After 13 years in operation, one of the leading contemporary art galleries in Seattle is closing its doors. The last day Howard House will be open is Saturday, June 12—the final day of the current exhibition of Seattle ceramic matriarch Patti Warashina's show of prints and sculptures.

It's an entirely economic decision, gallerist Billy Howard said in a phone conversation.

"There's no reason to keep a gallery open if people aren't buying," he said. "We had that Mary Henry show up for two months, and it was from her entire estate, and it took us 10 months to organize, and nothing sold. It's embarrassing, and I don't need to be in a business that's embarrassing. I've had great support from my clients, and I get it. It's tough times and people are afraid."

Howard House will maintain a web site and Howard will continue to work with artists on a project basis, he said.

How does a gallery become one of the leading contemporary art galleries in a city? By representing among the most vital artists living in that city. Howard House has a stellar roster, including Debra Baxter, Gretchen Bennett, Lauren Grossman, David Hartt, Mary Henry, Sean Johnson, Ken Kelly, Zhi Lin, Fred Muram, Yuki Nakamura, Matthew Offenbacher, Jim Rittimann, Juniper Shuey, Mark Takamichi Miller, Warashina, and Robert Yoder.

Where will they go?

"That's not a problem in this town," Howard said.

But I'm not so sure. Other galleries like Greg Kucera, Lawrimore Project, James Harris, and Platform already have full rosters; dealers risk neglecting individual artists by taking on too many. Will each of these take a few, or will some new entity form in order to grab these artists as a group and give it a shot, even in this economy?

One of the great shows at Howard House included this photograph, unmanipulated, of the starlings gathering over Mussolinis architecture in Rome, by Richard Barnes.
  • One of the great shows at Howard House included this photograph, unmanipulated, of the starlings gathering over Mussolini's architecture in Rome, by Richard Barnes.
Howard House has mounted some great, great shows over the years. Recall Stranger Genius Alex Schweder La's dizzying video installations, Hadley + Maxwell's Decor Project, Cat Clifford's painfully delicate animations and torn drawings, Dan Webb's portrait of his dying brother, Jon Haddock's handcranked torture machines, the extended tour through Mary Henry's life and work, the miniature backroom psychedelia of Bennett/Offenbacher/Claudia Fitch/Jenny Heishman/Stranger Genius Jeffry Mitchell, the Seattle debut of brothers Oscar Tuazon and Eli Hansen, the disturbing Swedish show with videos by Nathalie Djurberg, the post-Viennese Actionists several years ago now, and many more; these are only the first off the top of my head.

This is a loss, a real one. Howard has an undeniably great eye and mind for contemporary art. And yet in recent years he did not have the best record at keeping relationships with artists: Many of the above moved on to other galleries, some citing differences with him, which may have hurt the gallery more than Howard has let on.

Either way, Howard House is a Seattle institution whose passing marks the end of an era. Howard launched many of Seattle's leading artists today; he believed in them early and often, and it made all the difference. Toast to Howard this weekend—and visit the gallery on Second Avenue before it closes.

And going forward, these artists deserve a home. What will become of them?