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Olympic Sculpture Park

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Olympic Sculpture Park

Olympic Sculpture Park
The park as viewed from the Space Needle
Location Seattle, Washington
Area 8.5 acres (3.4 ha)
Founder Mary and Jon Shirley
Designer Weiss/Manfredi
Operated by Seattle Parks and Recreation
Open January 20, 2007
Status Open
Website //OSP/visit.orgseattleartmuseum

The Olympic Sculpture Park is a public park in Seattle, Washington that opened on January 20, 2007. The park consists of a 9-acre (36,000 m2) outdoor sculpture museum and beach.[1] The park's lead designer was Weiss/Manfredi Architects,[2] who collaborated with Charles Anderson Landscape Architecture, Magnusson Klemencic Associates and other consultants. It is situated at the northern end of the Seattle seawall and the southern end of Myrtle Edwards Park. The former industrial site was occupied by the oil and gas corporation Unocal until the 1970s and subsequently became a contaminated brownfield before the Seattle Art Museum, which operates the park, proposed to transform the area into one of the only green spaces in Downtown Seattle.

As a free-admission public outdoor sculpture park with both permanent and visiting installations, it is a unique institution in the United States.[3] The idea of creating a park for large, contemporary sculpture in Seattle grew from a discussion in 1996 between Seattle Art Museum director (and wife of William Gates Sr.) Mimi Gardner Gates and Martha Wyckoff while stranded on a fly fishing trip in Mongolia due to a helicopter crash.[4][5] Wykoff, being a trustee of the Trust for Public Land, soon after began an effort to identify possible locations for the park.[5]

A $30 million gift from Mary and Jon Shirley (former COO of Microsoft and Chairman of the Seattle Art Museum Board of Directors) established them as foundational donors.[5] As part of constructing the sculpture park, 5.7 million dollars were spent transforming 1,000 feet (300 m) of the seawall and underwater shoreline inside Myrtle Edwards park. A three level underwater slope was built with 50,000 tonnes of riprap. The first level of the slope is large rocks to break up waves. The second is a flat "bench" level to recreate an intertidal zone. The lower level is covered with smaller rocks designed to attract sealife and large kelp. It is hoped that this recreated strand will help revitalise juvenile salmon from the Duwamish River and serve as a test for future efforts.[6]

Maintenance of the sculptures has been an ongoing issue. The environment near a large salt water body has been corrosive to pieces like Bunyon's Chess, made primarily of exposed wood and metal. Tall painted pieces such as Eagle need to be watched for damage from birds and their waste. Maintenance of these large structures is expensive, requiring scaffolding or boom lifts. The paint on Eagle is also damaged by grass clippings near the base of its installation, requiring the gardeners to use scissors instead of a lawn mower near the sculpture.[7]


  • Pieces 1
  • Awards 2
  • Public reception 3
  • Criticism 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6


Work Artist(s) Year Description Image Ref(s).
Neukom Vivarium Mark Dion 2006 Materials: Western Hemlock in a greenhouse, living plants, 80 feet (24 m) long.

This living installation nurse log is in a climate controlled incubator room. The tree was brought from the Green River Watershed. The display includes magnifying glasses to view its decay and the life arising from it. It was originally titled Seattle Vivarium but the artist was asked to rename it to reflect the generous family that paid for it. The Vivarium can only be shown when there is a volunteer staffer available in the room.

Inside Neukom Vivarium [7]
Typewriter Eraser, Scale X Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen 1998-1999 Material: Stainless steel and fiberglass

Loaned to the park through 2009 by Paul Allen, this sculpture is part of the artists series of taking mundane objects to a massive scale.

Typewriter Eraser
Wake Richard Serra 2004 Material: Steel

Wake was first shown at the Gagosian Gallery but with this park in mind as its eventual destination. The best place to start to experience Wake is next to the PACCAR Pavilion and start walking down to the Melinda and Bill Gates Amphitheater. Each piece is structurally composed of two huge sheets of curved weathering steel that are mirror images of each other put together to form what Serra calls "Ws" or "W units" and sometimes "Wiggles" (after the letter "W"). Serra said that by creating a piece 125 feet (38 m) long he wants people to walk among it and participate in it, rather than just observe it. When walking through the structure with Serra, he will point out the shapes formed in the air between the steel pieces as much as the pieces themselves and that the shapes formed change as you walk through it. He says, "The subject of this piece is not its image and it is not the steel. It is you. Your experience in walking through becomes the content."[8] Wake has been the sculpture most damaged by deliberate acts by park patrons carving things into the rust patina.

Wake in the distance [7]
Split Roxy Paine 2003 Material: Stainless steel

Split is a stainless steel tree from the artist's attempts to create artificial landscapes.

