Iconic public art installations in Seattle
The murals that run along the SoDo light rail are the result of a collaboration of 60 artists over the course of three summers.
move in public space for the past two years it has felt like being trapped in a maze; Just as you seem to be gaining momentum there is a dead end. Just when you feel the path has become predictable and manageable, it curves or doubles in unforeseen ways.
As we seep back into the world in spurts, it’s worth reflecting on what has changed – and who defines these places we occupy together. A new garrison of public art installations, including an actual maze, have emerged, perhaps without us even realizing it. And once well-known sights, such as Rachel the piggy bank and their friendly smiles of welcome feel more like faded memories of an old life, recognizable landmarks in an unrecognizable world. The thread that binds them all together is the desire to preserve and communicate with the past in order to rethink our future.
The Old Guard
A city is characterized by myriad features, some too abstract to articulate, others as tangible as a skyline. These installations have existed for decades—well over a century in the case of Pioneer Square’s totem pole—and are an integral part of our physical and cultural landscape.
AIDS Memorial Walk
“X” marks the spot across from Cal Anderson Park. After a rare winter storm in Seattle and i will miss everyone, 20 feet tall and imposing against a backdrop of lavender bricks, could be covered in snow. The stacked speakers that make up the sculpture are likely glistening with rain. But it bears witness year-round and is a keeper of the memory of those who have lost to AIDS. The sculpture, a tribute to the bars and clubs where Seattle’s gay community took refuge, is a focal point of the AIDS Memorial Pathway, which was unveiled last summer, though artist Christopher Paul Jordan emphasizes that all elements of the pathway are the same are important, a coherent whole.
The 32-by-35-foot vortex in front of the National Nordic Museum might not fit most people’s idea of a maze. After all, the two-dimensional format of the carving does not suit a Minotaur. But it draws from genuine traditions: A classic Norse labyrinth, often found in Scandinavian fishing villages, is an arrangement of stones on the floor used for ritual and meditative practices ranging from ward off trolls to wed maidens pass. The museum’s etching, designed by Gordon Huether, is based on the traditional Cretan labyrinth of seven rings. Its grounded nature doesn’t make it any easier to navigate than a three-dimensional counterpart; It’s all about perspective.
The color explosions on Maynard Alley in the Chinatown-International District are a study in peacefully coexisting contradictions. slurp!, a whimsical and dynamic rendition of Akira Ohiso’s immigration experience, celebrates the complex entanglements that form identity; the mural pieces inform each other, and yet each lively group of noodles is separate from the other. At first glance their similarities are most obvious, and yet with every moment of continued investigation their differences come to the fore, with every detail serving to distinguish one cluster of noodles from another. In his artist statement, Ohiso writes that the clusters allude to different geographic locations, and their meandering route references the non-linear, “circumferential” path that immigrants often take.
Black Living Matter mural.
The mural, which stretches along East Pine Street, is filled with color and metaphor. Brought to life through grassroots community efforts, it is a temporary piece-turned-permanent installation; the artistic community that arose spontaneously through the act of creation, like the mural itself, has solidified into something enduring. The Vivid Matter Collective, made up of many of the artists who contributed a letter to the mural, is highlighting the work of black makers at its Capitol Hill pop-up shop.
Guests from the Great River
ArtsWA, in partnership with UW, commissioned artists Tony A. (naschio) Johnson and Adam McIsaac for Guests from the Great River in 2018. A member of the Chinook Indian Nation, Johnson has studied the artistic traditions of his ancestors for decades. He and McIsaac sculpted and carved 11 larger-than-life wooden canoe paddles before casting them in bronze and erecting them in front of the Burke’s east entrance. “The life you live in the canoe is rich in lessons,” says Johnson’s artistic statement. The salute, symbolized by the raised canoe paddle, is “meaningful,” a gesture of respect and appreciation that goes well beyond a simple greeting.
78 on Jackson and Winds of Change
The Central District, long a frontline in the fight to protect the past from the raging maw of progress, recently welcomed two tributes to the region’s black history and future. Preston Hampton and found object artist Marita Dingus created on the former site of the Red Apple Market, a historic community center winch of change: We are still here. Oya, the Yoruba deity of storms, seemed an appropriate symbol for “a neighborhood undergoing change, undergoing change,” according to Hampton. He envisions the work as a kind of sentinel watching over all the residents of the neighborhood, old and new. 78 on Jackson, by musician and visual artist Paul Rucker, pays homage to Jackson Street’s thriving 20th-century jazz scene. The sculpture, modeled on a turntable, invites tactile exploration, the tonearm a bench on which to sit while reading the names engraved in the granite circle of the record. Nicknames immortalized include lesser-known artists like Alvin “Junior” Raglin, a Seattle guitarist and bassist who has toured with Duke Ellington, and acclaimed artists like Jimi Hendrix.
Composite image: cleverdame107 / Flickr CC (Isamu Noguchi, Black Sun, 1969, Volunteer Park); Chona Kasinger (Georgia Hill, I’ll Be There Soon, 2018, SoDO Track); Curtis Cronn/Flickr CC (Lewis Nasmyth, Hat ‘n Boots (hat not shown), 1954, restored 2010, Georgetown); Danler (map); Checubus (Steve Badanes, Fremont Troll, 1990); f11photo (Georgia Gerber, Rachel the Pig, 1986, Pike Place Market); SF (Jonathan Borofsky, Hammering Man, 1991, SAM); Kerochan (Alexander Calder, The Eagle, 1971, SAM Olympic Sculpture Park); James Kirkikis (Charles Brown, Chief-of-All-Women pole, 1940, Pioneer Square) / shutterstock.com; Jane Sherman (Statue of Liberty replica, 1952, repaired 2007, Alki Beach)