Best Museum Exhibit: Andy Warhol’s Flowers for Tacoma

Seattle museumgoers generally treat the Tacoma Art Museum as an afterthought—someplace you drive past en route to Portland. And the Tacoma Dome gets even less respect; it’s a venue for monster-truck rallies and Justin Bieber concerts. The irresistible hook to last fall’s Andy Warhol’s Flowers for Tacoma was to merge local history with art-world celebrity. The exhibit was a reminder of how the T-Dome, opened in 1982, was originally supposed to feature a prominent public artwork of some kind. The city’s 1-percent-for-art program solicited proposals, and Warhol jumped in at the last moment. He proposed to drape the dome’s roof with a giant yellow-and-orange daisy design, one of his silkscreened flowers from a series that began in the mid-’60s. Besides the local history angle, TAM curator Rock Hushka also placed the proposal in a continuum of Warhol’s floral art. The artist didn’t just copy photos from magazines, he also sketched Japanese ikebana floral arrangements (from books, admittedly). And Hushka even included some of Warhol’s original floral designs for advertising clients in the ’50s. Celebrity-scorning Tacoma rejected Warhol’s pitch, and the winner—some forgettable neon waves by Stephen Antonakos—was finally installed inside the dome. Thirty years later, the TAM show reminded us, Tacoma made a huge mistake—one it’s not too late to undo.

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