3 new pieces at Olympic Sculpture Park: How do they fit in? - Published in Seattle Times, August 22, 2014
Neither the title "Echo," (in a vague nod to Greek mythology), nor the pose, (meditative, eyes closed), nor the odd, highly original vertical distortion to which the head has been subjected, help us quite sort out what drama this appealing and slightly disturbing creature is meant to be enacting. Up until now monumental heads were reserved for gods and emperors; perhaps Plensa sees "Echo" as a sort of Spanish Buddha, made even more unworldly by her computer-generated stretching, which gives the impression of an apparition in progress. The downside? There isn’t a single trace of an artist’s hand in the giant nymphet’s robotically shaped and polished surface, arbitrarily crossed by horizontal seams.
There is only incidental visual appeal to the other brand-new piece, a summer season sound installation by renowned Seattle artist/composer Trimpin, consisting of three sets of steel headphones, painted to match the Calder nearby. The work juxtaposes ambient and engineered sounds, the better to make us conscious of our audio surroundings - as a consequence, it’s as conceptually subtle as the Ruffner and Plensa are visually potent. I’m not sure that quiet and contemplative are a good match for a site with as many distractions and attractions as the park, and musical in the conventional sense the piece is not, toy piano sound track notwithstanding. My favorite elements of the work are Trimpin’s low-tech inputs, visible just over a fence: a huge rotating rain stick piped into one set of headphones, a huge funnel facing Elliot Avenue collecting sound for another.
Sculpture parks are by their nature eclectic, mixing and matching works of widely differing scale and style. Seattle’s park, a triumph of geo-engineering and landscape design, is also a challenge to curate. Going forward, SAM would be wise to go light on the mid-century modern, heavy on the “Wow”.