We asked various people in and around the Seattle art world—now and in the past—to think about the greatest works of art ever made here. At first this was intended to be a private process (part of the research that went into Jen Graves's list this week of the 25 greatest works of art ever made in Seattle), but one of the respondents suggested it might be interesting to publish the results, and we agreed. Here's a sampling of responses from those who were willing to go public with their thoughts. Two caveats: We sometimes posed the question as "most important" works made here, which is why a lot of respondents address the term "important"; and these were not intended as definitive lists, just ideas tossed off.
• Adjacent, Against, Upon by Michael Heizer, 1976-77, Myrtle Edwards Park
• Johnson Pit #30 by Robert Morris, 1979, King County Arts Commission, SeaTac
• Four Light Installations by James Turrell, 1982, Center on Contemporary Art
• Mill Creek Canyon Earthwork by Herbert Bayer, 1982, City of Kent
•Majorpoints, Hangers and Squat by Peter Shelton, 1983, Center on Contemporary Art
• cloudsandclunkers by Peter Shelton, 2004, on Concourse A at SeaTac Airport
• Recent Work/Installation by Claudia Fitch, 1990, Fuller Elwood Gallery
• Accountings by Ann Hamilton, 1992, Henry Art Gallery
• Tall Ships, by Gary Hill, 1997, Henry Art Gallery
• Linear Plenum by Lead Pencil Studio, 2004, Suyama Space
• Safety Spires by Dan Corson and Norie Sato, 2007, overhead catenary system for Sound Transit
• Mary Henry: Selected Paintings, 2007, Wright Exhibition Space
• Objective Sound: Bill Fontana, 2007, Western Bridge
• Klompen by Trimpin, 2007, Frye Art Museum
• Don't Feed It by Cris Bruch, 2007, individual installation at Lawrimore Project
• Seeps of Winter by John Grade, 2008, Suyama Space
Interesting sort of question to consider, without pursuing a full discussion of the exact meaning or your intention in certain terms and phrases—i.e. "important," "made in Seattle"—I blissfully started making a list.
And here, in order, is the first blush with quick notes about why these artists/works:
• Mark di Suvero, Bunyonschess, 1965: His first major commission and arguably the start of his move to public scale, monumental works. Privately commissioned by the Wrights and now a star in the Olympic Sculpture Park.
• Jacob Lawrence, The Builders series, 1970s: Lawrence's great series of paintings about reconciliation, the work that Seattle and UW experience made possible for Lawrence to create post-civil rights struggle; an evolving vision of Community across race.
• Robert Irwin, 9 Spaces, 9 Trees, 1983: Original creation of the work at the Public Safety Building was rigorous and brilliant; new setting and interpretation sad at best. It was one of Irwin's great works and changed intellectual possibilities for understanding artmaking in Seattle.
• Isamu Noguchi, Black Sun, 1969: One of his most beautiful works and the perfect site; probably old-fashioned in every sense now, but heroic then and timelessly beautiful. An inspired bit of patronage—world class artist, important site, brilliant work. I have always loved the NOAA projects, but don't think they come up to these in long-term resonance.
• Michael Heizer's piece is interesting, but kind of a non-starter in the "importance" category.
• No, Mark Tobey never made an important painting in Seattle.
I would add Tall Ships by Gary Hill to your list as it is a pivotal work for him and a landmark work in media art. Heizer's Adjacent, Against, Upon was controversial when commissioned but stood the test of time and, I think, was his first public (or urban) work. Ann Hamilton's installation at the Henry was an early museum work for her and had a powerful impact in Seattle. And, James Turrell's Four Installations (COCA's debut) in 1982, a remarkable team effort by the Seattle arts community and though not a single work was, I think, perceived by visitors as a single, memorable, ensemble.
'Most important' is a problematic filter as you certainly know and smacks a bit of 'best of' lists which tend toward the predictable. What about Edgar Heap of Birds's Day/Night, commissioned as a temporary work in 1991 but proved so potent that it remains to this day in Pioneer Square? Or, much of Buster Simpson's work in and around the Market in the 1970's and 1980's? Particularly his 1983 installation at the Pine Tavern, a prescient slam at the 'renewal' of Belltown and an authentic work of environmental conscience. Inside, metal-bar patrons rotated by wind vanes swept beer bottles to the floor. Outside, an immense cone of fencing material with suspended crows and salmon inspired the inebriated to pitch their beer bottles, which then spiraled down the cone to shatter in a steel drum, ready for recycling the next day.
