Slog News & Arts

Line Out

Music & Nightlife

« Keeping an Eye on King County | Speaking of Free Speech »

Friday, October 31, 2008

Scariest Art Event This Year

posted by on October 31 at 14:10 PM

In this week’s In Art News column, I report my disappointment in the current exhibition Century 21:

Century 21: Dealer’s Choice is a display of the 49 Washington artists that Seattle art dealers (with the exceptions of Scott Lawrimore and the fellows of Platform Gallery) believe are the best. It is intended to be a historic occasion. The membership of the Seattle Art Dealers Association has never created an exhibition before, but beyond that the show turns out not to be particularly historic, or even particularly meaningful. It is conservative, narrow, and doesn’t come close to capturing the dimension or ambition of what’s happening on the ground. … There’s nothing new here, but how could there be? The youngest artist in the show is 33; 26 of the 49 artists are over 50. From this bias one can presume, whether or not it’s true, that Seattle dealers have not been doing their homework for a very long time, which is a depressing thought.

What I didn’t have space to write about was the panel discussion about the exhibition that took place last week. It was easily the most depressing and, ultimately, frightening art event I’ve been to all year.

It felt like a small-town meeting, with everybody congratulating everybody else on the installation of a new four-way stop. The panel included Matthew Kangas, whose biggest sin, I’ve realized since I wrote about him a few years back, is not shaking down artists for free art, but his sense of total self-satisfaction. At the panel discussion, he twice compared the exhibition, for which he wrote the pamphlet notes, to the Whitney Biennial. He predicted that this exhibition would become the new biennial for the Northwest.

Kangas has been writing about Northwest art for more than 30 years and this is his vision for it? A weird, scattered array of artists, some of them totally irrelevant and many of the greats missing, including not a single artist under 30 (and more than half over 50), and organized by a trade group of art dealers? Yikes.

Worst of all was the air of importance that presided over the whole thing. There were references to “us” as the Seattle art world, which is a little like taking Ballard for the whole city.

There was almost no conversation at all about the art on display. The conversation instead turned to how to manage a public collection, whether corporations should collect local artists, whether print criticism is dead, whether the Northwest has a signature style, how Matthew Kangas became the writer he is today, and other cul-de-sacs and cliches. Nobody pointed out that the show they were seeing was dull and small compared to the wealth of activity out there. An older woman stood up to say how excited she and her husband were with what’s happening in Seattle art. I was angry: That’s defrauding the elderly.

I considered standing up and say something, but I didn’t know where to begin. I also wanted to march into the back office of the Wright Exhibition Space, where the show is, and drag Virginia Wright into the gallery to stare at some of the worst works on display. What’s the deal with the Wrights these days? Back in the day, Virginia Wright had the best eye in Seattle. She didn’t just bring great national names to Seattle; she brought great examples of their work here. She knew the difference between first-tier and everything else. Now her space is devoted to this? An inchoate group show making bold claims that are backed up by association with her name?



RSS icon Comments

Posted by Fnarf | October 31, 2008 2:14 PM


Posted by Mr. Poe | October 31, 2008 2:23 PM

bela lugosi's dead.

Posted by jason | October 31, 2008 2:46 PM

Wow, that person has the same Photoshop plugins as me!!!

Posted by Dylan! | October 31, 2008 2:52 PM

In the spirit of the election season and all that "we are the ones we've been waiting for" stuff, I propose you head up a diverse panel of artists and art professionals to co-curate an exhibition of what's current and vital in Seattle art. Hit me up if you want some help!

Posted by Emily | October 31, 2008 3:13 PM

Well said, Jen, though I haven't seen the show yet. Someone needs to write a piece about how there are two largely separate art scenes in Seattle, divided at least in part by age.

Posted by Jim Demetre | October 31, 2008 3:43 PM

Jen, you really hit the nail on the head. I have been witness to the entire development of this show, and a bunch of small-town folks holding a meeting about a traffic stop is e.x.a.c.t.l.y. how I would summarize both the process and the resulting panel. And, Jim D., I agree that it is a case of two scenes in this city. The original ‘emerging’ age bracket for this show was supposed to be artists under 35, but SADA dealers (17 dealers in all) collectively represent fewer than 20 artists in that age group. And though the whole Seattle scene was their oyster, I think it didn’t occur to them to look outside the family. The ‘young’ scene is operating almost entirely outside the periphery of the majority of the arts professionals in this city, who are clinging to a scene that will be almost entirely dead or retired within 15 years.

