Fall Arts | 35 art shows and festivals to see in Seattle

*Delta dependent.

(Valerie Niemeyer/Crosscut)

Welcome to Fall Arts Season... with an asterisk. In a non-pandemic climate, arts-goers would be experiencing peak excitement right about now, for new exhibits, shows and festival lineups. But the delta variant has cast a question mark over 2021’s anticipated arts comeback. The cultural calendar is packed with tantalizing options — and we can’t wait to dive in — yet everything is subject to change. So before heading out in your masked finest, make sure the affair is still a go, and always pack this season’s most stylish accessory: the vax card.

Jump to:

New Pairings

New Vistas

New Body Language

New (and Renewed) Arts Festivals

New (and Renewed) Film Festivals

This story is part of Crosscut’s 2021 Fall Arts Preview

New Pairings

While a delta surge may keep us more distant than we’d like in the cuffing season, this fall promises some exciting get-togethers of the artistic kind. 

The Seattle Symphony celebrates its return to Benaroya Hall with an in-person and livestreamed Season Opener pairing orchestral old-timer Igor Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite with the world premiere of RE|Member by the accomplished up-and-coming composer-in-residence Reena Esmail (Sept. 18). And after a postponed July performance, Heart’s Nancy Wilson will finally join the symphony on stage and online (Oct. 30).

Two people posing for the photo, headshots side by side
Rheanna Atendido and Justin Huertas (ArtsWest/Bronwen Houck). 

Another musical-match-made-in-heaven: local theater and singer-songwriter talents Justin Huertas and Rheanna Atendido, who will join each other on stage for a new musical (written by Huertas) at ArtsWest. We’ve Battled Monsters Before couples the Filipino epic poem Ibong Adarna with a Seattle-set, contemporary tale of a monster-combating family to tell a universal story of loss, struggle and “emerging on the other side” (Nov. 26-Dec. 26).

Town Hall is also part of a promising musical duo this fall, thanks to a new partnership with The Bushwick Book Club and a 2021-2022 season of original music concerts inspired by literature. It starts with a close read of the work of Seattle comic artist extraordinaire Susanna Ryan (Sept. 18), and includes a musical ode to Tacoma-born Frank Herbert’s dystopian sci-fi classic Dune (Nov. 13).

Seattle’s major art museums are also bringing intriguing duos to the fore this fall. Longtime Seattle artist Barbara Earl Thomas teams up with New York-based artist Derrick Adams at the Henry Art Gallery for “Packaged Black,” an expansive and collaborative show about Black identity, representation and cultural resistance (Oct. 2, 2021-May 1, 2022).

Left: “Gentleman,” a papercut painting by Barbara Earl Thomas; right: “Style Variation 14” by Derrick Adams. (Zocalo Studios/Spike Mafford) 

The Seattle Art Museum celebrates a new partnership as well, with Seattle collectors Richard E. Lang and Jane Lang Davis, whose Friday Foundation gifted the museum $10.5 million and 19 prominent artworks earlier this year. The (mostly) abstract expressionist eye candy — including works by Mark Rothko, Helen Frankenthaler, Francis Bacon, Philip Guston and Lee Krasner — is on view this fall in Frisson: The Richard E. Lang and Jane Lang Davis Collection (Oct. 15, 2021-Nov. 27, 2022).

And the Frye Art Museum joins local talent (including Mary Ann Peters, Juventino Aranda, Anthony White and Ko Kirk Yamahira) with national and international artists in an enticing show of recently acquired, contemporary artwork (Sept. 11, 2021-Jan. 23, 2022). 

Speaking of Anthony White: This season the local art star joins forces with the Museum of Museums, where he is curating In Crystallized Time, which features more than two dozen visual artists working along themes of technology, physical and digital reality and surveillance. Simultaneously, local artists Reilly Donovan and Jacob Peter Fennell (who both work in video, sound, assemblage and virtual reality) will transform the museum’s third floor into a permanent installation that MoM calls “a church where visitors bear witness to the manifestation of an AI entity” (Oct. 8-Dec. 27). 

In “Niche Audience,” partners Leo Berk and Claire Cowie create architectural nooks and humanoid figures from recycled materials. (MadArt Gallery)

South Lake Union’s spacious MadArt is also being taken over by two artists, the Seattle-based art couple Leo Berk and Claire Cowie, who expand on their domestic partnership through Niche Audience, an interactive exploration of shelter and isolation. This is their first large-scale collaboration, composed of mysterious architectural portals and curious humanoid figures, all created from recycled scraps (open studio until Oct. 13, exhibit runs Oct. 15-Nov. 20).

