Arts Notice

What’s Inside the Weird White Boxes at Third and Virginia?

It’s called Light as a Common Thread and it says it’s an art exhibition.

By Stefan Milne January 9, 2019

Inside one of the boxes. 

Image: Stefan Milne

Maybe because new development is a mainstay in downtown Seattle, I didn’t much notice the changes taking place at Third and Virginia. Then there were large white boxes with a wood patio between them and plants erupting from gravel and a gate-like entrance with glass disks threaded with large cords. It could be the entrance to a pop-up Apple store. Or a new spa. Or a fresh cult. Or Bezos got sick of spheres and moved on to boxes. 

Its signage announces it, instead, as Light as a Common Thread, a public art exhibition, and after passing it for a couple months every day on my way to work, I finally entered. The structures are an architectural preamble for what will eventually hold that intersection, a 48-story luxury condo building. The box on the left of the walkway is basically a leasing office. The box on the right contains the “exhibition,” which is actually a desk, some condo tower models, five pieces of glass art by John Hogan, and a lump of plants in the middle of the room.

John Hogan's glass art. 

Image: Stefan Milne

Hogan’s works don’t do much for me, and as an art show, Light as a Common Thread is absurd. But it creates a curious effect, like a reversal of Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain, in which the French Dadaist bought a porcelain urinal signed “R. Mutt” at a plumbing fixture store and submitted it to an exhibition in 1917. The exhibition organizers rejected it and sparked a debate that became an inciting incident in contemporary conceptual art. Anything placed in the context of an exhibition—so goes this line of thought—can be art.

But the opposite is also true: By taking John Hogan’s glass works out of the exhibition and putting them in their eventual home—a condo building—they demystify, become smudges of corporate scenery. That effect isn’t new. Corporations love abstract art because, at a glance, it’s ignorable, inoffensive. What’s interesting about Light as a Common Thread is that the narrative imposes a new gloom around Hogan’s pieces while they’re still in a gallery. Instead of being championed, they're doomed.

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