Last week Artslant canvassed gallerists and museum directors of some of the most popular art centers outside of our main cities--and the results keep trickling in. This week we're taking a look at Seattle through the eyes of Greg Kucera, the director and curator of one of Seattle's cornerstone contemporary galleries. Established in 1983, Greg Kucera Gallery shows some of the most cutting-edge art, and not only from big names like Kiki Smith, Andres Serrano, Jim Dine, and Sally Mann (to name only a few), but from emerging artists and local talent.
Kucera weighed in on our 2009/2010 survey with a laundry-list of what makes Seattle's art scene notable, diverse, and engaging. From incredible curated shows to remarkable artists-to-watch, he truly gave us a year in review--check out some of the links to see some really outstanding stuff. If you ever wanted an insider's view, here it is.
Perhaps most significantly, however, Greg Kucera writes with candor about the challenges a gallery goes through in the face of "collector paralysis," a condition all-too-common in 2009. When asked about 2010, he writes optimistically that things are certainly looking up with a "new year and a fresh start," that "maybe folks needed a mourning period to be over before moving on with their lives."
People still need art after all..
(Image: Chris Engman, Abandoned Crates, 2007, archival inkjet print, 40 x 49 in., edition of 6. Courtesy of the artist and Greg Kucera Gallery, Seattle.)
Natalie Hegert- What was 2009 like in Seattle? Any favorite and/or successful shows of 2009?
Greg Kucera- Like any midsized city in the US, we saw "the worst of times and the best of times.”
We saw the press and media coverage for the arts diminish. With the demise of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, we lost print reviews by our most active art critic, Regina Hackett. Her blog, Another Bouncing Ball, can now be found on ArtsJournal.com. The Seattle Times retired its art critic, Sheila Farr. The Seattle Weekly hasn’t made a commitment to the visual arts in years. Jen Graves, art critic for the Seattle Stranger is now the last critic standing and still writing regularly for print publication. Her writing also appears on The Stranger’s Slog.
We saw the closing of Crawl Space gallery and the loss of interesting exhibitions there. Early in the year, Jessica Powers curated a terrific show of Vancouver-centric artists titled “would you like to start again at the beginning?” Jeffry Mitchell curated “Call and Response” featuring a variety of local talent. Thankfully, Crawl Space’s splinters have given us Tarl, an even harder to get to space that will likely continue to feature artists who are otherwise unseen here.
Soil and Punch, other artist run collectives here picked up the slack and produced many thoughtful shows. At Soil, the artists curated “Expo,” a show in which members agreed to work in previously unfamiliar media. This led to provocative works by Chris Engman with his video showing time-lapse photography of shadows and sun passing over one of his landscape intrusions. Jana Brevick created a chandelier from a basket ball hoop and net of crystals and chains. Margie Livingston, working in acrylic paint, installed small dots of swirled paint to form a dotted line around the gallery. This led her to a stunning exhibition at my own gallery later in the year mixing traditional painting with objects made of paint dripped, poured, twined, coiled and otherwise made sculptural or flat like a decal.
At Punch, Ries Niemi’s show of found handkerchiefs embroidered with poetic phrases provided comic relief to the stress of the year. Jason Hirata & Sol Hashemi combine fog, sleeping bags, headlamps, and light bulbs in a show of daytime sculptures and night time performances. They continued their collaborative partnership in the summer, creating “Dirty Shed” an installation in a garage involving sand, fog and light.
(Image: Margie Livingston, Paint Line (detail), 2009, acrylic and steel cable, 2.5 x 2.5 x 192 in. Courtesy of the artist and Greg Kucera Gallery, Seattle.)
In the gallery world, Scott Lawrimore continued to impress me with the range of vision and creativity he shares with his artists. He started out with a bang, co-curating with Yoko Ott, “Patch Dynamics” featuring Justin Colt Beckman, Matt Browning, Heide Hinrichs and the amazing Caleb Larson who has a one-person show there now. Ott shared curating with Jessica Powers in “Spite House” mid summer featuring some of the most intriguing artist conceits to be seen here. Leo Saul Berk’s one-person show made excellent use of the gallery’s vast and intimate spaces.
James Harris presented exciting new work in ceramics by Akio Takamori and a suite of autobiographical vessels by Jeffry Mitchell. Claude Zervas had a lovely subtle show of light works. Steve Davis’s photographs changed course for him but provided several startlingly good images, notably one of a stand of Christmas trees in a flooded field.
We lost Garde Rail Gallery to Austin, TX, taking with it all of its amazing self-taught talent such as Gregory Blackstock. They will be sorely missed here.