And although the lipstick-red, heavily abstracted serigraphs by Japanese artist Humio Tomita (through Oct. 30) and crisp, sepia-toned linocuts of the natural world by Portland-based Jonnel Covault (through Oct. 2) are technically presented in two separate shows at Davidson Galleries, their contrasting pairing — at once light and dark, celebratory and foreboding — perfectly complements the strangeness of this fall season. 

New Vistas

Like so many things this season, traveling is a bit of a puzzle. Thankfully, local galleries are coming to the rescue with a wealth of shows that take us for a spin.

Hit the road with longtime Washington artist ZZ Wei, who showcases his richly saturated, large-scale oil paintings in Rough Road, at Patricia Rovzar Gallery (through Sept. 30). The Beijing-born artist is renowned for his vast golden-hued landscapes, which capture the Palouse with high contrast colors and the timeless freedom of asphalt stretching ahead.

The road trip vibe continues with Richard Gilkey: A Sampling, 1960s to 1970s at Greg Kucera Gallery (through Oct. 9). Born in Bellingham, Gilkey was a “second generation” member of the Northwest School and renowned for his rugged paintings of Skagit Valley landscapes — in which you can almost feel the scratch of dry field grasses.

“Storm Warning,” by Seattle artist Gary Faigin, suggests the impact of industry on the natural environment. (Harris/Harvey Gallery)

Another longtime local artist taking us for a drive is Gary Faigin. Co-founder of Gage Academy and author of definitive tome The Artist’s Complete Guide to Facial Expressions, Faigin is showing a collection of new work in The Age of Steam, at Harris/Harvey Gallery (through Oct. 2). In these vivid paintings, beautiful old trains barrel through small towns and natural landscapes. With exhaust trails tinted blood red and bruised purple, they suggest the environmental havoc wrought since the Industrial Revolution.

Seattle painter Mya Kerner also inspires an ecological mindset with her solo show These Whispers, These Tellings at Winston Wächter Gallery (Sept. 18-Nov 6). These quiet pastel landscapes of lonely boulders and burned trees evoke tenderness for a scorched earth.

Mya Kerner’s “We Are Changed” depicts a ravaged yet resilient landscape. (Winston Wächter Gallery)

In this environmentally dire era, it’s OK to cool off with Seattle artist Jennifer Beedon Snow’s new show of paintings at Linda Hodges Gallery (through Oct. 2). Known for her evocative blue swimming pools, Beedon Snow adds lakes and other landscapes to her repertoire while maintaining a sense of hazy nostalgia via thick brushstrokes.

Similarly serene are the glass engravings of local artist April Surgent, whose show The Sea Lives with Light is at Traver Gallery downtown (through Oct. 2). By way of detailed etching on single panes of glass, Surgent conveys the profoundness of the Pacific Ocean in countless shifting shades of blue and gray.

gray-blue image of the sea fading into the sky
“Light & Air: Atmosphere Study 3,” a glass engraving by April Surgent. (Traver Gallery) 

But if even the sea is too much reality right now, consider a psychedelic trip with Los Angeles painter Christine Nguyen, whose Cosmic Gardens are on view at new Capitol Hill space AMcE Creative Arts (through Oct. 23). Using photography, drawing and salt crystallization, Nguyen creates far-out visions that suggest nature on another planet. As she writes in her artist statement, her aim is to create “a meditative space where everything is connected and harmonious.” Sounds like a place we’d like to hang out for a while.

New Body Language

We’ve all gained a heightened awareness of our bodies in the last 18 months — borne of repeated hand-washing, pinching a mask to the nose, feeling sore from a shot in the shoulder, and maintaining a careful bubble between other bodies. (Not to mention a lot of lockdown-induced navel gazing.)

So it’s no surprise to find many fall shows focusing on the body. One of the most literal is Where are you from?, a new installation at Method Gallery (through Sept. 25) by Seattle artist Fumi Amano. This gallery-filling uterus — made of hand-knotted red rope, ovaries included — invites visitors to climb inside and experience a new appreciation for mothers, as well as their own rebirth.

