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Artist Ann Hamilton has been commissioned by the Seattle Office of Arts & Culture to create a large public art installation that will be the centerpiece of Waterfront Seattle, the Elliott Bay waterfront development scheduled for construction after the Alaskan Way Viaduct is torn down.

Hamilton’s project will be sited on Piers 62/63 (where “Summer Nights on the Pier” used to happen) and/or the Union Street Pier (the current site of Waterfront Park).

In a phone interview

Wednesday, Waterfront Program Art Manager Eric Fredericksen said the intention with the rebuilt piers was to create “a really new significant public space.”

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Hamilton, who has represented the U.S. at the Venice Biennale
(the prestigious contemporary-art exhibition that takes place once every two years in Italy), and who has won the Heinz Award, a MacArthur Fellowship, a Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship and other honors, is known for the variety of her work.

Seattleites may recognize her from her Seattle Central Library piece, “LEW wood floor,” in which raised letters in 11 languages spell out the first sentences from books in the library’s collection.

The exact nature of what Hamilton will build is still to be determined, Fredericksen said. Artist selection comes first, in this process, and specific plans are developed later. The idea is for selected artists to immerse themselves in the community and develop their projects in place rather than coming in with “something fully formed,” he added. “That said, we definitely ask artists about how they might approach a project, based on the scope and scale and site.”

Hamilton was chosen from 340 applying artists, Fredericksen says, because she seemed “both a very safe and a very risky choice. The idea of selecting somebody that had the kind of record of accomplishment that she has, but that you didn’t know exactly what you were going to get out of her on this site, made it very exciting.”

The project has a $1 million total budget, including artist’s fee. Hamilton will collaborate closely with Waterfront Seattle’s lead designer, James Corner Field Operations (famous for their work on Manhattan’s High Line), and with the Seattle landscape architectural firm Berger Partnership.

In her letter of interest to the Seattle Office of Arts & Culture, Hamilton wrote, “In the Waterfront Seattle project, the ancient relations of solid and liquid, land and water, nature and culture are creating a new edge between the urban and the oceanic. Within this liminal zone, the solitary experience and the social gathering are woven. … I see the Waterfront Seattle project as an opportunity to extend the increasingly civic concerns of my practice.”

Hamilton will have a good reason, besides Waterfront Seattle, to visit the city frequently this year. She’s working on an exhibition scheduled to open at the Henry Art Gallery in the fall.

Hamilton was born in Ohio in 1956 and serves on the faculty of The Ohio State University as a Distinguished University Professor in the art department. She was traveling at the time of the Seattle Office of Arts & Culture announcement and was unavailable for comment.

Michael Upchurch:

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