Adjacent, Against, Upon

Since opening, the Olympic Sculpture Park has somehow eclipsed and subsumed the identity of Myrtle Edwards Park, which was established (with a different name) back in 1964, when SAM was still a small institution confined to Capitol Hill. The narrow old shoreline park was renamed in 1976 for the pioneering city councilwoman (1894–1969), and public art has been added at various junctures. Walk north of the OSP and you’ll find Michael Heizer’s Adjacent, Against, Upon(1976), which creates a grammar between three giant slabs, obviously manmade, and three corresponding granite boulders (quarried from the Cascades and delivered by barge). The work is a series of prepositions running south to north, a delicate dance of heavyweights that tip the scales between 30 and 50 tons. Back in ’76, when the project was funded by the NEA, City Light, Virginia Wright, and the Seattle Arts Commission, it was “initially controversial,” according to the city Web site. Why controversial? I recall happily climbing on the rocks as a kid. But today I can imagine what might be called the Richard Serra Effect—it’s too big, too unfriendly, too invasive! It’s not a statue with a noble or smiling face (remember that patriotic bicentennial year). Three decades later, surrounded by well-tended gravel, the installation holds up remarkably well. Visitors picnic upon the rocks (or adjacent, or against); tourists pose with it; and unlike your snooty OSP, there’s no prohibition against touching or climbing on the things. Each smooth slab is a foundation. Each roughhewn boulder lies in a position of order or disorder, depending on which direction you walk past. The work either illustrates entropy or acts despite it. It was also reportedly the first public commission for Heizer (then 32), who for the past few decades has been remaking a big patch of Nevada desert into City, already considered one of America’s most significant examples of environmental art. (He’s continuing the tradition of his late friend and colleague Robert Smithson, famed for Spiral Jetty.) Adjacent, Against, Upon is a comparatively small-scale work in Heizer’s catalog; if it once seemed massive to Seattle pedestrians, it now reminds us how much larger the city has grown. BRIAN MILLER

Starts: Sept. 3. Daily, 2008

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