Visual Art

The Vancouver Problem

Why is Vancouver art so much better than art here? A rant to get the conversation started.

The Vancouver Problem

Rachel Topham/Vancouver Art Gallery

VANCOUVER ART GALLERY, OBSCURED BY A FOUNTAIN The mannequins in the windows are part of Erica Stocking’s site-specific installation Window Display, 2009.

Seattle art has a Vancouver problem. The two cities are close: Vancouver is only 136 miles away, just across the Canadian border. They're comparable in size. But Vancouver art is better. "Better" in this case means (a) Vancouver art is connected to the larger world, and therefore to universes of issues, peculiarities, styles, and ideas that serve the artists as well as the audiences, and (b) Vancouver art is connected to its own art history.

Vancouver: If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere. That's the kind of city it is, according to Seattle curator Eric Fredericksen. He's right: While Seattle artists often find themselves trapped inside the city—or move away, to Chicago or New York or L.A., in order to expand—Vancouver artists have both local and international careers. Paradoxically, this expansiveness is fueled by self-reflection: Vancouver art is known to itself. In Seattle, nothing seems to stick, but over the last half-century, Vancouver art has consciously developed and stretched its own art history—in landmark exhibitions and great public debates, in writing and teaching by artists. During that same time, Seattle art has been marked by fascinating experiments followed by wholesale forgettings, ultimately forming a sequence of events with as many losses as gains.

For instance, how has Seattle art built on the legacy of 1969, when Lucy Lippard filled the whole city—starting with Seattle Art Museum and moving outward—with the unbelievably experimental conceptual-art exhibition 557,087 (titled after the population of the city at the time and including artists whose names in the intervening years have become hallowed internationally: John Baldessari, Eva Hesse, Vito Acconci, Dan Graham, Sol LeWitt, Daniel Buren, Walter De Maria, and Adrian Piper, just to name a few)? How has Seattle Art Museum's Olympic Sculpture Park, on a formerly oil-soaked site, followed up on the way King County led the national discussion about earthworks and abused environments in a 1979 symposium with eight artists, which culminated in major commissions out in Kent and SeaTac (by Herbert Bayer and Robert Morris, respectively) now barely acknowledged? There's also an entire buried history of experimental performance art that raged through 1970s Seattle—a history that seems unknown to contemporary Seattle performance-based artists such as SuttonBeresCuller, Greg Lundgren, PDL, Wynne Greenwood, and Anne Mathern, probably because it was barely documented, let alone passed down in art schools, museums, and artist-run galleries.

Seattle has been a great art town at various points in its history. But today, the city's art scene has no such signature. No signature at all, even—except "pluralism," that horribly genericizing umbrella that encouraged the complacency of every so-so art scene in the country through the late '90s and early '00s. (Aside! Believing that humans should have equal rights does not equate to believing that works of art are created equal: In art and culture, unlike in class matters, elitism is merit based.)

Today, Seattle artists seldom show abroad, and when they do, they are noted only for their anonymity. Reviewing a Philadelphia group show in the New York Times last month, Roberta Smith named local star Jeffry Mitchell one of a handful of "artists with little art-world profile" (why don't you lend him some, Roberta?).

"So, have you guys heard of Jeffry Mitchell?" I asked Kathleen Ritter and Daina Augaitis last week in Vancouver. The three of us were sitting high on a set of salvaged-wood bleachers built by the father-sons artist collective Cedric, Nathan, and Jim Bomford. The Bomfords are included in the exhibition How Soon Is Now, a group show of new art from British Columbia at Vancouver's art museum, Vancouver Art Gallery, curated by Ritter. Augaitis is the chief curator at the museum.

No, they hadn't heard of Jeffry Mitchell.

Meanwhile, the leading lights of Seattle curating (and attentive Seattle audiences) all know these names: Tim Lee, Mark Soo, Kevin Schmidt, Hadley + Maxwell, Isabelle Pauwels, and Gareth Moore. These are some of Vancouver's young(ish) artists, two of whom—Pauwels and Moore—are on the six-person short list of the Henry Art Gallery's new $12,500 Brink award, along with two Seattle artists and two from Portland. The winner of the award will be announced April 17. Whoever wins, by crossing the border the Henry is implicitly encouraging Seattle to compete on a higher level, to step up its game.

The Henry should step up its game by exhibiting all six short listers rather than just the winner, while the Seattle, Tacoma, and Portland art museums should all start reconceptualizing the meaning of "regional," like the Henry is doing, and quick. (The "inclusion" of such places as Idaho and Montana in Tacoma Art Museum's biennial, for instance, reflects a fake constituency and has fake results. Art is now and has always been a city game. The art "region" is along or connected to the I-5 corridor, and in most ways, Seattle has more in common with Los Angeles than Spokane. Also, while 30 Montana and Idaho artists applied to this year's TAM biennial, zero made it in. This makes no sense. And it helps to explain why TAM's biennial this year, as in the past, also makes no sense and provides few advantages for the artists or the audience.)

It's not that Vancouver is a romantic place full of geniuses, although it does have a crush of world-famous artists led by early photo-conceptualists Ian Wallace, Ken Lum, Jeff Wall, and Rodney Graham. But the success of today's developing Vancouver artists is not their links to those guys. It's that they are connected in all directions—to other times as well as other places (especially European centers; Vancouver, the only major West Coast city, is Canada's Seattle, San Francisco, Portland, and L.A. all in one)—while Seattle artists float. The fact that Vancouver does not have a strong commercial art market has endowed the city with more experimental art (as has a vigorously federally funded artist-run-center program that puts artists in the roles of presenters as well as creators). It's rare for a Vancouver up-and-comer not to be represented by a gallery in, say, Berlin, or Rotterdam, or London, or Munich, which means the artists spend time in cultures not their own.

"Being an artist in Vancouver kind of pushes you into realizing that there's a larger world," Vancouver curator Augaitis said. "When we were doing studio visits for the Baja to Vancouver show"—it surveyed art up and down the West Coast of North America, showing at Seattle Art Museum in 2003—"the artists here were just so much more articulate. They had not only a knowledge of their history here, but also of international practices."

The observation she's making about Seattle artists might be made of Americans in general.

So what is contemporary art in Vancouver really like? One of its marked features is a relationship with popular culture, especially music and film. A highlight of How Soon Is Now at the VAG is a Hadley + Maxwell installation that combines historical footage of the Rolling Stones, figurative sculpture made by arranging recording-studio equipment, and a geometric painting with a lightbulb that depicts the rest of the installation in miniaturized abstract. The installation, which changes its format every time it's exhibited, is tight, funny, clever, and improvisational. It quite rocks.

You might say Vancouver art is more fashionable than Seattle's, and this happens to be true right now because of the way the city's photo-conceptual tradition lines up with what Times critic Smith calls art's current "religion of Minimal-Conceptual-Relational art." The weakest works in How Soon Is Now do feel like trendy, compulsory replays of classic moves from the conceptual-relational line.

But plenty of other works are art- historically informed and also brilliantly topical, ranging in subject matter from poverty in East Vancouver (Paul Wong) to a First Peoples heritage (Raymond Boisjoly; other Vancouver artists not in this show, such as Brian Jungen and Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun, also tackle tribal traditions using very contemporary means), the invisibility of economics (Antonia Hirsch), the death of a tame jaguar named Richard (Allison Hrabluik), trusting your senses even inside a museum (Mark Soo), and the difference between the Democratic National Convention and Burning Man/the problem of white men wearing Tupac shirts/whether art historians are god (Dan Starling). Even when Seattle is the subject, Vancouver artists are sometimes more on top of it than we are: In last year's survey of young Vancouver artists at the University of British Columbia's Belkin Gallery, one of the subjects, explored in photographs by Alex Morrison, was the scene in the Vancouver streets as the Hollywood film Battle in Seattle was being filmed. No Seattle artists were on the scene—another case of its own history passing Seattle by.

It's true that Vancouver has a cooler relationship to materials than Seattle (given Seattle's craft history in ceramics), but there are established exceptions, such as Liz Magor (who showed painted gypsum sculptures recently at the Henry, and whose tutelage has influenced generations of Vancouver artists). How Soon Is Now is not all videos, photos, and clever conceptual setups. There are figurative expressionists, too: The standout is Luanne Martineau, whose dangling, twisted, and severed body parts of yarn and wool are part Francis Bacon, part Philip Guston, and part '60s handbag.

