Spring Arts 2012: Then and Now

The lasting cultural legacy of the 1962 World’s Fair was the city’s new civic hub, Seattle Center, home to world-class opera, ballet, theater, art—and a visit from King Tut—then, and now.

By Laura Dannen With Allie Oosta and Brian Colella January 21, 2012 Published in the February 2012 issue of Seattle Met

Visual Art

From the Fun Forest...
The Fun Forest’s days were numbered. A once-bustling Gayway where little Joe Kennedy (Bobby’s son) rode the Wild Mouse coaster and carnival gamers won stuffed donkeys, the multimillion-dollar amusement park had become a dreary forest—a ghost town of derelict bumper cars. The city decided not to renew its lease in 2007, and the Fun Forest owner started selling it off, piece by piece. The Wild River. The Orbiter. The Tornado. On January 2, 2011, the carousel made its final turn.

...To the Glass Forest
In April 2011, the Seattle City Council unanimously approved a Dale Chihuly glass art exhibition at the site of the Fun Forest—a space Chihuly’s work could occupy for the next 30 years, all but securing the Northwest artist’s local legacy. The numbers were staggering: a projected $25 million for construction, $50 million for glass, and a 1.5-acre property with an outdoor exhibit that could be seen from the Space Needle. And maybe from space. “Every artist wants their work to be seen by as many people as possible,” Chihuly said. “It’s a dream come true.”

The exhibition, slated to open this spring, is divided into nine galleries—which include the neon Glass Forest, a 15-foot Sealife Tower, and the largest collection of Mille Fiori—in addition to a 70-seat theater, gift shop, cafe, and a 4,500-square-foot Glasshouse, home to Chihuly’s largest and latest work (pictured). Chihuly Garden and Glass, opening this spring,

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The Making of a Sculpture

1. At Chihuly’s Boathouse hot shop on Lake Union, a team of glassblowers—plus Chihuly—start molding the 1,400-odd individual Persians that will comprise the Glasshouse installation. The process takes three to four months.

2.Persians combine the delicacy of threaded Venetian glass…with the distinctive woven patterns that are the hallmark of his Baskets and Sea Forms,” wrote art historian Robert Hobbs. Chihuly’s first Persian Ceiling made its debut at Seattle Art Museum in 1992, and the new collection glows in autumn shades: red, orange, yellow, amber, oxblood, and citron.

3. As the Persians are completed, they’re packed into boxes and driven to Chihuly’s mockup studio about four miles away in Ballard.

4. Based on Chihuly’s early sketches and vision, his team fits the pieces together, one by one. “You just start putting this up and see what it looks like,” he said. “It just kind of unfolds—it happens.”

5. Chihuly visits the studio at all hours to tweak the angle of a piece, ever so slightly.

6. Once a 25-foot section of Persians is nestled together, the installation is disassembled, packed back into boxes, loaded onto another truck, and moved to a larger studio for the final mockup. Since the pieces aren’t numbered, Chihuly and his team fit them back together organically. (A nightmare for the Type A among us.)

7. Final destination: Seattle Center, where the 100-foot-long sculpture—one of the largest suspended single pieces Chihuly has ever made, bigger than the Fiori di Como in the Bellagio in Vegas—hangs 43 feet off the ground. The space is modeled after the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris. “This is Dale’s Sainte-Chapelle,” his wife Leslie remarked.

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Classical & Dance

From a Love Triangle...
Seattle Opera’s origin story starts with its own love triangle: a city, besotted by its shining new opera house, faced the dueling affections of two brand-new opera companies. One day in April 1963, Seattle Symphony’s opera committee (soon to be Seattle Opera) placed an ad in the Sunday Times for a production of La traviata with “world-famous stars” from the Metropolitan Opera in New York; just beneath it, Western Opera Company enticed with Broadway tenor Glenn Burris and Met soprano Jean Fenn in Strauss’s Die Fledermaus. Both shows ran the following month.

