Anonymous monolith brings a landmark movie to mind

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Rebecca Sargent gently put her fingertip to the black steel monolith mysteriously planted on a grassy knoll in Seattle's Magnuson Park and declared it had a vibe, like one she felt at Machu Picchu, the ancient Incan ruins.

Her husband, Denny, guffawed.

But why wouldn't it? On the first day of 2001, the monolith glistened in the warm sunlight of a new millennium. At roughly nine feet tall and several feet wide, it certainly looks like the shrieking black marker in Stanley Kubrick's landmark movie, "2001: A Space Odyssey."

And like the movie, the renegade sculpture raises at least a couple of questions. Like, who put it there, obviously without the city's permission?

There are precious few clues. Certainly, there is no commemorating plaque. The hollow monolith - perhaps an empty fuel tank? - was carefully positioned on the park's Kite Hill, possibly on New Year's Eve, to capture the attention of the masses strolling along the lakeshore below. At its base the sod was carefully tamped back into place, but several plastic bottle-cap rings littered the ground, suggesting the artists sought refreshment after their clandestine labor.

News of the monolith's appearance circulated late New Year's Eve on Capitol Hill as the Infernal Noise Brigade, a marching band of anarchists, led a peaceful parade downtown where a bonfire was lit at First Avenue and Pike Street.

Anonymous art in Seattle - a place of interminable tame public art - is a guilty pleasure. Remember the 700-pound steel ball and shackles placed on the right leg of the art museum's Hammering Man? Or the 1,800-pound metal heart Jason Sprinkle - "Subculture Joe" - placed at Westlake Park in 1996, in protest of a lot of things? That stunt cleared out a swath of downtown when police decided the artwork might contain a bomb, which of course it didn't.

And what message does the Magnuson monolith convey, besides an obvious rip-off of the movie?

As Denny Sargent moved forward to touch it yesterday he began to hum the theme song of 2001, "Tum-Tum-Tum-Tum-Tum-Tum - Tum!"

"I feel my intelligence increasing by the moment," he said.

His son, Jason, offered no verbal appraisal but hugged it. Why? It was warm from the sun.

While no bones flew into the air, a boomerang suddenly circled by in swooping arc.

John Thoe retrieved the boomerang and paused to inspect the artwork.

"It's cool," he said. "Especially on the first day of 2001."