Another Vancouverism evident in How Soon Is Now is the warm relationship between museum and artists. Artists known for, say, abstraction or photography experiment with text or sound in the museum show, obviously feeling free. The museum is unfazed by permeatingly loud sounds, piles of dirt that have to be moved every few weeks, and elaborate constructions that break through walls—and a giant flag by an artist (a late-night-TV test pattern by Aaron Carpenter titled Good Night) flies on the flagpole out front. The art generally behaves as if it's at home.

In Seattle, museums seem to grant legitimacy to local artists grudgingly. At the VAG, Vancouver artists have a vital place: Upstairs from How Soon Is Now, contemporary local artists are mixed naturally into a show of canonic abstract art. One great moment has two gargantuan painted black circles, a 2009 work by Neil Campbell, staring down a violet disc by Robert Irwin, one of the holiest relics in postwar American art. And conversely, when the museum presents a touring exhibition—like WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution last year—the city's artists, art lovers, and other art institutions rally together to create a sustained focus on a series of issues. (The VAG also added '60s, '70s, and '80s Vancouver feminists to its installation of WACK!)

We—I include myself—have work to do. I am not quite sure what it is, but I think it starts here.recommended

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Comments (78) RSS

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1
What? Are you crazy? Vancouver's art scene is conservative and hipsterish, lots of expensively dressed yuppie art-school grads and the hangers-on of the hangers-on standing around and socializing. Does anyone actually LOOK at the pablum they are being served? I doubt it. All the public art grants go to groups from Toronto and the result is mediocre like tapioca... The art here in Lotus Land is cautious, boring and unimportant. Bleh. I dont know about Seattle's art scene, but I would hope its better than here!

There is no more Awesome in Van, Man.
Posted by Galvanised on April 8, 2009 at 3:08 PM · Report this
2
Why stop at comparing art?

Vancouver food is better/cheaper/more convenient.

People are more stylishly dressed, not to mention just plain better looking.

We could go on for days about this.
Posted by Vripson on April 8, 2009 at 3:27 PM · Report this
3
Canada has a well established art funding system. Artist wanting to pursue an idea can get funding.

Warhol once said, "People do not buy art in Vancouver" well it is true to some extent but even that is changing the gallery scene represents quite well the many kinds of artist working here. Presentation House for Photography, the CAG (Contemporary Art Gallery) for many conceptual pieces and funded non profit galleries like the OR and VIVO (founded by video artist Paul Wong in the early 1970s) we have an infrastructure here that is home grown it is not all about commercial galleries but commercial galleries have played an important part, like Diane Farris showcasing Attila Lucaks in the 1980s. I think the VAG (Vancouver Art Gallery) changed its tone too it discovered it can showcase local artists, let them have free run of the space and it will be a success if you put something into promoting it, people will want to see what is going on there. Many artists also put on shows in unused large spaces so there is always something to go to that can be interesting.

Vancouver artists went through a transition and identified with themselves in the 1990s. Vancouver was the model for development and many artists said something about that. Add the popularity of Douglas Coupland and Generation X, a book that put the focus on Vancouver at the time and the planets start to align. Vancouver's isolation and how artists interpreted the best and worst parts of living here make it a different place to live than the rest of Canada. People in Vancouver are living in the lower western corner of a large country and they are very isolated from the rest of Canada. What happens here is not something most Canadians relate to it is different and it made its own art statements which turned out to be noticed. We do it all the time add a major art school downtown Vancouver and you end up with a culture.
Seattle on the other hand is in the upper part of a large country with many other competing cities close by even though It has been noted for other things like music. Is it isolated from the rest of the U.S.? In some ways but not like Vancouver. Just add a housing boom and Vancouver was topical. People wrote about Vancouverism and used it as a template to reinvent, redevelop their own cities. Artists reacted to that development. Much was sacrificed to rebuild Vancouver and in some ways the artists here saved the soul of this city from the damage Politicians and developers had done. It's the Artists that reacted to our our massive homeless and drug problem. One of the worst in North America. All these elements make for something to make art from and make art about.

Brian Boulton - Artist
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Posted by -B- on April 8, 2009 at 3:32 PM · Report this
4
MUCH to say on this -My background is in poetry (if you laugh at this, I can understand, the common conception of a poet has been violently ground into the dirt by these forgettings and worse. Consider NY or SF by contrast), where the contrast is far more striking.

TO BEGIN though, once a Vancouverite asked me what was happening in the arts in Seattle - I told him that we've historically had music, and a have had a few emerging spots for film. He replied "ah, I see, the passive arts."

Farts and crafts,
-w
Posted by -w on April 8, 2009 at 4:07 PM · Report this
5
Thanks, Jen. As always, an incisive and insightful feature.
Posted by Alex B. on April 8, 2009 at 4:18 PM · Report this
6
"Better" art? Is that like a "primitive" society or a "primitive" language? Art to one is crap to another.
Posted by Sargon Bighorn on April 8, 2009 at 4:32 PM · Report this
7
First off, each generation gets maybe twenty artists that matter total, and they could be spread all over the globe, so a 'scene' per se may or not exist at any point in time. Galleries, museums and arts admins always want to act like a scene is happening because it justifies their worthless existences. Whoever hung the Ford Taurusses in the lobby at the SAM should never work in art again. Even my very forgiving mother was appalled by that spectacle.

Seattle, like the entire country, is a town for arts administrators not artists.
The gatekeepers skim most of the 1% for art off the top.
Do you ever see a competition for an artist to receive say 75-100k for a year, basically equivalent arts admin salary for a year, let alone a ten-year stint. I bet a lot of artists might get a whole lot better if they were given a million dollars (with the stipulation that they deliver work of good enough grade to keep their jobs. This brings in the committee of judges, and we're back to square one) Without any struggle, art sucks, so it's a central conundrum. Still, more money for artists, less for admins. Let the people vote. They'll prob choose better work.

Private people in Seattle think $1000 is too much for a painting, just like they did 20 years ago, when $1000 was worth triple.

The Seattle Arts Commision gave $7500 commissions in 1990. Now it gives at best $3000. Meanwhile the arts administrators salaries are tied to COLA raises.

Theater. symphony and children's programs deserve funding, but the money for modern art purchases goes to gallery reps. Seattle is comfortable, MSFT and Boeing certainly aren't gonna buy anything controversial.

There's so little reward for pros that the same mistakes are made over and over again by young amateurs still energetic and deluded enough to think a career in art is possible. No wonder people think art is junk - its done by amateurs. shockjocks, and interior designers. Oh yeah, and painting elephants and toddlers.

Works selling for millions in NY and London are still stuck in that shockjock style dangling around since the 80s, but at least there's money around til the next economic collapse.

NY, LA, London and Tokyo are close to big money, and they give the air of legitimacy people need to buy. Its a part of culture there, but not here.

Artists can moan about it, but art has never been a guaranteed living. A good portrait artist could prob charge a good sum just like the medieval painters of old who survived off of it. Who knows what work is historic until history decides, so artists are stuck in that "it'll be worth something when you're dead" while the fact that you're an artists speeds you to death quicker through poverty. Kiddies might want to listen to elders who shake their head at a career in art.

There aren't as many church commissions, public art doles out tons of money, but it goes mostly to architects and LED-designers, not muralists. It should be called public architecture, not public art. Also, commissions like the Wall of Death really make you think that artists, not art admin hacks should be picking art. Is the city actually paying to repaint that thing over the years? It would be much more convincing if it was rusting. I almost have to give kudos though to the swindler, (who I heard got paid 100k) for really sticking it to an arts adminstrator and
smearing his/her resume for life.

These worms insinuate themselves into the system, because there are salaries there. No artist wants to be an arts admin or for that matter, sell their work, which a second full-time job. Artists become artists beause they dont want to be salepeople. That's the problem.

