Random Art of Sea-Tac

Landing, 2005
Ralph Helmic and Stuart Schechter

Me + iPhone + 3 hour layover = tour of the random art of SeaTac!

I was stranded in the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport for three hours Friday with nothing to do, so I went on a little treasure hunt and catalogued as many of SeaTac’s random art pieces as I could find. It was pure, childish fun. When you stop dead in the center of an atrium, stare straight up or down, and start snapping photos, a number of people follow suit – and notice the art for the first time. It’s like leaving a wake of art appreciation behind you. You should try it the next time you have an annoyingly long wait in a public place.

Of course, Seattleites are relatively laid back. It’s possible that stopping abruptly, snapping photographs of infrastructure, and mumbling to yourself might be foolhardy behaviors in busier, more security-conscious airports. But I managed to complete my tour unscathed and boarded my connection in a better mood than when I landed. Here’s what I found – with a Seattlicious nature theme throughout.

Pantopol V , 1972
stainless steel
Ted Jonsson

cloudsandclunkers, 2006
cast iron, polymers, stainless steel
Peter Shelton

I really love this one. The “clouds” are suspended from the terminal ceiling, against a large window wall, and on a day with fluffier clouds they would almost appear to have wandered right in from outside. The “clunkers” are heavy metallic versions of the clouds, almost cocoon-like, which cluster in the inner corner on a series of steps.

cloudsandclunkers, 2006
Peter Shelton


On: matter, monkeys, and the king
, 2004

Two mobile assemblages of gears and wires travel slowly back and forth along a glass-walled track, emitting quiet tinkling noises from Rube Goldberg-like musical contraptions made of repurposed toys. Weird!

on: matter, monkeys, and the king (details) 2004

York Factory A, 1972
oil on canvas
Frank Stella

Was totally unaware SeaTac had a Frank Stella. Despite the garish colors, it’s surprisingly harmonious with the strong verticals of the walls, railing, and terminal architecture.

The next grouping is a row of nine mosaic columns beginning next to the security checkpoint. I didn’t photograph all of them. The first one is the most impressive; it’s also incongruously located between two bathrooms (like Stephen Colbert’s portrait in the National Gallery).

Champion, 2004
mosaic on column
Peter de Lory

Untitled, 2004
mosaic on column
Susan Zoccola

Susan Zoccola’s mosaic reminds me of plant cells. . .

(foreground) In Memory of My Father, Nai-ling Cheng, 2004
mosaic on column
Amy Cheng;
(background) The Naturalist’s Day, 2004
mosaic on column
Joanne Hammer

i-94236bb45f31e89e226dbb58a9358f14-alonso1.jpg i-2f4c7d13ea6713b6fac97c21022dba92-alonso2.jpg
Paradise, 2004
mosaic on column
Juan Alonso

Wings of Transition Seatac 9, 1992
mixed media
Norie Sato

This appears to be made of aluminum ladders with etched glass “wings” vaguely resembling mountain profiles. Better in person than in a photo.

Flying Fish, 1998
bronze and terrazzo
Judith and Daniel Caldwell

Inlaid in the terminal floor, only a small percentage of travelers appeared to notice these fish at all.

Landing, 2005
Ralph Helmick and Stuart Schechter

Suspended above a Starbucks kiosk (yes, it is Seattle), this stunning mobile is composed of almost three thousand tiny models of birds, fish, etc. suspended midair. From a distance, one can discern the shape of a snow goose swooping down to a lake, its reflection, and a series of widening circles in the water’s surface. From directly underneath, the lights passing though the slowly shifting suspension wires make dazzling abstract patterns. This was by far my favorite piece in the airport – I was stunned that more people didn’t look up from their coffee to stare at it! Lovely work. Check out this night view from SeaTac’s website to really appreciate the bird profile.

Indiscrete, 1992
Brian Swanson

A nifty, steampunk-inspired three-seated metal chair. Obviously gets a great deal of use – this is functional art. I like the contrast with the row of angular airport-issue chairs in the background.

Modern Mask, 1992
Robert James Schoppert

Star Quarters, 1973
serigraph on mirror coated plexiglass
Robert Rauschenberg

SeaTac has a Rauschenberg too. Like the giant mollusc!

I thought I’d done well – but a quick check of the SeaTac website reveals I missed over half of the permanent collection of artwork. What? Good thing I have another layover Tuesday. . .


  1. #1 mdvlist
    March 24, 2008

    Wow. I’ve been through that airport more times than I can count, as recently as Christmas, and I’ve never seen ANY of that stuff. I know they’ve done a lot of redecorating/remodeling lately, but good grief– either my typical route through the airport is unusually plain by SeaTac standards, or I’m always too harried to notice anything save gate numbers.

  2. #2 Larry Ayers
    March 24, 2008

    Thanks for the tour! I’ve never even been to Seattle, but it might be worth visiting just to see these art displays!

  3. #3 Hungry Hyaena
    March 24, 2008

    I’ll be out there in a little over a week, so I’ll try to catch some of these works. It’s nice to see so much art in an airport; I haven’t noticed any in JFK or LaGuardia.

  4. #4 Michael
    March 25, 2008

    (I had a nice comment written up before, but the power went out… :[ )

    Great collecting. I am amazed at how easy it is to miss beauty even when it’s right in my face. I especially enjoy the flock of birds and have spent a fair bit of time staring up at them (often with a mouth full of burrito). I also have a vague, dreamlike memory of another flock-themed work of art, which I saw after a 30hr international ordeal. Something about the aggregation of many parts works well in the business of the airport.
    I usually fantasize about ‘Pantopol V’ eating people (it’s quite big for those that don’t know). Sort of a T1000 meets Beetlejuice moment.
    The Seattle Courts building has some freaky art, BTW. The most striking greets you when you walk through the door. It consists of two immense granite (?) cones touching point to point. The stone is rough towards the base and becomes dazzlingly polished towards the pencil-sharp points. It says “this is justice and you will be crushed” or maybe just “Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate.”
    Safe travels.

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