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Art Outing

December 28, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

I’ve been making a list of art exhibits to see once the term ended, which it did with my turning in of grades a week ago. The time had come to attack the list. Last Thursday we went to two galleries, with lunch in-between. One was a success; one wasn’t.

First the success story. I wrote last March about the BIG IS BETTER (or so some claim) exhibit at the Wright Exhibition Space. As I noted at the time, the Wright Exhibition Space mounts small shows from time to time, each of which draws largely or entirely from the Virginia and Bagley Wright Collection, the largest collection of contemporary art in the Pacific Northwest. The gallery typically opens just two days a week for limited hours. For the current show, those two days are Thursdays and Saturdays, and for the next two weeks, that means Thursdays only. So last Thursday was the day.

We drove down to the gallery (just east of the Seattle Center and the under-construction home-to-be of the Gates Foundation), parked in one of its reserved spots, and entered. Often, we pick up the small printed brochure and see the show on our own. This time, as we picked up brochures, the docent on duty asked if we were on the mailing list — yes — then proceeded to grab her looseleaf binder with pages on each of the show’s objects, stand up, come around the desk, and head off to give us a guided tour. We didn’t know we wanted one, but she turned out to be excellent company, and informative as well, and we’re quite glad we did.

The current show, curated by the Wrights’ son Bing, is called Bing’s Choice, with the subtitle “Art from my parents’ collection that was in storage that I liked (plus some other things thrown in that I also like).” He explains:

There is no cohesive theme, date, or medium to this exhibit. I have included sculpture, ceramics, light installation, both abstract and figurative paintings that span numerous decades, beginning in the 1960’s and continuing as recently as 2008. The aesthetic of the selections also covers an extreme range, from the cool and taciturn sculpture of Donald Judd, to the flamboyant and effusive paintings of Jules Olitski.

What might you ask is the point of this melange? First let me explain how this show came into being. Finding my parents’ Dexter Avenue art space would be empty over the summer, I askied if there were plans for any upcoming exhibition. There weren’t; Mom and Dad allowed me to curate a selection of work from what they had in storage. I opted to expand the selections by including some objects from four outside sources: the collections of Sam and Sylvia Ketcham, Merrill and Charlie Wright (my brother and sister), and two ceramic pieces courtesy of the James Harris Gallery in Seattle.

Among our favorites: Jules Olitski’s massive 1966 painting Thigh Smoke, Richard Prince’s 1990 and 1991 paintings Almost Grown and Two Against One, Anne Truitt’s 1977 sculpture Work. And much more. There are only 21 objects in the show. Thursdays and Saturdays 10 to 2 through the end of February. Make sure to go.

Our second destination was SOIL, a gallery in Pioneer Square that describes itself as follows:

Founded in 1995, SOIL is a not-for-profit cooperative space established, supported and operated by local artists. SOIL exists as an alternative venue for artists to exhibit, develop, and advance their work, and is committed to exhibiting and celebrating art of diverse media and content.

We drove from the north side of downtown through downtown to the south end, parking in the famously ugly parking garage on Yesler Street, two blocks from the gallery. As we left the garage, we were looking south down Occidental Avenue, which in that first block south of Yesler has several places to eat. We crossed southward and found a Philly cheesesteak shop we were unfamiliar with, Calozzi’s Cheesesteaks. I can’t quite say that on entering we felt transported to South Street, but close to it. The restaurant is bare bones, with a few tables in front, a minimalist hand-written menu on the wall (cheesesteaks and a few variants, but that’s it), a woman behind the counter taking orders, a man at the griddle, two children off from school and available to grab beverages or bring sandwiches from around the counter to the tables.

The basic cheesesteak can be ordered with or without onions, and with three cheese options: whiz, provolone, or mozzarella. I was planning to go the authentic route with whiz, but once Gail ordered provolone, I followed her lead. We shared an order of fries and got some water. The fries came right away, so we found ourselves snacking on them as an appetizer while waiting for our cheesesteaks. The place was full, with many orders ahead of us, resulting in a ten-minute wait before our cheesesteaks appeared, but we were content. We enjoyed the atmosphere. The cheesesteaks themselves were good.

The owner came by to check on us and we talked briefly. The place opened just three months ago. He says they’ll have a beer and wine license soon and urged us to return any time. They live there, he noted, the place being open from morning to late night.

