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Monday, August 25, 2008

The Day the Board Said No to the Flying Cars: An Artist’s Fantasy About Seattle Art Museum

posted by on August 25 at 12:30 PM

As the curtain rises, curator Lisa Corrin is finishing her explanation of why Cai Guo-Qiang’s installation of flying cars would be perfect for the new Seattle Art Museum lobby. (We’re back in the day.)

It sounds like a done deal, but when the executive committee of the board takes a vote, there are a few whopping nays, including from Mimi Gates, the museum’s director.

Bagley Wright starts to explain. He’s a nay, too, along with Susan Brotman (another powerful longtime board member), and Bagley’s wife, the longtime collector and super-power-broker Virginia Wright.

What do the nays want?

They want to take the $6 million that would be spent on the cars, invest it in a trust, and instead spend $25,000 a month until 2030 buying art by regional artists.

“Sure, these flying cars would look good for a postcard,” Wright says. (He, and in fact most of the people at the meeting, can not pronounce Cai’s name, anyway.) “But I’m not going to stand behind a six-million-dollar chandelier to spruce up the lobby.”

Virginia and Mimi chime in, also cheerleading for local artists, and for the museum’s connection with them.

The joke is that SAM has a mostly deserved reputation for being imperious and disconnected. (Witness the frantic don’t-touch signs at the Olympic Sculpture Park, or SAM’s recent no-go on the whole idea of hosting painters in the galleries, or the fact that SAM does not get involved in the business of regional biennials the way TAM and PAM do.) The Wrights in particular are the force that has brought (often great) work by New York artists to Seattle throughout the last three decades.

This recorded conversation, of course, never took place (and I don’t believe a cost figure for “Inopportune” was ever released).

But it’s the conversation that contemporary artists wish would happen at SAM.

Unfortunately, SAM did buy the cars, and we’re left to marvel at how shallow an experience they are, and how bad they look in the chopped-up architecture of SAM’s various lobbies.

But you can revel in this artists’ fantasy nonetheless, on the Unauthorized Seattle Art Museum Audio Tour by PDL here:

To receive other tracks on the tour, free of charge, email the artists here.

RSS icon Comments


ms. graves,

can you have one of the stranger people currently in denver snap a photo of the Blue Bear? Is the bear good art to you? Does charles like blue bears?

Posted by stinkbug | August 25, 2008 12:45 PM

im so glad they bought the cars instead of blowing it on propping up the local artists.

Posted by zeartist | August 25, 2008 1:00 PM

I have to say, I was really underwhelmed by the new SAM when it opened. The ceiling-mounted cars to me seemed really banal, and a really bad selection as an image to "brand" the new SAM. One of my big gripes with the old one was that it seemed like they had so much, but not the space to show it all. Now I feel like they have all this space, and don't use it well -- though, granted, I haven't been to any of the special exhibitions since the place reopened. More art by local artists would have been great!

Posted by bookworm | August 25, 2008 1:03 PM

Has a rep for being disconnected and arrogant?

I think you mean ... still does.

Let the local artists starve, that's their view.

Posted by Will in Seattle | August 25, 2008 1:18 PM

I was thinking about this piece when I walked by Club Lagoon earlier today...

Posted by it'smarkmitchell | August 25, 2008 1:41 PM

SAM would much rather have a third rate piece by a big name artist than a first rate pice by an artist with a smaller reputation. That's what makes them a third rate museum.

Posted by yuiop | August 25, 2008 1:52 PM

The Wrights need to go to the sculpture park and pick up their litter. Too many of their donations are junk they no longer wanted from their backyard done on commission to drunks playing a practical joke on them and calling it art. And now, the joke is on the entire city.

Posted by StC | August 25, 2008 2:20 PM

Wow, you're right, for a fraction of the price, we could have covered the entire ceiling of the SAM lobby with this:

Hell, they could've covered the ceiling of every room in the museum...

I say, if you're going to spend six milli, at least go for the tigers:

Posted by name | August 25, 2008 5:54 PM

Those fucking cars need a tow-truck! Every time I go there, I wonder who the idiots were that thought they were a good idea; I haven't renewed my membership. SOMEDAY in a new regime, somebody with balls will have the sense to "donate" them elsewhere, hopefully to an underwater reef exhibit...

@#7 I tend to agree, although when I saw them years ago on the estate off in the woods, they were kinda amusing; out in the open they're dumb.

Posted by MarkyMark | August 25, 2008 6:42 PM

wasn't everyone falling all over themselves with praise for that installation when the new SAM first opened, Jen Graves included?

She stated that the art has never looked better, and that the cars were the "splashiest of the art" and a "spectacle," like that was a good thing (Shock and Awe)

More recently she (4/17/08)she complained that the Guggenheim (suckers) displayed a copy, but still seemed enamored of the exploding cars, so why the change of heart now?

Perhaps there is an auto-themed casino in Las Vegas that would LOVE to display this abomination when SAM finally admits what an embarrassment those cars really are.

Posted by Ruby Re-Usable | August 26, 2008 10:56 AM

High-school caliber institutional critique on the part of PDL.

Grade-school level journalism on the part of JG.

Prenatal understanding of what SAM is/does by all.

Posted by Devolution | August 27, 2008 2:34 PM

I've been half-moved by these cars--the trick is to look up, and only up. The fault I believe is in the lack of full commitment to the piece. There are photographs of this peice (other editions, I think) in a long darkened corridor and is just explodes. It looks incredible. Istead we get a cheapened experience faded with flourescent lobby light and a cheapened peice of art getting second class treatment as spectacular decoration rather than what should be presented in a true and singular installation. If SAM is going to do something, they need to do it fully, and right or continue to catch hell.

Posted by jamey braden | August 31, 2008 2:37 PM

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