by Jen Graves
on Thu, Dec 31, 2009 at 12:25 PM
At the GSA building in South Seattle, where many of the city's leading artists have had cut-rate studio spaces for almost a decade, today is closing time. All the artists, and there are about 40 at this point, have to be out by 4:30 pm.
I went by yesterday to see them. The emptied rooms—which will be demolished to make way for the stimulus-money reburfishment (the new space to be used by federal agencies) that's going to happen on the site—are beautiful. Painter Jeffrey Simmons had been there making photographs of them. (See all of the images here; it's well worth looking.)
This was Claude Zervas's studio, looking out on the Duwamish River. By the time I got there, Zervas was picking the last bits off the walls and carting off the barbecue.
Zervas, Dan Webb, Leo Berk, and a few other artists have established a new building together in Georgetown, but other artists are scattering—Deb Baxter to Ballard, Ben Hirschkoff to the Bemis building, others to basements or garages if they have them.
Everybody is paying more for less space. Ironically, these artists came by this largesse thanks to George W. Bush, as I wrote a few years ago—well, by way of a Bush appointee: the marvelous Jon Kvistad. I asked Kvistad if he would go with me yesterday, but he's out of town, and anyway, he wrote, it would be too sad. This back-channel artist support system—he's also a contemporary collector—was his baby.
In more pressing news, the artists at 1723 First Avenue are also losing their spaces—and these spaces have been home to artists including Fay Jones, Claudia Fitch, and Ruth Marie Tomlinson for more than 14 years. I also stopped by here last night, where on the front door a sign advertises a closing sale happening Saturday, January 2, 12-5 pm.
"This place has a legacy," said Deborah F. Lawrence, one of two holders of the current five-year lease, which is not yet halfway up. The other leaseholder is photographer Les Sterling—but since the fire that gutted the adjoining bar Hooverville in February, and a rent increase that came after that, artists have been abandoning the historically full studio building en masse. A year ago the nine studio spaces had 14 tenants; now there are 4. That leaves Lawrence and Sterling on the hook for most of the about $4,000 in rent per month for the more than two years left on their lease with Ederer Investment Company.
They've retained a lawyer through Washington Lawyers for the Arts and are hoping to negotiate with Ederer, but so far, no dice, Lawrence says. The artists are looking for any option "that isn't just debt for the rest of our lives," she said, including finding more tenants quickly—but things don't look good. The historic art spot looks like it will be disappearing after the sale on Saturday.
That sale will include art and books and paraphernalia, including Fay Jones's awesome turquoise-with-pink-porcelain-interior fridge (pictured). The address again is 1723 First Avenue.
A gallery from the final days of the GSA and 1723 First Ave on the jump.
Artists's spaces that will be no more.
Formerly "Bill Wickett Artists' & Illustrators' Photography Services," according to the sign on the door at the GSA building.
Michaele Miller with the remnants of her four years at the GSA building.
At the GSA building: Jeffrey Simmons's, then Claire Cowie's, studio.
A view down the famous row at the famously cold (unheated) GSA.
A pile of surplus chairs. Origins and fate unknown. The sort of thing you'd just come across at the GSA—one reason it was great.
Leo Berk with the posters outside his studio. One of these may be up for auction in next year's Strangercrombie!
Artists Margot Quan Knight and Leo Berk in the women's room at the GSA. Knight, Matthew Offenbacher, and Debra Baxter removed one of these communal sinks from the GSA for an upcoming installation at the Henry.
Claude Zervas at the exit, GSA.
Deborah F. Lawrence in her studio at 1723 First Avenue, formerly Fay Jones's space.