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.