When it comes to garden sculpture, the battle lines are clearly drawn: you’re either Team Plastic Flamingo or Team Tyre Swan.
I know, I know, touchy subject, isn’t it.
Or maybe you have a beloved who fashions sculptures out of treasures bought home from the tip?
(I went to a party recently where – impressively - the host and birthday boy had created his own enormous roasting spit out of a hulking old hills hoist, creating something that was not just sculptural, but useful!)
The king of the contemporary metal sculpture has got to be Richard Serra, although to the best of my knowledge you can’t cook a meat feast on a single one of his works.
Serra’s work is no less powerful for this lack of multifunctionality: I still remember the thrill of experiencing his incredible Te Tuhirangi Contour at Gibbs Farm outside Auckland.
Also a dab hand with the oxyacetylene was Alexander Calder, whose Butterfly is the centerpiece of the Art Institute of Chicago’s Sculpture Garden.
Heroic works by Calder and Serra also dominate proceedings at Olympic Sculpture Park, in Seattle.
In easy walking distance of the both the Space Needle and Pike Place Markets precincts, Olympic Sculpture Park unites a large, steeply sloping waterfront site that had been gouged into three separate parcels by a freeway and a railway.
Today a bold zigzag slashes through the site, leaping across the two transport corridors and simply and effectively drawing visitors down to the shoreline and back up again. (Click through the slideshow to take the journey...)
Most importantly, the whole site was designed as a new way of experiencing sculpture in the landscape.
The signature work is Calder’s Eagle, and its big red swoop is visible from everywhere.
Near the sleek pavilion building an amphitheatre steps down to Serra’s Wake, five rusty ellipses beached on the gravel like the conning towers of a fleet of futuristic buried submarines.
As drivers approach the tunnel that will take them, briefly, under the park, Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen’s enormous Typewriter Eraser, Scale X teeters, precariously, on the slope above.
Stretching along the bridge crossing the railway line is Seattle Cloud Cover, by Teresita Fernandez. The canopy panels mimic the daily atmospherics: glowing and warm on sunny days, and flinty and cool under cloud cover.
Works by other distinguished artists can be found along the shore and discovered amongst the planting.
In a city with many parks, pioneering Gasworks Park and Freeway Park amongst them, Olympic Sculpture Park is the only large open parkland in the downtown area. Over 60,000 people came to visit when the park opened in 2007.
It is incredibly well used by locals and visitors, and comfortably welcomes large groups as well as the solitary stroller.
If you're lucky enough to find yourself in Seattle, do drop by.