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Help put Tacoma toilet in museum!

Post by News Tribune Staff on Dec. 15, 2008 at 3:15 pm with No Comments »
December 15, 2008 3:15 pm

The New York Times’ Jennifer 8. Lee blows the lid off the world of art museum toilets in a post to the news org’s City Room blog.

So to speak.

Actually, it’s The Art Museum Toilet Museum of Art that documents the world of art museum toilets and bathrooms.

The museum, which exists only online, has photos and links to artistic toilets and urinals from around the world. It even includes a call for submissions.

In my brief survey, I didn’t see any reference to Tacoma’s “Lovesick Walls,” the art on the walls of the third-floor restrooms at the Greater Tacoma Convention & Trade Center.

Anyone care to toss Tacoma’s toilet room into the fray?

Here’s what TNT art critic Jen Graves had to say in 2004 about the art, set inside two bathroom stalls, and created by Seattle artist Alex Schweder:

The smooth white porcelain blocks forming the walls have begun to slump and form holes and lumps that are both beautiful and grotesque, in a serene kind of boldly fleshy entropy that begs to be touched. As odd as the idea seems, this is the most private place in the center, particularly suited to this powerful and almost primal work of art.

The art installation, Lovesick Walls, can be found in the restrooms on the Ballroom level at the Greater Tacoma Convention and Trade Center. Artist Alex Schweder’s work is made of porcelain. Photo taken Tuesday, November 9, 2004. (Janet Jensen/The News Tribune)

Click ahead to read the full article.

Contemporary art infuses and informs convention center

The art at the Greater Tacoma Convention & Trade Center acts as an integral part of the new structure, telling its own story.

By Jen Graves

Words: 870

Wednesday,November 10, 2004

Edition: SOUTH SOUND, Section: Front Page, Page A01

By hiring artists four years ago who would work like architects – on a budget and for a specific site – the Greater Tacoma Convention & Trade Center refused “plop” art and instead got plot art.

The center is a sinewy building activated by artistic nerve centers. A parade of timbers dangled in midair stretches on an upward path headed for the northern sky.

Neat white porcelain walls in the bathrooms buckle and transform into irregular forms. The whole building itches for change, its crouching facade poised to spring down the hill, into the waterway, and off into Puget Sound.

This is the drama of transition personified, not bronze-statue public art as usual.

“It’s contemporary work,” said city public art administrator Amy McBride, “for a contemporary building.”

This is no surprise. The building is part of extreme downtown change, and the art is an energetic response to that.

The three large works in the convention center – from a design and installation budget totaling $570,000 – are the first projects since the city’s 1 percent-for- art ordinance was reinstated in 2000.

The works are imaginative, immediate and rich in narrative, demonstrating a type of thoughtfulness missing from the hire-a-celebrity search that resulted in Stephen Antonakos’ neon abstractions going into the Tacoma Dome in the 1980s.

This time, the city hired two artists to create a major integrated work in the building – not a sculpture plopped in the middle of a plaza.

Those artists would oversee two smaller projects by others and work with architects led by designer Wyn Bielaska to try to create a coherent aesthetic program for the center.

The city chose as leaders Stuart Keeler and Michael Machnic of Seattle, who are best known for their tornado-like chandelier of translucent baseball bats at Safeco Field. The work was created with artist Linda Beaumont.

Their Tacoma installation is similarly evocative. Seven hand-hewn fir beams, salvaged from warehouses formerly on the center’s site, are suspended by steel cables in a high, open atrium at the front of the building. They ascend across the building toward its northeast corner, where the exterior glass skin will be silk-screened with a topographical map of Mount Rainier and ghostly tree trunks.

Until the glass arrives, it is difficult to divine the true effect of “Apotheosis,” named for the Greek word meaning “to make sacred.”

The title refers to the beams rising toward Rainier as their final resting place and ancestral home, which sounds a little cheesy. But the rough timbers, nicely scaled to the large space, make a warm, syncopated contrast to the silvery geometry of the atrium, with its rectangular windows, exposed staircases and an aggressive octopus-like support structure in the northeast corner.

The timbers also follow an expansive vision of sculpture that is both abstract and figurative. The glass map might complete the environment, or break the spell. One disjoint in adding the literal topography is that the beams rise away from the real mountain.

Like the Museum of Glass: International Center for Contemporary Art and the Tacoma Art Museum, the convention center is oriented toward the mountain. The facade is a windshield facing it, and the art a symbolic reflection of it. There’s even a green “forest floor” in terrazzo on the lower level of the center, by Tacoma artists Yuki Nakamura and Joe Miller. Canes of embedded glass are wind-blown needles, and puddles of silver-foiled glass glint like rained-on rocks. But dark splotches interrupt the lyricism.

The third artwork, set inside two bathroom stalls, is ” Lovesick Walls” by Seattle artist Alex Schweder.

The smooth white porcelain blocks forming the walls have begun to slump and form holes and lumps that are both beautiful and grotesque, in a serene kind of boldly fleshy entropy that begs to be touched. As odd as the idea seems, this is the most private place in the center, particularly suited to this powerful and almost primal work of art.

The city went for big gestures instead of approaching the center like a gallery where every wall is filled. Only one area feels empty, near the 15th Street entry, and it will indeed be a gallery for presenters using the center. When presenters don’t use the space, the city might exhibit curated art shows there, McBride said.

Two abstract paintings the city already owned – Kenneth Callahan’s “Vernal Equinox” and Guy Anderson’s “Sanctity of Early Form” – were moved into the center from other municipal buildings, but otherwise the art here grew from ideas planted on the site.

As in programs that have produced engaging and important art at the Seattle Public Library and Sea-Tac International Airport, the idea is not that these pieces decorate a place, but that they help form an understanding of it.

At a convention center, people come together to exchange ideas. Each of these artworks is a connector, between what is and what is under way, in this city and beyond.

- – -

Jen Graves: 253-597-8568


What: Grand opening of the Greater Tacoma Convention & Trade Center

When: 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday and noon-5 Sunday, with guided public art tours at 1 and 3 p.m. both days

Where: 1551 Broadway, Tacoma

Admission: Free

Information: 253-225-1617, www.


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