Curve XXIV Ellsworth Kelly 1981 Material: Rusting steel and concrete
Riviera Anthony Caro 1971-1974 Material: Rusted then varnished steel
Sky Landscape I Louise Nevelson 1983 Material: Aluminum
Bunyon's Chess Mark di Suvero 1965 Material: Wood and steel

di Suvero created this piece for local art connoisseur Bagley Wright who donated it to the park. Wright wanted a large sculpture for his backyard and commissioned di Suvero to create it during the summer of 1965. The Wrights gave di Suvero their home for several months while they vacationed. When they returned di Suvero had not worked on the commission. The Wrights returned on another evening to find di Suvero and his friends in the backyard partying with the Wrights wine collection, but had created this sculpture. The Wrights angrily told the partying group, "skedaddle".[9]

Bunyon's Chess
Schubert Sonata Mark di Suvero 1992 Material: Painted steel

Part of a series created by the artist to honor musical composers. This piece was formerly installed at Benaroya Hall.

Schubert Sonata in front of the water
Persephone Unbound Beverly Pepper 1965 Material: Bronze

On loan to the park.

Persephone Unbound in front of Wake
Eagle Alexander Calder 1971 Material: Steel painted red

This sculpture is a soaring piece 39 feet (12 m) tall. It is a gift from Mary and Jon Shirley via special donation specifically for its purchase. Originally installed in Texas, it was moved to Philadelphia, and then the Seattle Art Museum made arrangements to acquire it. It was in Seattle several years before it could be installed in the park and had a temporary installation in Volunteer Park.

Perre's Ventaglio III Beverly Pepper 1967 Material: Enamel and steel

Made of highly reflective material the artist intended to create a multi-dimensional structure almost like an optical illusion.

Love & Loss Roy McMakin 2004 Material: formed concrete, paint, enamel.

Love & Loss is a series of benches and tables. As a piece the public can functionally use, the paint and enamel surfaces have chipped and periodically need replacement.

Seattle Cloud Cover Teresita Fernandez 2006 Material: Glass

This piece is a glass part of a pedestrian bridge structure linking two parts of the park. It includes a layer of photographic material between layers of glass. It is designed to catch light during the daytime creating vibrant reflections and images; at night it glows by artificial lighting. Although Teresita Fernandez made several trips to Seattle to study Seattle clouds, the actual images she used are photos of Miami clouds. One pane of the glass has cracked and been replaced.

Father and Son Louise Bourgeois 2004-2006 Material: Steel, aluminum, bronze, water

Father and Son is a fountain installed where the sculpture park meets Myrtle Edwards Park. The sculpture includes models of a nude father and son reaching for each other but the other is obscured by the water. The artist explains that the nudity and obscurity represent vulnerability and the way male familial relationships deteriorate. Each figure will be obscured by water gushing over their surface as Louise Bourgeois described the work in her proposal. The volumes of water will be on a timer to mark the 24 hours of the day, accompanied by the ringing of a bell. On the hour, the water will be lowered to reveal the son. At the next hour when the bell rings, the water will rise hiding the son, while the other mound of water will descend to reveal the father. The figures when revealed will seem to float in the air above the water.

The piece was commissioned as an estate gift after the death of Stu Smailes, an executive of Safeco. Smailes specified a million dollars to the city of Seattle on the condition that it would purchase public art including realistic, life size, and nude male figures. The city gave the money to the Seattle Art Museum, which commissioned this piece.

The fountain has been victim of a prank common to water fountains, dish soap, which creates very large amounts of bubbles. This sculpture is particularly vulnerable to corrosion from this because the detergents in the soap react with the metal in the sculptures.

Eye Benches I, II and III Louise Bourgeois 1996 Material: Black granite from Zimbabwe

These benches are a gift of the artist which she included with Father and Son. At 97 years old at the time of installation, the artist said she could not come to Seattle from New York to see the benches and fountain together saying "I only travel in time, not space." The benches were originally conceived to surround Bourgeois’s abstract sculptural fountain in the Agnes R. Katz Plaza in Pittsburgh, PA.

Being near a sidewalk, the benches are susceptible to incidents with bicycles and have some small chips and scratches. In the parks first year, their location has twice been the site of out of control cars which have, so far, missed the art.

Stinger Tony Smith 1999 Material: Steel painted black

Stinger is a 33-foot-long (10 m), 6-foot-tall (1.8 m) square of 6-foot-wide (1.8 m) steel square with an opening. It was designed by the artist in the 1960s and exhibited as a painted plywood structure. While Smith died in 1980 he left behind designs on paper for sculptures never created. His wife set out to have many of the sculptures made. It is numbered and credited to Tony Smith.

