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Robert Yoder of Season

Visual Art
Open House: As galleries shutter, Seattle residents turn their living rooms into new exhibition spaces.

SIERRA STINSON TAKES ONE last look around her studio apartment on Capitol Hill. The record collection and stereo cabinet have been shoved into the walk-in closet. She’s given the hardwood floor a hearty sweep, but left the bed out and unmade, at the artist’s request. In an hour, 20 art-hungry Seattleites will stuff her 159-square-foot living room, clamoring to be a part of the one-night viewing of Matthew Offenbacher’s vibrant fabric paintings.

Stinson curates Vignettes, a biweekly exhibit in her home that gives space to everyone from first-time artists to established locals such as Offenbacher looking for new ways to display work. (He was formerly represented by the now-defunct Howard House.) Stinson has shown Susan Robb’s iPhone installation, sculpture by Gretchen Bennett (also featured at SAM’s Olympic Sculpture Park this summer), embroidered photographs, melting ice cream. They’ve all been a hit—or at least drummed up conversation. So much so that Stinson, a recent Cornish College of the Arts graduate, delayed a move to New York on three separate occasions this year. Every month, when the time to pack approached, she pushed back her departure date. Now it no longer makes sense to leave—things are falling into place in Seattle.

Stinson isn’t the only one opening her home to show great art to perfect strangers. The visual art landscape in Seattle is morphing into one that is more indie minded, and in some ways, more thought provoking. In the face of the implosion of many significant local art venues—the sudden shuttering of Open Satellite, Ambach and Rice’s move to Los Angeles, Western Bridge’s planned closure in 2012—there has been a proliferation of grassroots, artist-run, home-based exhibition spaces. Since launching her apartment gallery in December, Stinson has regularly done the work of three: She recruits artists, installs their work, promotes through vignettes.us and Facebook, pours the wine, and doesn’t take a slice of sales. With upward of 50 people arriving at each of the one-night opening and closing receptions, she seems to have satisfied a local craving for unexpected artwork.

A few miles north, in Ravenna, Robert Yoder is operating a similar enterprise: home-gallery Season, which opened in the fall of 2010. He welcomes guests into his 1949 postwar modern home on Ravenna Boulevard, ushering them into the street-side living room with its large picture windows overlooking the neighborhood. This is a permanent gallery with exhibits that rotate—like the seasons—four times a year. But why gift an entire wing of his house to the public? “I wasn’t seeing the art I wanted to see” otherwise, he said. Yoder has two rules for the shows he curates: He will always show work by one northwesterner and one artist from outside the region, and one man and one woman. After more than 20 years of displaying his own artwork across the country, Yoder sees a clear gender disparity in galleries’ artist lists, and is conscious of making sure his own space features the work of the many talented female artists he knows are in Seattle and beyond.

With the economic downturn, museums and galleries were getting more conservative, Yoder said—too many group shows and guaranteed blockbuster exhibits. So he emptied his living room and started contacting artists whose work he respected: Jesse Sugarmann, Natalie Häusler, Philip Miner. Yoder, a painter whose spare collages used to hang at Howard House, has an affection for minimalism; he recently showcased fragile paper duffel bags by Brink Award finalist Dawn Cerny alongside Adam Marnie’s broken rectangles of drywall, which looked like he’d taken a fist to the Sheetrock. It was a quietly disturbing sculpture in monochrome, white on white, only helped by the natural light coming through the picture windows.

Unlike Stinson, Yoder arranges a 50-50 split on sales to maintain his home gallery. Season hosts an opening once every three months, on Sunday afternoons, and then the living room is open by appointment. When you call to set up a visit, you might catch Yoder at his day job at a neighborhood art store, in his home office setting up the next exhibition, or painting in his studio. “It’s pretty natural,” Yoder said of his arrangement. “Not having a living room isn’t that difficult. It’s still a space that we can use—there’s just not a sofa and chairs. It almost seems glamorous, but it’s just how we do it. We live in the rest of the house. The TV’s in the bedroom, but it always has been.”

