There are no veterans in the top jobs at Seattle's most prominent arts centers. The lone exception, Mark Murphy, several years into his second decade at On the Boards, stands alone amid a crowd of recently imported art stars, a pool that requires constant replenishing from elsewhere. The newest vacancy is for the top curatorial job at Seattle Art Museum. (Note that this means both of Seattle's major art museums are curatorially headless.) Trevor Fairbrother announced his resignation from SAM last week, some five years after his hiring. He's the most valuable player in the local art world, and his departure is a sad event.
Fairbrother's been a godsend to the museum--there's no other way to put it. An indefatigable worker with an easygoing, comfortable manner, Fairbrother left a legacy of smartly curated shows. He did blockbusters, including Leonardo Lives and The Virginia and Bagley Wright Collection of Modern Art, as well as the upcoming John Singer Sargent show, but the high points of his career at the museum mainly rest in his accomplishments in the museum's fourth-floor permanent collections galleries. Formerly, the museum confused permanent collection with permanent installation: The same thin array of single works by famous artists--here's our Jasper Johns, here's our Warhol, here's our plaster mannequin moping on a mattress--had been quietly gathering dust for ages until Fairbrother juiced the rooms up with a series of shows. They were sometimes linked with the major show downstairs, sometimes not, but always hung to draw out connections between the works, instead of serving some vague educational purpose. This "narrative" approach to the history of art is now mainstream--it's the guiding motive behind MOMA's current slew of shows covering the 20th century. Fairbrother brought us a smaller, quirkier version of it for half a decade, breathing life into the art of this century.
Fairbrother also had a great touch with local art, quickly jumping on interesting stuff he'd seen in the galleries and in alternative spaces--like the sorely missed Project 416--and getting the best work into the museum within months of first encountering it. He got himself into trouble a few times when he flirted with naughtier art, and burned himself out on the administrative part of his job as deputy director and curator of modern art, but he had a great, if far-too-short run. He now plans "to pursue independent scholarship," according to SAM's press release.
Doug Kim's got a little extra space to fill in The Seattle Times' Arts and Entertainment section these days--and some $130,000 in annual budget savings--because he's gone from two full-time visual arts writers to none.
Robin Updike left for a dot-com in early April, right after filing a couple of long pieces about Frank Gehry, the writing of which forced her to take a long trip out to Bilbao, Spain to
see his most famous work, the Guggenheim Bilbao. I dream of her expense account. Just about a week later, Cynthia Rose, every young local artist's best friend, left her beat covering Seattle's alternative spaces for a slot at Internet magazine/marketplace startup habit.com, as I reported here earlier.
Who's taking their places? A month and a half later, we don't know. Matthew Kangas is sticking with his freelance position, which allows him to write for other pubs like Art in America, as well as curate, something the Times' stringent (and ridiculous) conflict-of-interest rules forbid. Kim'd better find someone soon, though. Three typical visual arts pieces the Times ran since the Rose/Updike departures concerned a glass artist, a painter of Western scenes, and a show at the Kirkland Public Library. Hey Doug! If you need to fly someone out to Europe to write about downtown library architect Rem Koolhaas' built work, I'm your guy! And you can hire about four of me for the ungodly amount you were paying those ingrates who abandoned you for the Web.
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