Despite having a genuine local artistic history, Seattle generally follows the currents of art made far away. Things here mostly inch along in the tide. But this season there are more than a few splashes of life and signs of change.
In Belltown, Roq La Rue, Garde Rail, and Vital 5 flourished this summer under a freak real estate convergence that gave them nearly a free ride. With artistic personalities recalling the Mia Gallery's modern primitives (Garde Rail) or the full-blown comic and zine art of Capitol Hill's old Vox Populi (Roq La Rue), they've helped COCA hold the fort against Belltown's ever-rising cardboard condo walls. Although the trio has vacated their perches at Second and Lenora, two of them will be reappearing in October, Garde Rail in Pioneer Square, and Roq La Rue a few blocks north, next to the Lava Lounge. Now, if only another Galleria Potatohead could take root in the neighborhood. . . .
On the other side of the Pioneer Square district, Greg Kucera is also moving, to a space fronting Third Avenue South that promises to give him the venue his art deserves. He opens next month with 3,500 square feet, three ground-floor galleries, a mezzanine, and an outdoor "sculpture terrace" overlooking the sunken train tracks in his backyard.
Capitol Hill has its share of changes—as always. I think maybe it changes too quickly to develop an art-district personality. Mazey Hickey, upstairs across from the old REI, disappeared, removing a place to see Alice Wheeler's demimonde photographs and Jay Steensma's paper-bag paintings. Ballard Fetherston moved in, with a look rather like Davidson Gallery.
Over on Federal Ave, Billy Howard has been showing local artists in his own home, billed as Howard House, since January. His intentions are serious: artists include Mark Takamichi Miller and Robert Yoder. A gallery-in-the-home is a viable way to control costs; Tacoma's Penny Loucas had one in her apartment for years and built up quite a following around it.
Finally, there are a few places that haven't changed, but deserve to be mentioned now and again. First, the Seattle Art Museum Rental Sales Gallery. It's right up First Avenue from the museum entrance, but it's easy to miss, and its window display somehow always looks weather-beaten. Inside is quite a collection of local art—and your chance to find a picture by that artist you saw and liked a few years ago, but haven't seen since. Rates are as low as $30 a month.
Then there's the King County Arts Commission Gallery, up in the KCAC offices in the Smith Tower. The emerging artists it shows include some real local talent, such as Darlene Nguyen-Ely's ambiguous wooden hulls and Elizabeth Ingraham's eerie, pierced, feminine "skins" of sewn fabrics.
Finally, in a town full of "alternatives," there's the corporate alternative—Seafirst Gallery, right in Columbia Center. Actually, what makes it alternative is not its programming, but the fact that it thrives in the frantically trafficked concourse of our largest office tower. This is a fine space for after-lunch conversations before heading back to work.
In memoriam: We lost some important galleries this past year, one each from the categories of alternative, intelligent mainstream, and world-class: the Soil co-op lost its space at the Harbor Steps, Linda Cannon closed, and Donald Young will return to Chicago. Who will replace them? The coming months will tell.