Local Talent

A Fiendish Conversation with Platform Gallery's Stephen Lyons

Platform's owner and director discusses closing the physical space and plans to continue as a digital art gallery.

By Seth Sommerfeld June 30, 2016

Platform pokorny install c0soso

Platform Gallery will soon say goodbye to the space it has called home for 12 years.

(Image from installation of Melissa Pokorny's Was the Return Easier Than the Getting Here?.)

Everything’s going digital these days. Platform Gallery only further proves that point. Scott Fife’s sculpture exhibit Esto Perpetua opens today, and when it closes on August 7, the 12-year-old art gallery will cease its brick-and-mortar existence and transition into an online-only entity. So make sure to take one final visit to Platform becomes another idea in the cloud.

For our latest Fiendish Conversation, we chatted with Platform Gallery co-founder, owner, and director Stephen Lyons about the decision to close Platform's physical space, the digital shift in art buying, and the community spirit of Seattle's art galleries.

Stephen lyons adypv2

Stephen Lyons

How are you feeling as you’re putting together this final Platform exhibit?

It’s a mixture [of feelings], obviously. Some relief. Pleasure in showing this new work. Scott Fife is one of my favorite artists—I think this will be my fifth show of his—and what I’ve seen is pretty astonishing.

The downside to my closing and going online is the realization that I’m not going to be able to have that personal contact with people to talk about the work, which I have the opportunity to do when I’m in the gallery. But basically, I’m feeling really positive. I think I’ve put in a good 12 years, I’m happy with what I’ve done, and I’m looking forward to the future.

What about Scott’s artwork really captures you and makes him one of your favorites?

The fact that he uses such incredibly simple materials—and they’re non-traditional materials—they’re basically cardboard, glue, and screws. The way that he’s able to transform these really humble materials into exquisite portraitures of people and objects is just mindblowing to me.

What lead to the decision to close Platform’s physical space?

A couple of things. Not the least of which is that when a lease comes up and you look at committing time and money to a project, that sort of gives you a moment to pause and reflect on where you want to go.

That combined with the fact that I’ve had a significant reduction in attendance to the gallery over the last several years. But also, [I’ve seen] an increase in the number of people who’ve never been to the gallery, who have looked at my website and made purchases. So… yeah. [Laughs] I’m conflicted by that, because I’d really rather that people have an in-person experience with the artwork, but I can’t ignore the fact that people are shopping online.

Do you think that’s just indicative of the general state of art galleries? Perhaps that’s where art galleries are headed on a larger scale as people don’t value the in-person experience as much?

I don’t think it’s going to be a trend that necessarily happens sooner rather than later. I do think that it’s a complex combination of things. Not the least of which, we’re not educating younger people to have any courses in the humanities. That, combined with the fact that we do spend a lot of time looking at screens instead of looking at real life. I’m sure you’ve seen those photographs of people standing in front of the Mona Lisa or at the Louvre with all of their phones up. [Laughs] There is something culturally about a mediated experience, which I’m not sure how to deal with quite frankly.

So more than anything this whole experience has been interesting for me to just contemplate what is the value of the experience of art, and how are artists going to be responding to the fact that people aren’t necessarily gonna experience art in a white box anymore.

I run into the problem sometimes where people I know who aren’t really into the art world get museums, but fundamentally don’t understand what art galleries are. They’re not aware they’re places where you can look at things for free. I think some might feel some weird guilt where it’s like, I’m not going to buy any of these, but there are price tags on them, so am I supposed to be here?

Right. It is a weird sort of hybrid experience, where there definitely the commercial aspect, but other than a museum, there isn’t really any other kind of place where you can go and just look at stuff and experience it without any other expectations. I’ve made a point whenever anybody comes into the gallery to acknowledge that they’ve come in, because that’s a big move—to walk through the door. And I make sure to ask them if they have any questions. I’m more than happy to talk to them about it. And that’s based on my experience of many years of going to galleries in New York and L.A.—you just get the opposite experience. It’s like the cold shoulder. It’s like you’re interrupting them. It’s almost like you’re entering a sacred space, and I’ve tried to make an effort to be a lot more hospitable than that.

Instead of a sacred space, it’s more of a community space.

Correct. Actually one of my favorite kinds of people to talk to are the people who are not sure what they’re looking at. And then to be able to talk about what the artist’s intention is, or what the context is, or what the materials are, and then watch them just sort of light up with wow, I hadn’t really… I didn’t get all of that just by looking at the work.

So how will Platform Gallery look as an online-only entity? Is it similar to how the website is structured now? Will there be a new digital exhibit every month? What’s your vision for it?

I am in the process of revamping it from scratch, so it’s visually not going to look like the old website. I do plan on having monthly exhibitions, and I’ve gotten a lot of feedback over the years that that’s how they’ve experienced new exhibitions anyways, by looking online.

I hope—and I’m going to go out on a limb—I hope to somehow incorporate—either through interviews or videos with artists or something—that more personal experience that you would have in the gallery. That’s going to be a leap to try to do.

I changed the structure of my website about three years ago. I realized that I was looking at it as an archive of exhibitions, where you would go and see the artist’s resume and links to reviews. And I realized that people were looking at it as a catalogue. So I switched it up so that when you click on an artist’s name, rather than going to a resume, you go to available work. And I think having it more of an experience that way—that you’re experiencing the breadth of a particular grouping or exhibition—is a more important way of looking at the website than the history or background of what the artist has done in the past.

It’s that immediate visual thing to draw someone in. Then if they want, they can click on the artist’s bio and dig deeper.

Exactly. It’s going to be a real challenge, because just like anything else, you’re looking for a set of eyes that are looking at lots of other things as well. So you’ve got like three or four seconds to captivate somebody.

As you’re nearing Platform’s end, are there any specific highlights or particularly fond memories from the 12 years that stand out?

There’s definitely exhibitions where I’ve regretted that six weeks have flown by and it’s time to take it down. [Laughs] And I’ve also been really impressed by how art dealers are really a local community here. They really support each other. We send people to other galleries if we know that what I’m showing is not exactly what you may be interested in, but you might want to go to Greg Kucera Gallery or you might want to go to Jim Harris Gallery. And I’m really grateful for that. There is a professional camaraderie that is not competitive in that regard.

So even as you phase out of the physical space, there is still that community.

Yeah, for sure. And actually several of my colleagues have been like, well now that you’re not tied to the physical gallery, you can actually go around and come and see our shows. [Laughs]

You gotta to look at the silver linings on the clouds.

Exactly. That’s actually been one of the toughest things. Because we all have the same hours, if you don’t sneak away and put a little sign up that says “I’m gone for a coffee break,” you miss a lot of things.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I’m really grateful for the opportunity I’ve had. It’s that strange thing that you don’t know what you had until you don’t have it anymore. The number of people who have been really upset or conveying their sadness that the gallery is closing… People I know, but also people I don’t really know or haven’t really talked to in-depth have expressed their sadness, but their also best wishes, which has been really, really, really nice.

Scott Fife: Esto Perpetua
June 30–Aug 7, Platform Gallery, Free

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