In the center of the Frye Museum's newest exhibit sits a trio of outsized white wooden gossip benches. For the most part, this cluster mirrors the ubiquitous three-seated gossip chairs sprinkled throughout the rest of the museum. There's just one difference: Each of this trio rests atop twelve open cubbies, which correlate to each of the 36 Northwest artists featured in “Chamber Music” — just one of three exhibits now on at the Frye. The cubbies alone command return visits to the gallery.
Gossip chairs in the Frye's "Chamber Music" exhibit. Photo: Richard Nicol.
Dipping into the cubbies delivers private journals, prints and manifestos by University of Washington art students, simple ceramics, art supply tool boxes and individually-wrapped gifts, left each day for visitors to take home. They are a connection to the past forty years of art creation in Seattle. Here, you have a chance to stop, to muse and to feel, in some instances, a connection to the artists themselves.
It’s time to reconsider the Frye. Gone are the dimly-lit galleries reminiscent of a fusty Victorian drawing room and the walls covered with late 19th and early 20th century European art. In their place are spacious, newly renovated galleries; Permanent Collection exhibits that showcase the art in new ways; cutting-edge contemporary visual, musical and performance art exhibitions; numerous film and lecture series; and extensive community outreach programs.
Three years ago, at the depths of the economic recession, the museum was faced with a decision: Hunker down and become a collection with a café or make bold investments that support Seattle artists and the city’s role in the global art community. The Frye chose not to hunker, investing in exhibits that breathed new life into the museum and the Permanent Collection. More significantly, led by the vision of Director Jo-Anne Birnie Danzker, the museum decided to play a more central civic role by expanding how it engages with Seattle’s diverse communities.
Last year’s renovations brightened and opened up the galleries. The new directorial team of Birnie Danzker and Scott Lawrimore — recently appointed deputy director of collections and exhibitions — brings a breadth of scholarship and curatorial experience, a desire for dialogue as a way to move the institution in new directions and a fierce commitment to collaborative efforts.
“We started to look at what surrounds us: the cathedral, the school, the hospitals, the major research institutes, and nearby we have Yesler Terrace and Bailey Gatzert Elementary School, food banks and food lines,” Birnie Danzker explains. “We’re dealing with issues of homelessness, dementia in an aging population, poverty.”
It is the job of the Frye’s remarkable team of professionals to establish links between the museum’s exhibitions, lectures and film series and community programs. Then, as Birnie Danzker puts it, “the possibilities that open for us are limitless.”
Lawrimore agrees. “The paradigm shift at the Frye in recent years towards greater civic and international relevance has been exciting to witness, and has deepened and gained momentum under Jo-Anne’s leadership.”
The pair are building on the strong commitment to contemporary art Birnie Danzker created with then-Deputy Director Robin Held during Held’s seven influential years at the Frye (2004 – 11). During those years and since, the Frye has sponsored exceptional individual and multi-media exhibits. In 2010, an archer with the Seattle-based multidisciplinary performance group Implied Violence shot arrows at a wax throne in the Frye’s reflecting pool, while a dozen dancers made the pool their stage.
Implied Violence, 2010. Photo: Steven Miller.
Later, in 2012 Li Chen, a leading Taiwanese sculptor, explored issues of eternity and perfection, with other-worldly towering constructions made from simple wood, rope, and clay. These and other exhibits have distinguished the Frye as a world-class exhibitor of contemporary art.
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