Monday, October 01, 2007


So this weekend I got the chance to drop in at my favorite museum in Seattle - The Frye Art Museum on First Hill (704 Terry Avenue, a block west of Boren). The Frye is an oddball, eclectic showcase, based on the collection of Charles and Emma Frye.

The Fryes made their money in meat - meatpacking, to be exact. Their main processing plant was near the present site of Qwest Field, and Charles benefited from outfitting the Klondike gold rush. Charles and Emma also invested in art, mostly German, mostly 18th and 19th Century. When Frye passed on, he directed that the collection go to a museum, BUT that it be shown for free. No local museums would take on that offer, so we ended up with the Frye as an independent, free museum, and one of Seattle's best-kept secrets.

The Frye is a strange little jewel box that combines old styles and new, old curatorial presentations and modern installations. The Frye collection itself occupies three good-sized rooms in the middle, and is shown in the Salon style - paintings floor to ceiling. This was the way art was shown back in the day, before the modern museum tendency of large amounts of neutral whitespace surrounding each piece, demanding consideration and declaring importance of each piece. Instead we have an art avalanche, the equivalent of facing a bank of video screens, except we are looking at oils and enamels instead of pixels.

But they play games with curatorial presentation as well. For a while, they were removing paintings at seeming-random, leaving holes in the wall, which makes you pay attention to the remainder. And most recently, they have devoted a room to a single painting, Sin. The artist's original thoughts for the piece was for it to be part of a larger "altar", so the museum installed a modern "altar" and hung the painting high up within it, changing the relationship between man and art. Oh, and they eschewed the neutral museum-white walls for a deep, somber green that brings out the work.

But as a result of the museum's small size (the original collection takes up maybe half the space), the rotating rooms explode with a variety of different styles, subjects and interests. In the past, I've seen excellent exhibits for French art nouveu artist Mucha, western watercolors, and the holocaust presented with lego blocks. Currently, they have a collection of hyper-realistic works by Patricia Piccinini dealing with man's relationship with endangered species. To do this, she invents a number of imaginary species as a basis for her work, ranging from face-hugging opossums to trilobite-like creatures made out of motorcycle seats.

The other large rotating exhibit is the art of local artist David C. Kane, Cubist works that evoke the fifties (one, Cornfield Rocket, could be the cover of a Ray Bradbury novel). But both exhibits are at odds with the more traditional art so close at hand, and that brings an interesting dynamic to the museum - it feels more alive, more engaged, and more intimate than the more traditional venues.

The Frye is the art museum that I go to when I have a spare couple hours and just need some down time. Yeah, I always kick into the contribution kitty, but it is a free museum, and well worth exploring if you haven't been.

More later,