• Richard Beyer, Waiting for the Interurban, 1979
• Chris Burden, Samson, created for the Henry Art Gallery, 1985
• Dale Chihuly, the "Indian Room" at the Boathouse
• Arthur Erickson, Virginia and Bagley Wright home in the Highlands, 1982
• Claudia Fitch, Colossal Heads, Seahawks Stadium, 2002
• Frank Gehry, Experience Music Project, 2000
• John Graham, Space Needle, 1962
• Michael Heizer, Adjacent, Against, Upon, 1976
• Gary Hill, Tall Ships, 1992
• Steven Holl, Chapel of St Ignatius, 1997
• Ed and Nancy Kienholz, Ozymandias Parade, created for the Henry Art Gallery, 1985
• Rem Koolhaas, Seattle Public Library, 2004
• Gary Larson, The Far Side, 1980-95
• David Lynch, Twin Peaks, 1990-91
• Josiah McElheny, The Last Scattering Surface, 2008
• Buster Simpson, Seattle/George Monument, 1989
• Michael Spafford, Labors of Hercules, murals created for the state capitol, 1982
• Subculture Joe, ball and chain attachment to Hammering Man, September 1993
• Sarah Sze, An Equal and Opposite Reaction, McCaw Hall, 2005
• Trimpin, whatever he is working on next!
• James Turrell, Amba, created for CoCA, 1982
• Michael Heizer, Adjacent, Against, Upon, 1976, 1st monumental public art in Seattle by noted contemporary artist, funded mainly by private dollars
• Robert Morris, Earthwork, 1979, one of two extant earthworks by Morris in US, created for Earthworks Symposium which also realized Herbert Bayer work in Kent.
• The Fremont Troll, Steve Badanes, 1990, yes, it's corny but a great piece that utilizes site and community to best advantage.
• Mark Tobey, White Night, 1942, one of first white writing paintings with no subject matter, collected by Seattle Art Museum
• Morris Graves, Little Known Bird of the Inner Eye, 1941, one of the "Birds of the Inner Eye" series, noticed by NY critics, helped establish the mystique of the NW School, collected by MoMA
• Jacob Lawrence, Hiroshima series, 1983, a moving masterpiece by one of the best
• Michael Spafford, Twelve Labors of Hercules, 1981, the Olympia Murals, a site-specific piece, that fit too well and the legislators saw the truth in the morals and had it removed
• Dale Chihuly, Weaving, 1965, a fused glass and metal screen series which he sold two to Anne Gould Hauberg, who became a friend and patron and later joined Chihuly to build Pilchuck; and was noticed by Jack Lenor Larsen, who became a friend and mentor to Chihuly.
• Darius Kinsey, Man Lying in a Completed Undercut of a Twelve-Foot Cedar; Wagon Load of Chips Lying on Ground, 1906, photograph, Kinsey's photographs told the world of the bounty of the woods here in the NW; still influences views of the region today
• George Tsutakawa, Fountain of Knowledge, 1958-60, fountain, vastly under-scaled in present location by new SPL, the fountain is seen by thousands of patrons of the library, new and old.
• Kiff Slemmons, Hands of the Heroes, 1987-89, jewelry as narrative, these works established the strength of the NW jewelers.
• Jeff Mitchell, SAM installation, 1991, with its piles of sewn elephants and legions of plaster rabbits, the work announced one of Seattle's best artists.
• Gary Hill, Tall Ships, 1992, a premier video work that was recognized internationally before being embraced here.
• Fay Jones, Demi-Mondaine, 1989, Jones' work is highly personal but strikes a common chord with her viewers, and this piece was seen by many at old opera house and now at McCaw Hall.
• Dennis Evans, his late 1970s performances, under the nom de plume of Ubu Waugh, and resulting objects gave license to a generation of young artists coming out of the UW.
• Buster Simpson, Composting Commode, 1991, part of the In Public series of actions around Seattle, Simpson's toilet could not get past City planners and red tape for months and became a fitting symbol of the eco-art movement that he champions.
• Claudia Fitch, the monumental heads on the west side of Qwest field, are worthy contemporaries of the over-sized portraits busts of the Romans, celebrating the trophy and the triumph.
• Patti Warashina, Kiln Car series, 1971, a great group of work that showed the arts/crafts world that funk was in the NW too.
