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Thursday, August 28, 2014

Hey! Is That a Huge Richard Serra Sculpture at Paul Allen's Private Peninsula Lair?

Posted by on Thu, Aug 28, 2014 at 2:32 PM

'WELL, THAT'S A LOT OF INTERESTING QUESTIONS THERE' As one Seattle bike rider pointed out, that rusty-colored sculpture on the left sure looks like a steel installation by the artist whose Wake is a centerpiece of Olympic Sculpture Park.
  • 'WELL, THAT'S A LOT OF INTERESTING QUESTIONS THERE' That rusty-colored sculpture on the left sure looks like a steel installation by the artist whose Wake is a centerpiece of Olympic Sculpture Park.

People on Lopez Island talk about Paul Allen; he just comes up in conversation. If you're a visitor and you stop at the cute little Lopez Island Historical Society & Museum, the docent might just mention that the billionaire owns a peninsula on the southern side of the island. His peninsula is Sperry Peninsula (map), and he bought it back in 1996, when he owned yet another island in the San Juans. (That one was Allan Island—no relation—and, preferring Sperry for the vacation getaway he planned to build, he finally unloaded Allan Island in 2013 for $5 million after it sat on the market for eight years with an original asking price of $25 million. Private-island real estate just isn't what it used to be.)

The chatty museum docent is how one Seattle resident, who asked to remain nameless because he doesn't want to make Paul Allen angry, found himself riding his bike full of curiosity about Sperry Peninsula on a recent visit to Lopez. Sure enough, from the public road, he could just look across the water and see Allen's compound. He took the photograph above because he couldn't help but notice the giant art on the lawn. To him, it looked for all the world like a significant work by super-sculptor Richard Serra.

AT THE OLYMPIC SCULPTURE PARK Seattle Art Museum acquired Richard Serras 2004 work Wake for its downtown park. It is probably the heaviest work of art in Seattle.
  • PHOTO BY Benjamin Benschneider
  • AT THE OLYMPIC SCULPTURE PARK Seattle Art Museum acquired Richard Serra's 2004 work Wake for its downtown park. It is probably the heaviest work of art in Seattle.

So is the mysterious sculpture a Serra?

This morning I called Greg Bell, senior curator of Allen's collection. Allen is famously secretive about the art he owns, so Bell and I had a highly amusing non-talk. (Bell is a Seattle fixture with a wry way.)

Me: Is that a Richard Serra out there on Paul Allen's lawn on Sperry?
Bell: You know, I can't tell you. You know how it works. Anything in the collection that hasn't been put out to the public, we don't comment on it.
Me: Right, right. But—this one is sort of right out there in the public. You can just pull up a kayak and check it out.
Bell: Whatever it may be, you can see it.
Me: You know what it is, right?
Bell: Oh yeah.
Me: Okay, let's see. Can you at least tell me how in the world it got there? By helicopter? By ship?
Bell: Well, that's a lot of interesting questions there.
[By this point, we are both giggling.]

Allen provided a peek at his collection for the first time at EMP a few years ago. Next year, more than 30 landscapes will come out of hiding. Portland Art Museum curator Bruce Guenther and Seattle Art Museum are co-organizing Seeing Nature, which opens in Portland in October 2015, then travels to The Phillips Collection in D.C., the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, and the New Orleans Museum of Art before closing in Seattle in early 2017.

I couldn't resist throwing another pointless question at Bell about Seeing Nature. Since it's a landscape show, will the we-neither-confirm-nor-deny-it's-a-Serra be included?

"I don't think he painted too many landscapes," Bell joked.

No, but his installations are often referred to as landscapes in themselves!

"That's true. They're not too portable, though."

He had me there.

When Allen bought Sperry in 1996, a motley crew of children and celebrities cried out in protest. Allen decided to evict a kids' camp that had been there for 60 years, and to make space for his his 14,000-square-foot country home plus outbuildings and amenities like pools and tennis courts and other houses for family members, he was moving and demolishing 1940s Northwest modern buildings people fought to protect.

Those not concerned about Northwest modern architecture worried instead about the fate of the Kwakiutl longhouse, totem poles, and carvings spread across the 387 acres. According to a 1997 Seattle Times report, the main modern building was "dismantled and moved," and the longhouse preserved. What of the rest? The carvings and totem poles? I'd love to go out there. I'm sure I'll get my invitation soon. Or maybe we should organize a kayaking party?