I dont know Vancouver art, but I doubt it's all that great. Great artists, like musicians, rise above the places they are from. Plus, Vancouver costs a fortune, so I doubt people have much time or resources to do much but survive. Artists are moving to Detroit, because its cheap. That's likely to be the next place great art is found. The reason Seattle HAD an art scene, and a legit music revolution, is because it was cheap access to space with free time. When it came to the art, though, they all left town to get recognized.

Finally, once society was much more interested in celebrating its artists. These days, we celebrate reality tv stars and deliberately vapid celebrities.
Trainwreck celebrities got press in the past, too, but so did intelligent achievers.
America is no longer a democracy pushing its best up. It's an oligarchy keeping its smartest down....and the arts admins are the paid-off art gatekeepers of the rotting core....

However, we're entering an era of turmoil and frugality, and that should make for excellent art....at least of the angry kind...
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Posted by Esol Esek on April 8, 2009 at 6:48 PM · Report this
8
Seattle art for the most part has always been too crafty. For a region with such a history of activism, the work that comes out of Seattle is surprisingly conformist and never more than just tasteful. I don't live in Seattle anymore and I do miss it, but not the art scene (with a few very small exceptions).
Posted by Fred on April 8, 2009 at 6:59 PM · Report this
9
The VAG is guilty of a certain amount of pluralism (I saw a totally dull installation last year of Emily Carr paintings, and they were mediocre and muddy), but I suspect this is due to an cultural protectionism offered by the Canadian Content laws.

The CanCon laws require that media outlets dedicate a specific portion of their coverage to Canadian artists, in order that they don't get swallowed up by US or foreign content. The government makes a substantial effort to publicly support musicians, artists, and writers through various grants. Just in the last few years Toronto has started holding a Nuit Blanche sometime in the fall -- essentially an all-night celebration of the arts. I'm pretty sure there's a Nuit Blanche in Montreal, too.

My point is that Canadian cities are accustomed to working much harder to promote their artists internationally. The result is that there is a substantial infiltration of great Canadian works (of music, literature, and art) both in the US and abroad.
Posted by arts&letters on April 8, 2009 at 7:22 PM · Report this
10
Last month I went to the VAG during a day trip. The art was great and exhibit "How Soon Is Now" is great. A lot of the pieces are interactive and the static pieces really draw the viewer to observe. The best an artist can do is to entertain the viewer, even if just for a minute and everything in the exhibit does. Actually, everything in the VAG does.
I hope Grave's call to action is heard by the community.
Posted by Kirk on April 8, 2009 at 8:15 PM · Report this
11
they're friendlier up there too. and they are more likely to get up and dance at a concert - I've driven up there to see a band that was playing down here too, knowing that the Seattle audience would sit on their butts - and maybe even yell at the few dancers for blocking their view (I've seen it happen) - while the Vancouverites are all on the floor within a minute. I think you hit it on the head when you wrote that VCR is their 'LA, SF, Portland + Seattle'. you could certainly add Hong Kong too. perhaps it's an unfair comparison - VCR is just more cosmopolitan - and you should do the old Seattle vs. Minneapolis shootout for a fairer fight.
Posted by musicslug on April 8, 2009 at 8:50 PM · Report this
12
Wow. Seattle's art scene would have to be REALLY shitty if Vancouver looks good in comparison. Vancouver is the Plastic Capital of North America if not the world. If you have nothing to say but prefer to say it with a cliche, Vancouver wants YOU.
Posted by Corporate Ponytails on April 9, 2009 at 2:23 AM · Report this
13
Easy.

Seattle is a town that can't tell the difference between the vehicle and the destination. When irony, for example, is used to the extent it is here, it is easy to forget that irony is a delivery vehicle for a message, not the end game itself. When you spend all of your time focused on the vehicle, you lose any sort of meaning and are left with an intensely superficial town where people put their entire personalities into a hat from the 1920s and cross their fingers that no one digs deeper. And because we're so used to meaningless crap posing as intelligence, no one gets called out on it. Why do you think our music scene is so over the place in terms of genre and style? We keep trying different styles and vehicles thinking they are the endgame, instead of the method.

This is a town that sees no difference between a sense of humor and a funny outfit. How could you possibly ask those same people, living on the surface of human interaction for most of their lives, to produce anything remotely meaningful in their art? A lifetime deficit of content is going to lead to intensely shallow art.

Combine this with a tendency to be passive-aggressive and avoid conflict, and you have a content-adverse, conflict-adverse sheltered population. Good art is borne out of the extremes of human emotion, and if you're continuously avoiding emotional interaction you aren't going to have much of a scope to view the world with.

It's the exact opposite of, say, Dostoyevsky, who was able to beautifully phrase suffering and focus your mind to the exact emotion he wants you to feel. But his writing only got seriously amazing after he was put into a labor camp in exile for years.

When you're faced with no adversity and have no willingness to experience the gamut of human emotion, you're not going to paint anything beyond Bob Ross on shrooms.
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Posted by Jer on April 9, 2009 at 10:40 AM · Report this
14
Seattle may overdo irony but at least they "get it" there. Vancouver takes its sterile glossy surface oh-so-seriously. Wear the wrong backpack on the bus or sandals with no velcro and you'll never party in this town again!

Even the homeless in Vancouver are snobs. Nothing is authentic. Art would be considered dangerous in Vancouver. Count your blessings, Seattle.
Posted by Corporate Ponytails on April 9, 2009 at 10:55 AM · Report this
15
Maybe one day the Stranger will do an article on "The Seattle Problem."

Let me get you started:

Seattleites have a problem with complaining about Seattle. Whether it's the lack of street food, the hipster music scence, the absence of an antiquaited rail system, or the inability to find good art, we just love complaining. I have never...ever...lived in a city where the inhabitants were so obsessively hypercritical about their surroundings.

For my part, let me just say that, before coming to Seattle, I had heard little of Vancouver. I mean, I thought it was a Canadian fishing town with a sub-par NBA team. Now that I live hear, I very much enjoy travelling north for all the city has to offer, and it is a gorgeous town.

All of America and much of the world wants to move to Seattle because it's not Portland, it's not Vancouver, it's...SEATTLE. And the people already living here can't stop talking about how much their town sucks.

Please get over it, or yourself, or whatever is making you this way. Get help, so you can get out and start enjoying your city.
Posted by Mozez on April 9, 2009 at 1:02 PM · Report this
16
Was going to continue on here, but it looks like the discussion that Jen's referring to isn't happening here. Klatch Tuesday?

If anyone wants to meet an artist/writer who can rip Seattle a new one (out of respect for Vancouver) look up Robert Mittenthal.

Best,
-w
Posted by -w on April 9, 2009 at 1:32 PM · Report this
17
How can one make the statement that art is better in a certain place or one piece of art is better than another? It's a personal preference on how the piece or sculpture makes you feel and think. Very similar to Oscars for best actor/actress. There's no scoring system that determines a winner so its based on the individual and how they feel after viewing.
Posted by Bacon on April 9, 2009 at 2:31 PM · Report this
18
I too side with Jen on this one. I've been in Seattle for 15 year now and I've seen this unfortunate pattern of starts and stops around every "scene" or movement. We flounder. It happens with every group. From Museums, to galleries to artists to the viewer. Theres little risking taking and too much close minded behavior. And don't get me going on how cut off we are from the rest of the art world. It a very peculiar black hole that frustrates the hell out of me.
Posted by buzzkill on April 9, 2009 at 4:22 PM · Report this
19
There is something critically wrong with the basics of the art scene here in Seattle. There doesn't seem to be any honest support for the artist. Why should an artist have to pay fees to enter a show? (Tacoma art Museum shame on you!) This shuts out alot of artists.
And why refer to critics as "stars". I think that is really sad. Just a handful of critics have control of the look of arts of our region. More money to be made in administration of the arts than in the arts themselves. Not very encouraging for the artists

Posted by painter on April 9, 2009 at 4:27 PM · Report this
20
So how do we start projects that bring people together in Seattle? If you have ideas, spit them out. I am so prepared to make the best of this city before I move next fall.

and no, there's nothing wrong with a city being a place that a lot of great people come from and do not stay. That is a step in the right direction from where we currently stand.
Posted by Give me an art scene NOW! on April 9, 2009 at 5:29 PM · Report this
21
"Seattle has been a great art town at various points in its history. But today, the city's art scene has no such signature."

