Maine Artists Win $1 Million For Public Installation In Seattle

Nov 12, 2019

Two Maine artists have been tasked with using up to $1 million to create their first permanent public artwork.

Artist Wade Kavanaugh and his artistic partner Stephen Nguyen recently secured a contract to produce work for the new Washington Convention Center in Seattle, expected to cost approximately $2 billion to build.

Kavanaugh said the challenge will be to create something that endures.

“There’s also the challenge of creating an artwork that, essentially will be timeless and that the city of Seattle wants to live with forever,” he said.

The proposed artwork will hang from the ceiling and will be visible from both inside and outside the structure. Nguyen and Kavanaugh beat out hundreds of other artists based on their intention to create work that reflects the character of the region’s landscape.

Nguyen said he and Kavanaugh plan to draw inspiration from the related topography of Maine and Washington’s ocean, forests and rocky coast.

“We sort of imagine it as a similar landscape, just younger,” he said.

Nguyen said he’s also interested in the inspiration that can be gleaned from the region’s relationship to shifting tectonic plates.

Kavanaugh and Nguyen’s collaborations began as massive manipulated paper installations that filled full rooms, but recently the pair has explored other media such as wood. They say that change was inspired in part by the failure of a public art bid, also in Seattle. They previously proposed a public art piece at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, which they say was likely rejected because jurors were unsure the work could withstand time.

The artists say that challenge helped inform their expanding practice. But the shift in material hasn’t changed the core of the duo’s practice. They still aim to create work that speaks both to an exhibition space and viewers who encounter it.

“The experience of the artwork is going to re-inform what they see when they leave that space,” said Kavanagh, “and there will be some kind of flip that happens, some perceptual awakening or awareness that comes out of their experience of the artwork.”

The artists are currently designing the artwork with the goal that it be installed in the new building in 2021.