Homelessness and Art: Coming Soon to a Mainstream Museum Near You
by Jen Kagan
on Mon, Jan 28, 2013 at 3:52 PM
Courtesy of the artist
Cris Bruch's Home ala Carte, created in Pioneer Square in 1987, seen this winter at the Frye.
I don’t know if you know this, but Pioneer Square is full of homeless shelters and art galleries. And while I initially thought I was going to be writing about the heartless art people who ignore the homeless people, actually there is a vibrant discussion going on in the Seattle art community around homelessness—between, for example, the Wing Luke Museum’s Uprooted and Invisible exhibition and the recent Olson Kundig storefronts SKID ROAD thing, which included a prose piece by Greg Kucera on exactly this, the strangeness of these bedfellows in Pioneer Square. Kucera wrote:
When my gallery opened near 2nd and James in 1983, I was one of very few businesses on the otherwise vacant part of lower Second Avenue. The only other open businesses on that block were the State liquor store and the 611 Tavern, a drug/drag/derelict bar that got very rough around midnight. In 1998, I moved to my current space across Third Avenue from the Union Gospel Mission and next to the Harborview Clinic. I can remember that one of my colleagues remarked, "no one in their right mind will ever visit your gallery in that location." Now, 15 years later, despite her negative pronouncement, this street is the center of the gallery industry in Seattle…
After a great deal of time, what impresses me most about Pioneer Square is that we, the galleries who are purveyors of expensive art works (the ultimate luxury), and our clients (often the 1%) share this small, vibrant neighborhood with some of the most poverty stricken people in Seattle.
Courtesy of the artist (Cris Bruch)
PIONEER-STYLE The "personal camper" is fashioned out of shopping cart, lawn chairs, pack cloth, hardware, portable toilet.
There was also Rebecca Brown’s brief note on privilege during her closing talk for Moment Magnitude at the Frye Art Museum. She praised Cris Bruch’s endearingly ironic "Home ala Cart" booklet (the snarkiness of which I actually found really awkward). From Bruch's pamphlet advertising his invention, the mobile "Home ala Cart":
By putting their hands firmly on their bootstraps, giving them a place in America’s mobile society, they will be allowed to participate in the domestic pleasures we take for granted. The personal camper is ideally suited to the lifestyle of the homeless. It allows them the mobility that all Americans prize and is easily set up in a variety of terrain…
It’s hard to situate this acknowledgement of homelessness by local artists and art organizations: is it a step toward ending systemic poverty? Or is it more of a reflection of what’s happening that doesn’t really interrupt or impact the thing that it’s reflecting? Or is it something else? Or none/all of the above?
Regardless, the acknowledgement is significant because it means that a SAM exhibition of Homeless Art is not far off, and also that it is becoming more and more inappropriate for sensitive people with leisure time to not be at least somewhat educated about or engaging with in some compassionate way this insane thing in our society where thousands of people lack a safe place to call their own.