His estate manager, Sarah Auld, said Mr. Smith "liked people to interact with his sculptures" and "Stinger is like a palette ... very inviting, seductive, hard to leave alone." This interaction (which the park disallows) however, has made it the most damaged piece by patron negligence. Children and others see the piece like a jungle gym and says Auld, "The problem when people interact by climbing is not the footprints, it's the belt buckle or rivet in the jeans that scratches the surfaces." Other damage the curators have noted came from people dusting the sculpture of snow and leaving scratches from the rings on their fingers.

Wandering Rocks Tony Smith 1967 Material: Steel painted black

These five pieces are designed to be evocative of a zen garden, specifically those at Ryōan-ji. In the sculpture park they are set astride the path leader to Stinger.


The park has received numerous awards for its design, engineering and environmental restoration.

  • Architecture Magazine, Progressive Architecture Award
  • Museum of Modern Art, selected for the exhibition Groundswell - Constructing the Contemporary Landscape
  • American Institute of Architects, Honor Awards for Washington Architecture
  • American Institute of Architects, Seattle Chapter, the Allied Organization Award [10]
  • American Institute of Architects, New York Chapter, Design Awards: Architecture Honor Award [11]
  • American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), Professional Awards: General Design Honor Award (Lead Designer: Weiss/Manfredi, Landscape Architect: Charles Anderson Landscape Architecture) [12]
  • American Institute of Architects, New York State Chapter, Excellence in Design Award
  • Cascade Land Conservancy, New Directions for Livable Communities Award
  • Harvard University Graduate School of Design's Veronica Rudge Green Prize in Urban Design
  • Seattle Design Commission, Design Excellence Award
  • World Architecture Festival Nature Category Award [13]
  • The Chicago Athenaeum: Museum of Architecture and Design American Architecture Award [14]
  • The EDRA/Places Design Award in cooperation with Metropolis magazine
  • I.D. Magazine Annual Design Review
  • Travel + Leisure Design Award for best cultural space [15]
  • American Shore and Beach Preservation Association, Top Restored Beach Award [16]
  • American Council of Engineering Companies, Engineering Excellence Award
  • American Institute of Architects, Institute Honor Awards for Architecture
  • Puget Sound Regional Council, 2008 VISION 2020 Awards

Public reception

Prior to and during the park’s opening in 2007, the project received positive reviews from many regional and national press sources,[17][18][19][20][21][22][23][24][25] and the Olympic Sculpture Park has now become an icon for Seattle. Frommer’s guide calls it “the best thing to happen to Seattle in years.”[26]


Before the construction of the Olympic Sculpture Park began, there was substantial criticism in the community that the new park would result in the complete shutdown of the Waterfront Streetcar, a fixture of the Seattle waterfront since 1982, because of the park's needed demolition of the streetcar's maintenance and storage facility. The storage and maintenance building was located on a portion of the park's proposed site, and the new park was not designed to either incorporate the existing building or construct a replacement facility. As a result, the streetcar "carbarn" was demolished and the line shut down in November 2005, despite an offer by the staff of the Waterfront Streetcar to modify the carbarn into a sculpture to fit in to the park, the route being named, by National Geographic Society, as one of the 10 Great Streetcar routes,[27] and its great popularity with tourists and locals. A new facility has been proposed to be built in Pioneer Square to allow the route to reopen in the future. As of 2013, King County Metro, and City of Seattle fail to implement a plan for said new carbarn.

As soon as the park opened it was also criticized by the public for two policies that seemed to conflict with the easy public accessibility of an open-air museum: "Don't Touch" and "Limited Photography". The park hired security officers to enforce these rules.

On its weekend opening, both major local papers, the Seattle Times and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer ran articles about the museum's "Don't Touch" policy.[28][29] The policy was instituted by Chief Conservator Nicholas Dorman to protect the pieces from damage, not just from scratching and vandalism, but long-term changes caused by oils left by human contact. The largest and one of the most accessible pieces, Wake by Richard Serra, has a delicate patina of rust that could be protected by a coating but has not because it conflicts with the museum's ideal to present and preserve the piece in its purest form. After the weekend opening the piece had a subversive finger scratching saying "DON'T TOUCH!".

One of the park's prominent pieces, Typewriter Eraser, Scale X by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, is on three-year loan from its owner, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen.[30] Unlike the other sculptures in the park, there was initially a posted sign indicating that the public does not have permission to photograph this sculpture,[31] in spite of its current position alongside Elliott Avenue, a major street running through the park. After some criticism, the prohibition was lifted, with a Seattle Art Museum spokesperson claiming it was "a misinterpretation of the loan agreement".[32] The text prohibiting photography was subsequently covered up with masking tape.

Much of the sculpture comes from local collections or were specifically commissioned for the park. Some of the donated pieces have been referred to as the "equivalent of an unwanted birthday present left on the curb for charity." By commissioning sculptures, the park has been criticized for placing art that does not have "staying power" by artists who have not proven their worth. The piece Stinger, ostensibly by artist Tony Smith, has caused debate among artists and critics because it was created twenty years after his death.[33] In addition, a few undisclosed owners of a select sculptures have stated that they, in fact, had no desire to keep their sculptures, and use the park simply as a tax write-off.


