Visual arts, 1999

Architectural promises: "Paris, Amsterdam, and New York are doomed cities," warns architect Rem Koolhaas. "No longer laboratories of uncertainty, they can only become more like themselves." But Seattle is quite the lab of uncertainty in 2000. The biggest art news is in architecture. Will Koolhaas' new central branch of the Seattle Public Library be the city's palace of the information age? Will the also internationally revered Frank Gehry upstage the Space Needle, and even his own maverick oeuvre, with the Experience Music Project? And will Bremerton-bred New Yorker Steven Holl equal his stunning Seattle University St. Ignatius Chapel with the new Bellevue Art Museum? His ideas sound as techno-future-peeking as Rem's and Frank's. If curator Brian Wallace maintains the standard he set with the 1999 artists' self-portraits show, he'll deserve his new digs. The Tacoma Art Museum will get more space, too, having earned divine smiles for its smart, deep show, the recent "New Religion."

Backed up: Deserving of still more hosannas is SAM, site of excellent shows (the Wright Collection, Cindy Sherman, Chuck Close, the American Century of Photography) and principal recipient of a Gates Foundation Challenge grant. Is Bill Gates de-Scroogifying himself, or what? You can still see the awe-inspiring Wright stuff at Microsoft's exhibition space. The waterfront sculpture park inspires the most sky-high hopes, backed as it is by the Shirleys, the Gateses, and Paul Allen.

Goodbyes, hellos: The Henry loses Sheryl Conkelton as senior curator. One hopes this doesn't jinx the Gallery's good-luck streak; we're ready for more shows like the "Figure in Contemporary Art" series and the "New Chinese Art" exhibition (co-sponsored with Tacoma Art Museum) to bring us into the teeming international scene. But who knows? Maybe Conkelton's successor will stir things up just as well.

Local coup: Josiah McElheny, whose conceptual glass work on the theme of fashion and history was also on exhibit at the Henry in 1999, will be the sole Northwest representative in the prestigious Whitney Biennial 2000. He'll both break Gotham's parochial (hopefully fading) view of the Northwest as a cultural wasteland and reinforce the stereotype that "the only thing happening out there is glass." Let's hope he's our Y2K answer to Meriwether Lewis, blazing a path out East for other artists to follow.

Coast to coast: Of course, some eminent Easterners have been settling here of late. New York's Upper East Side gallery Winston Wachter set up shop, mining green from the Emerald City's 60,000 millionaire homes and others. Full of extremely accomplished artists, it's a sleek and successful addition to Seattle's art world. And Weatherford Gallery, with its major New York ties, added some impressive American Impressionists to the scene, including some unsung female greats.

Space to explore: Art needs space, and rising rents threaten to push our edge-dwellers off the fiscal cliff. The temporary alternative interdisciplinary arts center Consolidated Works proves edgy stuff can be viable, and its debut art show was a jolt of new energy.

New voices: Yet another spark this year was the birth of Red Headed Stepchild, an art publication run by artists. Artists often play the role of victim, because they are most often ignored. I'm personally thrilled to see some tackling the task of representing themselves in print.

 
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