That town --> city element might explain quite a bit. Seattle's boom-bust cycle doesn't necessarily lend itself well to conserving the information and relevance of old performances and pieces.

Also, museums could pay more attention to local artists, yeah.

Incidentally, other than that they also have an outdoors and look vaguely close on a map, why are Montana/Idaho ever coupled with Cascadia? You'd think that both Cascadia and Montana/Idaho would benefit from separate consideration.
Posted by tychotesla on April 9, 2009 at 6:52 PM · Report this
22
There is a sometimes closeted air around the Seattle arts community, which manifests itself as protectionism: protect us from the demons of criticism, from worldly competitors (East Coast and abroad), and from the fallen knowledge of contemporary contexts that would put pressure on the work to be more historically and culturally self-aware. “Hunker down and keep ‘em at arm’s length,” is the mindset at work—or so it has been, from my vantage point of 20 years in the arts and education communities.

Mediocre work from within is too easily praised, and its lackluster formal qualities are lauded as marks of genuineness or authenticity. The Romantic notion that the best genius is untutored, a la Keats’s nightingale, thrives. Relevant criticism is often discouraged (by some artists, some institutions, and some local media), as if too much informed critical discourse might burst the feel-good bubble of “us.” The irritating expression, “It’s all good,” says it nicely, if niceness is the goal. So everybody just loves the work, even/especially when they don’t. It’s a kind of softserve anti-intellectualism.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, however, we have The Stranger, a paper whose overheated rhetoric is often as uninformed and dismal as the’ too much love’ school of crit. Neither approach really builds the artistic-critical contexts for engaging with the arts (whether the artwork is film, painting, drama, or literary writing). No wonder the Seattle arts community has a hard time self-historicizing! That’s partly what critics and scholars are good for, if they’re doing their job right.

And neither approach—the rhetoric of the smiley face or the rhetoric of the temper tantrum—is good for Seattle-based artists, who rarely benefit from excesses of love or hate. Strangely, even the love doesn’t help, because it’s domestic love, therefore suspect. The community protects its own, but rarely exalts them. That would be a little too obvious—like parents over-praising beloved but unimpressive children.

At any rate, I don’t think the point of Jen Graves’s article was to say, “Vancouver is better than Seattle, nyah!” Of course Canada has an entirely differently relationship to the arts, funding, etc., than does the U.S. The larger point is that Seattle has had a peculiar confluence of attitudes and practices shaping its artistic communities and institutions. The weird aversion to outside influences, to art history (its own and, at times, the world’s), to an awareness of international developments, and to informed criticism—all ring true in the big picture.

But, thank Maude, there are many significant exceptions to Graves’s observations—more now than when I moved here back in ’89. The residue, however, lingers. I have worked with a good many people in the community who are thoroughly uninterested in contemporary developments in the arts. Yet I’ve never put that piece together with Seattle’s inability to self-historicize or to remember/recognize innovative artists from its recent past. That cultural amnesia, plus the lack of institutional commitment to worthy local artists (i.e., not the feel-gooders), makes for a particularly intractable double-whammy.
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Posted by Raisinette on April 9, 2009 at 7:51 PM · Report this
23
Well, one of my friends in Vancouver makes US$70K a year and pays $30K in taxes. that's why they have nice art.
Posted by Stupid White Man on April 9, 2009 at 8:52 PM · Report this
24
This is quite easy to figure out, and the reason why so m any artist formely living in Seattle get the hell out of there. YOU....jen Graves and the rest of the media in Seattle are the problem. You only cover your friends. Since there are quite a few cliques there, the reader only hears from whichever clique Jen Graves ( and the previous writers at the stranger) belongs to.

Another reason Seattle is so disconnected is its Galleries. The only legitimate gallery there is Greg Kucera. He is the only one that goes out of town to bring in interesting artists and will promote his Seattle artists. All this talk with Lawrimore and how hot he is. This guy is a farce. The only way he knows about art made outside Seattle is reading artforum. Never promotes his artists outside of the town.
Those are the things that put a city on the art map.
Posted by former s(e)attelite on April 10, 2009 at 12:08 AM · Report this
25
In Vancouver, the key to artistic success is to be considered "fresh". This is accomplished not by taking an original and risky approach to interpreting life. It is achieved by lowering expectations - first you inundate the masses with a constant battery of banal and unchallenging presentations, then you make an obvious and predictable departure from those standards. Ta-daaaa! You are now "fresh". Your mocha frap is ready.
Posted by Corporate Ponytails on April 10, 2009 at 2:17 AM · Report this
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"Vancouver's art scene is conservative and hipsterish, lots of expensively dressed yuppie art-school grads and the hangers-on of the hangers-on standing around and socializing"

And Seattle doesn,t have the same type of scene? or should I say problem?

The only slight difference between Vancouver and Seattle is the Seattle artist pretend to come from a humble background. And well Seattle art and artist are just pale and numb like a continues low AMP electricution, hhhmmmm.
Posted by CausticShock on April 10, 2009 at 5:56 AM · Report this
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During that same time, Seattle art has been marked by fascinating experiments followed by wholesale forgettings, ultimately forming a sequence of events with as many losses as gains.


Yeah, that'll happen when the entire native population of a city is pushed out to Edmonds and Renton by a massive influx of upper middle class immigrants who buy the city out from under the people who used to live there -- and who made and consumed all that great art. Same thing happened in San Francsico and New York.
Posted by Judah on April 10, 2009 at 7:55 AM · Report this
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Vancouver is THE west coast city of Canada. It is the LA, SF, Portland and Seattle all rolled into one.

It kicks Seattle's ass and always will!

So sorry!

Posted by mr bongo on April 10, 2009 at 8:41 AM · Report this
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I really enjoyed How Soon is Now, I'm constantly curious as to where artists are now (as so much in galleries is historical). While honestly I only really thought maybe half a dozen pieces were really good I found many more were interesting in that contemporary sense (though I wasn't that impressed by any of the installations). I found the show on the third floor Enacting Abstraction fantastic though; lots of art to my taste and well presented. Of course being (mostly) historical it has the winnowing effect of time.

Going to the NW Biennial in Tacoma did seem to be somewhat of a contrast. The new art seemed to get short shrift, seeming stacked up in that one gallery. While I found much to enjoy in the other two galleries displaying pieces from their collection, it seemed they could have give more space over to what is alas the only major survey of regional art by a large gallery. This I think is perhaps is indicative of the problem Jen writes about. Why doesn't the SAM have more of a focus on contemporary art?
Posted by Big Unshaven Man on April 10, 2009 at 11:19 AM · Report this
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"Yeah, that'll happen when the entire native population of a city is pushed out to Edmonds and Renton by a massive influx of upper middle class immigrants who buy the city out from under the people who used to live there -- and who made and consumed all that great art. Same thing happened in San Francsico and New York. "

Kinda like white people did to the Duwamish?

This is America, Jonah. None of us really belongs here. Splitting hairs about who doesn't belong here the most--or most recently--is a waste of energy at best and hypocrisy at worst.
Posted by Emily on April 10, 2009 at 12:41 PM · Report this
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I was sitting here working away and thinking about art and the artists worthy of continuos recognition in the way of cash awards. I thought about all the artists I know that constantly receive awards and asked myself if they are better or more worthy than others that never get them. The problem is not if anyone is better but what kind of artist you set out to be.

Some artists produce work that is amazing and they work hard and hope to get some form of representation because without it they are going to fail having the career they want this includes being financially compensated because at some point you have to buy materials, eat and sleep somewhere and also have a place to work so it is important.

This brings me back to awards and the type of artist you are. I know many artists that have produced work that has gained them some recognition but they have a talent many do not have and that is self promotion. They are in the business of art, seeking out the money that is available from galleries and foundations and with the power of networking they sell themselves based upon work that is no better than any other artist. They receive awards and grants. They are professional award and grant seekers that always get the $$. I am not bitter I have a career but I am terrible at filling out grant applications and making sure contracts are good for me. I am getting better but my brain does not work that way most of the time. Sometimes I am good at networking but most of the time being at an opening is a chore, I just do not fit in unless I BS my way through the evening which I do not feel comfortable doing.

