“Genius / 21 Century / Seattle” now at the Frye Museum

In recent years, the most avant-garde museum in Seattle has been the Frye. Its transformation from a relatively staid institution to one exploring the newest boundaries of contemporary art and the role of the museum in today’s dynamic society began under the leadership of Midge Bowman who took over in 2003 and has advanced significantly since Jo-Ann Birnie Danzker became Director in 2009.

Both women respect the Frye’s heritage and have capitalized on the original collection as they have united this rich legacy with Seattle’s and the nation’s changing art scene. “The Stranger” newspaper honored the Frye with one of its annual genius awards. And in response to that, the Frye has mounted a museum-wide exhibition celebrating Seattle’s artistic genius in the twenty-first century. The exhibition is a 16-week extravaganza, including more than 40 events, and showcasing the work of more than 60 artists—visual artists, filmmakers, writers, theatre artists, composers, musicians, choreographers, dancers, and arts organizations with special interest in multidisciplinary and collaborative work.

Their offerings highlight the social, political, and artistic modifications that are reworking Seattle and the world around it. Ours is indeed a society undergoing rapid change and growth. What the Frye hopes this exploration will do is stimulate conversation about the evolving environment and show the interconnections between the social factors and the arts that are developing. The Frye is also asking whether this effort to step beyond traditional boundaries is a new model for museums everywhere.


Jim Woodring. Still from Frank in the 3rd Dimension, 2015. 3D digital video. Pen drawings: Jim Woodring, 3D conversions: Charles Barnard. Courtesy of the artist and Fantagraphics Books

“Genius/21Century/Seattle” is a cornucopia. Its riches spill over gallery walls, the auditorium, the grounds, and into the community. It’s an ambitious undertaking chock full of happenings to challenge the mind and feast the eyes. To suggest the diversity of visual experiences I’ll mention just a few in the following paragraphs.

One of my favorite visual art pieces is the giant 3-D digital video, “Frank in the Third Dimension” by Jim Woodring. It began as a series of humorous depictions featuring Woodring’s anthropomorphic character, Frank. Charles Barnard, a 3-D wizard, fascinated by them, offered to turn the whole work into a 3-D extravaganza, and that’s what we have. Walk into the gallery and watch Frank carry on. Then put on the 3-D glasses the Museum provides and everything pops into dimension. I was mesmerized.

And don’t ask what that weird truck with the superstructure is out in the parking lot. It’s Alex Schweder’s “The Hotel Rehearsal.” It’s the artist’s rendition of a potential portable single room occupancy (SRO). More traditional SRO’s have a long history in Seattle, and given the plight of Seattle’s homeless, perhaps the concept is due a new incarnation.


zoe | juniper. We were., 2015. Installation and performances. Courtesy of the artists. Photo: Mark Woods

Victoria Haven offers “Studio X,” a two channel durational digital video that’s documenting the development, dissolution, and urban transformation in South Lake Union. The footage is taken from her studio windows, a studio that may be a victim of exactly that development.

There are on view a few of the Frye’s most beloved paintings, ones as diverse as “Moulting Ducks” and “Sin” each with a short poem by Maged Zaher. And don’t miss the earthwork that rises on the gravel lot behind the Frye. Called “Thereafter” and created by Lead Pencil Studio it evokes thoughts of Seattle’s regrades, and its landscape in perpetual alteration.

There’s a lot going on here, and the offerings are changing week by week. Check the Frye’s web site to find the activities that most interest you. And remember there is no admission charge and free parking at the Frye.

Through January 10, 2016, Frye Art Museum, 704 Terry Ave., Seattle, (206 622-9250 or www.fryemuseum.org)

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