The companies struggled to play nice, squabbling over show selection, available singers, and dates of production—until a real-life tragedy occurred on November 22, 1963. President Kennedy had been shot. The world stood still. And no one cared much about opera tickets. By the new year, the two companies had joined forces under the Seattle Opera banner, and the city welcomed it with open ears.

...To a Love Duet
To close its 48th season, Seattle Opera will rely on the young love of 15-year-old geisha Cio-Cio-San, the “delicate butterfly” who falls for a dashing U.S. Naval officer, Lieutenant Pinkerton, stationed in Japan. Inevitably, she learns he’s a cad, but only after they’ve married and bared their legs and souls in a wedding night duet to end act one of Madama Butterfly. “It’s one of the longest love duets in Italian opera,” says general director Speight Jenkins. “And Butterfly is possibly one of the most sentimental of all operas.” Puccini’s tragedy is still wildly popular—and a great introduction for opera neophytes. Seattle Opera plans to simulcast opening night of Madama Butterfly in HD at KeyArena, where roughly 15,000 people can view the production for free.

The broadcast will be the company’s first foray into simulcasting, which has proved to be a sort of modern miracle for high art. The Metropolitan Opera set the standard six years ago under its big-spending new general manager Peter Gelb, investing in costly HD cameras to broadcast live performances to movie theaters worldwide. By democratizing opera, The Met: Live in HD grossed $11 million at the box office in 2010. Seattle Opera doesn’t have simulcast plans beyond Butterfly, but representatives acknowledge it could expand its audience exponentially, especially after newcomers hear soprano Patricia Racette sing the title role. The Met regular makes her Seattle debut in a part she now owns; her Butterfly is more emotionally complex, less porcelain doll, the way Puccini intended her to be. “Cio-Cio-San is an Italian woman in a kimono…. Asian restraint has nothing to do with this character,” Jenkins says.

Seattle Opera isn’t quite showing restraint either in its final seasons under Jenkins, who will step down in 2014 after 30 years at the helm. Turandot and La bohème are slated for the coming months, followed by Wagner’s Ring cycle in August 2013 (marking the bicentenary of Wagner’s birth). As it was in the beginning of Seattle Opera (and to borrow shamelessly from Lord of the Rings), there’s still “one Ring to bring them all.” Madama Butterfly, May 5–19, McCaw Hall, 206-389-7676;

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Editor's Picks

Don Quixote
With a whirl of the matador’s cape and a clack of the castanets, in comes the U.S. premiere of Alexei Ratmansky’s Quixote, Pacific Northwest Ballet’s largest-ever production. Feb 3–12, McCaw Hall, 206-441-2424;

Portland dance company Teeth dominated last year’s A.W.A.R.D. Show! with a beautiful interpretation of a long-term relationship, from lust to languish—a romp under the sheets to a gnashing of…er, teeth. They return to On the Boards with a multimedia piece about obsession and anxiety. Mar 1–3, On the Boards, 206-217-9886;

Renée Flemming with Ludovic Morlot and Seattle Symphony
After a winter spent performing the title role in Handel’s Rodelinda at the Met, the world-class soprano sings under the baton of SSO’s new conductor. Mar 16, Benaroya Hall, 206-215-4747;

Seattle Metropolitan Chamber Orchestra
Those übertalented twentysomethings return to Benaroya in March for Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man and again in May for an assortment of Mozart, Haydn, Bach, and Mahler. Mar 31 & May 25, Nordstrom Recital Hall, 800-838-3006;

Approaching Ecstasy
Composer Eric Banks and choreographer Olivier Wevers weave the stories of ancient Greece into a new choral ballet based on the poetry of Constantine Cavafy; Saint Helens String Quartet and the Esoterics choir accompany. May dates and location TBA, 800-838-3006;

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From a founder...
On paper, C. Bagley Wright was a manly cliche: a Princeton grad, Army veteran, New York City newsman, and real estate developer whose shrewd business acumen seemed a God-given gift. But in truth, Wright was a closeted thespian. When he moved to Seattle with his new wife Virginia in the late 1950s, his love of the arts fundamentally changed the culture of the city, starting with his patronage of Seattle Repertory Theatre. He served as its first president from 1963 to 1970—a make-or-break time for the city’s first regional theater company. “During those first five years, Bagley was the theater’s key emissary to the community,” Peter Donnelly, the Rep’s late producing director, told the Seattle P-I. “You’d see him at parties defending productions, defending actors, and assisting us in the formation of our image. It was a father-protector role.”

