Seattle's Best Art for Out-of-Towners

How to make the accessible enjoyable for your guests.

Let's start at Hammering Man. We have no choice but to start at Hammering Man. Tourists love it, the Duck drives by it every five minutes during summer, and it is to the Seattle Art Museum what the golden arches are to McDonald's. If it gets ticket-buyers in the door of that economically challenged museum, particularly without a Picasso-level summer marquee exhibit, we cannot hate Hammering Man. Jonathan Borofsky's 48-foot-high metal sculpture has been swinging away since 1992, long before SAM's newer, nicer addition to the original Robert Venturi structure. And here's a fun fact: SAM doesn't actually own Hammering Man! The city does! (Inside the museum, you can hear the curators sighing "Don't blame us.") There are other Hammering Men in New York, L.A., Germany, and Japan, so it's not as if we in Seattle are the only ones responsible. Also, here's a fun drinking game: Sit on the terrace of the Ipanema Brazilian Grill or Guaymas Cantina just across First Avenue. Each time he hammers—that's every 20 seconds—someone in your party does a shot. It's a quick way to get, well, you know . . . SAM! Who needs Picasso, Nick Cave, or King Tut? The Seattle Art Museum delves into its permanent collection for the American landscape show "Beauty and Bounty" (opening June 30), an easier and more affordable way to see Yosemite and the Grand Canyon, courtesy of Albert Bierstadt and Thomas Moran. On July 16, "Our National Game" celebrates just that—baseball! Norman Rockwell, Jacob Lawrence, and others render the boys of summer. The admission price is cheaper than a ticket to see the Mariners; or it may inspire you to wander down to Safeco for an evening game—where they also serve beer and hot dogs, unlike abstemious SAM. Depending on your visitors' schedule, try to coordinate your tourist-art safari with summer's remaining three First Thursday art walks (July 7, Aug. 4, Sept. 1). Making the Pioneer Square circuit of galleries will lead inevitably to the Tashiro Kaplan Building, the quickest and most efficient introduction to the diverse styles of Northwest contemporary art, presented buffet style. If you don't like one gallery (or its wine and cheese) in the TK Building, just move to the next. It's like speed-dating, a series of casual encounters with the artists, and the scene, where dogs and children abound, isn't pretentious or forbidding. Sometimes the friendly conversations out on the sidewalk are better than what's hanging indoors. And since all tourists want souvenirs, walk them through Occidental Park, where local artists and crafters offer their wares in the open air. These handmade mementos are better than any T-shirt sold up in Pike Place Market. [For a rebuttal of this claim, see page 20.] No Seattle resident needs convincing to visit the Olympic Sculpture Park, and every out-of-towner should do the same. On a sunny day, you'll want to spend hours on the zigzagging paths, snooze on the grass, or take in the panorama of Elliott Bay and the Olympics. True, it can be frustrating for kids not to be able to run their hands over the undulating, rusted steel of Richard Serra's massive Wake. But for consolation, take them to the snack bar in the PACCAR Pavilion, where they can deposit their colored water-bottle caps as part of Trenton Doyle Hancock's installation A Better Promise. Then try to explain Claes Oldenburg's Typewriter Eraser, Scale X. No, really, see how baffled the post-PC generation will be. An eraser? For a typewriter? You mean there wasn't a Ctrl+Z key back in the old days? Now keep walking north into Myrtle Edwards Park, where Michael Heizer's massive Adjacent, Against, Upon predates the OSP by three decades. Unlike the fussy Serra, you're free to climb all over the trio of huge quarried slabs, one of Seattle's oldest and best pieces of public art. The work is a series of prepositions running south to north, a delicate dance of heavyweights that each tip the scales between 30 and 50 tons. When the sun sets, if you're in a reflective mood, the slabs seem like forgotten dominoes of the gods, stray remnants from Stonehenge, or distant cousins of the 2001 monolith. There is no avoiding the tourist two-fer of Waiting for the Interurban and The Fremont Troll, so park the car and make an afternoon of it. Hit the Fremont shops and eateries, too, and have a picnic on the Ship Canal. In fact, after you've parked, explain to your guests that the former life-size realist sculpture makes reference to Seattle's once-extensive trolley system, which we are now gradually rebuilding at great expense with new SoundTransit track. Some say Waiting is kitsch; we say it's cruelly ironic in our age of $4 gas. A short hike up the hill, lurking beneath the Aurora Bridge, the troll is still devouring the same VW Beetle after 20 years. (Those Bugs were built to last!) Again, small, fuel-efficient cars are back in vogue, but the hungry troll's true import is its place in Scandinavian folklore. It's a chance not only to explain to your visitors our city's ethnic heritage but also, for kids, a teachable moment that not all trolls are ill-mannered folks on the Internet. Once you're north of the Ship Canal, head to the UW's Henry Art Gallery, whose James Turrell Skyspace is guaranteed to awe—and calm—any cranky tourist. If their feet are tired from the day's long art trek, if they don't get the Henry's ongoing "The Talent Show," the horizonless blue ceiling oval will soothe the most frazzled of nerves. Turn off the cell phones, sit on the smooth, circular bench, and chill out. Just don't use secularist buzzwords like "meditative" or "yoga," which may alarm your guests (especially from the red states). And, on the way out, David Herbert's Open Studio grafts Mt. Rainier onto the alien mother ship from Close Encounters of the Third Kind (beginning July 5), which may put you in the appetite for some mashed potatoes. Lastly, at the end of your long day's journey, your feet are weary and your souls tired. You and your art-sated visitors just want to sit and relax those edified eyeballs. Art doesn't always have to be difficult or challenging; it can be a natural, graceful part of the cityscape. Thus the perfect sunset coda to your day: Changing Form, by sculptor Doris Totten Chase, which commands that supreme view of the city from Kerry Park on the south prow of Queen Anne Hill. The stacked steel structure, with its cradling oval cutouts, frames a lovely, postcard-ready image of Seattle. You and your guests are welcome to lounge inside its smooth enclosure for the snapshots they'll take home with them. bmiller@seattleweekly.com

 
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