But, we also saw Ambach & Rice come into the limelight with a couple of smartly curated shows featuring artists (many from other Seattle galleries!) such as Whiting Tennis, Jeffry Mitchell, Claude Zervas, Dan Webb and Joseph Park. We hope for great things from this fast moving gallery.
G. Gibson Gallery showed excellent modern masterworks in photography by Lartigue and Marion Post Walcott, introduced Thuy-Van Vu’s paintings on paper, and featured Justin Gibbens’ watercolors that conflate Audubon’s fact-based research with genetic mutation ideas that would have tickled Darwin.
Billy Howard at Howard House brought us new work by Tony de los Reyes, including a powerhouse sculpture of a wave filled table. Robert Yoder’s installation, included an “artist in the studio” element with Yoder engaging the public as he made work.
Platform Gallery produced excellent shows by sculptor Scott Fife, and photographers Ross Sawyers and Jesse Burke. The gallery’s catalog productions are enviable, created through its affiliation with Decode book design.
quot;>March was William Kentridge month in Seattle. The Henry Gallery sponsored Kentridge for a talk, performance and one-person show largely curated from local collections. My own gallery showed his recent prints. Pacific Operaworks (now Pacific Musicworks) presented Kentridge’s version of Claudio Monteverdi’s early opera titled “The Return of Ulysses” at the Moore Theater (which then traveled to San Francisco to compliment SF MoMA’s amazing show centering on his film and performance work.) Under the artistic direction of Stephen Stubbs we saw and heard a critically acclaimed, brilliantly performed, gorgeously set theater piece that was sparsely attended given the low ebb of consumer confidence in the early part of the year when tickets went on sale.
Seattle Art Museum presented Michael Darling’s incredible “Painting Under Attack: 1949-1978.” In a city with a relatively conservative history of painting, this show was revelatory and hopefully prescient. This year, SAM entered the blogosphere with some of the best writing out there in the ether. Various staff members, have blogged on, including new director Derrick Cartwright, whose particularly erudite writing got the project started. One would like to think that the thoughtfulness of the writing is what has produced thoughtful responses from its readers. One would also like to see this thoughtfulness spill over to The Stranger where its readers seem more intent on sneak attack snipes and pseudonymous backstabbing.
Bellevue Arts Museum curator Stefano Catalani, mounted a gorgeous installation of John Buck’s sculpture and prints. Also spectacular was its show of the Bresler collection of American quilts featuring some stellar Shaker quilts.
The Wing Luke Asian Art Museum had the balls to show “Yellow Terror” featuring new paintings by Roger Shimomura that dealt with racism against Asian Americans. The artist has also given the museum his collection of racist memorabilia and ephemera. The combination is repellent and riveting.
The Tacoma Art Museum presented the Neddy Award, given annually by the Behnke Family Foundation. This year’s winner for painting was the very talented Eric Elliott who also showed at James Harris Gallery. Other shows of note were Nancy Worden’s jewelry in “Loud Bones” and its “9th Northwest Biennial” which featured several artists who deserved (and needed!) twice the space given. Jack Daw’s small “Gold Penny” was the only exception, featured as it was in a huge vitrine.
The Whatcom Museum of Art in Bellingham unveiled its new building designed by Jim Olson of Olson Sundberg Kundig Allen architects. The space is diverse and wonderful, the only bad note in my opinion being the wall color of some putty-taupe-tan that would be more appropriate in an upscale home in Medina. The museum’s new curator, Barbara Matilsky, hit the ground running selecting a variety of artists from the collection of Boise collectors Driek and Michael Zirinsky which included terrific work by John Buck, Akio Takamori, Susie Lee, Sherry Markovitz, Corneila Parker, Jane Hammond, William Kentridge, Lead Pencil Studio, Marie Watt, and others. John Grade was chosen to create “Bloom: The Elephant Bed,” an impressive room filling installation in the museum’s tallest space. Peter Millett’s series of wood worshipping wall sculptures made a welcome entry suite.
Sound Transit opened its light rail run to the airport that featured art at every stop along the way, including works by such diverse art works as Tad Savinar’s blown-up milk drop a la Edgerton, Roger Shimomura’s “Rainier Valley Haiku” featuring aspects of Asian stereotypes and a dry wit, and artists such as Norie Sato, Sheila Klein. Dan Corson was the lead artist, and his pieces are some of the most astonishing, particularly his subterranean cavern with sculptures as outer space forms. He also did a simple and gorgeous temporary project “Oscillating Field” that featured colored lights, movement and sticks to great effect.