• Robert Sperry, the white slip on black plates from the 1980s and 90s. I cannot point out one but their expressive, gestural surfaces are outstanding.
• Cris Bruch, Duty Cycle, the paper wheel
These are a few of my favorite things: Memorable, good, maybe important, maybe great. In non-hierarchical order.
• James Turrell's light installations with the first CoCA site at First and Yesler.
• Guy Anderson's large mural painting at the opera house. It's a beautifully constructed work. All of the great symbolism of Anderson's career.
• Michael Spafford's Labors of Hercules made in Seattle for the House of Representative's chambers in the Washington State Senate building. Hence destroyed by having them installed in a library in Chehalis.
• Richard Serra's enormous parallel ribbon sculpture in the garden of Jeff and Susan Brotman in Medina. Built on site—does that count?
• Angela White's installation always a pleasure at Greg Kucera Gallery in summer 2007
• Dale Chihuly's early Pilchuck glass works the Navajo Blanket Cylinders, shown in early 1970s at PNAC gallery.
• Dennis Evan's entire gallery installation at Linda Farris Gallery in 1970s.
• Leo Saul Berk's Ribbon shown at Howard House in Belltown and later at Tacoma Art Museum NW Biennial.
• Buster Simpson's street art installation along First Ave and Post Alley
• Alden Mason's Burpee Garden Series of oil paintings made in Seattle between 1972 and 1977.
Here's 5 that come to mind, in no particular order:
• Chuck Close. E Pluribus Unum. 1960. This political protest painting, rendered on a large American flag, won a prize at the Seattle Art Museum's Northwest Annual show in 1960. But when it was displayed at the Puyallup Fair, the American Legion objected strenuously, and hot-headed rednecks ironically attempted to destroy it. This mob action was witnessed by Seattle Times art critic (and future novelist) Tom Robbins. The resulting publicity gained the artist regional notoriety. The grid pattern of the imagery on the stripes foreshadowed his later signature method of portraiture.
• Dale Chihuly. Fiori di Como. 1998. Chihuly, Inc.'s ostentatious installation on the ceiling of the Bellagio Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas speaks to the tawdry excess and ultimate intention of the glass media. It's all about money, honey.
• Charles Krafft. AK 47. 1998. This iconic object, at once alluring and grotesque, launched the artist's "Porcelain War Museum Project," which has been exhibited in prestigious galleries and museums around the globe (and also appeared on a memorable cover of The Stranger.) Krafft subsequently gained international recognition—one of only a handful of contemporary Seattle artists to achieve this status.
• Nirvana at Motor Sports Garage. September 22, 1990. OK, maybe it's not "art" by the myopic standard applied here in Seattle. But this frenetic performance before a packed house hinted at the future influence Nirvana would have on an entire generation of artists working in all disciplines.
• Jason Sprinkle (AKA Subculture Joe). Ball and Chain. September 6, 1993. On Labor Day 1993 Jason Sprinkle and his gang of renegades attached a massive ball and chain to Jonathan Borofsky's Hammering Man sculpture at the entrance to the Seattle Art Museum. A poignant political comment that landed on the front page of the New York Times. Among the most important guerilla art actions of the last century.
• Peter Bagge. Hate. 1993-1996. In my opinion, Hate remains the most fully conceived and executed comic book series ever published. His chronicle went beyond satire. It helped shape both the aesthetics and attitudes of "grunge," Seattle's only significant indigenous youth movement. A contemporary review of the series by Bruce Barcott observed, "Twenty years from now, when people want to know what it was like to be young in 1990s Seattle, the only record we'll have is Peter Bagge's Hate."
I was operating under the rubric of "important" rather than "great": I looked at the word "important" very critically as it applied to both an artist's individual oeuvre and how those works marked important moments (or in some cases changed the stakes entirely) in the history of art in Seattle.
• 1810: Kadyisdu.axch', Raven Screen
• 1934: Mark Tobey, Broadway Norm
• 1954: Morris Graves, "You or your friends are not invited to the exhibition of Bouquet and Marsh paintings by the 8 best painters in the Northwest to be held on the afternoon and evening of the longest day of the year, the first day of summer, June 21, at Morris Graves' palace in exclusive Woodway Park."