So if you seek out all the grants and wards and network the hell out of curators and gallery directors in a way it is like being a professional lottery and game player. Spend all your time entering enough contests for prizes and you will win shit. The art awards and grant game is the same but you get something else you get recognition as a great artist even though you are no better than someone that is not good at the business of getting art money being offered out there.
I know so many artists that do this successfully all the time. They create some interest then capitalize on it making it seem bigger than it is by networking winning over others in the art industry.

It is one thing to be recognized by playing the art business it is another thing to actually be talented and justly receive awards and recognition. I feel so many talented artists fall through the cracks and never truly receive very much. Then there are always a select group of artists that are not really any better or more talented but are good at playing at the business side of the art world that is all about awards and grants. They are business people and the product is themselves, there name.

We should not think of them as being better artists than non award winners, they are just better at getting the awards and grants which falsely gives the illusion that they are better or that they are what art is all about at this point.
More...
Posted by -B- on April 10, 2009 at 2:10 PM · Report this
32
You have some good points to make about the museum/gallery/artist relationship in Seattle and the importance of internationalism in art, but the snobbishness regarding Seattle artists' supposedly uncool relationship with materials and the oh-so-unfortunate "craft history in ceramics" is completely off-putting. Anyway, the use of the word "cool" to describe materials is absurd.

Perhaps the work that you have to do could include overcoming your obvious disdain of craft. Seattle has a long roster of wonderful artists working with "crafty" materials, whose work you are missing out on due to your lack of appreciation for Seattle's craft history.
Posted by Dorothy Cheng on April 10, 2009 at 4:30 PM · Report this
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My theory is that Canada has far fewer major cities to support arts scenes, so Vancouver, being their only Pacific city, is one of those cities by default. I'm sure many of those artists are Canadians who came from somewhere else, just as most artists in NYC, LA, etc. aren't native to those cities.
Posted by Sorry if someone else made the point already on April 10, 2009 at 5:29 PM · Report this
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All the gush that's fit to ridicule - that would be my headline to this "article." For starters, publicly funded "art" is not "art" at all; it's an affectation on the taxpayer's dime. True art defines itself either reflective of or in some way in opposition to (or both) the culture in which it is created. Government subsidized art is not art - it is propaganda. I don't care how offensive it may dress itself up as to the "majority," it is still bought and paid for by the government, and is accordingly just agit-prop. It is not true art. For seconders, I can't imagine a true artist thinking for one second that they had some obligation to addressing "issues" outside of their own vision. I can imagine many phony artists, on the other hand, thinking that splashing specks of psychedelic paint around the new liberal Messiah's image and calling it "Hope with Specks" to be some kind of scintillating social commentary wrapped up in a work of "art" all rolled into one. That is the faux Leftist way. But all true art is inherently reactionary - and born, birthed, and produced in a reactionaries heart - plain and simple. This holds true historically, from about forever in the Western Pantheon. Period.
Posted by Malchus on April 10, 2009 at 10:59 PM · Report this
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Yawn. What is it with art, artists, and art critics, that makes so many of them such insufferable, egotistical assholes?

Maybe the people in Vancouver are just nicer, easier to get along with, and... cool. And therefore, the art they're creating is cooler, because the entire art scene is fed and nutured by the people in it.

You know, how Seattle music used to be.

So many Seattle artists just seem to have this big snotty shitty attitude about art and their own "status". Give it up- most of you just fucking suck.

You're not some kind of fancypants "conceptual modern artists"; you're just assholes who think that making something that's completely indecipherable (and ugly to boot) makes you "deep" and better than nearly everyone else (except, of course, other snotty shitheads like yourselves).

Grow up, lighten up, mellow out, and quit being such pricks. That'd be a big start towards making the Seattle art scene even halfway as good as Vancouver's.
Posted by BlueEyedBuddhist on April 10, 2009 at 11:18 PM · Report this
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Seattle's art scene is definitively perverted. Analyze the monstrosities in the Sculpture Park. The large, polished black, U-shaped steel sculpture in the only grove of trees looks like a doo doo log some forest-consuming machine left behind. It stinks. There's a sculpture that looks like a gallows or some medieval torture device. Those freakin orange cones? Oh, so we're supposed to celebrate the damn traffic? Traffic as an art form? The orange 'Eagle' thing is really a 'crane', there to match the cranes on the south waterfront and pay homage to global trade in its futuristic modernity, or futility depending on your point of view. All that space, and nary a bit of it to sit and enjoy the fabulous view. Stupid orange chairs. The glass wall as a railing? It makes you feel like you're indoors looking out. It's insane. The Park itself is absurd. The Wave? It's a giant agribusiness plow carving up the landscape. Even "Eraser" is stupid. Yeah sure, we'd all like to erase a lot of today's crap, including Eraser.

All around Seattle there are way too many pretentious public art pieces that scream, 'Bend over, clueless peons.' Hammering Man is an insult to labor. The Dancer on the Harbor Steps is suicidal. Is the Pike Market Pig another put down? Why wasn't it installed at City Hall or the Police Department or best at an amusement park? Many public art pieces are commissioned by people who hate Seattle and Seattlers. How about the "Flying Fords" at SAM? I wonder how many hundreds of thousands died in that crash, their souls eloquently leaving this earth in tubular, neon-lit plastic rays? So inspirational! So, the emporer is naked.
Posted by Wells on April 11, 2009 at 12:07 AM · Report this
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Most Seattle art is wimpy, boring, bland, and PC, just like most Seattle people.

I remember an article from last year that described most Seattle art as "somber mud" and it is so true!!!!
Posted by skinny jeans, gagued up earlobes, and brown paint on April 11, 2009 at 8:39 AM · Report this
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Your definition of "art" is too narrow. Seattle has an outstanding performing arts community. You can see ballet, musical theater, plays, dance, movement, etc. any night of the week at performance spaces across the city, The quality tends to be very high. Some is conventional, some is experimental. The cost to attend is reasonable.

There is a thriving music scene. No need to elaborate here.

This region is a center for glass art. Maybe you don't like Chihuly but you cannot deny that he is a leader in the field.

The SAM Olympic Sculpture Park is one of the nicest public art venues to be created in the US in years. You acknowledge the Park but try to leverage it into criticism of Seattle. That makes no sense.

So really your grievance regarding "art" just concerns painting and a few other specific types of visual arts. I agree it would be nice if SAM had a better permanent collection of paintings. Maybe Vancouver has healthier community of regional painters and photographers. I will take your word for it.

But on balance, I think we can stand pretty tall here.

Stop your self loathing, Seattle. And go see a show.
Posted by Dave on April 11, 2009 at 9:09 AM · Report this
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It is not about which art is good or bad or which is real art or if a city is cooler. People in Vancouver think people in Seattle are friendlier and people in Seattle think people in Vancouver are friendlier. We can all hate the city we live in and some like the city they live in. Just connect to a grass roots approach to being creative and things will fall into place. So what if some people like to go to a gallery and sip wine it is how they involve themselves in art. Other spray walls, some knit something around a pole. Everything created as art is art there is no one form which is more real and just because you receive government funding does not make your art void. How well crafted and what it says might not be great all the time but it is all still art. Even if it is politically motivated. No, it is not all good to look at or experience but to have a good art scene in a city you have to have a variety of artists and art. it is like Channels on TV you don't have to watch a channel if you do not like it but all those channels make up what is TV. If you don't like galleries serving wine and seeming pretentious then go experience art in the way yo do like it. Just do it, lots of it in all forms and you will have an art scene. Don't bitch about it.
Seattle has some art but it reflects the state that the city exists in at this point in time 10 years after the .com crash. The .com times in the late 1990s consumed everything creative it pushed aside the dominating music scene and everyone creative put all their eggs in one basket which crashed. The bottom fell out of most of the creative scene in Seattle and the basis of an art scene was lost. All that needs to be done is make art that reflects what and who you are in Seattle and the surrounding area like Jeff Wall did in Vancouver.

