The Art of Public Expression

Vulcans reshaping of South Lake Union includes an alluring outdoor gallery.

March 29, 2017

Jim Demetre

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The transformation of Seattles South Lake Union from a quiet area of light industry and wholesale florists to a neighborhood of high-rise office buildings housing Amazons global empire has not been all business. Set among its many walkways and plazas are 20 site-specific public artworks by some of Seattles leading artists, commissioned by developer Vulcan Real Estate. While some loom large, others announce themselves more discreetly to the blue-badge-wearing workers venturing out for lunch or another meeting. Although privately funded, the pieces are available for all to experience. For a guide to all 20, visit vulcanrealestate.com/assets/pdf/SLUArtpanel.pdf. Here are five favorites.
1. There Is Another Sky
2014, by Spencer Finch
This glass canopy, positioned above stairs and lush plantings, is printed with abstract patterns in yellow and green that filter light like the leaves of tall trees. Finch augments the understory with LED lights whose sequences mimic the flights of fireflies.
515 Westlake Ave. N (in the public plaza at Westlake Avenue and Ninth Avenue North)
2. Woodpile
2012, by Jenny Heishman
A stack of logs and a blue tarp draped haphazardly over a plank, rendered in painted steel and bronze, appear at first glance to be a pile of forgotten construction debris. Its permanence reflects the continuous rebuilding of Seattle, from pioneer days to the present.
207 Boren Ave. N (at Thomas Street)
3. The Laundry Strike
2014, by Whiting Tennis
This painted bronze colossus suggests the wicker hampers that once held clothes cleaned by female laundry workers, and is near the site where 700 of them went on strike in 1917.
Stack House apartments, 1280 Harrison St.

4. Re-Stack
2015, by Annie Han and Daniel Mihalyo of Lead Pencil Studios
This tall, stainless steel triumphant arch of horizontal and vertical panels resembles stacked shipping containers or cardboard boxes awaiting delivery. The sketch-like sculpture also suggests the half-built structures that appear throughout this and many other Seattle neighborhoods.
325 Ninth Ave. N (in the public plaza at Ninth Avenue North and Thomas Street)
5. Ping Pong Plaza
2004, by Buster Simpson
A metal ping-pong table, surrounded by bamboo plantings, sits on wide, diagonal legs, each leg revealing face-to-face profiles of famous scientists, such as Albert Einstein and Max Planck. Players mix sport and creative endeavor by hitting the ball back and forth, just as the great scientists might have bounced provocative ideas off each other.
Institute for Systems Biology Building, 401 Terry Ave. N (in the public plaza off Harrison Street)