Posted by Matt Browning | October 31, 2008 5:33 PM


Seattle seems to be a 3 critic town and all the awards, grants, and recognition go to the same batch of people. Blame the talented artists who are bad at self promotion for not demanding recognition, blame the galleries for being a bottom line business that relies on name recognition or sellability, blame the critics for spending
too much time on a handful of galleries while completely ignoring
more of the DIY shows. And finally, blame all those people who will half ass the making of art, or "create" jackson pollock inspired paintings or abstractions... it's been done to death and beyond. Come up with something that is new(ish) or interesting before showing it to us in the real world, you know, beyond your myspace page or deviant art page.

Regarding the ego stroking of Matthew Kangas.... and stale / old selections for the Century 21 show.

I'm not surprised. A couple years ago I sent Matthew Kangas an
invite and cd of images for a show I was hosting at my studio of an upcoming printmaker.... he called and left me a message a day later saying he "didn't need to know me", "take me off your mailing list",
and a very condescending "have fun at the party" (referring to the art opening) We had more than 100 people show up, we sold a couple pieces and the City of Seattle's Portable Works Collection bought 2 pieces a couple months later. We passed the phone around during the opening so people could listen to Kangas's blowhard message. Regina Hackett callled to say she was interested in the show (but there was no review or any sighting of her), and unfortunately i never heard back from you.

Some of us are putting good artists out there and assmebling quality shows that are selling work, the critics have mostly chosen to ignore the invites or not write about the shows, but I would guess they have seen a few of them at a cafe or artwalk... but were to busy dutifully reviewing yet ANOTHER James Harris Gallery show or Kucera Gallery show... or telling us about Vancouver, LA, NY or whatever that fits to print in the 1 and sometimes 2 pages given to visual arts in our local papers.

And fer christ sakes, how does Peter Millett (& Kucera) get away
with charging $16,000 for a sculpture of 3 steps made of steel?!?!?

Sometimes you need to look under the rocks to find quality artists, and not just settle for those who are favorited by the few.

Oh yeah, and the Thomas Kinkade Galleries and his bullshit christian "limited edition" giclee reproductions have my permission to go fuck themselves.

Posted by another known but not "Known" seattle artist | October 31, 2008 6:02 PM

Hi Jen, I was there for the town hall meeting and in all fairness to Matthew, I came away with a slightly different impression. He made what seemed to be two great suggestions: 1) The galleries could all hold "new talent shows" every August to make room for, well, New Talent, w/out the commitment of contracts etc. 2) He seemed to be making a pitch, to Virginia, for a Wright Biennial. Whitney Biennial -> Wright Biennial. It's not such a bad idea, really. The space is beautiful, and the Wright's legacy is already enduring.

Posted by HuskyQuaker | October 31, 2008 10:44 PM

The Wright Space was probably foolish to think that 17 gallery owners could work together to curate a cohesive, focused show. I doubt half of those gallery owners see an actual gallery show other than their own each month. It was great for them to try, but it was programmed to fail.

Just like all young artists are programmed to believe the revolution is coming and they are a part of it. And all they need is for the artists over 50 to realize their irrelevance and stop creating the same stale work year after year, clogging up precious gallery space and art review column inches.

#8, don't dis Peter Millet because his work is too expensive. Dis him because he is old. Everyone has a right to try and make money. Not everyone has a right to be over 50 years old and still think they matter.

Posted by old and in the way | November 1, 2008 9:39 AM

as an unrecognized and unrepresented artist I found the show very telling and sometimes amusing because it put the dealers on the spot for once. I dont really care about who got in or not or who is too old (that seems like a dumb argument anyway) I was more interested in reading the little essays about why the dealer had chosen certain artist. Applying for grants, looking for galleries,making up statements, artists have to come up with these elaborately written reasons why our art matters.It was fun to see these dealers writing about why their choices mattered.By judging the dealers from what they had to say, I would go with Kucera, James Harris and David Martin. Davidson, Francine Seders were okey too, but the rest kind of sucked.

Posted by rosamarta | November 1, 2008 3:08 PM

Comments Closed

Comments are closed on this post.