When Seattle Art Museum announced its intention to build a sculpture park, the first name that came to many minds was Claes Oldenburg. The pop artist, born in 1929, has been making "colossal monuments" of everyday objects with his wife Coosje van Bruggen since their marriage in 1977. Oldenburg started things off with two iconic pieces, made before they were together: 1969's Lipstick (Ascending) on Caterpillar Tracks at Yale—which I count among the finest sculptures of the 20th century—and 1976's Clothespin in downtown Philadelphia, which was the first of his monuments to find a place in an urban setting. Now, the pair has more than 40 installed around the world: shuttlecocks, a half-buried bike, a spoon with a cherry (that spouts water) perched on it.


Typewriter Eraser, Scale X (1998–99) is one of these: It has been jutting up from the lawn of the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden since 1999. According to the NGA's website, the piece was fabricated for the NGA through the artists' gallery, PaceWildenstein, that year.

Except that Oldenburg evidently made three of these 19-foot-tall typewriter erasers, and now one of them—the largest by a hair according to measurements from Seattle Art Museum and the NGA—will be installed for at least three years at SAM's Olympic Sculpture Park in Seattle, on loan from Paul Allen. (He's coming out of the woodwork with art this year.)

Yay! Oldenburg is incredible, and this means that we got our pop star and our public sculpture hero. And Typewriter Eraser, Scale X is a good piece—not the pair's absolute best, but solid. It will be installed in Seattle in late September. Word is that Allen has been the sculpture's sole owner, and has never displayed it.

Still, should I ignore my nagging feeling of disappointment that the Olympic Sculpture Park will have basically exactly the same sculpture as the NGA, one that has gained its national visibility from having sat there for seven years? (The third iteration is still at PaceWildenstein, according to a SAM spokeswoman). Oldenburg and van Bruggen do site-inspired work—such as their dustpan and broom for the Denver Museum of Art—but their art is more about universally understandable objects than the particularities of place. Asking them to make something for Seattle could have been risky, since their art has been uneven the past few years.

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But maybe there was another option. Oldenburg has already proposed an unbelievable civic monument for Seattle: an enormous, ethereal green cathedral in the shape of a faucet with a windmill-style hand-crank set on the edge of, and pouring water into, Lake Union. Oldenburg made this suggestion in 1972, in a 29-by-22-inch work on paper in watercolor, graphite, colored pencil, and crayon. He drew up several similar, but less extraordinary, ideas around that time, including a teddy bear for Central Park, a Good Humor bar for Park Avenue, and an ironing board for the Lower East Side of New York. But his Seattle concept is pure genius.

Now that's what I wish we could see built on Elliott Bay.

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