Western Bridge, the art gallery founded by Seattle art collectors/philanthropists Bill and Ruth True, will close for good on Oct. 20, 2012.
Saturday will be a sad day for the Seattle art scene — the last day of the last exhibition at Western Bridge.
Bill and Ruth True’s public space for contemporary art, Western Bridge has occupied a former warehouse just off Fourth Avenue in Sodo since May 2004, behind the family company, Gull Industries. From that somewhat unlikely location, it has presented a remarkable program of perennially provocative exhibitions, most drawn from the Trues’ personal collection.
There are some Seattleites who have seethed at the audacity of artists presenting a puddle of seawater or a couple of dogs as art. For most delighted visitors, though, works like these (by Emilie Halpern and Turner Prize winner Martin Creed, respectively) have taken on the single most important function of art — to challenge our preconceptions and change the ways we perceive the world around us.
No one would try to suggest this is ordinary art, but then Bill and Ruth True are hardly ordinary philanthropists.
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“We just jumped in without knowing anything,” Bill True admits, and Western Bridge was an experiment never intended to last longer than the 10 years that have passed since they first started searching for a site.
And what were their plans when they set out?
“We didn’t have plans,” Ruth True says. “It was more a desire to experience art and share it with family, friends and community.”
Whether this amounts to a plan, it is certainly what has happened. Anyone who has stepped through that curious front door (it is also part of a window) in the 10,000-square-foot eccentric Roy McMakin-designed building will have unforgettable memories of things they saw there.
The first Western Bridge show, called “Possessed,” reflected the Trues’ aims. It featured a video installation by New York-based Iranian artist Shirin Neshat as well as works by Zoe Leonard, Sam Taylor-Wood, Fred Wilson, Cindy Sherman and Adam Fuss. It also included two Seattle artists, Nicola Vruwink and Alice Wheeler.
If these experiences constitute an important part of the Western Bridge legacy, so is the practical encouragement that its program has given Northwestern artists: The Trues and their long-term curator, Erik Fredericksen, have done their best to include at least one local artist in every show.
Most tangible of all is a series of gifts to the Henry Art Gallery at the University of Washington. Bill True explains that the complete list of works “has just been finalized in the last few weeks,” but a large installation piece from every show has now entered the Henry’s collection.
So how do the Trues feel now that the final closure is here?
“It’s really hard,” Ruth True says. “We don’t doubt the decision for a moment, but we’ve both been getting really low.”
Then, revealing the sort of energy that got Western Bridge off the ground in the first place, she says, “But that’s OK, because for every low there’s a high!”
Robert Ayers: firstname.lastname@example.org