...To a Patron Saint
A shadow was cast on Seattle Rep’s 49th season when its father-protector, Bagley Wright, died of a heart attack on July 18, 2011, at the age of 87. Flags flew at half-staff across Seattle in honor of the game-changing arts patron and philanthropist, whose influence radiates from the top of the Space Needle (which he cofunded) to the depths of the modern art collection at Seattle Art Museum (which he and his wife Virginia supplied). And over at the House that Bagley Built, Seattle Rep has dedicated its current season to his memory.

But an even more fitting—if unintentional—tribute is the upcoming production of John Logan’s Red, a Tony-winning drama about abstract impressionist Mark Rothko and his young protege, Ken, in the midst of Rothko’s 1958 mural commission for the Four Seasons’ new restaurant. “I hope to paint something that will ruin the appetite of every son of a bitch who ever eats in that room,” Rothko famously said. He was both brilliant and irascible—words oft used to describe a certain Mr. Wright—and a man whose rage was the same shade of vermillion as his canvases. Rothko’s bold block paintings made people question their definition of art, and that extended debate plays out between mentor and mentee on stage.

Theater and art collide in the Bagley Wright Theatre, where Denis Arndt will star as Rothko, and rising Seattle actor Connor Toms makes his Seattle Rep main-stage debut as Ken. Though it’s exciting to see Arndt back on a local stage—stints on primetime TV have kept him busy lately—it’s Cornish alum Toms we’re keeping an eye on. Rep artistic director Jerry Manning handpicked Toms to play Ken after seeing him as Homer Wells in the grueling seven-hour stage adaptation of The Cider House Rules. Toms is both the fictional representation of the next generation of artists, and the future of Seattle theater itself. “It’s almost like when Monet took on Manet—[Manet] almost becomes the master,” Toms said of the relationship in Red. “At the end of the day, you have to shine on your own.” Red, Feb 24–Mar 18, Seattle Repertory Theatre, 206-443-2222;

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Editor’s Picks

Seattle Shakespeare Company takes its first crack at a George Bernard Shaw work—his much beloved, oft adapted story of Professor Henry Higgins and Cockney flower seller Eliza Doolittle. Feb 23–Mar 11, Intiman Playhouse, 206-733-8222;

Before they were the Beatles (insert high-pitched squeal here), they were just a few floppy-haired Liverpool teens. Dutch director Moniek Merkx tells the story of the days before their big break. Apr 12–May 13, Seattle Children’s Theatre, 206-441-3322;

The Art of Racing in the Rain
Myra Platt’s stage adaptation of Garth Stein’s best-selling novel presents a dog’s-eye view of life, love, and family. Apr 17–May 13, Center House Theatre, 206-216-0833;

Million Dollar Quartet
Village Theatre hosted an early version of this Broadway musical about a legendary Sun Studio session with Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, and Carl Perkins. The show comes home a Tony winner. May 15–20, Paramount Theatre, 877-784-4849;

Red, Black, and Green: A Blues
This multimedia performance brings a beatboxer, dancer, and visual artists Marc Bamuthi Joseph and Theaster Gates together to muse about environmental justice. May 31–June 3, Seattle Center, 206-323-4032;

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Exhibits & Festivals

From Tut...
“Treasures of Tutankhamun is more than an exhibition, it’s a cultural phenomenon,” wrote Seattle Times art critic Deloris Tarzan in July 1978, days before a trove of 55 artifacts from King Tut’s tomb made its Seattle debut. That’s no hyperbole: The boy king was causing a stir nationally, as his alabaster casket, gilded dagger, and golden burial mask traveled from port to port, prompting a run on pyramid ashtrays and scarab paperweights. To prepare for the exhibit, Seattle Center underwent a $19.6 million renovation, and the city called on former World’s Fair GM Ewen Dingwall to manage the chaos that comes when royalty’s in town. The final numbers: $1 admission, $1.25 million budget, and 1,293,203 visitors to Tut’s traveling tomb—the largest crowd ever for a single event in Seattle.

