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Friday, April 27, 2007

A Dickens of a Character

posted by on April 27 at 10:24 AM

In this week’s feature on Gage Academy of Art, I write about the academy’s conflicted director, Gary Faigin.

Faigin is one of my favorite characters in Seattle art. He is eccentric and stubborn, and openly admits he is threatened by a newfound open-mindedness that has taken him over in the last few years. The fight at the heart of Gage Academy is the fight at the heart of Gary Faigin, between an emphasis on time-tested skill in art—the stuff you can’t bullshit—and ideas, feelings, all the things you can’t measure, but which ultimately make art what it is.

Actually, that’s the conflict at the heart of art, too. Which must be why I like Faigin so much—he invites the conflict and sits with it.

What I couldn’t fit into the story were the details of Gary’s life. As one-half of the couple that founded Gage Academy (Pamela Belyea is the other half), Faigin might seem from a distance to be a patrician. After all, he’s the guy behind Seattle’s only “classical” academy, a place from which all manner of finely honed drawings of nudes and genteelly painted still-lifes issue forth like a parade of dead white kings.

But Faigin is no silver-spooner. Here’s a section I had in the original draft of my story, but which got cut for space:

Faigin got started in art the way most artists do: by drawing. He dropped out of college in the name of political activism (among other things, Faigin protested the Democratic nomination of Hubert Humphrey over the anti-war candidate, Eugene McCarthy, in 1968) and generalized hippie wandering (“a couple of guys came and said, well, there are whole sheets of blotter acid in San Francisco, and what were we doing wasting our time in Ann Arbor?”). Then, he tried becoming a novelist. He discovered he liked doing illustrations in the margins better than writing. His first complex drawing from life was in his 20s, of his own feet sticking out of his sleeping bag. (Belyea still has the drawing.) He was so satisfied with the act of achieving a likeness that he decided to go back to school—”art school, not college.” In December of 1976, Faigin and Belyea hitchhiked from Vancouver, B.C., to New York on less than $100. He was headed for the Art Students League of New York. In a catalog he’d found, the school listed its prerequisites as, “There are none.”

Yesterday, in a perfect twist, I found out that Faigin plays prominently in a new photograph by Thomas Struth—the artist who shoots museum visitors as they survey masterpieces. Turns out Faigin was leading a Gage tour at the Prado, and gesticulating in front of Velazquez’s Las Meninas when the photo was taken, in 2005. (The photograph is up at Marian Goodman Gallery in NY through this weekend.) Faigin is the only person in the photograph whose face really shows, and in an April 10 review in the NYT, Michael Kimmelman mentions him, “the smiling tour guide, leaning into a goggle-eyed scrum of visitors who lean oh so slightly away from the Velázquez, as if intimidated by its reputation.”

“How about that for a crossover of the Classical and the modern?” Faigin emailed me. Indeed. Thomas Struth had no idea what he’d captured.

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RSS icon Comments

1

That looks like chihuli in the green jumpsuit on the bottom.

Posted by meks | April 27, 2007 1:11 PM
2

My husband and I are the two people in the lower right corner. We are leaning forward eagerly, listening to Gary, who is one of the very best art lecturers around!!

Posted by Bev Corwin | April 30, 2007 7:20 AM
3

I'm Gary's sister and I'm not in the picture.
(Wish I was there!). I think that Gary is really cute when he talks about Art or practically anything. Our parents, however, were not so impressed when he went to San Francisco to be a professional hippie rather than a college student at University of Michigan. They liked the art school part better, though.

Posted by SBF | May 1, 2007 5:32 PM
4

It's funny to find some of the connections this Struth photograph has made: the bottom photograph (gallery visitors looking at the Struth photograph of museum visitors) was taken in the Marian Goodman Gallery by a sculptor from Paris and a friend of Gary's named Jonathan Hirschfeld. Jonathan was amused to find Gary prominently featured in the center of the Prado quintyph for a price of a half million dollars! Gary's dealer, John Braseth of Woodside/Braseth Gallery, also discovered the Struth exhibition and was quite surprised to find one of his own artists serendipitiously included in the work of a major photographer. I wonder who else has been accidentally captured in these amazing photographs? I know I am in the photograph, but I'm not easily recognizable...

Posted by Pamela | May 4, 2007 9:43 AM
5

I am the woman with the red hair and pink sweater just to the left of Gary in the middle photograph - the closeup. You'll wonder why I have on reading glasses when looking at art. It is because I was constantly taking notes while listening to Gary. I couldn't write fast enough....he says so much that is so interesting that one doesn't want to forget. The days in the Prado with Gary "lecturing" were incredible! Even people not in our group gathered around.

Posted by Kathy Mahan | May 7, 2007 3:47 PM
6

I am the woman with the red hair and pink sweater just to the left of Gary in the middle photograph - the closeup. You'll wonder why I have on reading glasses when looking at art. It is because I was constantly taking notes while listening to Gary. I couldn't write fast enough....he says so much that is so interesting that one doesn't want to forget. The days in the Prado with Gary "lecturing" were incredible! Even people not in our group gathered around.

Posted by Kathy Mahan | May 7, 2007 3:47 PM
7

Someone should send this page to Thomas Struth.

Posted by SBF | May 7, 2007 9:04 PM
8

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Posted by bmhcrv hzudtckwx | May 11, 2007 10:41 PM
9

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