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Monday, January 28, 2013

Homelessness and Art: Coming Soon to a Mainstream Museum Near You

Posted by on Mon, Jan 28, 2013 at 3:52 PM

Cris Bruchs Home ala Carte, created in Pioneer Square in 1987, seen this winter at the Frye.
  • 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.

PIONEER-STYLE The personal camper is fashioned out of shopping cart, lawn chairs, pack cloth, hardware, portable toilet.
  • 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…

Ha… ha?

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.


Comments (8) RSS

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Cato the Younger Younger 1
If there isn't a connection of how this would end homelessness then it's nothing but exploitation.... And a little sick
Posted by Cato the Younger Younger on January 28, 2013 at 4:05 PM · Report this
Posted by stinkbug on January 28, 2013 at 4:07 PM · Report this
emor 3
I hated this exhibit when I saw it. My first thought was "Well, if only someone made portable, lightweight, easy to set up shelter. If only!"

Guess I didn't get it.
Posted by emor on January 28, 2013 at 4:27 PM · Report this
Eastpike 4
A tent is cheaper, which is by far the most used form of non-house shelter. pack it up and put it in the backpack, boom. Portable as fuck.
Posted by Eastpike on January 28, 2013 at 5:10 PM · Report this
Making art isn't always about luxury. That's an American made myth.
Recently when I was in Lebanon I spoke to 2 women who had kept dance studios open during their civil war, "because music and dance separated us from the animals. Our opportunity to express ourselves kept our spirits alive. Things would be destroyed or taken from us, but the art of dance was our own." they said.
Pioneer Square specifically may be more a clash of cultures, but it is healthy to travel and look at the history of art so that we don't write it off as a product of leisure. It is a human necessity.
Posted by ccabeen on January 28, 2013 at 8:56 PM · Report this
Sargon Bighorn 6
Homeless will never end until society stops punishing men after they have served time for a crime committed and "paid" their debt to society in jail. NIMBY is what these men face every day. An "art" exhibit like this is not addressing the real issue because it's too difficult for most people to deal with. Poverty is NOT why all of them are homeless. Many have "sex offender" citations and they are homeless because they are being driven out. If you REALLY REALLY want to end homelessness, stop the punishment after they leave jail.
Posted by Sargon Bighorn on January 28, 2013 at 10:27 PM · Report this
@6, a 60-year-old woman was found out in the open, dead of hypothermia, on the night of the One Night Count. If you REALLY want to end homelessness, demand shelter or housing for all people out in the cold, no matter their label or the reason they became homeless.
Posted by sarah70 on January 28, 2013 at 10:38 PM · Report this
Its the responsibility of artists to end systemic poverty?
Most of the artists I know are poor themselves. Aside from a handful of university professors, I have hardly known a single artist in the last 40 years in Seattle who had health insurance.

Chris Bruch doesnt drive a Porsche.
He observes what he sees, and makes comments on it.
And those comments seem to be worth discussing, even if they DONT end systemic poverty.
Posted by CATSPAW666 on January 29, 2013 at 4:01 AM · Report this

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