I do not know what is underneath my feet, but it feels expensive. A Seattle artist, Milan Heger, is talking to me about one of his paintings, hanging in front of us on the wall, but all I can think about is this apparent magic carpet made of unicorn hair. When I finally steal a glance, I see that it pretty much is unicorn hair—it feels like horsehair (super-soft straw), but in various colors in a mesmerizing grid pattern. We are inside Seattle Design Center in Georgetown, a fancy warehouse where interior designers shop to outfit their clients' homes. The market for unicorn carpets is evidently slumping. We are the only people here.
From the outside, Seattle Design Center is tan brick, with an arched entryway, like a nice, modernist 1970s furniture warehouse. Inside, on both sides of a wide main aisle, unfurls a luxury mall. It stretches beyond a lush indoor fountain, past glassed-in designer rooms sparkling with lonely chandeliers, through a skylit atrium with a stand where the cappuccino is said to be good despite that nobody is there to drink it, up a spiraling flight of stairs meant for dramatic entrances and exits, over a sky bridge, and into another atrium ringed with showrooms. From the street, you cannot imagine all this. (The public is welcome.)
At the top of the stairs, the doors are flung open on an art gallery as big as a small museum. Paintings and drawings hang on the walls and sculpture sits on pedestals (or on the floor, in the case of a huge artwork that looks like a piano for a giant; it's by Chris McMullen), but there's no furniture except a reception desk, where no one sits. A sign says this showroom displays art made by instructors from Pratt Fine Arts Center, a school in the Central District. The room next door, another sign says, is occupied by work from the Center on Contemporary Art (not a center so much as an itinerant nonprofit), and another large showroom is marked Archangel Art Collective (not a collective so much as a place where existing galleries have been invited by community-minded Georgetown art organizer Michael Fiacco to extend the exposure of their artists—galleries like Greg Kucera, Grover/Thurston, and Winston Wächter).
This is the upside of the down economy, similar to Seattle Storefronts, the program that inserts art into empty retail spaces in Pioneer Square. At Seattle Design Center, dozens of artists get to spread out like kids in an abandoned mansion. Dangling down a big wall is a pair of super-skinny, super-flat outfits (his and hers), like an American Gothic filtered through Edward Gorey, by Larry Calkins. On the facing wall, in a mural-sized crowd scene by Brian Murphy, dripping, larger-than-life characters jostle with each other on a busy street.
The shows are informal here. But they hold the possibility of discovery. I fell in love with Romson Bustillo's small mixed-media pieces depicting brightly colored/patterned domed temples floating in buzzing space, as if they were suspended in a digital haze, old and new worlds coming together. All artists need is emptiness.