This will be the most important decision in a long time in Seattle art: who becomes the next director of the Henry Art Gallery.
The Henry is the local capital of of-the-moment art. It is this region's contemporary art museum, and if you doubt the power of its director, consider that the current director, Richard Andrews, turned the Henry from an aimless dabbler into a pointedly contemporary museum—and one that supports artists directly with regular commissions.
The committee searching for Andrews's replacement will be meeting soon. Because the Henry is a university museum as well as a nonprofit with a board of trustees, the committee is a hybrid of four Henry trustees (Bill True, Edie Adams, John Behnke, Lyn Grinstein) and three UW representatives (Julie Stein, Burke director; Chris Ozubko, School of Art director; Daniel Friedman, School of Architecture director).
Their meetings will be private, but talk has been circulating at openings: What kind of person should replace Andrews, who has been in the job for almost 20 years? Who are the dream candidates?
I did an informal poll of some local thinkers about contemporary art. This sentiment echoed the common refrain: "The place really could be turned into a total laboratory."
More experimentation, continued dedication to artists, and a greater connection with the university along with art nationally and internationally: These were the wishes. Only one person encouraged a local search, then came to the heel-turning conclusion that there wasn't anybody locally qualified.
I'd agree with all of that, and the sentiments of Bill True, the collector who will cochair the search committee. With the expansion of Seattle Art Museum, a turn toward contemporary at the Frye, and Tacoma Art Museum's renewed focus on regional contemporary art, the Henry, more than ever, should simply be ahead.
Rightly, it ought to be the incarnation of fearlessness among Northwest museums. UW is a research university. Its museum should be a research center, an early adopter: a lab. It also has a small budget and staff, so the director has to be a director (read: fundraiser) as well as a curator.
Now for names. Dear committee, these are just some of the suggested candidates, and a few are outlandish. I've retained them for the particular desire their names reflect.
The dreamiest (multiple votes): Daniel Birnbaum (Stadelschule Art Academy, Frankfurt), Larry Rinder (California College of the Arts), Kathy Halbreich (in recent exit interviews from the Walker, expressed desire to run a smaller museum).
And: Wayne Baerwaldt, formerly the Power Plant, Toronto; Bonnie Clearwater, MOCA North Miami; Debra Singer, the Kitchen; Helen Molesworth, Wexner Center; Matthew Higgs, White Columns; Paul Ha, Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis; Ralph Rugoff, the Hayward, London; Elizabeth Armstrong, Orange County Museum; Bennett Simpson, ICA Boston; Bruce Hainley, USC; Kevin Consey, Berkeley; Iwona Blazwick, Whitechapel, London; Keith Wallace, formerly Contemporary Art Gallery and Belkin Gallery, Vancouver.