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WEDNESDAY: Documentary Plugs SAM Scuplture Park


Art Without Walls

With awestruck descriptions like "Throughout the summer of 2006, the Seattle Art Museum's incredibly skilled installation team put up one gravity-defying sculpture after another" and "The tripod base of Mark Di Suvero's Bunyon's Chess was choppered in like a rock star," it's clear that Ann Hedreen and Rustin Thompson's new half-hour documentary about SAM's Olympic Sculpture Park is not digging for any dirt. Not that it necessarily should, but the project's genesis raises some sticky issues that are mostly ignored in Art Without Walls: The Making of the Olympic Sculpture Park. Hedreen and Thompson recount the transformation of the former Unocal toxic site to Seattle Art Museum's 8.5-acre waterfront sculpture park, slated to open Saturday, Jan. 20. The award-winning team knows how to craft a film (past efforts include Quick Brown Fox: An Alzheimer's Story and 30 Frames a Second: The WTO in Seattle), and was obviously given a fair bit of access. As a result, Art Without Walls offers some interesting early behind-the-scenes and installation shots of the artwork. But it's a fairly rudimentary primer on how the park came to be and suffers from a touch of documentarian's Stockholm Syndrome—the filmmakers are clearly captivated by their subject, to the point of losing a sense of objectivity. All their sources are either directly connected to or invested in the project. No person-on-the-street interviews from Seattle residents, no opinions from the local art community. And left unaddressed are issues like: How exactly were all the sculptures chosen? What does it mean that the person who had a main hand in the selection, SAM's former contemporary art curator Lisa Corrin, didn't stick around to see the end of the project? There's no mention of unrealized plans to include Native American art in the park, nor details of the complications faced by this project that was once slated to open in 2002—the delays, the concrete strike, the controversial relocation of the streetcar barn. When one of the park's architects exclaims (inaccurately): "There's nothing like this in the world!" you know you're watching closed-circuit TV. It's fine to revel in the potential beauty of this admittedly ambitious project, but this documentary reads like a fairy tale. And quite honestly, I don't think the park can be judged a success or failure until it has opened and people can experience it. Is the work accessible? Is the park welcoming—or sterile? Will New York archi-tect team Weiss and Manfredi's Z-shaped landscape flow well and allow visitors to enjoy the art naturally, or will it feel like a contrived incision across an often-sliced and -sluiced land? Thompson shot some beautiful images—a plastic tarp rising up in the wind, shadows of a parent and child walking by, bugs spinning off lights at night, unusual angles and dissolves. But coupled with Hedreen's unctuous narrative, breathily intoned by the misappropriated accomplished local actor Todd Jefferson Moore, this supposedly independent film will nestle comfortably on the shelf next to the previous promo films the team has made for SAM. KCTS, Channel 9. 9 p.m. Also 4:30 a.m. Thurs., Jan. 4, and 2 a.m. Sun., Jan. 7. SUE PETERS

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