Artists almost never protest other artists. But it happened in an episode last week that began with an e-mail to the press from "Georgetown_artists." "Georgetown neighborhood artists and neighbors are very concerned about a new SuttonBeresCuller work site," the e-mail read. The author of the e-mail, painter and etching artist Ronald Aeberhard, lives next door to the site in question. "All the good stuff in Georgetown is being ripped down," he opined. He said about 15 to 20 artists—"Friends of the Rocks"—wanted to know why Seattle art trio SuttonBeresCuller was about to destroy a beloved local landmark.
The landmark, at 6525 Ellis Avenue South, is not a traditional landmark. It doesn't have a plaque or a historical listing. It's just a kitschy rock wall made by a guy named Louie Moss, a late local legend who dressed in orange coveralls while playing the accordion near places like the Kingdome and Pike Place Market before he died in 1990 at age 72. Moss lived in Georgetown, and three blocks away from his rock wall is his former home, which is also covered, lovingly, in rocks.
The SuttonBeresCuller project, Mini Mart City Park, will convert an abandoned former gas station back into a little green zone, a tiny public park. SBC is away on a retreat this month with Creative Capital, the major funder of Mini Mart City Park, so the artists sent a response to Aeberhard through their dealer, Scott Lawrimore. Lawrimore explained that the artists were frustrated at being criticized; they'd already approached the Georgetown Community Council for approval, and their project is a reclamation of a derelict zone. They didn't like being thought of as callous interlopers.
According to community council chair Holly Krejci, the rock wall has to be removed for a seismic upgrade before the property can be used; Lawrimore said the artists plan to incorporate "elements" from the wall into Mini Mart City Park. (The property is privately owned, SBC has a two-year lease on it, and the artists hope to open the "park" in nine months.)
A debate erupted on Slog, The Stranger's news and arts blog, about the rock wall's aesthetic merits. But to me that's totally beside the point. Artists working in publicly accessible spaces, even on private property, have a spiritual obligation to that "public." SBC, in creating a public amenity (and known for other public amenities, such as its portable living room and park), has a particular obligation to care. The artists don't have to please the old-timers, but they ought to want to hear them out. And ugliness is immaterial, as contemporary artists should know better than anyone: I expect SBC to take seriously the wall's artifactual value, just as it's taking the rest of the site's history seriously. If SBC does its job right, Moss's rocks may not keep the same form, but they will gain, not lose, meaning.