One of the most recent home-based galleries to launch is Emily Pothast’s TaRLA Transdimensional Art Portal, which opened in early August. Pothast moved into the Central District house—previously rented by curator and art writer Jessica Powers and her boyfriend, artist Matt Browning—and assumed the previous owners’ ambitions in addition to their digs. Powers and Browning, members of the curatorial group TARL, had created a studio space just inside the front door, which is what Pothast has fashioned into a gallery. It’s a spare room (or a large closet), so, unlike Stinson’s and Yoder’s displays, her exhibition space will not take over her house.

Like a concert, these art openings are intended to be active, live, celebratory events. “Music is about performance,” said Pothast, a graduate of UW’s MFA program who’s also part of psychedelic folk band ­Midday Veil. “A recording is not the music itself but a simulacrum, and art is the same way.” Pothast wants to create event-based art, an exclusive “see it or miss it” experience. Her inaugural exhibit featured a multimedia installation by old Seattle friend Molly Mac Fedyk, who works in video, audio, and printmaking. Like Stinson, Fedyk recently chose Seattle over New York City, after attending graduate school at Hunter College and living abroad. She likes her chances in Seattle. —Adriana Grant

Vignettes: Sept 7, Frank Correa, El Capitan, 1617 Yale Ave, Apt 510 (buzz Stinson 081); vignettes.us.

Season: Thru Sept 30, I Was Talking with a Ghost: Rachel Kaye and Peter Scherrer, 1222 NE Ravenna Blvd, 206-679-0706; season.cz

Tarla: Dates TBD, red house at 20th Ave & Union St, visit TaRLA on Facebook.

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WONDER WHAT JERRY SEINFELD has been up to lately (aside from producing the so-bad-it’s-good TV show The Marriage Ref)? He’s not planning a Seinfeld comeback anytime soon, that’s for sure. “My show business philosophy is: Don’t give the audience what they want. They’re just going to want more cake, until they throw up,” he told the Herald Sun of Melbourne. Instead, Seinfeld is back on the road doing stand-up—some new material, some from his 30-year repertoire of “What’s the deal?” musings. It’s a vast catalog he’s also made available on his new website jerryseinfeld.com. Talk about a high-quality time suck. He posts three different videos a day, including today’s bit: “What’s the deal with the guy who catches a bullet between his teeth? How do you learn to do that? Do they toss it to you a few times? Shoot raisins at you first?” Oct 1, Paramount Theatre, 911 Pine St, 877-784-4849; stgpresents.org

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Sandbox Radio Live

Sandbox Radio Live

WHO ISN’T IN THE SANDBOX ARTISTS COLLECTIVE? Last time we counted there were 74 members, a collector’s set of Seattle writers, directors, musicians, and actors—the people you’ve seen countless times rattling off Mamet and Shakespeare at Center House or Seattle Rep. There’s Charles Leggett, Marya Sea Kaminski, Rob Witmer, Jose Gonzales…just to name a few. And though these pros joined forces more than two years ago to network, workshop, and hold a monthly “book club” (a brunch and script reading), it wasn’t until this June that they started offering up their collaborations to the public.

The Jacket

Sandbox Radio Live: Episode 1, the brainchild of actor-director Leslie Law, was a series of radio plays recorded as a podcast in front of an audience at Fremont’s West of Lenin theater. (It’s literally just west of the Lenin statue.) October’s Episode 2 will feature the next installment in Paul Mullin’s noir series, four new short plays, music by Gonzales, and an Edgar Allen Poe adaptation (“in honor of Halloween,” said Law). Want to see what supremely talented artists do with their free time? This is it. Oct 10, West of Lenin, 203 36th St, 800-838-3006, thesandboxac.org

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Merce Cunningham Dance Company Legacy Tour 

Merce Cunningham

ONLY A HANDFUL OF PEOPLE truly merit a “legacy tour.” (In Michael Jackson’s case, he comes back from the dead for an “Immortal Tour”—see Theater.) But late choreographer Merce Cunningham, the Centralia native and Cornish alum who revolutionized American modern dance, is more than deserving of this two-year send-off. Ever since his professional dance debut in 1939 under fellow Washingtonian Martha Graham, Cunningham has been bold with his craft. He embodied the avant-garde, abandoning narrative to focus on movement set to a wild score of ambient sound composed by his stage and life partner, John Cage. A Washington techie to the core, he even used motion-capture technology to create a backdrop for Biped in 1999. He continued to choreograph well into his 80s despite being confined to a wheelchair.