• 1958: George Tsutakawa, Fountain of Wisdom
• 1969: Noguchi, Black Sun
• 1970: Jacob Lawrence, Jesse Jackson portrait for the cover of TIME
• 1971: Pilchuck, whatever the first piece blown was
• 1971: Doris Chase, Changing Form
• 1977: Michael Heizer, Adjacent, Against, Upon
• 1983: Robert Irwin, 9 Spaces, 9 Trees
• 1987-88: Cris Bruch, Shopping Cart/Street Action series<
• 1987: Gary Hill, Incidence of Catastrophe
• 1992: Fred Wilson, Mixed Metaphors at SAM
• 1992: Martha Rosler, Seattle: Hidden Histories
One that got away:
• 1992: Jeff Wall, The Guitarist at Garfield High (unrealized)
• 1993: Josiah McElheny, anything from his Originals, Fakes and Reproductions exhibition at Traver Gallery
• 1993: Dale Chihuly, 100,000 Pounds of Ice and Neon
• 1994: Jeffry Mitchell, Growth Afterwards
• 1994: Charles LeDray at SAM
• 1999: Christian French, Cascade Container Range
• 2002: SuttonBeresCuller, New Installation at ConWorks
• 2002: Ben Rubin, Listening Post at On the Boards
• 2002: Nicola Vruwink, Living
• 2002: Leo Saul Berk, Ribbon
• 2003: Roger Shimomura, Stereotypes and Admonitions
• 2004: Lead Pencil Studio, Linear Plenum at Suyama
• 2004: Cris Bruch, Duty Cycle at Suyama
• 2005: Claude Zervas, Nooksack River
• 2005: Greg Lundgren, The Hideout
• 2005: Dirk Park and Jaq Chartier, Aqua Art Miami
• 2007: Susan Robb, Warmth, Giant Black Toobs
• 2007: Alex Schweder, A Sac of Rooms Three Times a Day at Suyama
• 2008: Dario Robleto, Heaven Is Being a Memory to Others
• 2009: Joe Park, The Hotness
I find the word "great" very challenging to grapple with, to be honest. It is a moving target open to way too many interpretations to be useful. In the end, it becomes about taste. "Important" implies that something is transformative; keystone works of art that change the way we see or have ongoing influence on artworks or our expectations of art.
I would, for example, definitely include paintings by Mark Tobey on a list of great works made in Seattle. It could be any of his white writing pieces. They changed the history of art, making them both great and important.
If we move from important to great, I would include Sarah Sze's piece for the opera house. The way it pulls the space into itself is extraordinary and it highlights the best attributes of the building.
Other important works:
• The Seattle Space Needle is, without question, the jewel in the crown of the city's art collection. Everything about it is dizzyingly wonderful from its sleek aerodynamic rocket of a body to the intergalactic whirlygig of a crown.
• The Seattle Public Library. Where the words "architecture" and "sculpture" cease to have specific meaning. I would say it is where performance art meets installation art. You never look at libraries in the same way after spending time there. It completely reinvented spaces for knowledge exchange, emphasizing the importance of their social and civic dimension.
• Can the list extend beyond Seattle? Because the Robert Morris piece near the airport must surely be in the top 25. Seattle was one of the leaders in the commissioning of public art in the U.S. and it showed real audacity to permanently commit real estate to an earthwork on this scale. The piece still looks great. Also the Serra, Wright's Triangle, at Western Washington University in Bellingham because it is was amongst the first commissioned works by the artist and really showed how visionary the Northwest could be with collectors like Virginia and Bagley Wright willing to support some of the most important, then young artists in this country.
• In Seattle, I am a particular fan of the Michael Heizer in Myrtle Edwards Park. It strikes a perfect chord between the site and the material presence of those great bolders. No matter how many times I come upon it, I am taken by surprise. I love how it recontextualizes the rock, literally placing it upon a series of pedestals that allow us to contemplate our precariousness as they cast their mighty, tilted shadows upon us with the soothing sound of the water lapping against the shore in the background.
• Please don't overlook the Noguchi Black Sun. Again, a sublime siting that uses a Platonic circle to frame Seattle's utopian aspirations: the former world's fair site and Seattle's Space Needle.
• Can I be a little self-indulgent and mention the Mark Dion Vivarium at the OSP? It may take the time required for the nursing log to completely disintegrate before this work of art is truly appreciated for its brilliance. But, I do think the challenging questions it poses about the nature of sculpture and the nature of nature will continue to confound and engage park visitors. Isn't this the real definition of "important art"? We don't always "get it" but its thrall maintains a wondrous hold on us and will not let us go.