New public art installed along Seattle's new Link Light Rail includes a number of little things — a water-drop, a magnifying glass, a dragonfly — made big. Highlights include Tad Savinar's "A Drop of Sustenance," Victoria Fuller's "Global Garden Shovel" and Buster Simpson's punning "Parable."
A huge blue ceramic raindrop and its equally enormous “splash” … a 35-foot-tall garden spade composed of twining tendrils and bountiful blooms … wrecking-ball-sized pears, halved and lassoed together onto fragments of train track … .
A spirit of playful giganticism informs much of the public art along Sound Transit’s new Link light-rail route between Seattle’s Westlake Station and Tukwila. There are beguiling small touches, too — as well as one or two misfires. But it’s the outsize exuberance of Tad Savinar’s “A Drop of Sustenance,” Victoria Fuller’s “Global Garden Shovel” and Buster Simpson’s punning “Parable” that may make the strongest impression on riders boarding the train Saturday when Link opens.
The idea behind Link’s public art, says artist Norie Sato, was to conduct “cultural conversations” with neighborhoods along the line, especially in Rainier Valley. Sato, who’s been working with Sound Transit on the project since 1998, served as a “facilitator” or “enabler” for creative input, as she sees it. Her official title was “system artist,” a role that required her to marshal 40-odd artists’ contributions up and down the line.
Recently, I toured some of the stations and the plazas adjoining them. Here — moving south from Sodo to Tukwila — are some first impressions:
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“Made in USA” by Michael Davis (Sodo Station): A towering gateway of overscale workbench tools, including a spirit level, a carpenter’s pencil and a try square, greets riders at the south entrance to Sodo Station. Nearby benches — one sliced from an I-beam, the other fashioned from some sort of huge rusting cog — have actual-size hammers and a wrench soldered onto them. Not the most comfortable seating in the world, perhaps. But Michael Davis’ suite of objects inspired by the neighborhood’s industrial character couldn’t be more eye-catching. And there is other seating nearby.
“Global Garden Shovel” by Victoria Fuller (Columbia City Station): You can still find the odd pea-patch as you travel the length of Martin Luther King Jr. Way South, and the artwork near Columbia City Station reflects the fertile flavor of this corner of the city — most strikingly in this 35-foot-high bronze spade that may owe some inspiration to Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen’s similarly scaled “Trowel” series. Fuller, with her elaborate botanical motifs, makes it all her own. Plants deriving from Africa, Asia, South America and Europe — bananas, coconuts, pears — are represented. A key to the species depicted is supposed to be installed later this summer.
“A Relic in the Garden” by Gale McCall (Columbia City Station): Along the platform, two huge magnifying glasses with filigree “lenses” incorporate outlines of flowers, a garden faucet, a baseball bat and more. Four attractive bronze baskets, illuminated from inside at night, are also part of this piece.
“Come Dance With Me” by Augusta Asberry (Othello Station): The bright colors of Asberry’s three groupings of African-American female dancers seem a tribute to Jacob Lawrence’s work, although their cut-steel silhouettes may be a nod to Kara Walker — without the sharp irony or loaded political critique. These are, instead, frolicking, lighthearted pieces.
“Rainier Valley Haiku” by Roger Shimomura (Othello Station): Shimomura whips up a totem-stack of “Asian” ethnic icons — including a rice bowl with chopsticks and a Japanese sandal — that flirt with stereotypes in a tongue-in-cheek way. The four commissioned haikus on the pedestal by Kathleen Alcalá, Suzanne Bottelli, Alan Chong Lau and Colleen J. McElroy are in deadly earnest, by contrast, making for an odd dissonance to the whole package.
“Stormwater Project” by Brian Goldbloom (Othello Station): The most seductive touches at Othello Station are these granite stormwater basins that bring the flavor of a Kyoto garden to the world of transit. A quiet, subtle treat for the eye.
“Dragonfly” by Darlene Nguyen-Ely (Rainier Beach Station): Nguyen’s winged creature, built in brushed aluminum, is poised as if about to take off in metallic flight both aeronautical and entomological — a bit like an insect handcrafted by a fanciful Boeing engineer.
“Parable” by Buster Simpson (Rainier Beach Station): Six pear halves allude to Rainier Valley’s orchardland past. But the industrial cables linking the pears and the rails supporting them speak of the urban incursions changing the character of this end of town.
“Soundings” by Clark Wiegman (Tukwila International Boulevard Station): This two-part sculpture at the escalator entrance to the Tukwila station’s elevated platform strikes a number of notes. Drawing inspiration from the Duwamish name for Tukwila, k’ap’uxac (“place of hazelnuts”), it depicts a large-scale hazelnut split in half, with one half transformed into a lute-shaped medicine rattle. Up the rattle’s handle flows an outline of the course of the nearby Duwamish River. Ambient sound will emerge from inside “Soundings.” How audible it will be over the noise of nearby freeway traffic and landing airliners is difficult to say.
“A Drop of Sustenance” by Tad Savinar (Tukwila International Boulevard Station): This witty, giant-sized raindrop/splash combo is much the most successful of the three sculptures by Savinar at the Tukwila station. Suspended from the ceiling over a large landing, it’s a regionally apt pop-art image. Less compelling are Savinar’s “A Molecule of the Region” and “I love… , I wish… , I remember… ” — both featuring Tukwila reminiscences that range from the wistfully poignant (“I wish there were more stars in the Tukwila sky”) to the curiously bland (“I remember spending time in Tukwila”).
“Shimmering Shadowlines” by Dan Corson and Norie Sato (near Tukwila International Boulevard Station): These lengths of mylar disk set into the guideway columns as Link approaches Tukwila are intended to represent flowing water. In bright sunlight they looked more like disco-ball material, but maybe in wet, gray weather they’ll gain in subtlety and fluid effect.
As for the future, the SeaTac/Airport Station — and the approach to it — will be home to work by artists Mikyoung Kim, Werner Klotz, Fernanda D’Agostino and Christian Moeller. We’ll just have to wait until December, when the airport Link is scheduled to open, to see what advantage they take of their surroundings.
Michael Upchurch: firstname.lastname@example.org