Jeff Wall in Vancouver made photos of Vancouver and redefined photo conceptualism. When he was doing it Vancouver had little self confidence in what defined the city except maybe an image of being beautiful on a tourist pamphlet. Jeff Wall changed that and at the same time moved to digital. He just made images based upon scenes around Vancouver all the while making cultural statements. It all seems so simple and in some ways it is. It is not rocket science you just go do stuff, create, make things and that is what makes a better art culture in a city. Your infrastructure is busted but it does not take much to fix it all you have to do is make art on all levels and show it everywhere and anywhere from established galleries to empty loved buildings ready to be torn down. Like I said everything is art there is not one true form of art. Just because someone bought and paid for it does not cancel it out. Once you start saying " this is true art and this is not" you are screwed, you are being a snob a kill joy and useless to the progression of art in your city. You don't have to like it all but you have nothing if you do not go create it all and in Vancouver thats what we do. There are many people making art in all forms and lots of small grass roots galleries all spread out that people like to go to because it feels more like people created their own neighborhood instead of a developer doing it.

Performance art does not have to happen just at "On the Boards". On the Boards is an amazing place and Seattle is lucky to have it but your main Gallery downtown SAM has to open the doors to all artists of all ages to create on the fly, entertain and disturb and connect the dots from a small gorilla galleries to On the Boards to SAM because there are far more ideas out there than can be shown in the galleries you have at this point. So places like McLeod Residence are created someone needs to open another that caters to a different need. Is there a video gallery in Seattle with a video archive???
I know most of this is based upon funding and this could be key to why Vancouver has more than Seattle because there is the Canada Council and non profit galleries apply for funding to run things. But we also have galleries that are small that do not receive funding.

In Vancouver we have a large Asian community and galleries like the "center A" that show contemporary asian art a pioneering video artist that is Asian Canadian (Paul Wong) but we do not have a massive asian collection considering out population is mainly Asian. In Seattle you have a massive asian collection of art but a very small Asian community. It is great you have the Asian art but does it reflect Seattle culturally. It is just a collection of items that cost your galleries a fortune to buy. They need to invest in their own community with funding and support. The most entertaining art you can put in SAM is not from somewhere else it is right in Seattle at this very moment. Those curators need to get out there and start doing the studio visits of artists that want to show in Seattle but are ready to leave because the main galleries are not showing interest.
More...
Posted by -B- on April 11, 2009 at 11:28 AM · Report this
40
Why can't an artist create beauty and pleasure in a simple way that a consumer (if you will) can purchase and enjoy like a chef makes a well prepared meal? Why is considered cliche or banal to serve this need? It take a lifetime of experiences to put those learned techniques to good use. The harder you try to be the next Diva, the vanity of the ego kicks in and you fail, (unless your fucking the right person). My point is.. relax, don't take yourself so seriously and do the artist's job. Quit being a prick.
Posted by bax on April 11, 2009 at 4:47 PM · Report this
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Jen Graves, I applaud you for bringing up a point that has irked me since I’ve become involved in art here in Seattle. I have to say that it is neither the content nor the articulation of people’s minds or their art that makes Seattle more vanilla than it should be. It is the direction and the discretion of curators and scene- czars around town. The environs and culture of Seattle are without question, unlike any other city that I have visited or lived in; these factors are disparately teeming without any recognition by these controlling entities. The SAM, TAM, and the Henry (until now) do almost nothing to tap this energy. The lack of an underground in art, jazz, and hip hop, which in this lens are all related, also contributes to this dilemma-art breed’s art. The D.I.Y. that exists in other cities and scenes, either goes unrecognized here in this case or is nonexistent-this is also a problem; stop worrying about your leather jackets and craft beads while you’re holding that plastic cup of Woodbridge Seattle art viewer; I hope you spill something on yourself. A thing being plural comes from the presenter not the creator; it’s like a snowball downhill, whatever people see they emulate, this in turn accumulates and eventually rolls in the wrong/right direction-show something different. So what if everybody comes out of UW curator persons, and no artist guy/gal-you probably won’t become rich doing this. If you do, then pretend you’re Damien Hirst, wait a minute-maybe that’s the problem. One other thing Stranger, maybe you should focus your energies more on the local culture rather than exotics such as an amateur cock-tease film festival derived from online personals.
Posted by thejza on April 11, 2009 at 6:07 PM · Report this
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It is also ridiculous that this message board has turned into a battle forum
Posted by thejza on April 11, 2009 at 6:11 PM · Report this
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flag this for abuse
Posted by thejza on April 11, 2009 at 6:12 PM · Report this
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shhh, don't be too loud, don't offend, don't rock the boat... Don't upset the maritime provincials. When will it end? I've sat through several decades of the local art machine celebrating the likes of Robert Yoder et al. Pretty, safe, but wholly unoriginal. Shmoozy, cliquey, play it safe, provincial back patting going down, round after funding round. The shakers, originals and uncorrects kept high and dry. Why does anyone wonder why Seattle has no international status? The likes of Kippenberger would have gone over like a lead balloon here. Beat back like a sewer rat, or yeah, just left town.
Posted by withWhitman on April 12, 2009 at 12:17 AM · Report this
45
I commend you for not mentioning Dale Chihuly or Glass Art once in your article, as it only deserved a provincial interest foot note to the issues you discuss.

I enjoyed your article it was very insightful, and I agree completely.
Posted by Rob Tomorrow on April 12, 2009 at 11:21 AM · Report this
46
Seattle sucks and everyone there should kill themselves today.
Posted by it's the progressive thing to do, people of color say thanks on April 12, 2009 at 11:24 AM · Report this
47
I'M GOING TO LOLOCAUST ALL DAY LONG... VAG VAG VAG!

ART IS COOL AND ALL, BUT LIKE, WHY ARE YOU A HATER? DO YOU SEE ME?? YOU SEE ME!!! HI HATER!!!!!

I KNOW WHO THE BEST ARTIST IN THE PNW IZ.

WARREN &
WEEZY &
GP &
GP &
ME!
Posted by LAWriM0RRh0tTiEEey on April 12, 2009 at 4:40 PM · Report this
48
Everyone knows so much more about everything than everyone else! Blah...just make good work and let the crazies fight over it...
Posted by Uninformed on April 12, 2009 at 6:17 PM · Report this
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Hey BlueEyedBuddhist--you are fucking retarded. Seriously, look in the mirror and ask yourself," Am I insane and do I need medication?" You are the prick with little to no insight of what is actually happening in the world. Good day sir...
Posted by RedFacedBuddhist on April 12, 2009 at 6:21 PM · Report this
50
Here is a pathetic list of the people who can spread the word about the arts in this town
Jen Graves--Completely neurotic
Matthew Kangas--Batshit crazy
Regina Hackett--Flighty and distracted
Adriana Grant--An inch a week in the Weekly
Suzanne Beall--Great if you wanna get into fiberarts

This is a huge problem for Seattle artists. Every successful scene has always had good writers...
Posted by G.Wood on April 12, 2009 at 6:42 PM · Report this
51
Coming from Minneapolis and seeing the lack of diversity amongst galleries large and small, there is seemingly no doubt that art is one of the lowest priorities to people around here. Disregarding the issue of craft and personal taste, there just isn't even enough opportunity to put down roots and try to make it here. Though an artist has never been defined by the space they work in, a city full of boring Microsoft millionaires and further douches driving expensive cars for no other purpose than vanity, I have to ask the question. People of Seattle, can you justify your existence please?
Posted by JP on April 13, 2009 at 10:03 AM · Report this
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Vancouver has qualities that Seattle will never have: it has by far the most temperate climate in the entire country; and it's part of the British Commonwealth, with historical connections stretching from places like Hong Kong and Singapore to the European Union. There are also connections between the best working artists and their art schools, so art students have access to intelligent conversation and connections to quality exhibition spaces. If Seattle artists want the same kind of scene, they should move to Los Angeles.
Posted by mbuitron on April 13, 2009 at 12:00 PM · Report this
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It's great that this article created a lot of conversation - it's too bad the majority of it is negative. I guess that is human nature to gripe about how bad everything (and everybody) is but not think about ways to come up with some suggestions in how to make it better. I believe that was one of the main points of Jen's article is how do we make it better here?