...To Tut
Consider this King Tut’s farewell tour. Tutankhamun: The Golden King and the Great Pharaohs, the modern incarnation of the 1970s exhibit, will return to Egypt for good after its Seattle stay beginning May 24. And though we’re not expecting a revival of Cleopatra hairstyles this time around, expect to see something new, even if you walked through the treasure trove in 1978.

On tour since November 2008, this exhibit boasts twice as many artifacts as before: roughly 100 pieces from Tut’s tomb and its surrounding excavation sites, including the bust of Akhenaten, King Tut’s father, and a 10-foot quartzite statue of the young pharaoh that’s the largest likeness ever unearthed. Several pieces are familiar—a ceremonial wooden leopard’s head, and a canopic coffin for Tut’s organs—while others reveal new insight courtesy of twenty-first-century technology. Tut’s mummy forever rests in the Valley of the Kings, but a CT scan, on display here, reveals that the boy king had a recessed chin and quite the overbite.

Archaeologists have also uncovered the artifacts of several of Tut’s ancestors and successors, lending an additional 2,000 years of Egyptian history (and a bit more glamour) to this exhibit. The glowing gold funerary mask of Psusennes I, who ruled Egypt some 300 years after Tutankhamun, is stunning, like an unexpected trip through the vaults of Fort Knox. And then there’s the sarcophagus of Prince Thutmose’s beloved cat, proving there’s room in the afterlife for your pets.

But has Tut mania passed for good? Ticket prices aren’t the charitable $1 they used to be—multiply that by 15, to start. And Tut’s record-setting attendance was challenged—twice—in the past year by 150 Picassos at Seattle Art Museum and a collection of Harry Potter film props and costumes at Pacific Science Center. Only time will tell if mummies can compete with Muggles. Tutankhamun: The Golden King and the Great Pharaohs, May 24–Jan 6, Pacific Science Center, 206-443-2001;

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Editor’s Picks

Susie J. Lee: Of Breath and Rain
In Lee’s solo museum debut (marking the departure of Frye curator Robin Held), one of Seattle’s most innovative mixed-media artists restages an immersive electronic rainstorm. Feb 18–Apr 15, Frye Art Museum, 206-622-9250;

MOHAI History Exhibit: Celebrating Century 21
The three-exhibit series presents 129 years of American World’s Fairs, artifacts from MOHAI’s Seattle 1962 collection, and photography by the Young Social Entrepreneurs. Apr 21–Oct 21, Seattle Center, 206-324-1126;

NFFTY Future of Film Expo
Tucked into the National Film Festival for Talented Youth is a two-day event featuring speakers, workshops, and panels for filmmakers and film lovers interested in talking shop. Apr 27 & 28, Seattle Center Exhibition Hall, 206-905-8400;

Seattle International Film Festival
The 38th-annual cinema smorgasbord—showing nearly 400 films to over 155,000 attendees—returns with more shorts, docs, features, and celebrity appearances. May 17–June 10, various venues, 206-324-9996;

Daniel Carrillo
With the use of ambrotypes—a nineteenth-century wet-plate photo process that requires its subjects to sit for one (very) long minute—the Seattle photographer creates timeless portraits of local artists and art critics. May 17–June 30, Greg Kucera Gallery, 206-624-0770;

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From a Mural...
Beneath a canopy in the shadow of the Space Needle, Seattle collage artist Paul Horiuchi worked in secret, assembling his 60-foot-long, 17-foot-high mural piece by piece. Each glass tile had been handpicked in Venice; they came in 160 shades and varied shapes—large and small, curved and smooth. Slowly, the mosaic grew, a map of “the bright, gay colors of the Northwest, in contrast to the traditional somber grays and blues” Horiuchi said were common to the region. It was rumored to be the single largest piece of art in the Pacific Northwest—and one of the largest in America. A crowd gathered on the lawn in front of the veiled artwork, waiting for the big reveal on the second day of the 1962 World’s Fair. And at 4pm, they pulled back the cloak on the greatest kaleidoscope of color the city had ever seen: the Seattle Mural.

