Consolidated Works, 500 Boren, 381-3218 Noon-8 p.m. Wed.-Sun. opens Fri., Sept. 13
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Consolidated Works, 500 Boren, 381-3218 Noon-8 p.m. Wed.-Sun. opens Fri., Sept. 13
If there were a kind of Dow Jones average tracking the arts, its course over the last decade would make a pretty dismal picture. There are boom and bust times for artistic production as for national economies; but while America's stock markets were heading for the skies through most of the '90s, a Japanese-style stagnation and deflation has paralyzed the arts.
But even in a long-term bear market, you can find a bull or two. Matthew Richter is one such believer, and he's been able to persuade quite a few other people to invest in a plan to tease the prey out of the underbrush. His strategy: create a place so attractive, so nurturing and inspiring, that talents who might otherwise wither will put down roots, grow strong, luxuriate.
Richter's first seedbed for the arts was a tiny Capitol Hill storefront called Room 608, which worked well as a showcase for solo performers and Super-8 cinema but offered little scope for more space-intensive media. A lone performance artist would be lost in Richter's latest iteration: a sprawling 35,000-square-foot space roughly chopped into huge volumes where all the arts can cohabit and cross- fertilize. Like an earlier space created by Richter in a South Lake Union warehouse with cooperation from Paul Allen's Vulcan real-estate group, the center is called Consolidated Works. The building soon to open at 500 Boren will contain a theater, a film-screening room, a concert venue, and a gallery, as well as a warren of offices leased to small arts groups in need of administrative space.
The gallery occupies a special place in the Consolidated Works universe. It's the only arm of the enterprise to boast its own artistic administrator. Meg Shiffler had run MIA Gallery and worked for Chris Bruce at Meyerson & Nowinsky before Richter recruited her to take charge of visual arts for ConWorks. "What I liked about her and what makes her special, is the way she sees the curatorial act as an art form," says Richter. "She's got as professional and well honed an eye as any of the bigger institutional or commercial gallery curators, but a much more devious notion of what the experience of walking into a gallery is, or ought to be."
Playing off the fact that this is the second version of the ConWorks space, each of the shows in the center's fall series will revolve around the theme of "2 [two]." Shiffler's show is "Binocular Parallax," a cross-border exhibition of artists from Seattle and Vancouver, B.C. Nearly a year ago, Shiffler contacted Jonathan Middleton of Vancouver's city-supported Western Front gallery to collaborate on a show of new work from the two towns separated by less than 120 miles but spiritually and artistically quite distinct.
Shiffler sees the difference as at least partly the result of basic economics. "Vancouver has a 20-year history of subsidizing artists' spaces and paying artists to make art—art that is not necessarily commercially viable. That kind of government support doesn't exist here, and the kind that does [programs such as 1% for Art, in which government committees purchase work for exhibition in government buildings] reinforces the pressure on U.S. artists to make things that are salable and showable."
Shiffler and Middleton set out to see if the difference in funding shows up in the kind of work produced. Each chose artists at different points in their careers, from just barely getting started to on the verge of breaking out to national and international recognition. With less than two weeks remaining before ConWorks opens to the public, much of the work hasn't yet arrived (some hasn't even been finished), but Shiffler feels her thesis has borne fruit. "Vancouver work tends to be highly conceptual and minimal, while Seattle work is usually more figurative and colorful."
Whether the distinction will be so apparent to casual visitors is another matter, but Shiffler won't be disappointed if they come away with different impressions of the show than she derives from it. "I like to throw a theory out there and then see what you get. I'm not so concerned about whether my theory turned out to be correct or wrong."
What drives Richter's own aesthetic is harder for him to articulate. Why spend every waking hour for the better part of a decade to build a state-of-the-art playpen for others to revel in? "Oh, part of it is the usual, the joy of being able to give artists money and space and exposure. And part is the wanna-be impulse, because I am a lousy artist and a shitty, shitty musician and I wrote the two worst plays that I have ever read, but here I get to hang out with artists all day and have all the perks of being an artist without any of the responsibility for putting my name out there on the work.
"But, and this is serious: There is something about creating a frame. . . . I know that everyone wants to turn their own job into art, every plumber thinks of himself as an artist, but as far as I'm concerned these buildings, Room 608 and Consolidated Works and now ConWorks II, they are my art form. The canvas is the real estate, the sheetrock and the lighting instruments and the fabric and the paint are the materials. All three were very different, but each is really the realization of the same dream, with different collaborators, human and material."
FIVE PICKS FOR FALL
By Mark D. Fefer
The Digital Coolie. Chicago artist Jason Salavon's "slide show" piece Golem (100,000 Paintings) made it into one of the toniest contemporary art fairs in the world (Art Basel) this summer, and now comes to Seattle. Salavon specializes in the digital iteration and averaging of scores of similar images (Playboy centerfolds, MTV videos, homes for sale). His latest software suite has generated 100,000 paintings that look rather like the work of an accomplished abstract expressionist; the images are projected, printed on canvas, and replaced, in a cycle of subtle change that takes four days to complete. Howard House, 256-6399. Opens Thurs., Sept. 12.
The Unmissable Blockbuster. Flags will wave from every downtown lamppost and schoolchildren will pour in as a touring exhibition of modern art from Mexico arrives at SAM, featuring everyone's favorite celebrity art-couple, Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. Mexican art and culture will take over the entirety of SAM, plus part of the Henry, where "Mexico Ahora" will display more recent work from the same collectors, Jacques and Natasha Gelman (who made their fortune producing movies with Cantinflas). The biggest question: How will the Lusty Lady respond? Seattle Art Museum, 654-3100; Henry Art Gallery, 543-2280. Opens Thurs., Oct. 17.
The Naughty Boys. Some artists dwell on landscapes, fruit baskets, and faces; David Brody is consumed with orifices, nipples, and excretions. His naked cartoony figures and body forms (to which the name Butt-head can be applied unmetaphorically) are all about the openings—into which fingers are poked and from which streams of fluid pour. "Though it might be said that I suffer from the visual equivalent of Tourette's syndrome," says Brody, in his own brilliant formulation, "it has always been my intention to create beautiful objects." Alexander Schweder (of last year's famous urinal show) will also display new work. Esther Claypool Gallery, 264-1586. Opens Thurs., Nov. 7.
Gyno Might! Feminist-leaning, pop-minded, comic-styled prints from a half-dozen out-of-town artists, with graphical snap and satiric edge. Katherine Aoki, from the Bay Area, puts a butch spin on quaint fairy tales and sexist advertising imagery, while Isis Rodriguez works in the fantasy/tattoo realm, undermining militaristic/patriotic signs with a pro-woman slant. Nancy Mladenoff, from Wisconsin, uses the tropes from children's books; Mary Snowden wryly depicts midcentury suburban baubles and ideals; and Jessica Abel is a microcomics hero whose ArtBabe series is published by Fantagraphics. Davidson Galleries, 624-7684. Opens Thurs., Nov. 7.
The Retro-Tech Photographer. In March of '98, Wes Pope made the first of a half-dozen trips along Route 66—winding from Chicago to L.A. and capturing the landmarks, landscapes, and people using a pinhole camera made out of two pop cans. Or make that 33 cameras (and 66 pop cans): Each one allowed for a single exposure. The results of his journey are exhibited in "Pop66," which offers a roadside perspective that's at once eerie, quaint, and lovely. One of the photos took second place in this year's "Personal Viewpoints" photography competition at PCNW. Photographic Center Northwest, 720-7222. Opens Sun., Dec. 1.