Become reborn with Fumi Amano’s installation “Where Are You From?” (Method Gallery)

Also taking a very very close look at human anatomy is Tip Toland’s ongoing show Empathy in Clay, at Bellevue Arts Museum (through Jan. 2, 2022). This Northwest sculptor-magician uses clay to create uncanny (and unsettling) human forms that replicate reality down to each hair, wrinkle and pore. The result is a naked gaze at our physical vulnerability.

The intimacy of bodies is all in a day’s work for choreographers. Local dance company Whim W’Him will present its Season XII mixed bill in person (Sept. 9, 10 and 12 at Vashon Center for the Arts; Sept. 18 at Whidbey Island Center for the Arts) and streaming online (starting Sept. 23). Included is a new piece by Chicago’s Rena Butler, who based Spooky Action at a Distance on Einstein’s theory of quantum entanglement — the idea that two particles can affect each other even when far apart.

“Silent Ghost,” by Alejandro Cerrudo, one of several works by the choreographer in ‘Singularly Cerrudo’ at Pacific Northwest Ballet. (Angela Sterling)

Pacific Northwest Ballet continues the spectral vibe with “Silent Ghost,” one of three pieces in Singularly Cerrudo (Sept. 24-26), showcasing the work of resident choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo. Also included: an excerpt from “One Thousand Pieces” and the funny, touching, whirlwind tour of human existence that is “Little mortal jump.”

In Faye Driscoll’s experiential Come On In at On the Boards (Oct. 8-Nov. 6), your body becomes the dance performance. Part of the New Now Festival, the piece asks audience members to don headphones, lie on plush carpet and follow a series of gentle audio prompts intended to “reconceive the body and its limits.”

Up in Bellingham, at the Whatcom Museum’s Lightcatcher building, is Up Close and Personal: The Body in Contemporary Art, curated by Amy Chaloupka from the collection of Driek and Michael Zirinsky (Oct. 30, 2021-Feb 27, 2022). Among the corporeal works by 60 artists is a powerful series of “Universal Body” lithographs by Korea-born, Portland-based artist Samantha Wall, whose mysterious silvery silhouettes look like X-rays of the soul.

A new body built from community-gifted materials is now in residence (through Dec. 31) at Wa Na Wari. W E is a life-sized, Black “power figure” wearing an elaborately layered, stuffed and stitched garment, topped with a towering hat of flowers. This protective female form emerged from the wild and wondrous mind of celebrated Pittsburgh sculptor/performance artist Vanessa German, who uses fabric scraps, buttons and beads to glorious effect.

“Magnolia Blossom,” by groundbreaking Northwest photographer Imogen Cunningham. (Seattle Art Museum)

And look forward to this retrospective: Imogen Cunningham at Seattle Art Museum (Nov. 18, 2021–Feb. 6, 2022). The pioneering photographer (1883-1976), who grew up in Port Angeles and attended the University of Washington, wasn’t well-known until the last years of her life. But her massive archive reveals an incisive eye for subtle shapes in the body — a girl’s feet suspended mid-jumping rope, a pregnant woman slumped asleep in a rocking chair, the kick of a dancer’s leg, a man curled against the cold, an arm grotesquely stretched in a funhouse mirror. Using black-and-white film and sepia tones, she captured the body electric.

New (and Renewed) Arts Festivals

In person arts festivals are making a return, at least for now. And while they might look a bit different with the mass of masks (King County has implemented a mask mandate for large, crowded outdoor events), the spirit of gathering in the name of arts and culture is still strong. 

Intiman Theatre’s HOMECOMING Performing Arts Festival (Sept. 18-19) marks the end of the summer and the start of its new chapter. The celebrated theater, which was in dire straits just a few years ago but found a new home at Seattle Central College, is throwing its adopted neighborhood of Capitol Hill a giant outdoor festival (along Harvard Avenue) featuring more than 100 local artists. In the lineup: dance, burlesque, DJs, drag, and music, and beloved Seattle performers like David Rue, Ahamefule Oluo, Alyssa Yeoman, Betty Wetter, Arson Nicki, Nia-Amina Minor and many more. 

a black and white photo of a woman wearing braids and a blanket
As part of the Bellwether festival on the east side, Tacoma artist Paige Pettibon will install a wind dial at Bellevue Botanical Garden. (Bellwether)

Not new but perpetually reinventing itself is Bellevue-based visual arts and performing festival Bellwether (Sept. 9-19), which returns revamped after last year’s COVID cancellation and an earlier controversy. Most of the “action” is happening on the weekends — such as a pop-up art market, interactive performances by artists Anida Yoeu Ali, Gustavo Martinez and Catherine Cross Uehara, as well as live music.