For more fun with billionaire holdings, see Variety's overview of Allen's real estate and yachts in 2010, including the Sperry house with its "8 bedrooms, 5 poopers, [and] 4 fireplaces," and on Allen's main compound on Mercer Island from 2013. The Mercer Island home base has six mansions, a floating helipad, and a concert hall.


Comments (13) RSS

Oldest First Unregistered On Registered On Add a comment
I dunno, from the detail of this picture it could just be a dry dock that he's scrapping or storing inland until global warming raises the sea level.…
Posted by ChefJoe on August 28, 2014 at 2:44 PM · Report this
fletc3her 2
Sometimes the zillionaires have private fireworks displays at their houses on Lake Washington and are kind enough to let everyone around get a glimpse of them. And hear them! Boy howdy you can you can hear them!
Posted by fletc3her on August 28, 2014 at 2:53 PM · Report this
Max Solomon 3
just think of the skilled craftsmen allen has employed building this retreat he uses 2 or 3 weekends a year, you ungrateful peons.
Posted by Max Solomon on August 28, 2014 at 2:58 PM · Report this
@3: true dat. A skilled craftsmen friend worked on Ted Turner's "cabin" near Bozeman. The front screen door alone cost over $3000.
Posted by gnossos on August 28, 2014 at 3:30 PM · Report this
It's not there on google maps satellite view, so must be kind of new. But from the same source it looks like behind the house he also has a sculpture of a giant tea-cup.
Posted by boyd main on August 28, 2014 at 3:40 PM · Report this

Nice to see Mr. Allen enjoying the dense urban lifestyle that we are all supposed to be living. Nice apodment there on Sperry. Any LINK stations planned?
Posted by Supreme Ruler Of The Universe http://_ on August 28, 2014 at 3:52 PM · Report this
TomJohnsonJr 7
Norwester had a reputation as a rich kids' playground back in the day. I found a pretty cool newsletter this camp put out with some good history. It's the Fall 2010 issue here:

- The camp's original location was San Juan island, until they lost their lease there in 1945.
- The camp's going strong in its new location. After decades as a for-profit company, once the land got sold they converted to a nonprofit.
- The longhouse was built not by Kwakiutl tribal members, but by campers and staff in Kwakiutl style, in 1955. They've built another on their new property now.
- A group of campers' families bought the land in 1967 and sold it in 1980 to guy who sold it to Allen eighteen years later.

Losing the camp location must have been traumatic, both times it happened to Norwester. As an Orkila kid myself, I'm glad that my old YMCA camp is still going strong in its same location on Orcas, and still keeping its fees relatively low for parents poor as mine were. I donate a little every year to help make sure it stays that way:…
Posted by TomJohnsonJr on August 28, 2014 at 4:04 PM · Report this
I'm an Orkila kid too (Ragger!). But I can tell you Nor'Wester's current location on Johns Island is just stunning. Much nicer than Sperry if you ask me.
Posted by ejamadoodle on August 28, 2014 at 4:58 PM · Report this
devinderry 9
For me the shapes are more reminiscent of sculpture than some kind of functional object and the rusted metal is certainly Serra's hallmark. But (as much as can be told in a few dozen pixels) it seems to lacks a lot of the tension you usually see in his work.
Posted by devinderry on August 28, 2014 at 6:55 PM · Report this
I would be surprized if the nameless bicyclist actually rode around Sperry Peninsula. Sometimes, I ride my bike to the beginning of the causeway that leads to Sperry Peninsula, and I've had security drive over to check me out. Next time, I'll take binoculars to check out the sculpture. Oh, and I would not say it was a "motley crew" that protested Allen's purchase of the property. I would say it was a motley crew that refused to allow Camp Norwester to remove the carvings and longhouse that they built.

Dale F
Posted by Dale F on August 29, 2014 at 11:50 AM · Report this
Sean Kinney 11
Serra is a tool. Seems appropriate that a true asshole would park such an aggrendizing hunk of penis steel on a property no has access to.
Posted by Sean Kinney http:// on August 31, 2014 at 12:51 AM · Report this
Maybe it a garage for his tank.…
Posted by mharbour on September 12, 2014 at 12:24 PM · Report this
Posted by mharbour on September 12, 2014 at 12:26 PM · Report this

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