Realism, Really

The Frye Art Museum recently announced its new leadership, all of whom have deep roots in the local nonprofit and arts communities: Midge Bowman, most recently of the nonprofit consulting firm Bowman-Edwards & Associates, who replaces Richard West as executive director; Robin Held, currently associate curator at the Henry Art Gallery, who was named curator of exhibitions; and Sherry Prowda, founder of Seattle Arts & Lectures, who is the new director of external affairs.

Charles and Emma Frye's endowment stipulates only representational or realist art--landscapes, still lifes, and portraits--can be exhibited. This caveat has positioned the Frye a bit weirdly within the regional art-museum family. As an endowed museum that doesn't need to fundraise, it's like the middle child who is self-sufficient and a bit of a loner. Its strict focus, though, makes it more the redheaded stepchild--fascinating but often shunned. Although the endowment is substantial, the budget itself has remained fixed for decades. A couple years ago, I asked someone on the museum's public-relations staff why I hardly ever see advertisements for the Frye. "The budget," she said, then shrugged and sighed. Hopefully this changes with the new leadership.

Board president Richard Cleveland said Bowman is the perfect person to "guide the Frye through its next ambitious phase of growth." Bowman said they're looking 50 years into the future. "We were blessed with 232 paintings from the Frye's collection but we want to expand that and become the place for representational art.."

There is often freedom in limitations, and both Bowman and Held are excited about the opportunity to reconsider the reach of representational art. "It's a real blessing because, by not having to be everything to all people, we can be really good at what we do," said Bowman. "There's a resurgence of interest in representational art and Robin will really help clarify what that range is, through new exhibitions and how she will work with the permanent collection."

"There's an excellent opportunity to tell both historical and contemporary stories," said Held. "I'm looking forward to reinvigorating the collection, to giving the regular viewers a different perspective on the collection as well as broadening their understanding of what representational can be."

The next six months, organized by exiting curator Debra Byrne, are already in the can, but the public won't have to wait long to see contemporary realist work. In a radical departure for the Frye, Byrne organized Wondertoonel, a retrospective exhibition featuring 30 paintings by L.A.-based pop surrealist artist Mark Ryden. Word has it Ryden is working on several new paintings for the November exhibition. I know for many of us November can't come soon enough.

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