Artist Talks, People Listen

It was strictly SRO at a lecture last week by the Henry's artist-in-residence, James Turrell. In fact, standing room was at a premium, and at least 50 people were turned away at the door. People sat in the aisles of a Kane Hall auditorium; they lined the walls and hung over the balcony. What could possibly have enticed all this humanity out of their cozy warrens on a drippy, pissy night?

Only that Turrell is one of the biggest things to happen in Seattle's art world for a while. Even his work is on a grand, grand scale: Turrell is best known for the project he's been building since the early '70s in Flagstaff, Arizona's Roden Crater. Turrell has moved dirt, built tunnels, and excavated a kind of looking gallery, a perfectly calibrated viewpoint for celestial events. The idea is to create a work out of light where light is the material, and perception--as the artist said--is the medium. We see ourselves seeing, we note how the shape of the sky changes when we lie down on the ground, and then we stand up. The work does nothing less than bring the sky down to us.

But for all this lofty sentiment, Turrell himself is a very genial figure, a cross between Santa Claus and a real cowboy: wry, generous, modest without being self-deprecating. For all the spiritual aura around his work, the artist himself is very interested in nuts and bolts. Much of his talk concerned acquiring the ranch around the crater, mapping it accurately, and building the concrete forms that house the tunnels. The audience was rapt and quiet, an appropriate reaction to the presence of genius. EMILY HALL

Substantiated Rumor

Seal Press, a 25-year-old local independent publisher of fiction and nonfiction by women, is in the process of being bought by New York-based Avalon Books. It isn't yet known what will come of the sale once it is finalized, or what publisher Faith Conlon will do next. Goodbye, Seal; we'll miss you. MEGAN SELING

Plus Ça Change...

Recognizing that the search for a new artistic director may be a lengthy process, the board of directors of On the Boards has appointed Huong T. T. Vu as guest curator for the 2002-2003 New Performance Series (OTB's flagship program, generally composed of a mix of national and local performers). Curiously, Vu's background seems more appropriate to a managing director than an artistic one. Most recently, she's been the Director of Grant Programs for the Association of Performing Arts Presenters (a trade association based in Washington, D.C.) and has been a panelist for a wealth of funders, including the National Endowment for the Arts, the Massachusetts Cultural Council, and Creative Capital in New York. Vu has some Seattle roots, being a graduate of UW (major in business, minor in visual arts) and a former associate director of the William Traver Gallery, which is best known for representing glass artists. Her pedigree has certainly exposed her to a wide variety of performers from around the world; one hopes this will translate into curatorial finesse.

Meanwhile, OTB has formed a search committee for a new artistic director, but is not yet releasing the names of who's on it, other than to say that it consists of five board members, one staff member, and four members from the community at large, including one performing artist. The search will close on November 15, at which time the committee will decide whether or not to name its members. While the lack of disclosure around Mark Murphy's departure is defensible and maybe legally necessary, choosing the next artistic director is going to be a touchy business, and the less open it is, the less credibility it will have in the eyes of Seattle's artistic community. BRET FETZER