Henry Moore's Vertebrae

Henry Moore (1898-1986) is not someone whose name you often hear these days. Once a progressive, modernist force, not a conceptualist or particularly clever, his legacy seems tied to the avant-garde innovations of the ’20s and ’30s, pre-WWII, pre-irony, pre-Pop, pre-Andy Warhol and Jeff Koons. In the year of his death, however, his eight-ton bronze Vertebrae briefly dominated Seattle news. Bought and installed in 1971 courtesy of the new SeaFirst bank tower, the sculpture was secretly sold to the Japanese by SeaFirst’s Chicago landlord in ’86. Alarmed at the controversy, Bank of America—which had bought SeaFirst following its ’82 near-collapse—purchased Vertebrae back and donated it to SAM. And there it remains today on a very different streetscape. Bank of America moved; the tower became Safeco Plaza, and soon its name will likely change to Liberty Mutual, which bought the local insurer this year. Across the avenue, Rem Koolhaas’ new Central Library looms. Meanwhile, the typically knobby, organic Moore still seems somewhat neglected and forlorn. The windy plaza, part of local architect NBBJ’s original 1969 design, has always been a hostile Miesian wasteland. Adding a bit of retail at the north edge hasn’t helped. There’s no comfortable place to sit on the sloping concrete; anti-skateboard barriers ring the pedestal and nearby planter. So I have to ask: With SAM’s new Olympic Sculpture Park, with plenty of room in Myrtle Edwards Park, why is the Moore still there? (Also: where’s the identifying plaque?) The plaza has its own problems, and should be completely redone. For starters: level it, add terraces, then movable outdoor chairs and tables. Removing the Moore would help reconfigure the plaza, and thousands more art lovers would appreciate Vertebrae in a different setting. SAM has the land. Eight tons isn’t that heavy. All they need is a big truck. We could even hold a parade to follow it down to the waterfront. BRIAN MILLER

Starts: Jan. 1. Daily, 2009

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