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Sunday, April 4, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Couple's passion engenders gallery

Seattle Times art critic

An upscale new private gallery is taking shape in a South Seattle industrial neighborhood and will open to the public on May 23.

Art collectors Bill and Ruth True, working with artist/designer Roy McMakin, are converting a 10,000-square-foot former warehouse into a lofty new residence for contemporary artworks that have overflowed the couple's Madison Park home. The gallery, called Western Bridge, was inspired by the Wright Exhibition Space, a private gallery opened in the 1990s by Seattle art patrons Virginia and Bagley Wright.

Western Bridge is at 3412 Fourth Ave. S., at Hinds Street just behind the offices of Gull Oil, Bill True's family business. It will be open to the public Thursdays-Saturdays.

The Trues' collection, however, stands apart from the Wrights' for its focus on the latest trends in art, particularly video and new media. With a main gallery measuring 60 by 30 feet, nearly 20-foot ceilings, and several other spacious galleries on two floors, Western Bridge is far from an average storefront art space. McMakin — whose work is currently featured in a retrospective at the Henry Art Gallery — smilingly refers to Western Bridge as "your basic medium-sized museum."

An artist as well as a furniture and building designer, McMakin said he considered the building, particularly the newly built entryway, as a piece of sculpture. In the renovation of the original 1950s-era warehouse, he made his mark in the details. He recycled old timbers to build an airy stairway to the second floor and adapted the interior structure to highlight existing pillars, subtly shifting the way they intersect with walls.

As an artist, McMakin is especially sensitive to how galleries work, so he kept the space simple and soaring. He prefers a feeling of openness. "I'm kind of claustrophobic," he said. "So I like to have multiple ways of getting in and out."

Eric Fredericksen, a former art critic for The Stranger, is director of Western Bridge, but both Trues are involved with programming and curating shows. "With the five kids and everything else we're kind of crazed," Ruth said. "We wanted this to be fun."

She has plans for making the gallery a gathering place, with a series of forums on why artists believe they have to leave Seattle to be successful. "One question we will look at is, what can we do to get art organizations to make this a more thriving community for artists?" she said.

The Trues also hope someday to initiate an artist-in-residence program and have included a practical second-floor apartment in the building plans, with custom furniture designed by McMakin.

"It's part of a flexibility issue," Ruth said. "We don't know yet about doing artist residencies, but it's a cozy place to have previews, dialogues, put the kids in bed with TV." She said the gallery and apartment will also be available for lectures, discussions, weddings and dinner parties.

The Trues have been collecting art together throughout their 10-year marriage. Over time, it's become something of an obsession. Fittingly, their opening show will be called "Possessed."

"It's about being possessed, possessions," Bill said. "The first show is all ours." A major video installation by New York-based Iranian artist Shirin Neshat titled "Possessed" provided the exhibit title.

Among other artists featured in the opening show are Zoe Leonard, Sam Taylor-Wood, Fred Wilson, Cindy Sherman and Adam Fuss. Two Seattle artists, Nicola Vruwink and Alice Wheeler, are also part of the opening lineup. Down the road, Bill said, the gallery may at times feature curated exhibits that are not drawn from their personal collection.

How involved were the Trues in selecting the opening show? "Completely," Bill said. He and Ruth intend to work closely with Fredericksen in planning shows, which will remain on view for five to six months. In keeping with the couple's philosophy to collect on the cutting edge, none of the artworks in the opening exhibit will be more than 10 years old.

Sheila Farr: sfarr@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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