Frye Art Museum First Hill
Tuesdays-Sundays. Continues through Jan. 8 2017
Recommended by Jen Graves
There are two kinds of objects at a museum, the ones that are borrowed and the ones the museum has decided to commit to by owning them. That commitment is just about as “personal” a decision as a museum makes, and Jo-Anne Birnie Danzker, on the occasion of her departure as the Frye’s director last month, organized a show called To: Seattle | Subject: Personal, devoted entirely to works of art that have come into the collection of the museum, by purchase and by gift, since Birnie Danzker began in 2009. It’s her last hurrah of support for locally based, and locally born, artists, often working collaboratively, who address the social conditions of contemporary life. In this vision, she was supported strongly by Scott Lawrimore and Robin Held, who also got some of these artists into the collection and into the galleries in concentrated form. Under Birnie Danzker, the Frye has mounted several big group shows, this one including Kahlil Joseph, C. Davida Ingram, Black Constellation, DK Pan, Implied Violence, Isaac Layman, Susie J. Lee, and Buster Simpson, among many others. Plenty of those artists were in previous exhibitions; each one has built on the last. That violates the golden rule of museum exhibitions: novelty. You might ask, do we need another group show at the Frye? But the works are certainly worth your time and the museum’s space. And one basic difference between this show and any other? These are the works that will remain at the Frye regardless of who sits at the head. But this show also gets a person thinking about the role of "exhibitions" versus works. Why can't a museum like the Frye remix its contemporary collections as vigorously and continuously as it does its historical holdings? And what if a museum refuses to play by the usual international rules—that sure, you can show local works, but only if they're vetted globally can you actually show them more than once. That treats art as a global commodity rather than devotional object. I like seeing these again, together, speaking to each other in yet another rich configuration. Especially now, we need to see Lee's video portrait of the older woman barely breathing in her bed, the chloroform machine by Implied Violence, Mark Calderon's tiny black hoodie made of medical tape, Ingram's video of Black women atop Seattle, Inye Wokoma's intergenerational family portraits, and Cris Bruch's glowing horizon, promising something else, anything else but here and now.