Visual Art Scariest Art Event This Year
posted by October 31 at 14:10 PMon
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?