...To White Light
Brooklyn-based artist Adam Frank has figured out how to make the sun rise in Denver—a feat that obviously enticed Seattle city officials. With the use of solar panels the light artist created a real-time projection of the sun that rises up the face of the Minoru Yasui Building in downtown Denver as the actual sun sets; the orb fades as morning comes. It’s simple, straight-forward—and aspires to be a symbol of hope for the city, Frank said. Each time Sunlight appears, it showcases the possibilities of solar technology in Colorado, which gets 300 days of actual rays per year. But Frank could have his work cut out for him here.

“I’d never been to a place this far north; it gets dark so early,” he said. “Some days I haven’t even seen the sun.” As Seattle City Light’s artist in residence, light master Frank has a yearlong assignment to create new public art at Seattle Center and across the city. His first project: to install a 40-foot-high projection piece in Center House that demonstrates the flow of electricity in Seattle, in real time. Imagine a map of the city and its outskirts, with pinpoints of light shining brightly downtown during the workday, then skittering off to Ballard, Fremont, and Magnolia as worker drones head home. What our city lacks in solar power, we make up in hydropower; and Frank plans, as he did in Denver, to create artwork that delivers a message of sustainability and renewal.

“I try to be very simple and refined and direct,” he said. And though his medium isn’t as tangible as the glass tiles comprising the Seattle Mural just shy of Center House, it’s all the same to Frank. “All visual art is light work. The artist is just sculpting light.” New work by Adam Frank, Center House, Seattle Center


From Nat King Cole...
During the World’s Fair, the refurbished Ice Arena was swingin’ with the sounds of Count Basie and Benny Goodman, Lawrence Welk and Ella Fitzgerald. But the star of the season was Nat King Cole, headlining four nights in July with hits like “Mona Lisa” and “(It’s Only a) Paper Moon.” Cole would succumb to lung cancer three years later, but Seattleites would never forget “Those Lazy Hazy Crazy Days of Summer” in 1962.

...To Coldplay
Enough. Too many big-name acts have skipped Seattle in favor of Tacoma Dome in the past year. (We’re looking at you, Prince. You too, Jay-Z.) If we had our way, Bruce Springsteen, Madonna, Lady Gaga, and the Rolling Stones would all play KeyArena this year. What, hadn’t you heard? They’re all considering tours in 2012—and that’s in addition to the bands already confirmed. It’s going to be a busy spring. Coldplay, April 25, KeyArena, 800-745-3000;

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Editor’s Picks

Magnetic Fields
After taking over a decade off from his trademark synth sound, Stephin Merritt goes crazy on the keys for the 10th and latest album by his indie pop band, Love at the Bottom of the Sea. March 19 & 20, Neptune Theatre, 877-784-4849;

Just days before headlining the two-weekend Coachella Music Festival in California, Thom Yorke and crew try out their latest album of moody alternative rock, The King of Limbs, on Seattle. Apr 9, KeyArena, 800-745-3000;

Critics are calling Anthony Gonzalez’s latest work “combustive,” “an electro-pop dream,” the “best M83 record yet.” Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, with all its soaring synth refrains, commands your attention. April 26, Paramount Theatre, 877-784-4849;

The Black Keys with Arctic Monkeys
The Grammy-winning pride of Ohio shares a blues-rock bill with the UK’s Arctic Monkeys. Both bands are at the top of their game, and their fans are rabid; buy tickets immediately. May 8, KeyArena, 800-745-3000;

Seattle kinetic sculptor Trimpin—he of Fire Organ fame—showcases his instruments-as-art in The Gurs Zyklus, a new libretto based on found letters from a Jewish internment camp. May 17–20, On the Boards, 206-217-9888;

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