It appears that before opening his own place, Calozzi was the chef at Belltown Billiards & Lounge. According to a post from last June at a Belltown blog,

with the opening of Calozzi’s Italian Kitchen inside, the buzz in Belltown these days is that the new menu is fresh, affordable and multo buon. This includes Calozzi’s signature Philly cheesesteak, which is a good story all by itself. “I was about ten years old,” he says. “My uncle Anthony takes me into the kitchen and stands me on a milk crate. He says, ‘Now watch, this is how it’s done.’ And shows me how to cook cheesesteak. To me that was just natural. I mean my whole family has always been passionate about food.” Chef Calozzi spent a good part of his childhood in the kitchen of Calozzi’s Italian Restaurant started by his grandfather. Across the river from Philadelphia, it was a popular neighborhood institution where families sat side-by-side with local celebrities and sports heroes such as Mike Piazza, All-Star catcher for the Mets. The recipes came mainly from the hill towns of Abruzzo, Calabria and Sicily. Part of a legacy passed down through generations of Southern Italians, for whom cooking was as essential as breathing or making love.

But we weren’t in Pioneer Square for lunch. We headed two blocks up to Third Avenue in the rain, arriving at SOIL. I need to explain that our goal in visiting SOIL was to see some recent work of our friend Tímea, who had spent a month in residence this past August-September on Bornholm, the Danish island in the Baltic. She was showing some of her Bornholm work in a show at SOIL that was ending last Thursday, the reason we made it a point to get there that day.

Alas, having never been to SOIL before, we hadn’t understood that at any given time they have a show in what they call the Backspace and a primary show. The December Backspace show was Tímea’s. The Bornholm Project. It was pretty well hidden. What we stumbled on was the primary show, vs. the Matador.

vs. the Matador — and my attempt to describe it will surely mis-represent it — is, at least in part, something of a spoof of traditional gallery shows. When you walk in, there’s a coat rack, and next to it are old portable cassette players for you to take (for free) to hear about the show, plus a rack iwth pamphlets containing suggested family activities. There is then a zig-zagging rope line to walk through with stops along the way, at the end of which sits the woman overseeing the gallery. She urged us to hang up our coats — only looking back did I realize that the reason the coat rack was full was that it was part of the installation, hung permanently with an assortment of coats and jackets. I made my way through the roped pathway to the woman’s desk, intent on asking where Tímea’s show was. But when I reached her desk, she looked at me in mock bemusement and asked if I planned to go through the exhibit backwards, starting from the end, playing the tape backwards. Turning around, I realized I had just walked through the actual exhibit. Shamed, I retreated to the start, found the sign marked #1, donned my headphones, and dutifully started my cassette recorder. Looking around, I spotted #2 near the floor at an electrical outlet. That’s when I looked back and realized — inasmuch as the only visitors were Gail and me — that the full coat rack was part of the joke, as was the family activities pamphlet I was holding. (We may never have seen the Bornholm Project, but at least we saw some of Tímea’s work, since she was credited with designing the pamphlet.)

We listened to the tape for a while, mystified, wondering how much we had to listen to before we could move on, watched the entire time by the mysterious woman at the desk. Just how philistinic were we? Would we work our way through the entire exhibit, or would we give up? She sat in judgment. And where was that Bornholm show anyway? I had been rebuffed in my first attempt to ask. Maybe I was confused about the show altogether. And soon Gail was running out of patience. She had a full list of chores to do before Christmas, and time was running out. So we stopped our tape recorders, hung them up, said goodbye, and fled.

Sigh. Only when we got home did I verify online that SOIL really was showing the Bornholm Project, but in the Backspace, which we never did find, not as the primary exhibit. I felt so stupid for not simply asking where it was the moment we walked in, rather than accepting our host’s directions to hang our coats, grab the cassette recorders, and proceed through vs. the Matador.

Tímea, there will be another chance to see your Bornholm work, won’t there?

The good news is, we made it to the Bellevue Arts Museum yesterday afternoon to see BAM Biennial 2010: Clay Throwdown! I had attended opening night with Tímea’s husband Sándor, but had wanted to get back ever since, both to see the art in less crowded conditions and to bring Gail. The show features the work of a little over 30 Pacific Northwest artists, including five beautiful bone china umbrellas that Tímea made in a one-month residency two summers ago at the European Ceramic Work Center in ‘s-Hertogenbosch, The Netherlands. If you’re in the area (of Bellevue, not ‘s-Hertogenbosch), be sure to see the show before it closes on January 16. And see also April Surgent: Into the Surface, a stunning glass mural by a young Seattle artist who, as it turns out, studied glass art in Bornholm as a teenager.

What’s next? Probably the Seattle Art Museum. We were supposed to go last night for a second look at the Picasso exhibit that I wrote about in October, but that’s before Gail remembered she had to pick someone up at the airport. We’ll try again.

Categories: Art, Restaurants, Stupidity
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