Seattle makes a great summer destination, and if you know where to go, you can fold some art in between the other more obvious sights to see.
This summer, there are plenty of outdoor and indoor choices — and a lot of free stuff, too.
Here’s the best of what’s hot this summer on Seattle’s walls, windows, parks and chain-link fences.
SOUTH LAKE UNION
If the weather is gorgeous, you don’t want to be strolling round inside. Our favorite outdoor art site this summer is South Lake Union.
No, not the lake, although you might make that part of the deal, along with a boat ride and a visit to the Museum of History and Industry (including their kid-friendly chocolate exhibit). No, we’re talking about the cluster of commercial buildings that’s sprung up around the bio-med and tech giants south of the lake, where ultraclean cafes nestle into landscaped, Portland-ish plazas beside the light rail line.
What’s to look at? The latest installation of Shunpike’s storefront art in commercial windows.
Start on Mercer Street with Paul Komada’s U.S. map made of knitted striped football jerseys, the horizontal and vertical stripes echoed by the reflection of trees and swishing traffic, conveying both energy and odd, grandmotherly calm. Farther along is Kelly Mitchell’s flotilla of white cardboard houses, hanging just out of reach of stretching white clay fists.
Along Terry Avenue, Amazon has sponsored a series of quasi-historic Lake Union photographs in vintage painting frames, all quite saccharine in tone. But at Boren Avenue and Harrison Street you won’t want to miss a photo installation: A camera in the window lets you press the button for a selfie, which then feeds into a five-panel display that chops and changes random passers-by portraits into thirds, like those old-fashioned children’s books with split pages that let you create crazy mixed-up animals. (This one’s also fun for kids.)
Nearby, Celeste Cooning covers a window with filigree paper cutouts like a seven-veil curtain: blue-lined snowflakes, geometric cubes. Julia Haack’s display of giant thick wooden circles, striped black-and-white and dotted red, spread across a window like an enormous game of tiddlywinks.
Near Boren and Thomas, things get more playful: Harmony Boom’s big stuffed monsters, perched with sad faces in a paper tree; Anastasia Zielinkski’s sparkly blue fabric draped around mirrors; the southwest corner sculpture that mimics a bright-blue fleece throw; and the “Keys to the City” mural a little down the hill with its whimsical cast of humanoid tools (wrenches, hammers) patiently lugging skyscrapers around a construction site.
Where: In windows between Mercer and John streets and Boren and Terry avenues, Seattle
When: 24/7, though the area’s best during daytime
Events: Guided tour 6 p.m. Aug. 1, meet at Boren Avenue and John Street
OLYMPIC SCULPTURE PARK
It doesn’t get much better than this: huge, world-class, thought-provoking sculptures on a freeway-straddling green space with a view of the Olympics and Elliott Bay — plus summer offerings of live music, food trucks and yoga classes. The art offerings at the Olympic Sculpture Park, plus a new sound installation by Northwest icon Trimpin, are all an easy walk from the Seattle Center or waterfront.
You probably want to time your visit with one of the many live events at the sculpture park, because Trimpin’s “You Are Hear” is not worth a visit on its own. Stretching along the first path near the upper entrance, the sculpture consists of three stations with dinner-plate-size orange headphones and an orange tractor seat to sit on while you listen. Typically, Trimpin stocks his listening stations with the unexpected: an atonal toy piano riff, alternating between clunky bell chords and swift glissandi up and down; a shimmering swish like leaves or seed pods in the wind; and a completely silent station to encourage you to focus on the inherent sounds of the park. Here’s the fun thing: If you put your ear really close to that headphone, it’ll magnify those sounds (mostly truck rumbles) with a ghostly reverberation.
It’s a fun idea, but anyone who’s experienced the complexity of Trimpin’s other sound sculpture will be disappointed. Luckily, there’s a lot more happening at the park this summer, quite apart from the signature works by Richard Serra, Louise Bourgeois and so on — and it’s mostly inspired by the Asian and Northwestern exhibits on view at the Seattle Art Museum and Asian Art Museum.
Kicking things off on Thursday is a Taiko drum performance (6 p.m.) and art tour by designer Stephen Antupit (6:30 p.m.); more tours, live music and a food truck caravan will be at the park every Thursday from 6-9 p.m. Saturday mornings are also a good time to go, with free yoga at 10:30 a.m., Zumba at 2 p.m. and drop-in art making from 11 a.m.-1 p.m., with some workshops thrown in.
Where: Olympic Sculpture Park, 2901 Western Ave., Seattle
When: Open dawn to dusk daily
Events: Thursday night entertainment 6-9 p.m. from July 10 on; Saturday events 10 a.m.-4 p.m. weekly through summer
Information: 206-654-3100, seattleartmuseum.org/summer
CAPITOL HILL CONSTRUCTION FENCE
Really? A construction site for art? You’d better believe it — and get there soon while it’s still up.
On the corner of Pike and Minor streets on lower Capitol Hill is a building renovation that has offered the best example of chain-link fence art in quite a while. Stretching around the corner and using materials from zip ties to plastic bag strips, the mosaic-based technique creates pale blue giraffes, serene faces, fluttering dragons, geometric rainbows and inspiring words (“Love Every Wish”). It’s well worth a side trip, unlike other public construction-fence art downtown at Denny Way and Cherry Street.
