you haven’t seen it like this before. 

In October, the ephemera will vanish. The park will look eternal again. •


Days it took Dadson to paint the grass black: 3

Years it took Heishman to grow her boxwood topiary in her Seattle backyard: 4

Tennis’s annual disposable income (after paying bills) at thirty-five, before he quit his day job to be a successful full-time artist: $180

Actual 45 rpm record on Whiting’s wooden hi-fi: Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Up Around the Bend

Lyric from that album applicable to this show: “Better get while the gettin’s good”

The next big thing at OSP: SAM Remix party August 27, 8 p.m. to midnight

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