Getting off the bus this morning at Convention Place Station, I noticed with pure joy a strangely shaped planter that reminded me immediately of one of my favorite buildings anywhere ever, which is in my hometown: The Egg.
I had no idea who made it, but I suspected an artist. There are several planters out there, in different shapes, each one kind of just this side of whimsy, clever but not necessarily calling attention to itself, and made of a mix of rough concrete and fine smooth granite. The one I liked, the Egg-ish one, also reminds me of a toilet, which puts me in mind of this Stranger Genius Award winning artist, whose public creation at the Tacoma convention center is stunningly radical.
I Googled the Egg planter and found another radical: Maren Hassinger, the black performance artist born in 1947 in LA, who began as a dancer and became director of the Rinehart School of Sculpture at Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore—in addition to showing her work everywhere from the Museum of Modern Art to my bus stop.
It was 1989 when she made the Convention Place Plaza planters. They were inspired by bonsai.
Bonsai were not be the only influence, though. The planter in the photo above, I found out with a little Googling, gets it shape from the "curvaceous" elevator button you pressed to get to the Cloud Room at the Camlin Hotel across the street from Convention Place Plaza.
From a Seattle Times report in 1990:
Four of the plaza's planters were designed by Maren Hassinger of New York, who has formed links to the surroundings in both art and horticultural language. A tiny Asian rock-and-moss garden nestles in a rectangular planter with granite detailing over concrete. Another planter rounds intriguingly to its base - a good example of art influenced by environment, since Hassinger stayed for a while at the nearby Camlin Hotel and found herself admiring the curvaceous elevator button marked "Cloud Room.''
To my chagrin, I never did make it to the Cloud Room—it was gone by the time I moved to Seattle. But I've heard tell about the legendarily beautiful, full-view penthouse bar of the historic Camlin Hotel, which a decade ago was sold to a hotel chain that turned the Cloud Room into private penthouse suites.
Hassinger, not knowing how scarce it would become, brought a little of the Cloud Room's elegance down to street level. Back then, street folks couldn't make it up there, but average Joes, with a little gussying, could still ride up to their special occasions on the top of the hotel. Maybe this is a parable about the disappearance of the American middle class. Or maybe a planter is a planter is a planter. Up to you. I still think the fact that it's at "Convention Place" is pretty funny.
Below, an intense 2004 performance by Hassinger. I recommend watching it full screen with the sound way up.