How do you look?

Hushed spaces, groovy parties, shameless commerce: three sides of the Seattle art scene.

A CELEBRATION OF ABSTRACT ART

Wright Exhibition Space, 407 Dexter N., 264-8200 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Thurs. and Fri. or by appointment ends Aug. 2002

LINDA FARRIS LOOK: THE ULTIMATE ARTSTORE

3425 E. Denny Way, 322-0994 11 a.m.-7 p.m. daily, Nov. 10-Dec. 30

SONICABAL CD RELEASE PARTY

Vital 5 Productions, 2200 Westlake, 254-0475, $8, all ages 8 p.m. Sat., Nov. 10

AS ILLUSTRATED BY a handful of art happenings in Seattle this weekend, the local art scene is a multifaceted beast. Depending on your taste or mood, you can visit three very different art spaces, representing three generations of maven and three very different ways of presenting and experiencing art.

First, for the purists among us, there's an exhibition from Seattle legends Virginia and Bagley Wright, who've been collecting since the 1950s and possess an internationally known collection of modern and contemporary work that makes museums drool. While the Wrights continue to buy challenging contemporary art, they are holding the banner high for a more established form. This Thursday they open "A Celebration of Abstract Art" in their Wright Exhibition Space on lonely Dexter Avenue.

Curated—or rather, hand-selected—by Virginia Wright herself from the family storage vaults, it features an impressive lineup, including Jim Dine, Sol Le Witt, Hans Hofmann, Larry Poons, Morris Louis, Helen Frankenthaler, Frank Stella, and James Rosenquist, to name a few. Wright says her purpose was "to demonstrate the beauty and diversity possible within the abstract idiom." She has put together a tidy survey of 40 years of abstraction (1960s-2000) and the works are undoubtedly of museum caliber.

Likewise, the experience at the Wright Exhibition Space is utterly museumlike. There are white-washed walls, impeccable lighting, and the hushed, chilled, barren atmosphere of traditional art viewing. If you find the place at all (they've only recently installed a very discreet sign, and the entrance is in the alley) this may be the very type of art viewing experience that intimidates you most. For some, however, it may be the most comfortable in its anonymity and contemplative quiet.

MEANWHILE, Linda Farris has returned, with her usual flair, to offer contemporary art in a setting that should make every red-blooded American feel right at home: retail. The longtime art dealer's latest project, called Linda Farris LOOK, is a seasonal art store located in her own home (she happens to live in an old Madrona storefront). LOOK is no ordinary gift store. It offers paintings, drawings, photography, editioned prints, and artist's books. There's also a colorful array of handbags, jewelry, scarves, and clothing from hot young designers in New York, Paris, Vietnam, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, as well as home accessories and toys. Farris explains, "This stuff is not standard. It's not what people even expect Seattleites to buy—or if they do, they have to go to other cities to get it."

A stylish wheeler- dealer, self-promoter, and entrepreneur, Farris is banking on her reputation to draw people to the store. "They know the art's okay," she says confidently. As for the other merchandise, "they'll just have to decide if they like my taste."

Farris says the store will attract a broader base of people than a traditional gallery. "People have a different idea of a store," she explains. "A gallery sets up this fear. People automatically think, 'I won't understand it.'" More importantly, perhaps, people assume that they can't afford art in a traditional gallery. And while you could spend up to 10,000 smackers for a single piece of jewelry at LOOK, there are other items that run under $30, including a soft vinyl piggy bank from the hot London design firm, Inflate ($25).

FOR THE MORE socially inclined, there's the art party, which casts that sacred cow Art in the role of pretext for an evening's shindig. Most of the alternative spaces in town seem to have shifted focus away from daytime gallery visits to the opening party. And opening parties aren't about box wine and cubed cheese anymore, either; they're about bands or DJs, booze, finger food, and disco lights. The gallery has become a nightlife setting. SOIL, Consolidated Works, Roq La Rue, and others are throwing parties with music, eats, and drinks that can make the art seem like a mere backdrop for the jet-setting sophisticate.

Vital 5 Productions is hosting its second CD release party in the gallery space on Saturday (for the music collective SoniCabal). The center's founder and curator, Greg Lundgren, explains his motives: "I realized that I'm paying rent anyway, and we have a cool space, but also that parties create energy around the exhibition." (It's a lesson that big-money institutions like the Seattle Art Museum, which regularly hosts parties and events, have learned as well.)

Like many out-of-the-way spaces with limited open hours, Vital 5 doesn't get much foot traffic. But last spring, a well- attended opening party spurred 50 walk-in gallery visitors a day for the next few weeks. "We have a mission to activate people," Lundgren says, "to get them talking. Our opening parties not only get a buzz going about the show around town but also get people together and talking then and there." It's important to him to create an art-viewing atmosphere that is social, avoiding at all costs what he calls "that feeling that you're in a government building." Not merely a backdrop, he argues, the exhibitions gain important exposure during the parties that they might not otherwise get.

afahey@seattleweekly.com

 
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