Always thinking ahead, Cunningham put a Legacy Plan into action in July 2009—one year prior to his death—that sent his dance company on a world tour of some of his finest work over the past 40 years. They slink among helium-filled silver balloons designed by Andy Warhol for RainForest (1968) and bring calm to urban chaos with a famed pas de deux in Xover (2007). There are two different programs over two nights at the Paramount: Xover, Quartet, and Biped on October 27, and RainForest, Duets, and Split Sides on October 29. Then, on New Year’s Eve, the Merce Cunningham Dance Company will disband after one final performance in New York, padding softly away with their severance packages and wistful memories of their guru. Oct 27 & 29, Paramount Theatre, 911 Pine St, 877-784-4849; stgpresents.org

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Classical & More
Meet the New Maestro: Ludovic Morlot brings youth and fresh sounds to SSO. 

HIS FRIENDS CALL HIM LUDO.” The casual introduction by the Seattle Symphony staff got more than a few laughs back in January, as a concert hall full of subscribers imagined addressing their new conductor Ludovic Morlot like he was a golf buddy. What next, happy hour with the maestro?

Perhaps. After a quarter century under the musical direction of Gerard Schwarz, a taskmaster who often commanded the symphony as a general would an army, the orchestra has decided to rebrand itself with an affable 37-year-old Frenchman as its poster boy. He is our answer to the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s firebrand at the baton, 30-year-old Gustavo Dudamel, who since 2009 has re-energized the Phil with his crazy afro and singular, boyish exuberance for bringing music to the people.

The same can be said of Morlot, who speaks so lovingly of classical music, you can practically hear a flute trill when he opens his mouth. “Going to a concert isn’t an intellectual experience. It’s an emotional journey,” he said. Morlot’s journey started in Lyon, when he first heard the violin at his grandfather’s knee at age six. “My grandfather was a prisoner during the war and he picked up the clarinet and the violin. He loved the music so much I started playing.” Morlot studied the instrument at the University of Montreal and conducting at London’s Royal Academy of Music before he stepped in as an assistant conductor for the Boston Symphony Orchestra from 2004 to 2007. Known for his unostentatious style and high energy—the kind that lifts him onto his tiptoes on the podium, and leaves him with a permanent bounce to his step—Morlot was quietly making a name for himself in the U.S. After he performed successfully as a last-minute substitute conductor for the New York Philharmonic and the Chicago Symphony, high-profile guest stints started rolling in: National Symphony in Washington, DC. Rotterdam Philharmonic. London Philharmonic Orchestra. Tokyo Philharmonic.

And of course the Seattle Symphony, where he made his debut in October 2009, but left his mark in April 2010 during “the volcano concert.” An eruption in Iceland choked the sky with ash and delayed outbound flights across Europe—including Morlot’s. He didn’t arrive until the day before the concert and started rehearsing the morning of the show. “I’ve never had that experience before,” he said. “It was really amazing how the orchestra could reach that performance level in 24 hours.” He was smitten. “I think I made a little joke, saying: After a meal with someone, you know instantly if you want to have that second meal. It was very much love at first sight.”

The feeling is mutual—so far, at least. An early New York Times interview of the orchestra found him “a thoughtful, intuitive musician with a good sense of phrasing and a collaborative manner.” Symphony board chair Leslie Chihuly gushed that he’s “playful, serious, intense, explosive.” But what of the fears? After all, he’s a first-time director filling the shoes of the man who built Benaroya Hall. Could Morlot’s extensive international schedule, including his other job as chief conductor of Belgium’s La Monnaie opera house, turn him into an absentee parent? “I want to keep guest conducting,” he said. “You can’t possibly tour with your whole orchestra as much as you can guest conduct, so it would be very prudent for me to export myself as the musical director of Seattle Symphony as well.” It’s not uncommon for music directors to divide their time among other houses. (Schwarz led the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra from 2001 to 2006 and served 17 years as music director for New York’s Mostly Mozart festival.) And Morlot sees it as a win-win to have a presence in Europe. “That might also make it possible for me to bring the Seattle Symphony to Europe at some point soon.”

Morlot will conduct 17 concert programs this season, and even more as his six-year contract continues. In the meantime, the Great French Hope and his family—wife Ghizlane and daughters Nora, eight, and Iman, five—will relocate permanently to Seattle. The girls will continue their violin and cello lessons, which they started at an age when most children are watching Dora. “I don’t want to push [the girls] but I think [music] is such a beautiful language. It’s sad if you actually speak it and don’t share it with your kids.”

