- '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.
- 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 Curbed.com 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.