The Frye Museum: Seattle's art world MVP

Its free entry, innovative local and international exhibits and dogged commitment to community partnerships make First Hill's Frye Art Museum the best-kept secret right under everyone's nose.

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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Comments:

Posted Thu, Apr 25, 8:16 a.m. Inappropriate

As students at O'Dea High School in the 1950's, we were forbidden from leaving school grounds during lunch hour. Despite this, my friends and I would often cross Columbia Street, pass an old false-brick residence which served as a House but not a home, wave at the ladies behind the lace curtains, and take our sack lunches into the always free admission galleries of the Frye. It was smaller then, the now-disappeared work of Paul Thiry subsumed into the new Frye. The sleepy guards were always indifferent, sometimes even solicitous. We would consider Charles Frye's collection of paintings, many of them featuring cows. It was the only exposure to fine art we ever got at O'Dea.

gabowker

Posted Thu, Apr 25, 12:10 p.m. Inappropriate

So amazing that what I thought were eternals—daily p.e., Junior Programs, spring concerts, art classes all the way through the ninth grade and elective thereafter, two or more years of gender dependent sewing/cooking or shop and elective thereafter—are no long so in Seattle Public Schools, or so I read.

Also amazing that the Frye, where I attended memorable free art classes that in no way did I assume capable of being eternal, is not only still going strong, but still quietly serving as well.

afreeman

Posted Tue, Apr 30, 8:47 a.m. Inappropriate

The Frye is a gem in a sea of mediocre architecture in Seattle. The experience starts as you enter and continues on inside, just wonderful..though the coat check and the museum store could use a revamping. The cafe is excellent....the shows intriguing though some fall short. I make it a triple reward by going to the revitalized St. James cathedral a block from the Frye, then the Frye and afterwards a walk through the lower lobby of Swedish for the Guy Anderson and William Ivey paintings among others..usually ending with a run through Bartell's Drug Store for the fab bargains......my Seattle art fix that just can't be beat!

chapala21

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