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Friday, January 3, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Visual Arts

Convention center hatches a partnership for art

Special to The Seattle Times

Exhibit review


"Art at the Washington State Convention and Trade Center," ongoing permanent and changing displays, 800 Convention Place, Seattle; 206-694-5107.

Next time you're in the area, stop by the Washington State Convention and Trade Center, ride the escalators from floor to floor, wander around the south and north wings, and see one of the finest conglomerations of Northwest regional and national contemporary art on view anywhere.

Reflecting the mixture of public and private funding that financed the center's building, the art program has recently been expanded in a similar way — through a combination of state support and generous private donors and volunteers.

Despite a blue-ribbon jury originally assembled to choose art two years before the center's 1988 opening, there is still no full-time curator to coordinate and protect the 79 works on permanent and temporary view. Instead, center employees do the best they can.

Now a partnership among the center, its board of directors, its own art foundation and the Washington State Arts Commission, the art program has become a unique function of participating art galleries, museums, collectors, community groups and experts who serve and advise on a wide range of purposes.

The displays include the original four state-funded One-Half-Percent for Art commissions that averaged $50,000 each. Besides the "Centennial Bell Garden" of composer David Mahler (some of the bells need to be reinstalled since the new north wing opened), there is a mediocre tile floor by New York artist Jackie Ferrara and a 15-part electronic text-art display by another New Yorker, Jenny Holzer. Her "Truism, Living and Survival" (1989) is turned off, unfortunately, pending further repairs at its South Level 2 site. That leaves Buster Simpson's magnificent metal-and-topiary outdoor sculpture, "Seattle George Monument," a giant growing head of George Washington, on South Level 4 in Freeway Park.

A new commission, a water-feature device by Trimpin and Norman Courtney, will open in the spring on the Pike Street sidewalk. It joins the other recent commission, "Lebeg" (2001) by Ann Gardner, a dazzling glass mosaic-and-steel mobile that suspends a full four floors down to the lobby of the new north wing.

An art committee, headed by former City Councilwoman Phyllis Lamphere, not only put in motion the expanded efforts, it also solicited and received monies and art donations or loans of several dozen artworks from corporations, museums and collectors. They are dispersed throughout the north and south wings.

The best of them are major achievements by major artists, such as an untitled oil from 1973 by William Ivey, a 1983 ceramic mural by Robert Sperry and a powerful bronze bird by Tony Angell (all on North Level 2).

Other standouts include two large-scale abstract paintings by Kenneth Callahan and others by Bill Hoppe, Alden Mason and Carl Morris. Two multiple-element laminated fir sculptures by Doris Chase, "Encircling" and "Winged" (1968), nestle beside the escalators so viewers can watch them from various moving positions.

Don't miss some of the art shifted by the Seattle Arts Commission from Seattle Center to the convention center. Patti Warashina's popular sculpture " 'A' Procession" (1986) has been moved to North Level 2 from the old box-office area in the Opera House. Stained-glass windows by Max Ingrand, a commission that dates from the 1962 World's Fair, were also moved from the box-office area. "White Umber" (1961), an oil by Margaret Tomkins, once hung in the Seattle Center Playhouse.

Rotating community-art exhibits change every three or four months. These serve a real need but often do not meet the same level of quality of the permanent collection.

In addition, Pioneer Square galleries such as Greg Kucera, Bryan Ohno and Foster/White lend art that is for sale. These displays are mostly on walls throughout the south wing and include "Second Nature" (2000) by Isabel Kahn, a sensitive and beautifully brushed abstract landscape.

Because exhibit booths or banquet tables frequently claim space on North Level 4, the newly donated paintings begin at the 8-foot-high level. This is regrettable. Too high, too close together and too uneven in quality, this part of the center's art program needs to be rethought. Several of the paintings are so modest in size they cannot be comfortably seen. Others by William Cumming, Mark Tobey and Windsor Utley would look better at a different eye level.

Uniform labels throughout the building with complete titles, dating, material descriptions and donor or lender credits would be another step in the right direction.

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