Longtime Seattle arts-scene fixture Catherine Person is closing her gallery, but not ending her career, nor is she spending time on regrets. She ends her run as a gallery owner on Third Avenue with a diligently crafted show called "It's All Good."
This week a splendid show called “It’s All Good!” opens at the Catherine Person Gallery. It is the gallery’s 50th exhibition since it opened, and sadly, it is also its last.
Or perhaps it is not so sad.
As Catherine Person herself puts it, “I’m pressing my nose against the window saying, ‘Let me out!’ “
Person has been a widely admired personality on the Seattle arts scene for years, but perhaps not everyone realizes how deeply rooted here she is. Starting in the 1970s, she spent a decade as one of the prime movers in the early Bumbershoot music festivals. She then spent 18 years working as an art consultant: “I really wanted to sell art, but I really didn’t want a gallery!” is how she explains it. So she got to know everybody who was anybody among Northwest artists and, touring their work around potential collectors in the back of a van, she probably did as much as any other individual to stimulate Seattle’s enthusiasm for art collecting.
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Despite “working out of the trunk of her car,” as her father put it, Person’s consulting business was a huge success, and all based on her remarkable business model. “I think people want to be loved, and accepted for who they are,” she says now. “I made a pact with the universe that I was going to love and accept all that came before me, and the universe would provide.”
Naive? Maybe, but as Person says, beaming, “Here I am 24 years later, and it’s worked!”
Since 2005 it has been working at Person’s gallery on Third Avenue South, which has come to be associated with exactly the sort of qualities that feature in the new eight-artist group exhibit: diligently crafted art with an instinctive understanding of materials and often a witty undertow.
Standout pieces here are Karen Rudd’s tree stumps constructed from corrugated cardboard; the wall-mounted books that Justin Lytle transforms into something almost fetishistic; and Nicholas Brown’s remarkable large-scale linocut “Underbrush 24,” which, despite flattening appearances in dramatically contrasting black and white, retains all of the mysteries of nature. It is a memorable exhibition by anybody’s standards.
So why stop now? Person is disarmingly straightforward: “Frankly, pedestrian traffic changed a lot in Pioneer Square after Elliott Bay bookstore left,” she says, mourning the virtual disappearance of people who would regard a tour of the galleries as an enjoyable follow-up to browsing the bookstore.
She also explains that her lease is up and acknowledges that the faltering economy is not suiting anyone. But rather than being in any way downcast, she is looking forward to “an explosion of different things.” She is already formulating collaborative exhibitions with her nearby neighbors at James Harris Gallery, devising pop-up exhibitions for the city’s empty storefronts and planning to revive her “trunk of the car” business — but this time around, she will add studio visits so collectors can meet artists on their home turf, and see how their work is made. She is also particularly excited by the possibilities offered by e-commerce: “The Web is where it’s at,” she says, and explains that it already has increased her client base 20-fold.
She clearly cannot wait to get started.
“This sitting duck is about to be a free bird,” she announces.
Robert Ayers: firstname.lastname@example.org