I know there is a budding movement of alternative art spaces to band together to start exploring this very idea. It's called S3A. So far it's in its infancy of cataloguing the spaces and feeding information into one spot at: www.s3a.us

The evolution of S3A is to further encourage communication between artists and art spaces and to bring more awareness of emerging local artists to the attention of the general public. I'm not saying this is the answer, but it's a step in the right direction.
Posted by Bherd on April 13, 2009 at 1:45 PM · Report this
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I loved the public art scene when I was in Seattle last year. The installations in the buildings along Broadway which were closed due to pending train construction were brilliant. I can't imagine a Canadian city having the funds to commission site-specific art to brighten empty windows and enliven the streetscape.
Posted by CanadianToph on April 13, 2009 at 9:16 PM · Report this
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The grass is always greener... The Vancouver Art Gallery has turned it's back time & time again on local artists. Don't let "How Soon Is Now" fool you. They put this show together to beat off the cries from local artists who were pissed off about none of their tax dollars supporting local arts. Vancouver artists will tell you that the reason they've gone international is because there is nothing happening here, and that most of our local artists are moving to Toronto or Montreal.

Seattle, hang in there. I've always found great art in Seattle, don't belive the hype. The grass is not much greener up here. If anything it's just astro turf.
Posted by Wet Canvas on April 13, 2009 at 10:24 PM · Report this
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Well it's nice to know that someone likes Vancouver's art scene. I feel like there's always a grass is always greener feeling and so I think most Vancouverites are quite pessimistic about their art scene. Everyone wants to move to Portland! :)
Posted by Tiktaalik on April 13, 2009 at 10:57 PM · Report this
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Canadians are constantly trying to define who/what we are as a nation. Vancouver is constantly trying to define who/what it is within that nation. And once you think you know what you've got, something changes (internally or externally) and you're forced to revisit. Maybe it's just constantly asking questions and interpreting the answers you do/don't get that make good art?

Also, lately, the new thing is to stop complaining about what we're lacking in Vancouver and start contributing. Everyone's got an opening, a show, a gig... It's great. The more the merrier, right? I can't think of a more vibrant time for "stuff" in this city.

Also, the parties/people are pretty great up here, despite what some sad-sacks are saying. The Emily Carr University Grad Show is in early May. I extend an invitation to our Seattle friends. Come look at some stuff a then we'll go to an after party, shotgun beers, watch the sun rise.

Also, haters: Your Vancouver bashing is making me zzzzzZZZ. So boring. See 2nd paragraph.
Posted by Phillipe on April 13, 2009 at 11:30 PM · Report this
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Vancouver is full of great MUSICAL art. As far as "art" art is concerned, there is lots of it, but who's to say if any of it is any good? Sure, Arthur Erickson comes from here, and his bulidings dot the landscape. He's well-known and such, but he is an anomaly.
But what Vancouver does have are countless amazing bands. Because Vancouver's bands are handcuffed to a certain extent by its geographical location and are unable to branch out to similar big cities without driving really long distances, Vancouver has developed a diverse and thriving music scene full of really creative bands that work together, more or less.
Posted by John on April 14, 2009 at 10:25 AM · Report this
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So could you please inform all the DJs and bartenders in Seattle that they are third-rate provincials competing to be decidedly second rate?
Posted by James Early on April 14, 2009 at 11:06 AM · Report this
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i know...it's very easy to come in like a lion and think that just because someone says try this on for size... a brush, as in paint.... you can just step right up and see the show (about to) begin... and yes dear Jen your list IS ever and more so ever impressive because... look at all the names of people who create art.... it's every where and when and why.

Personally speaking... It is so overwhelming that I think I'll just stare at the wistful side line pictures of love lab because ... well.. yeah your right... just get a digital camera and connect... right?

oh, what i mean to say is "create a profile " and then "connect".
Posted by daniel on April 14, 2009 at 11:16 AM · Report this
61
A couple of comments.

First, the fact that an article about why Seattle doesn't value its own artists and doesn't actively foster a vibrant "art scene" is titled "The Vancouver Problem" is so very typically "Seattle-ish." At least the article itself didn't actually wallow too much in the "poor pitiful me why doesn't the world recognize my greatness I'm gonna cut myself and mope until they do" esthetic so typical here. But it is kind of sad that a rather thoughtful article had to be sold with a “it’s them what’s doing it to us” title.

Secondly: to me the basic problem Seattle artists have—pros and poseurs alike—is that they are living in a city with a general populace that doesn’t really like Contemporary Art. And I’m not just talking about Mom and Pop Suburb, I’m also talking about the educated, the hip, the creative, the cool—those who should be paying attention to the visual arts in general and Contemporary Art in particular. Beyond the insular “art scene” (translate that as those who make, sell, and/or display visual art, along with their relatives, friends, and people they screw) the other creative types in Seattle just don’t give two cold shits about “Capital A” Visual Art. And to be honest, I’m not sure they necessarily should. Everybody doesn’t have to like or be good at everything, and this goes for cities just as much as it does people. In Seattle, music easily wins the poularity race, with literature and theatre fairly distant runners up (and film wheezing along just ahead of visual art, which is sitting by the side of the road with its hair in its face, absent-mindedly noodling with its iPod.).

And I don’t think that any amount of promotion or “support” from the museums and other established Art institutions or luminaries is going to be able to change that. You can’t shame people or cities into pretending they value something that they obviously do not.

With that said, if Seattle’s local artists can’t continue to make art just because it is “too haaaaarrrrd” to get people interested in it, then they don’t really have the calling anyway. If they’ll just get out there and fight the apathy with all they’ve got, they’ll end up making better art than they would if they were smothered in praise and support. But if that passion doesn’t exist—“they’re always hiring at the Post Office.”
More...
Posted by Curtis3 on April 14, 2009 at 2:06 PM · Report this
62
"In Seattle, museums seem to grant legitimacy to local artists grudgingly."

This is the key to the Seattle problem.

It's important to know that the major institutions in Canada, like the VAG, the AGO, The Powerplant, Musee d'art Contemporain, etc. are fully committed to serving the artists that live in their cities, be it Vancouver or Toronto or Montreal. This involves risk on the part of museum directors and curators, since Canadian cities along with Seattle, have a cautious, conservative populace genuinely nervous about art and the spending of tax dollars. When these curators rise to the challenge and produce shows that embrace the artists that live around them, something remarkable happens. The city begins to see itself perhaps for the first time in a larger context.

The SAM, The Henry, The Frye, etc. need desperately to devote more thought and wall space to the work that's being done now by the artists that live here. Otherwise they can expect their own relevance to diminish along with Seattle’s artist population.
Posted by Magdalen Celestino on April 14, 2009 at 2:12 PM · Report this
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I completely agree that not only does Vancouver have a more thriving Art scene, but they have a better quality of life. It's very much an International city and shockingly so when compared to Seattle. Every time I go there or to Portland, I find myself wondering why I stay here? It's not for the infiltration of obnoxious looking condos that ruined Capitol Hill. Replete with annoying yuppies who look at ME funny when I've lived on the Hill for 5 years. All of my Artist friends have since moved out due to the cost of living increase brought on by the condos. Culture or Condos Seattle? I think you have made your choice to blandify the city and make it a yuppie hell. Shit
Posted by Whiz on April 15, 2009 at 8:51 AM · Report this
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Fascinating. Here in Canada, all artists do is bitch about how New York artists get all the attention.
Posted by Lisa Hunter on April 15, 2009 at 9:35 AM · Report this
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The assumption here is that art is a commodity, whether in a commercial gallery, private collection, or publicly funded display. To sell a commodity, it helps to have a brand identity, which in this case is the artist's personality or ego. The brand is extended by association to other products in the same line, such as invented "schools" and "scenes". Critics, curators, gallerists, and administrators all get a piece of the action, and a few savvy artists with the stomach for this unsavory system can actually make a living from it.

Conspicuously absent from this discussion is street art, which seems to be thriving. Stencils, graffiti, paste-ups, and stickers are in-your-face, anonymous to those outside the artists' inner circles, and free of commercial aspiration. They disrupt the stultifying order of an increasingly homogenizing culture.

