Seattle's Child

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Mad campus outdoor art

The free outdoor MadArt exhibit on the University of Washington campus lets children gently step on, walk through or lie under many of the pieces – and even add to one of them.


The free outdoor MadArt exhibit on the University of Washington campus lets children gently step on, walk through or lie under many of the pieces – and even add to one of them. Twelve large-scale temporary artworks are scattered around the campus in open-air vistas and hidden nooks.

If you're bringing preschoolers, stick to a few pieces in one area of the campus (maps are available at the UW Visitors Center or at Homeschool groups or weekend wanderers might enjoy the "treasure hunt" of following signs to the artworks on the whole 2.5-mile loop. For a guided walk and extra activities, come to the free family-friendly art walk hosted by Arts Dawgs on Sunday, Sept. 28.

MadArt is a privately funded organization supporting emerging artists who get to share their work in unexpected places.

You can't miss "Sentinel," a giant robo-dog clad in rainbow-hued holographic silver vinyl at the corner of Northeast 45th Street and 15th Avenue Northeast. You can pet it or step onto the platform carefully, but don't be too rough or climb all over it or you might tear the vinyl or break the wooden frame. Look at the snout; there's a surprise to see there.

Around the corner by the Burke Museum find "Relics of Experience," a cabinet full of little open-sided boxes filled with white ceramic treasures, from fossils to plant forms to weird figures. Some of the boxes are empty; you are invited to bring your own small treasures to place in them – or pick up seeds, pine cones or leaves to add.

Back in the open area facing 15th Avenue Northeast at Northeast 43rd Street you'll see a 28-foot-tall inflated cowboy figure in yellow pants and a blue hat. "The Lone Stranger" is inspired by carnival prizes from the 1940s, and welcomes you to campus.

"Lux Sit" (roughly translated as "let light exist") wasn't up for the press preview tour, but it's sited south of the "Lone Stranger," also facing 15th Avenue Northeast. Walk though and under 7-foot neon tubes arched and angled over a grove of 15 trees. Notice how the colors illuminate and change your bodies.

Walk into campus to find "Global Bloblem" up in one of the campus' biggest trees. It's a bunch of huge brightly colored pillows – and one white one – slumped over the boughs. The pillows are made of the flags of the top 10 nations contributing to global warming and 10 nations that will be greatly affected by it. The white pillow is a melting iceberg.

"By Degrees" in the Quad is a circle of white and orange flags that "examine the relationship between human perception and sense of place." No, you can't pull the flags up and move them around.


My favorite piece is "Untitled," a Mobius-like, wind-rotated, Mylar ribbon sculpture suspended in a circle of huge trees on the Quad. You can see if shimmering from 100 feet away. Lie under it and look at the sky and clouds and leaves in a new way.

"The Legend of Jerry Roundtree" in Red Square is an "encampment" made of construction-level plywood unexpectedly set with Italian marble body forms. Feel free to go into the tent and climb on the wooden pieces.

The last four sculptures are on the south end of the campus. Next to the Physics and Astronomy building you'll find "Wave Sine." As children run along the wooden ramp and see how far they can get up the wave curves, or run in and out of the arches, they might think about how the universe curves or how light and matter travel through space. Just don't jump off the highest curves.


Need a picnic or snack stop? "Hortus Curiosus" set in the medicinal garden features concrete "benches" and a "table" resembling old-growth stumps. Two beautiful hand-painted banners depict the history of the university. What's funny about the "people" on the banners? How do they relate to the two permanent "monkey poles" that mark the entrance to the garden?

Walk deeper into the woods to find "Six Swans," life-sized puppets set in a gigantic redwood tree. The piece is based on a Grimm's fairy tale in which a princess, tied to the tree, cannot talk for six years until she turns her six brothers from swans back into men.

The last piece, "Burnt into Time," wasn't up for the press preview, but sounds fascinating. A group of 12-foot obelisks, made of pink wood, fabric and photo-sensitive dye, block light and create moving shadows.

Have fun seeing where your children's imaginations take them as they look at – and interact with – the works of this diverse group of artists.



Where: University of Washington campus. Pick up maps at the UW Visitors Center, 4060 George Washington Lane N.E., or download the map and start with sculpture #1 at 15th Avenue Northeast and Northeast 15th Street.

When: Now through Oct. 25; open 24 hours.

Cost: Free.

Mad Campus Art Walk hosted by Art Dawgs: Sunday, Sept. 28, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., starting at Red Square. Includes family-friendly guided tours, a chance to meet the artists, tote bags to decorate, button-making and other art activities, and food samples. Free (including food).

Parking: On-street is free on Sundays, but scarce. Public parking at five garages and lots is $3 per hour on weekdays (you must pay the $15 daily rate at one of the gatehouses, and you are refunded your prorated fee as you exit); Saturday morning and evening parking after 5 p.m., $5;; 206-623-1180.

Wenda Reed is an art-lover and frequent contributor to Seattle’s Child.

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Wenda Reed