Indianola-born sculptor Oscar Tuazon receives commission, to create a public art project for the Seattle waterfront, on March 25, 2014.

  • By Jim Kershner
  • Posted 12/05/2014
  • Essay 10988
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On March 25, 2014, sculptor Oscar Tuazon (b. 1975) receives a commission to create a public art project for the Seattle waterfront. The decision comes 12 days after Tuazon made a presentation to panel of the City of Seattle's Office of Arts and Culture charged with making a major $1 million waterfront-art commission. Tuazon does not get that main commission, but his presentation is sufficiently impressive that the city's Public Art Advisory Committee subsequently decides to award him a commission too, which allows him to begin work on a design for what promises to be a long-term art project for Waterfront Seattle. The art commissions are are part of a larger proposed redevelopment of the Seattle waterfront, which includes removing the Alaskan Way Viaduct and replacing it with a tunnel. Tuazon has previously created large outdoor public art works in Venice and at Brooklyn Bridge Park in New York. Tuazon says that with this project, he wants to design a piece that draws on his roots growing up on Puget Sound. 

Oscar Tuazon was born and raised in Indianola, Kitsap County, a brief ferry ride from the site of the Waterfront Seattle project. He graduated from North Kitsap High School and went to college at Cooper Union in New York. He lived in Paris for many years and gained international attention for his sculptures, which have been described as having a do-it-yourself or handyman aesthetic. He created exhibitions for both the Venice Biennale in Italy and the Whitney Biennial in New York.

 "What's a Sculpture For?" 

By the time he received the Seattle waterfront commission, Tuazon had moved to Los Angeles, where he kept his studio. However, he was well-known in the Seattle art world for exhibitions he had created with his brother, Eli Hansen (b. 1979), in 2008 at the Seattle Art Museum and the Howard House gallery. In 2012, he gained attention for three outdoor sculptures near the East River waterfront at Brooklyn Bridge Park in New York.

In his March 13, 2014, presentation before the selection panel, Tuazon said:

"A sculpture ... is a thing with its own life. What's a sculpture for? If there's one question I keep asking myself, that’s it. What is a sculpture for? The paradox is that a sculpture is by definition a useless thing, a useless object. But to me, above all, a sculpture is something you use" (Graves).

Tuazon also said that he considered his sculpture to be a social art:

"In public space, art is something you touch. It's yours. ... My work in public includes people: a place to sit out of the rain; a tree turned into a fountain; an unfinished structure, a spot to play basketball. A sculpture is like a pedestal for people, a stage. A sculpture is a place" ("Permanent Artworks").

The panel did not choose Tuazon for the main $1 million commission, which went to Ann Hamilton (b. 1956). (In addition, three other artists, Buster Simpson [b. 1942], Norie Sato [b. 1949], and Stephen Vitiello [b. 1964], had previously been awarded commissions for permanent artworks on the waterfront.) However, panelists "liked his presentation so much that they asked the city to find him another spot" (Graves). That resulted in approval of a commission in which Tuazon was asked to "find a location (or possibly multiple locations) for a significant work" (Graves). He indicated that he might once again collaborate with his brother, Eli Hansen.

 Connection to the Site 

As of October 2014, Tuazon was working on a concept and design. He said he originally became excited about possibly "preserving and re-purposing" the Seneca Street off-ramp from the viaduct (Kershner interview). However, a subsequent visit convinced him that that was not feasible:

"I've moved on to an even more interesting site: the Marion Street pedestrian overpass onto the ferry, onto the Colman Dock. That whole area is going to be completely transformed" (Kershner interview).

The concept was "still in flux," but, after working all over the world, he was happy to be working on a site that was almost within sight of where he grew up, across the water in the area around Indianola, Suquamish, and Port Madison, and felt that the Seattle waterfront was a place where he had "such a connection and so much knowledge" (Kershner interview). Tuazon was also interested in the possibility that his artwork could explore the site's historical legacy:

"Historically, that body of water was really the means of communication, that was the center, the water. To have a site there that's really on the water, that can really touch the water and engage with that, that's really exciting" (Kershner interview).

Sources: Jim Kershner telephone interview with Oscar Tuazon, October 28, 2014, transcript in possession of Jim Kershner, Spokane, Washington; Jen Graves, "The First Artists on the Waterfront," The Stranger, March 26, 2014 (; "Permanent Artworks," Seattle Office of Arts and Culture website accessed October 24, 2014 (; Eric Fredericksen, email to Jim Kershner, October 28, 2014, in possession Jim Kershner, Spokane, Washington.

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