The health of a creative community isn't gauged by what's on gallery walls. To really get its pulse, walk down an alley.
Posted by A.E. Maus on April 15, 2009 at 11:32 AM · Report this
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Jen Graves, as lazy and contrived as this article was you still could have saved your time by merely posing the question without bothering with the erratic and useless elaboration. The question, though ridiculous, did spawn some interesting and thoughtful comments by some of the posters here, who rightly identify the lack of legitimate art criticism as one of the problems in Seattle. Instead of lists (Top 25 Ever, e.g.) and dubious comparisons, how about you go out and do some legwork? Why is it you either manage to review no new local art or spend way too many inches on a single artist or show? I think everyone would be better served by a handful of short straightforward reviews each week rather than your usual belabored puff pieces. Susan Sontag you're not. Take yourself out of the profound thinker box and start writing more like a sports reporter--you know, colorful and descriptive of the action. There are fans here and your role is to excite them about the local team and get them out to the ballpark. No need to explain the rules of the game.
Posted by Comparisons R. Odious on April 15, 2009 at 12:28 PM · Report this
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Art for the sake of art is almost entirely dead in our society. People dont hear a good song or beautiful painting anymore, they see a potential hook to shill their product or make them feel cooler than their "friends"

The only ppl that can afford to care about art are the idol rich and the poor souls who sacrifice all else for their creativity
Posted by funkdat on April 16, 2009 at 11:33 AM · Report this
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As a relative newcomer (3 years) who has lived in several international art cities, I’ll add my voice to this conversation.

Sadly, I have to agree with much of JG’s argument: if Seattle and Vancouver were left to brawl it out in front of an international audience, it is clear that Vancouver would win. Vancouver has built itself as an international art city; Seattle has built itself as a Pacific Northwest art city. [Sighing, heart sinking.] I disagree, though, with her estimation that this disparity between the two cities is largely due to a higher quality of art and artists up north.

I've written more on my blog..
Posted by gettingtoknowyoubetter on April 22, 2009 at 12:13 PM · Report this
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For the record, whoever made the comment about the Seattle Arts Commission only giving $3,000 commissions better do his/her homework. Grants and commissioned projects range from $1,000 - over $100K, depending on the project. There are many funding areas and a dense and extensive public art funding program that pays artists a range of amounts for their labor. Do your homework!
Posted by reality check on April 23, 2009 at 2:08 PM · Report this
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It was refreshing to see an article that challenges Seattle's often mediocre art seen head on. I have thought for years that the art around here is more like wallpaper than truly challenging art. Seattle does not like to be challenged visually. Things need to be pretty in order to get recognized artistically around here (which translates to sales by the Gallery Mafia known as as Kucera, Howard, Harris, etc.) who rely on the tame tastes of local art collectors. Where is the really interesting video art? Where are the truly complex and interesting installations? Performance art beyond half assed festivals? It is not here. Lawrimore does a relatively good job art bring some of this to a cool space, but I look at the roster of arts and it is generally the same bunch that was sucking up to the above mentioned gallery owners. Same wolf in different clothing.
Posted by bored in the NW on April 24, 2009 at 9:22 PM · Report this
seanmichaelhurley 71
A quick perusal of the comments above shows only two or three that address the overall number of urban centers in Canada versus the States; and none of these note the relative populations of the two nations. Although Vancouver is roughly the same size as Seattle, the population of Canada is only a third of the U.S.; however, there's no reason to believe that the there are any fewer fine minds and gifted hands --- that is, persons likely to be drawn to urban centers --- there than in any other region or nation. And it's important to consider (and I don't know the numbers on this, so it's merely speculation) that the overall ratio of rural to urban dwellers is tilted towards cities anyway. This means that despite similar numbers in a census, you're going to see a higher density of artists/writers/philosophers/professors/generally culturally literate actors in what --- although it is a city equal in hard-numbers population --- is actually much larger relative to Canada's overall population. Factor this by the enormous economic and mass-psychological role that Canada's south-lying juggernaut plays on its collective sense of Self, and you're going to see communities form that are both more strongly-bound and intentional, whether they acknowledge it or not. And the products of such a community start to look pretty quickly like quality. But it strikes me that trying to gauge any kind of formal comparison on the merits of the two cities' art, or any comparison whatsoever that is not strictly anthropological, is like arguing over the true nature of Blue --- does the sky possess it, or is it the sea? --- and detracts from more salient and productive discussions/
Posted by seanmichaelhurley http://seanmichaelhurley.blogspot.com on May 5, 2009 at 11:25 AM · Report this
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Seattle has awesome art alot of its underground (meaning these are new artists), you all should check it out because they are out there. I know several artists and they have some of the most awesome art that is out there right now. We might not have the best city sculptures, but Seattle is awesome and Vancover is boaring and drab all of there buildings look the same. At least you can take a photograph of Seattle and it doesnt matter weither its a throw away camera or some pricey high powerered lense it just seems to always look amazing. I love Seattle and we should all be creating more art to contribute!
Posted by drastik on May 26, 2009 at 5:57 PM · Report this
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Vancouver: if you make it there you can make it anywhere? Please, That only applies to NY. I was raised in Vancouver moved away a few years ago but go back 4 to 6 times a year (my mom lives there). Though Vancouver has picked up the pace with culture and art it is still way far behind considering it is a cosmoplitan city. Hurry up!!!
Posted by Tina67 on May 30, 2010 at 4:05 PM · Report this
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Have you guys checked out your Pacific Northwest Ballet? Come on! It is within the top ten ballet companies in the world today - with offshoots, like Whim W'him. Seattle is bathing in world class dance, schools and theatres. Vancouver is middling to none in this department.

Google Ballet BC's 09/10 season to see the support it had. Do you think that would happen in Seattle? NO WAY, and it shouldn't, because they are amazing artists. And, Vancouver Opera has severely over-projected it's earnings and corporate donations this year, now laying people off left and right.

Vancouver's art scene is as fickle and overinflated as it's real-estate. I don't even think Vancouver can actually say it boasts an arts scene. All that "fosters the collaborative blah blah blah" - grantspeak, grantspeak grantspeak just leads to a full class at Emily Carr for the artistically hopeful.

Posted by lils on April 26, 2011 at 3:38 PM · Report this
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Vancouver is the greatest art town in the world. I think photo-concpetualismm or the so-called "Vancouver School" is the best thing since sliced bread...lol.

For an indepth and no-bullshit article about art and the Vancouver School, read my article called "Why Nobody wants a new Vancouver Art Gallery or gives a ratsass about photo-conceptualism."

http://www.joecanuck.net/#!statements

happy holidays and world peace

Joe Canuck
www.joecanuck.net
Posted by Joe Canuck on December 10, 2011 at 4:03 PM · Report this
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This article is such a bad idea. Vancouver and Seattle share geography and some history. But, and this is a big one, we have different contexts. Living in Van, I've had a growing appreciation of Seattle. Especially now. Vancouver is lucky in economy right now. We have struggles, but we weren't hour at hard by the global recession. It's not fair to think the two cities have the same local capacity or experiences. Asking Swarlords to engage in comparison self worth is a waste of time. The cities are neighbours, but not siblings. I like Seattle and it's art community. And that fab library. Trying to convince Seattle to feel guilty through an aggressive comparison is mean, and a but lame
Posted by LisaO on March 24, 2012 at 6:53 AM · Report this
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It wouldn't be a bad idea to stop thinking of ourselves as such separate entities...Vancouver vs. Seattle. It seems to me that we share a fairly common culture all the way from Tofino to San Francisco. It's a Pacific culture. We have more in common with Hong Kong, Wellington and Tokyo than we do with the rest of our respective continents in many ways.
My point is...I'd love to see more exchange between coastal galleries and artists. It just seems to make sense on so many levels.

Posted by Derek Gillingham on November 1, 2012 at 8:49 AM · Report this
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I'm a Vancouverite, getting up there in age, and the Seattle Arts Scene has always seemed way ahead of us. Vancouver had a number of small theatre companies, but that was mostly it, and now the major live theatre, The Playhouse, is closing, too.
Seattle had Opera, years back, when it was smaller than Vancouver is now.
Perhaps it's also corporate donorship in the USA in addition to Canada's limited funding, but whatever the case (and most honest Vancouverites will agree) that Seattle's arts scene makes Vancouver look a like a high school play.
Posted by stix on February 15, 2014 at 1:30 PM · Report this

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