Bellwether also includes an online film fest, and visual art by Pacific Northwest artists on view throughout the month at Bellevue Arts Museum. New to the slate of Bellwether venues is Bellevue Botanical Gardens, which will feature half a dozen public artworks. Amid the lush greenery, Tacoma artist Paige Pettibon will install a large wind dial to encourage meditation in nature, and Teruko F. Nimura, also of Tacoma, will share “Bloom,” a sculpture made from folded origami paper cranes.

Also making re-entry after a forced COVID hiatus is Refract: The Seattle Glass Experience (Oct. 14-17). Fired up for the first time in 2019, the festival celebrates the region’s rich history of glass-art making — and status as an epicenter of glass art — with studio visits, gallery and museum shows and demonstrations. Works by Northwest glass artists Raven Skyriver (Tlingit), Preston Singletary (Tlingit), and Dan Friday (Lummi) are always stunners, and will be on view at Stonington Gallery (starting Oct. 14).

An integral part of Refract, the Museum of Glass will host the exhibit What are You Looking At? The answer is work by artists of all backgrounds and mediums, created over 18 years of artistic experimentation during residencies at MOG and the legendary Pilchuck Glass School (Sept. 26 through fall, 2022). Look out for Andrea Dezsö’s bulbous, two-headed sculpture in the playful mix, and a translucent mobile of fused glass by Joe Feddersen. 

Seattle longtimer Earshot Jazz Festival (Oct. 13-Nov. 7) returns with in-person concerts by marquee names like virtuoso Cuban pianist and composer Chucho Valdés (in duet with jazz vocalist Dianne Reeves and saxophonist Joe Lovano at Town Hall Seattle Oct. 21) and genre-melding jazz modernist Theo Croker (at Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute Oct. 13).

Local pianist Marina Albero (who created “The Quarantine Sessions”) is Earshot’s resident artist this year, meaning she’ll perform in various settings throughout the festival schedule, from solo to big-band, and premiere a new musical piece. Other Seattle artists slated to appear include saxophonist (and tap dancer) Alex Dugdale, multi-genre singer/guitarist Chava Mirel and the Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra. And while jazz is best grooved to in person, the concerts will be streamed live too.

Annette Toutonghi and Ahamefule Oluo star in “Thin Skin,” playing at Northwest Film Forum’s ‘Local Sightings.’ (Sean Kirby)

New (and Renewed) Film Festivals

After so many months of virtual screenings, there’s a frenzy of IRL film festivals this fall. And since organizations have become well acquainted with streaming options, most are doing a hybrid of online and offline offerings.

Northwest Film Forum kicks off the cinematic proceedings, which seems appropriate since it was one of the local arts orgs quickest to pivot to streaming content when the pandemic hit. Its long-running Local Sightings Film Festival (Sept. 16-26) is a showcase for Northwest-made and focused films. This 24th edition includes an array of short films and features, and opens with Ahamefule Oluo’s personal, dreamlike, musical story Thin Skin. Also watch for: Since I Been Down, a revealing doc about the criminal justice system centered on a Tacoma teenager who was given a prison sentence of 777 years. Plus: music videos, animated shorts and a showcase we can all relate to: “Awkward Shorts.”

Port Townsend recently canceled its beloved Wooden Boat Festival, due to pandemic concerns, but ahoy, the Port Townsend Film Festival is still a go. The popular outdoor screenings will take place on Taylor Street (Sept. 26-28), paired with online screenings of 80+ films (Sept. 23-Oct. 3).

The Seattle International Film Festival plans to reopen its theaters in October, starting off with the inaugural SIFF DocFest in person at SIFF Cinema Egyptian (Sept. 30-Oct. 4 and Oct. 7). The featured documentaries are still under wraps, but the films will also screen virtually on the SIFF Channel (Oct. 4-7).

And save the date for these film festivals coming up in October: The Tasveer Festival (Oct. 1-24), which combines the Tasveer South Asian Film Festival with the Tasveer South Asian LitFest; the Seattle Latino Film Festival (Oct. 8-17), with 100+ films from Argentina, Mexico, Brazil, Uruguay and elsewhere; and the Seattle Queer Film Festival (Oct. 14-24), brought to you as always by Three Dollar Bill Cinema.

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