Walking into an arts space midinstallation is like entering a parallel universe, one where the ordinary rules no longer apply, and artists chat about the intricacies of hanging implements, making magic out of track lighting and white paint. It’s an experience I love and hadn’t had in perhaps a year thanks to COVID, until the chilly Saturday evening I stepped into Museum of Museums, the new proto-mid-century-modern arts space adjacent to the Swedish Medical Center campus on First Hill, where two shows — one witch-themed and one an immersive study in neon — were in the final stages of being installed.
MoM is the kind of museum that falls in the underappreciated (and underpopulated) zone between a casual private collection and the commercial scale of a bigger museum. With brick walls painted a gleaming white, the NBBJ-designed building has had a number of purposes in its long life, mostly medical, explained MoM founder Greg Lundgren, an artist, curator and entrepreneur who hopes to open the space in early November. (Lundgren is waiting for final inspections from the city before he can officially open.)
The third floor of MoM has been a source of zoning debate, but currently houses a bright, surreal floorwide piece called “Energy Drink,” from Brian Sanchez and Neon Saltwater (whose work you might know from Instagram, where a scroll through @neonsaltwater is a soothing tour of brightly imagined spaces, featuring dreamy turquoise swimming pools and a Lisa Frank color palette).
Out of respect to the ongoing installation process, I take off my shoes and walk into a confined universe of precisely employed light and color, an immersive physical environment that maybe resembles a hotel room and a gym, but with plants backlit in neon, textures that seem odd and incorrect, and pops of color that belie the unreality of the space, like a weight bar that sports brightly colored discs on either end instead of the expected matte-black lumps.
While the third floor houses installations like “Energy Drink,” the lower two are geared more toward traditional gallery shows. Right now, that means “Goodwitch/Badwitch,” co-curated by Lundgren and Bri Luna (aka The Hoodwitch). While “Energy Drink” is a focused, singular experience, “Goodwitch/Badwitch” is a big, sprawling group show featuring work by artists who either self-identify as witches or who deal with witch-adjacent subject matter, and the range of the show is visually cacophonous and fun.
There is Jennifer McNeely‘s angled, jewel-dipped, ruby-red mixed-media sculpture “Coax,” which examines “feminine danger, power and joy” and “the things that stall, distract and freeze us” in a form that attracts and repulses in equal measure.
In “I’ll Bet You Think This Spell is About You,” Tucson, Arizona, artist Mark Mitchell threads cactus needles through pale turquoise gloves, a pairing that melds camp sensibility with the visceral pain of sharp objects.
And Morgan Rosskopf‘s mixed-media work “Kneel Before Yourself / No Gods, No Masters, No Daddies” is one of those pieces that just seems to breathe, a nest of hand-cut paper in organic shapes that feel welcoming and warm.
It would be easy to spend hours on this one show, but there’s more to MoM than “Goodwitch/Badwitch” and “Energy Drink.” Elsewhere, there are charming, unexpected touches that give you the feeling of wandering around in someone else’s brain, and no opportunity to inject art into the experience is missed.
You’ll find a charming diner-style booth looking onto a video installation featuring ghosts in a forest; a dedicated “Makeout Closet” (door text: “Please knock”); a collection sourced from an apartment (the Shaun Kardinal Art Museum) and styled to look like it; a mural of sexy lady sasquatches; a tiny theater named after writer and filmmaker Charles Mudede; a whole space featuring only miniature art; and a gift shop where you can buy a Ritter Sport chocolate bar, colored pencils or a jaunty cigarette sculpture by Mary Anne Carter, among other curiosities that don’t include the usual scarves, snow globes and calendars. There’s even an area dedicated to art by children — currently, the Emergence Room features beaky birds, lovingly framed.
Lundgren said he’s “trying to create a more vibrant arts ecosystem in Seattle,” and MoM seems to have wasted no space in doing that, not even the bathrooms; one — the Museum of Museum of Museums (MoMoM) — houses documentation of art, and two are installations.
One of these is a flower-lined room by artist Elisa Maelen, titled “Florence Pugh,” a reference to Ari Aster’s 2019 film “Midsommar,” about a woman processing grief and cutting ties (uh, literally) with her former boyfriend, a man who is almost as terrible a partner as he is an anthropologist. Flowers figure heavily into the ritual in this film, and the wall text — “Do you feel held?” — is a cheeky question to viewers that works outside of its cinematic provenance. (And, surrounded by flowers on every available surface, it’s hard not to feel held.)
As I wandered the space, a volunteer introduced herself and the opening drumbeats of Yo La Tengo’s “Autumn Sweater” bounced into an area where an artist was working. A little dog barked. As I left, I ran into an artist who’d been testing her video installation of projections of eyes on ovoid stones. I didn’t get a close look because it was still in process, but I like the idea of having a reason to go back.