The Fussy Eye: Image Grab

Tourists are the cruelest art critics. No matter if I hate Hammering Man, those descending from the Duck love it. And while I had, and have, high hopes for SAM’s permanent new installation above its proper main entrance at Union and First, Doug Aitken’s MIRROR is going to take some adjustment. Reprogramming may be needed. The removal of Metro trolly wires would help, too, which I realize is impossible. And the best view of its second-floor LED screens would probably be from a hotel room at the Four Seasons, which is too expensive for most of us. MIRROR is supposedly an exemplar of feedback art, with sensors that drive its images in response to the surroundings.

On a sunny spring Sunday afternoon, however, hardly anyone was paying attention. Faced with the choice of MIRROR to the east or the street-end vista of Puget Sound and the new waterfront Great Wheel to the west, tourists barely gave MIRROR a glance. I can see why. Though the display’s monitors and vertical pulses of light —which streak up the façade in LED bursts—surely work better at night, they just can’t compete with nice weather. The sun’s glare overwhelms the LEDs. And busy passersby can’t be bothered to wait for the twinned, prismed imagery that Aitken collected during prior visits to the Northwest. (Could they be synced to the traffic lights?) The mountains, greenery, orange Port of Seattle Cranes, silhouettes of pedestrians—these source images are too benign. They don’t grab your attention like the signage in Times Square, and they don’t seem grabbed from our immediate, lived world. In one of those recent viral Instagram photos, a couple spotted a Google street-view car, quickly drove past it, then pulled over and pretended to have sex on the hood of their BMW. Google, y’all got punk’d! That’s the danger in using actual feedback and real-time cameras, and SAM can’t allow such accidents (especially so close to Pike). But that’s also why MIRROR is so boring: It just reflects an anodyne, outsider’s view of the Northwest. It’s tourist Seattle, not our Seattle, and even the tourists aren’t buying it. Seattle Art Museum, 1300 First Ave., 654-3121,

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