Steel Petals

Ginny Ruffner's downtown floral fantasy.

Ginny Ruffner is, deservedly, a local art institution. A breakout star during the '80s, she suffered a debilitating car crash in 1991. Last year's documentary A Not So Still Life chronicled her career and partial recovery, coinciding with the installation of her five-ton The Urban Garden near the Convention Center. After seeing that movie, which depicts a proud, lively, but clearly impaired woman ("I talk funny, I walk slow, but so what?"), I was in no hurry to visit the 27-foot-tall installation. You don't want to confuse the pathos of the creator with the permanent creation. What with Hammering Man and Waiting for the Interurban, Seattle has more than its share of mediocre public art. Once something bad is planted on the sidewalk (or plaza or park), it never goes away. With its giant red watering can that regularly tilts water onto a colorful daisy and sprig of bluebells, Urban Garden isn't entirely bad. But it is certainly badly sited. Union is here basically a freeway off-ramp, flanked by the hideous Sheraton—which donated the site—and Convention Center. A few pedestrians may pass by to reach ACT (in the old Eagles Auditorium Building) or Two Union Square, but this is mainly a bleak street for taxis to queue. (If the Sheraton truly wanted to be generous, it would convert its south tower to a pocket park.) Something as aggressively whimsical and tourist-friendly as Urban Garden deserves better, deserves grass and families: near the Market perhaps, on the waterfront (though not in the Olympic Sculpture Park), or at Seattle Center—where kids could peer at the mechanical workings through a window in the pot. Flowers need sun, and public art needs eyeballs to thrive. This corner provides neither. 

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