  1. ^ "Seattle Parks Department official site". City of Seattle. 2013. Retrieved 2013-07-31. 
  2. ^
  3. ^ Sheila Farr, Seattle Times art critic (July 25, 2006). There's nothing else like this in the country" for outdoor art, says artist""". Seattle Times. Retrieved 2007-01-22. 
  4. ^ Regina Hackett (March 29, 2005). "Mimi Gates, Seattle Art Museum's director, doesn't shy away from a challenge". Seattle Post Intelligencer. Retrieved 2007-11-01. 
  5. ^ a b c  
  6. ^ Seattle Times Research with the Seattle Art Museum (15 January 2007). "The seawall: Changing the landscape under water". Seattle Times. Retrieved 2007-01-30. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h Stuart Eskenazi (January 10, 2008). "Art at Sculpture Park is a touchy subject". Seattle Times. Retrieved 2008-03-04. 
  8. ^ "A Conversation with Richard Serra about his sculpture 'Wake'", video.
  9. ^ "Olympic Sculpture Park walking guide", The Seattle Times, May 19, 2010 
  10. ^ "AIA Seattle Honors 2007". American Institute of Architects. 2007-04-13. Retrieved 2013-07-31. 
  11. ^ "American Institute of Architects New York Chapter Announced 2007 Design Awards" (PDF). American Institute of Architects. 2007-02-13. Retrieved 2013-07-31. 
  12. ^ "ASLA 2007 Professional Awards". American Society of Landscape Architects. 2007. Retrieved 2013-07-31. 
  13. ^ "Olympic Sculpture Park, Seattle Art Museum". World Buildings Directory. 2008. Retrieved 2013-07-31. 
  14. ^ "2008 American Architecture Awards". The Chicago Athenaeum. 2008. Retrieved 2013-07-31. 
  15. ^ Barr, Luke; Bloom, Laura; Lombardo, Mimi (March 2008). "T+L Design Awards 2008". Retrieved 2013-07-31. 
  16. ^ "ASBPA Announces 2008 Winners of Best Resorted Beaches" (PDF). American Shore and Beach Preservation Association. 2008-05-18. Retrieved 2013-07-31. 
  17. ^ "Olympic Sculpture Park Guide". Seattle Times. Retrieved 2013-07-31. 
  18. ^ Smith, Valerie (September 2006). "Take Back The Site: Valerie Smith on the Olympic Sculpture Park". ArtForum. Retrieved 2013-07-31. 
  19. ^ "Stunning sculpture park could redefine waterfront". Seattle Times. 2007-01-14. Retrieved 2013-07-31. 
  20. ^ Sheets, Hilarie (2007-01-14). "Where money's no object, space is no problem". The New York Times. Retrieved 2013-07-31. 
  21. ^ Verhovek, Sam (2007-01-15). "Transformed by a creative use of space". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2013-07-31. 
  22. ^ "On the waterfront: Money and vision give Seattle a bold new vista". International Herald Tribune. 2007-01-16. 
  23. ^ "Seattle trying to woo salmon back downtown". Seattle Times. 2007-01-16. Retrieved 2013-07-31. 
  24. ^ Lacayo, Richard (2007-01-18). "Walk on the Wild Side". Time. Retrieved 2013-07-31. 
  25. ^ Gantebein, Douglas (2007-01-31). "From toxic wasteland to public garden with view". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 2013-07-31. 
  26. ^ "Frommer's destination guide-Seattle".  
  27. ^
  28. ^ Danny Westneat, Seattle Times (31 January 2007). "Getting touchy about art". Seattle Times. Retrieved 2007-01-31. 
  29. ^ Regina Hackett, Seattle PI Art Critic (27 January 2007). "Olympic Sculpture Park: It's not a hands-on experience". Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Retrieved 2007-01-27. 
  30. ^ Percy Allen (6 July 2006). """Allen loans massive "Eraser. Seattle Times. Retrieved 2007-01-22. 
  31. ^ Jen Graves (19 January 2007). Arrested"The Stranger". Slog ( 
  32. ^ Jen Graves (22 January 2007). "Sculpture Park Hangover". Slog ( 
  33. ^ Sheila Farr, Seattle Times art critic (24 January 2007). "A critic's-eye view of the new Olympic Sculpture Park". Seattle Times. Retrieved 2007-01-30. 

External links

  • Official website
  • Seattle Parks Department
  • Seattle Times Olympic Sculpture Park Guide
  • Olympic Sculpture Park 360 Virtual Tour
  • Presentation of the park's final design at
  • Pictorial Journal A neighbor's unofficial chronicle of the construction.
  • Olympic Sculpture Park Flickr group.
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