You hear about a show at the Center on Contemporary Art (CoCA), and the first question you ask is, "Where's CoCA again?"
The contemporary art center—35 honking years old, an absolute veteran for an indie arts org—has no center.
It's been essentially couch-surfing.
In the last two years, it's moved three times, from a showroom inside an upscale interior design center in Georgetown (building sold, being renovated) to another place in Georgetown (a storage trailer with electricity at Equinox, where CoCA continues to host artist residencies), to a gallery in Capitol Hill (now closed), and to a marvelously peculiar little warren of rooms and a basement in the Good Arts building in Pioneer Square that CoCA confusingly calls PS35. PS doesn't stand for public school the way it does at famous arts spaces in New York, it stands for Pioneer Square, and 35 for honking years old, but no matter. They're moving from there, too.
Over the years I've seen CoCA shows in all kinds of places. One of the oddest and most memorable was in a hallway at a beach club in Ballard, where one of the CoCA trustees happened to be a member. That's been the way CoCA has found its places in recent years—through connections with people who volunteer.
CoCA began prestigiously.
In 1981, in a temporary space in Pioneer Square, the freshly minted CoCA hosted a get of an installation. It was a series of rooms sculpted by light, by the artist who had the year before had a solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York: James Turrell. (Now ubiquitous, Turrell's permanent Skyspace in Seattle is at the Henry Art Gallery.)
Seattle Art Museum acquired that Turrell installation from CoCA's show, but has never exhibited it, claiming there isn't room. This problem of space!
Back to CoCA—it's getting a room back where it came from, in Pioneer Square. As of September 1, CoCA moves into the Tashiro Kaplan building gallery where Platform operated for 12 years before transforming into a strictly online gallery at the end of this summer.
Platform, PUNCH, and Roq La Rue are all closing their physical operations.
CoCA's spacing-up, as it were.
"We're definitely in a growth phase," said new executive director Nichole DeMent.
There hasn't been any executive director for a while. DeMent, an artist, joined the board of CoCA in 2012.
At that point, the entire organization was run by volunteers.
A grant allowed CoCA to hire Anna Hurwitz to handle marketing. Then Hurwitz left, and DeMent took over as the low-paid staffer who runs things. The plan is to expand the job and CoCA itself.
For the summer, CoCA is operating in that funny little Good Arts space with the basement at what it calls PS35. DeMent curated the current exhibition there, called American Power.
American Power contains paintings, sculptures, videos, and installations of American-made disaster. Chris Crites's tiny paintings are like anti-stamps: depictions of oil spills, bombings, horrors. Paul Rucker's series of colorful Klan robes—the African American artist made one per week for a year, as a kind of ritual exorcism that seems never to be complete—are the terrible centerpiece of the show.
During the opening, DeMent brought in a police sergeant.
He conducted a workshop on conflict resolution, and how to handle it if a person shows up in public with a gun—given the content of the art, and the recent spate of gun violence across the nation in all kinds of scenarios.
CoCA also took signatures for Initiative 1491 from The Alliance for Gun Responsibility.
What You See Is What You Sweat is CoCA's next exhibition, opening during the first Thursday Art Walk on August 4. It's curated by an invited team of "five doers and thinkers who are creating space for arts audiences and artists who shop in the ethnic foods aisle and those who hit the streets for social change. They include: C. Davida Ingram (artist/writer/curator/educator), Chieko Philips (curator/historian/exhibition designer), Christopher Shaw (artist/designer), Leilani Lewis (curator/producer) and Zorn B. Taylor (artist/educator/futurist)."
The show, according to the curators' description, will imagine curators and artists of color "appropriat[ing] a conversation about 'appropriation' in contemporary art."
"We'd like to continue to support local artists for sure," said DeMent, who cited that CoCA currently has 250 members, many of them artists, and several artists on the 14-member board of trustees. "We also want to bring art to Seattle that other places can't," like Rucker's KKK series, she said.
CoCA's goal is to "be that dynamic spot where local artists and international artists can come together and learn from each other and then broaden that to our local audiences."
We'll see what the new era brings.
For one thing, I'm so glad someone in Seattle finally brought Paul Rucker's KKK robes, talked about nationally, here to be experienced. Thank you, CoCA. (I hate to have to add that American Power risks leaving the robes a little diminished by including too many works by too many artists.)
CoCA signed the lease in the former Platform space for two years, with an option to renew.