As for the music Morlot will share with Seattle: He’ll open the season on September 17 with a program that winks at his French roots (Gershwin’s An American in Paris, Ravel’s Bolero), gives the symphony’s former lead cellist Joshua Roman a prominent solo (Gulda’s Concerto for Cello and Wind Orchestra), and metaphorically cracks a champagne bottle on Morlot’s tenure (Beethoven’s Consecration of the House Overture).

But expect to see the best of the new collaboration during the fall Masterworks series, when Morlot conducts Beethoven’s Eroica symphony on September 26 and Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring on September 29 and October 1. The edgiest addition to the lineup is the new Sonic Evolution series, featuring local chamber pop band Hey Marseilles in concert with the symphony on October 18, and young composers commissioned to create work inspired by local music legends Jimi Hendrix, Nirvana, and Quincy Jones, among others. “We’re living in a time when we need a concert hall to be open to as many people as possible. Great music is great music, no matter the genre,” Morlot told the predominantly white-haired crowd of subscribers last winter. “I promise this could be quite explosive.”

“Change is good,” whispered the woman to my right. In the back of storied Benaroya Hall, someone whooped. —Laura Dannen

Updated September 2, 2011. The end date for Seattle Opera’s production of Carmen is October 29, not 19, and mezzo-soprano Malgorzata Walewska was a standout as Azucena, not Azcuna, in Trovatore, as stated in the September 2011 issue.

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Neptune Theatre Reopens 

Neptune Theatre

NEPTUNE RISES.” It’s the too-perfect tag-line for the rebirth of the U District’s 90-year-old cinema, once slated for closure, but saved by Seattle Theatre Group in February and officially reborn as a concert, film, and theater venue this fall. If it were up to the original owners, though, the marquee outside might employ a bit more tongue in cheek: “Back from the Watery Grave” or “Neptune’s Staff Returned.” They were a sassy bunch. 

Though the Neptune had its soft opening in May, the renovations have been ongoing—and major. Out went the threadbare cinema chairs, making room for all-ages patrons to crowd the stage when their favorite indie bands come to town. In came state-of-the-art sound and lighting, new safety sprinklers (phew), a bar, and good sightlines for the 21-and-over crowd who want to avoid the mob. And expect a mob, considering the hefty lineup STG has slated for September and October: Brooklyn rockers the Antlers (September 9), Brazilian new ravers CSS (October 4), ­Stephen Malkmus (of Pavement) and the Jicks (October 11), singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist St. Vincent (October 13), and our personal favorite, British dance band Friendly Fires (October 19). It’s practically an act a night for six weeks.

But what about the Neptune of old? Will we even recognize the place? Don’t worry: The sultry stained-glass mermaid in the lobby stayed put. Neptune Theatre, 1303 NE 45th St, 877-784-4849; stgpresents.org

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Books, Talks & Films
Dogs Make Us Human 

IT’S NO SECRET that man’s best friend lives a charmed life in Seattle. Our pups can belly up to the bar at Norm’s and frolic leash-free in their own parks; they even eat better than most college students. So expect the new book by author Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson and renowned Seattle photographer Art Wolfe, Dogs Make Us Human: A Global Family Album (Bloomsbury USA; October 4), to fly off local shelves. Wolfe culled 100 of his favorite photos of canines and their owners from his journeys around the globe as a wildlife photographer. There’s a pierced, painted Yanomamö man with his hunting dog in Venezuela, a New Zealand shepherd with his furry mates. It’s part travelogue, part hypnosis: You’ll head straight for the ASPCA after glimpsing the adorable Myanmar girl cradling a newborn retriever. Meanwhile, Masson continues the conversation he started in his 1999 best-seller Dogs Never Lie About Love. “Dogs don’t care about our status, our color, our ethnicity…. Our cross-species friendship is a universal relationship that cuts across all cultures and continents,” he writes. But what about the cultures that serve canine for supper? Yes, we said it, and no, they’re not in this book. Dogs Make Us Human is available on amazon.com on Sept 27, and in stores Oct 4.

This article appeared in the September 2011 issue of Seattle Met Magazine.

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