Corson also had a successful installation at Suyama Space whose curator, Beth Sellars, inspires artists to make non-commercial installations in architect George Suyama’s offices. “Grotesque Arabesque” utilized electroluminescent tape, a shallow pool of water, a slow drip, mylar walls, and very strange light to make a convincing allusion to a water-filled cavern.
(Image: Roger Shimomura, Yellow Terror, 2008, acrylic on canvas, 60 x 72 in. Courtesy of the artist and Greg Kucera Gallery, Seattle.)
NH- Did you face any particular challenges?
GK- I felt my challenge for the year was to help my artists support themselves. My staff and I called a meeting of them on January 2nd last year and explained our feeling that we were all in for a tough year. We related our experience at ArtMiami 2008, just a month earlier, and the collector paralysis we saw there. My response to this was to set our artists free from their contractual obligations to send all local sales through the gallery. I advised them to sell work as they could to family members, friends, the postman, their plumber, whoever they could sell work to without any commissions coming back to the gallery. Still, though a few artists took me up on that per
mission, others sent sales back through the gallery.
We encouraged them to move their shows back in time, make smaller shows, and use this, presumably fallow time, to take non-commercial risks. We were willing to make some group shows of inventory in the mean time, guessing (correctly!) that the first half of the year was going to be hard.
We did no art fairs in 2009, which felt great considering we had done at least two a year for the previous 25 years. Instead, we stayed home, traveled little, went to work every day and made something happen every day. Our thoroughly documented website, one of the most complete in the art business, brought us inquiries every day from all over the world. Sure there were lots of tire kickers and midnight researchers in there as well but the effect of having one staff person who devotes her entire day to making the web work for us became an obvious asset in this year of mixed results.
In a combination of collectors who were unsure how wealthy they were, artists who got by with less and often very little, the gallery worked its magic as best we could between the two factions. Critics and curators as well made real efforts to help keep our artists visible, afloat and aloft.
I realized the inequity between gallery and artist very clearly in all of this. While I make my living off the efforts of 20 or more people, each of them is dependent on me or maybe one or two other galleries for their incomes.
At the end of the day, I realized that the loyalty of artists and the conscientious support of collectors who want to see the gallery flourish, provide the loving hands in which the gallery is contained. And, guess what, people still need art. They might come in saying “I’m broke!” or “I’m not buying!” but if we have something they want they still break down and buy it.
Some artists did OK, others not so much. My staff and I worked hard to accommodate the various needs of our artists in installation needs, help with digital technology and working with commissions and public art purchases. We advanced funds as much as we could, underwrote framing costs and the like for others, rebated production costs for sales, brokered deals on the behalves of artists, and generally tried not to be too proud in any of our business dealings. We tried to turn down nothing and we ate a lot of humble pie. By the end of the year, we had cobbled together a reasonable year’s worth of sales. Not what 2008 had been by any stretch but right in there with much of the last decade’s results.
(Image: Dan Webb, WOODYLION, 2009, carved redwood, 32 x 14 x 11 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Greg Kucera Gallery, Seattle.)
NH- And what are you looking forward to in 2010?
GK- Mostly I’m looking forward to just having a new year and a fresh start. Business has been brisk in the first two weeks of the year. Maybe folks just needed a mourning period to be over with before moving on with their lives.
Now, if our very divided congress can get behind the bravest president we’ve had in decades, perhaps some progress can be made this year. In an arena of trust and compassion maybe the economic recovery can begin. If our much-compromised health care bill can be passed maybe we can begin to right what’s wrong with it rather than mourn it for not passing at all.
As far as art goes, I look forward to Isaac Layman’s show at Lawrimore Project, Michael Darling’s “Kurt” show at SAM, which will feature photographers, such as Alice Wheeler, and their takes on Kurt Cobain.
My own gallery will have only eight shows, each five or six weeks long, each featuring two artists in two separate spaces. Our current pair features Mark Newport’s knitted and embroidered comic book covers and John Buck’s sculptures and wall panels in carved wood. We will show Chris Engman’s photographs of invented landscapes with Victoria Haven’s drawings and wall sculpture. Our first show of sculpture by Dan Webb alongside Roger Shimomura’s paintings about the internment experience of Japanese Americans during WW II. Sculpture and works on paper by Whiting Tennis, opposite Claudia Fitch’s drawings that make the baroque look spare. Lynne Woods Turner’s very quiet, very convincing paintings and works on paper will be juxtaposed to Peter Millet’s geometric ruminations on forms built from mitered lumber and welded steel. Our second show of Tim Bavington’s stripe paintings will fill the front gallery while Lynne Yamamoto’s sculpture will fill the smaller space. New sculpture in found metal and cast bronze by Deborah Butterfield will close the year.