Two Exhibitions at the Frye Museum

Some art is an experience that speaks to one’s aesthetic sense. Other art calls more to one’s intellect. It speaks more to the mind than the eye. The Frye offers both types currently. “AMIE SIEGEL Interiors” is for the mind, a cerebral excursion (Through Sept. 3). “Between the Frames” offers far more aesthetic appeal (Through July 23). Together, the shows offer an interesting juxtaposition, but also an appropriate commentary on the Museum’s development since its founding in 1952.

Siegel’s work investigates what the curator calls “ideas about objects and their perceived cultural value, and the power systems that evolve from connoisseurship, collecting, and image making.” Using film, slides and video she explores our relationship to things. Through examination of the things in London’s Freud Museum she points out parallels between the scrupulous care given to Freud’s collection of archeological objects and his conscientious process of analysis—removing the dross to reveal the essence.

Another work consists of two black and white 16mm films simultaneously projecting a sequence of shots of Le Corbusier’s white Villa Savoye outside of Paris and a black copy of the building in Canberra, Australia. Each film is printed in a manner that reverses dark and light. Here too the artist is mapping out “the interior mechanisms of the mind as well as the museum . . . that define aesthetic and social worth.” It’s food for the intellect more than delight for the eye.

The other current exhibition, “Between the Frames,” consists of art that speaks directly to one’s aesthetic sense. It features works acquired under each of the directors of the Museum since its founding in 1952.

The Frye’s had a vision. They wanted to create a free, public art museum for the people of Seattle. We are still enjoying the benefits of their generosity. This exhibit offers a retrospective of the growth and change in the collection since the Museum was established. It highlights the development of the Museum’s collection from the original 200 representational works donated by Charles and Emma Frye to today’s much expanded collection that includes cutting-edge contemporary works.

Wheat Gatherer by Winslow Homer, acquired in 1958.

“Between the Frames” showcases examples of the acquisitions made by each of the six directors. Through their oversight and vision, the museum has, decade by decade, reframed the past, informed the present, and speculated on the future.

The first Director, Walser Sly Greathouse, maintained the focus on representational art,  as did his wife Ida Kay who succeeded him after his death.  Interest in local artists and those from the Pacific Northwest, including women artists were hallmarks of her tenure.

Girl in Striped Robe by Philip Pearlstein

The next director, Richard V. West oversaw the major remodel in 1997 that resulted in the building we have today. Under his direction the collection continued to grow with representational works like Philip Pearlstein’s “Girl in Striped Robe.”

In 2003, Elsa “Midge” Bowman assumed leadership and soon brought in Robin Held as head curator. Together they reinvented the exhibition program. Video and performance art were presented. The whole question of how to define representational art was examined and the museum’s mission statement was revised to more adequately reflect both the intentions of the Fryes and the vision of its board.

When Jo-Anne Birnie Danzker was appointed director in 2009 new collaborations and further expansion of the exhibitions program were initiated with a continued focus on contemporary art. Her tenure set the stage for current director Joseph Rosa who will build the collection, just as the Fryes built their collection—on the contemporary art of the time. “Between the Frames” offers a splendid summary of how the Frye has broadened its collections since its inception.

Frye Art Museum, 704 Terry Ave., Seattle, fryemuseum.org, 206 622-9250, free admission and parking.

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