Where: Pine and Minor streets, Seattle
SEATTLE ART MUSEUM
Northwest summers have their gray, rainy moments, and occasionally hot ones — moments when wandering in a sculpture park just doesn’t appeal. For those moments, the Seattle Art Museum holds many hours of art-related bliss, and the exhibit that just opened will have you looking at gray skies in a whole new way.
“Modernism in the Pacific Northwest: The Mythic and the Mystical” offers a superb overview of the mid-20th-century Northwest school of Mark Tobey, Morris Graves, Kenneth Callahan and Guy Anderson, augmented by a newly revealed donation (the Hatch collection) and making some deep connections between these thoughtful, groundbreaking artists and the works that inspired them — works in the collection of SAM itself.
It’s hard to summarize “Modernism,” because like all good mystical experiences, it should really take you a couple of hours. It opens with a spacious, one-work-per-wall overview gallery, highlighting Tobey’s “Parnassus,” Graves’ “Little Known Bird of the Inner Eye no. 1” and the subtle palettes, patterns and symbolism that distinguished the movement from the more angular, despairing modernism of the East Coast. (Look around the corner near the gift shop for a handy interactive time line screen, although there’s a printed one more easily referenced at the back of the exhibition.)
From there, the show paces through Tobey’s sumi works from the late 1950s, thickly stroked and highly expressionist; his signature “white line” paintings that so influenced Pollock in New York; Graves’ highly charged symbolism — his “Spring with Machine Age White Noise” is a cry of anguish, the grassy foreground dwarfed by exploding brush bombs in black, white and red and fierce sound-wave verticals.
There are Northwest School followers like George Tsutakawa, whose cloudy sumi and watercolor swirls evoke a calm Asian aesthetic, and Paul Horiuchi, with a magnificent six-panel screen collaged in his torn-paper style to echo both Seattle buildings and Japanese art.
The show is light on sculpture, but a central gallery highlights the direct relationship between SAM collection works and the paintings they inspired in Northwest painters: a Yup’ik bird mask of wood and feather, diving vertically, that makes many appearances in Tobey’s “Esquimaux idiom” in a rushing wind of brush strokes; a 12th-century Shang Dynasty cup glowing ethereally in Graves’ 1947 painting; a seventh- or eighth-century horse, pawing aristocratically, becoming an “Equus”-style dream in Guy Anderson’s Romanesque “Search for the Morning.”
There’s much more: a gallery of Leo Kenney’s abstract, cosmic mandalas and visions; a highly disturbing room of war-influenced art; a final room of Graves’ dreamily painted symbolism, from poisoned Catholic cardinals to his own suffering as a homosexual and pacifist.
What: “Modernism in the Pacific Northwest”
Where: Seattle Art Museum, 1300 First Ave, Seattle
When: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesday and Friday through Sunday; 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Thursday through Sept. 7
Cost: $19.50 adults; $17.50 seniors, military; $12.50 students; free for 12 and younger (discounts on first Thursdays)
Events: Tours daily 1:15 p.m. and 2:15 p.m.; curator talk 7 p.m. Sept. 4
Information: 206-654-3210, visitsam.org/modernism
Cool, calm and thought-provoking, the Frye Art Museum is an excellent place to spend a few hours this summer. Taking over most of the gallery space is a three-person installation that uses a mind-boggling variety of media to challenge your thinking and invert societal preconceptions: “Your Feast Has Ended,” by Maikoiyo Alley-Barnes, Nicholas Galanin and Nep Sidhu, with a side corridor of marvelously barbed drawings by Alley-Barnes’ artist father, Curtis Barnes.
Members of the Black Constellation collective, the three artists are wildly different in style but singular in intent: “Your Feast Has Ended” plays off contemporary and ethnic cultural metaphors to make the fierce point that colonial gluttony has resulted in cultural and physical starvation, war and death. A war room with trophies made from college bomber jackets and a spread-eagled bear skin of the U.S. flag; a trio of near-architectural panels spiraling inward with calligraphy; four U.S. flags bursting with metallic bombers; eerily beautiful busts and limbs made from compressed trash; a squadron of delicate Delftware arrows flying to kill through the galleries — this is one exhibition that will make you think, and think hard.
Where: Frye Art Museum, 704 Terry Ave., Seattle
When: 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays, 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Thursdays through Sept. 14
Events: Teen rap workshops, hip-hop performances, artist discussions, films and Butoh dance. Go to the website for the schedule.
Information: 206-622-9250, fryemuseum.org
NW ARTISTS GALLERY
If you’re taking a summertime trip to the Seattle Center, consider stopping by the new NW Artists Gallery, a pilot project that brings diverse and emerging artists from the Columbia City Gallery into a collective gallery/shop in the Center’s Armory House. It isn’t ground-breaking art, but there’s plenty of unique stuff to see and at affordable prices — jewelry, ceramics, magic realist paintings, towering bead-shaped sculptures and more. It’s up through the end of 2014, and a great way for tourists (and locals) to support local artists with their souvenir-buying.
What: NW Artists Gallery
Where: Armory, Seattle Center, 503 Harrison St., Seattle
When: 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays and by appointment
Information: 206-615-1818Rosemary Ponnekanti: 253-597-8568 Rosemary.email@example.com @rose_ponnekanti