The Next Fifty

From a Mural to White Light: 50 Years of Public Art at Seattle Center

The story starts in 1962 with the largest artwork in the NW; in 2012, we found an artist who can make the sun rise.

By Laura Dannen April 17, 2012

Horiuchi’s famed mosaic now serves as a backdrop to the popular summer series Concerts at the Mural.

Originally published in February 2012. 1962. Beneath a canopy in the shadow of the Space Needle, Seattle collage artist Paul Horiuchi worked in secret, assembling his 60-foot-long, 17-foot-high mural piece by piece. Each glass tile had been handpicked in Venice; they came in 160 shades and varied shapes—large and small, curved and smooth. Slowly, the mosaic grew, a map of “the bright, gay colors of the Northwest, in contrast to the traditional somber grays and blues” Horiuchi said were common to the region. It was rumored to be the single largest piece of art in the Pacific Northwest—and one of the largest in America. A crowd gathered on the lawn in front of the veiled artwork, waiting for the big reveal on the second day of the 1962 World’s Fair. And at 4pm, they pulled back the cloak on the greatest kaleidoscope of color the city had ever seen: the Seattle Mural.

Photo: Municipal Archives/77813

Fast-forward to 2012. Brooklyn-based artist Adam Frank has figured out how to make the sun rise in Denver—a feat that obviously enticed Seattle city officials. With the use of solar panels the light artist created a real-time projection of the sun that rises up the face of the Minoru Yasui Building in downtown Denver as the actual sun sets; the orb fades as morning comes. It’s simple, straight-forward—and aspires to be a symbol of hope for the city, Frank said. Each time Sunlight appears, it showcases the possibilities of solar technology in Colorado, which gets 300 days of actual rays per year. But Frank could have his work cut out for him here.

“I’d never been to a place this far north; it gets dark so early,” he said. “Some days I haven’t even seen the sun.” As Seattle City Light’s artist in residence, light master Frank has a yearlong assignment to create new public art at Seattle Center and across the city. His first project: to install a 40-foot-high projection piece in Center House that demonstrates the flow of electricity in Seattle, in real time. Imagine a map of the city and its outskirts, with pinpoints of light shining brightly downtown during the workday, then skittering off to Ballard, Fremont, and Magnolia as worker drones head home. What our city lacks in solar power, we make up in hydropower; and Frank plans, as he did in Denver, to create artwork that delivers a message of sustainability and renewal.

“I try to be very simple and refined and direct,” he said. And though his medium isn’t as tangible as the glass tiles comprising the Seattle Mural just shy of Center House, it’s all the same to Frank. “All visual art is light work. The artist is just sculpting light."

Frank’s Current is one of six temporary art installations going up at Seattle Center in honor of the 50th anniversary of the Seattle World’s Fair —and the next 50 years of innovation. The months-long celebration kicks off this Friday, April 21, with the cast of Almost Live!, a dramatic reading by actor Tom Skerritt, and a zipline. In that order. More to come tomorrow.

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