Saturday, June 24, 2017 This Week's Paper

Know your public art: Hotel Murano’s "Orizon"

A combination of whimsy and grandiosity characterize "Orizon," Costos Varotsos' grand swoop of steel and glass fastened to the side of the Hotel Murano at 1320 Broadway. In her account of how she selected an artist to do a landmark sculpture for the revamped and renamed Sheraton, hotel art curator Tessa Papas made the process sound like an inspired whim. She recalled a sculpture called "The Runner" in Athens, Greece. Papas did not know who had created the work, however. She travelled to Athens (a grandiose move) to find the artist and bring him to Tacoma to design something for the glass-themed hotel.

In a further whimsical act (or burst of inspiration fueled by "artistic genius"), Varotsos did a drawing on a small piece of paper and that, $700,000 later, became the giant "J" fixed to the building.

Named after a famous glass producing district of Venice Italy, the Hotel Murano features glass art throughout its interior. The emphasis on glass was part of the grand rebranding project of making Tacoma into a Mecca of glass art (based on the fact that Tacoma is Dale Chihuly's hometown). Any number of establishments have piggy backed on the hoped-for fame of the Museum of Glass.

In 2007, even before the work on "Orizon" was complete, the city council approved a resolution in which the city agreed to be allowed to pay a "donation fee" of $110,000 in return for city ownership of the work. Several council members voiced concern over the maintenance costs that would also be transferred to the city but the resolution was agreed. The hotel paid the $700,000 construction cost of the piece. Estimates of the value of the sculpture range between $1 million and $2 million.

Looking back, the coupling of "Orizon" to the hotel building (and to the city's public art collection) seems like one last grand flourish just before the "Great Recession" hit and funds for such accessories began to dry up.

It was hoped that "Orizon" might become a landmark. The piece, however, is a little too ambiguous to serve as much more than an architectural flourish. The way it is fixed to the hotel building and the way it resembles the letter "J" or the Nike swoosh make "Orizon" seem more like a corporate logo or a somewhat elaborate business sign.

The piece consists of a curved and upward soaring I-bean with sheets of thick, green plate glass (imported from China) stacked in the lower bend of the beam. Varotsos did a number of similar works in parts of Europe as part of his "horizon" series of sculptures.

While the layers of green glass make for some interesting light effects, the uneven edges and the loom-woven look of the stacked glass make the work feel like something left over from the architecture of the 1970s. The uninitiated can be forgiven for mistaking the sculpture for a survivor of an earlier era rather than as a contemporary attempt to give a boxy old building a facelift.

Whimsy coupled to grandiosity can give a city something like Claes Oldenburg's giant clothespin in Philadelphia. In Tacoma's case, however, we got a version of the Nike swoop with plates of Chinese glass stacked up in the curve. Just do it. The result is a noticeable sign bolted to the side of an otherwise unremarkable building not a soaring, iconic sculpture for the city.

To view a video of the construction of "Orizon" visit