Another Western Bridge? The New Foundation* Buys a Building in Pioneer Square
by Jen Graves
on Thu, Sep 5, 2013 at 12:59 PM
*UPDATE: It's been brought to my attention that actually, Shari and John Behnke technically bought the building for the foundation; the foundation itself didn't buy the building. Note!
The New Foundation bought this 4-story 1971 brick building at 123 Third Avenue South, near South Washington Street.
There's big public news this week from the usually behind-the-scenes New Foundation: It's bought a building in Pioneer Square, right across the street from SOIL and Platform and G. Gibson Gallery.
"It's too early to say what will happen exactly," founding director Yoko Ott wrote in an email. "There will be stages of inhabiting the space—first our office, simple, then growing to presentation space that will include a public. So I can say that yes, our intentions will be for it to be open to the public. How exactly that will unfold though I cannot speak to yet. Our plans are to dream, scheme, and get real then speak publicly about our intentions in the new year."
Shari and John Behnke are the collectors and philanthropists behind the New Foundation—mostly Shari. The foundation came into being about a year ago. Its intention is to broaden support for Seattle art and artists. So far, the foundation has brought curators in from out of town, and introduced them to Seattle artists through studio visits and conversations. The foundation has also bought art from Seattle artists on behalf of museums like the Frye, and supported classes for students in contemporary art at the University of Washington.
If the New Foundation opens an exhibition space, in some ways it will extend the trend from last decade, of privately funded public art venues that are like freestanding museums themselves, including a whole host in Miami (Margulies and Rubell and De La Cruz, oh my).
For eight years in Seattle, we had Western Bridge, based on the collections, sensibilities, and largesse of Bill and Ruth True. (It was great.)
But the difference at this point is that the New Foundation is not the Behnke Collection. There is no Behnke Collection, capital B and C. The Behnkes are significant collectors of contemporary art, and they also fund the Neddy and the Brink Awards (at Cornish and the Henry), but their own collection is installed privately in their house, and the New Foundation is its own separate entity and does not collect art.
So when the 123 Building—let's just name it now—opens to the public, what will they show? How big will the galleries be? How will everything be structured? We'll just have to see. (The whole building appeared on real-estate listings at about 12,000 square feet. Western Bridge was around 10,000 square feet. The Wright Exhibition Space, Seattle's other collector-driven space, located on Dexter not far from Denny, is smaller.)
Meanwhile, in South Lake Union there's another philanthropist developing an exhibition space. It's called Mad Art. I don't know when it's planning to open yet, but a handful of events have happened there already. Stay tuned here for upcoming details.
It's been a slow few years for real-estate news in the arts, since the billion-dollar building boom that ended around 2007. But locally, we've still had MOHAI, which opened in December, and this morning, Tacoma Art Museum broke ground on its new Western wing, which will double the size of TAM. None of these are directly related to Amazon, but they remind me of the recent New York Times story about Seattle being a rare growing city. The anti-Detroit, if you will. I guess we'll see what's good and what's bad about that.