While some galleries reopened with physical distancing measures over the summer, museums didn’t start announcing their reopenings until the news last month that, along with bowling alleys, museums could resume operations, with certain restrictions, in counties cleared for Phase 2 of Gov. Jay Inslee’s “Safe Start” reopening plan.
While some, like the Henry Art Gallery, remain closed for now except for some online programming and an (excellent) Instagram account, many arts spaces are tentatively extending existing exhibitions and reopening with safety protocols in place. These include things like timed ticketing, mask requirements, one-way exhibits, reduced capacity and frequent sanitizing. This is in addition to online offerings that (luckily) aren’t going anywhere.
While some arts spaces haven’t reopened, several local galleries have forged ahead with exhibits — and, along with some of the city’s big-ticket museums, they’ve set the tone for a new normal, at least where visual art is concerned.
Whether you’re ready to buy a ticket or still consuming art from home, here’s a sampling of the big-ticket exhibitions coming to the city’s museums, and a look into how several galleries have rolled with the punches. With others still waiting to reopen, this is just the beginning.
Seattle Art Museum
Seattle Art Museum reopens Sept. 11, with pieces from SAM’s global collection currently on view and two new shows slated for fall. “City of Tomorrow: Jinny Wright and the Art that Shaped a New Seattle” (opening Oct. 15) will feature pieces collected by Wright, who previously gifted SAM with the abstract, expressionist-heavy Wright collection of modern and contemporary art.
On Nov. 14, SAM will unveil “Barbara Earl Thomas: Geography of Innocence,” a solo exhibition featuring a light installation as well as new work from the esteemed Seattle artist. There’s also still time to see two other exhibits that opened in March: both “John Akomfrah: Future History” and “Georgia O’Keeffe: Abstract Variations” will stay up past their original closing dates.
While SAM is reopening, the museum’s cafe, the Seattle Asian Art Museum and the PACCAR Pavilion at the Olympic Sculpture Park all remain closed, and SAM will continue to provide online content for remote art appreciation.
More info: seattleartmuseum.org
The Frye Art Museum
The Frye Art Museum plans to reopen in mid-October, with three special exhibitions still on view: the gender-interrogating “Unsettling Femininity: Selections from the Frye Art Museum Collection” (through May 30); “Subspontaneous,” featuring Francesca Lohmann and Rob Rhee’s time- and nature-infused sculpture (through Jan. 4); and Agnieszka Polska’s computer-generated art in “Love Bite” (through Jan. 31).
While these exhibitions will be open to the public, the Frye’s public programming — including art history lectures with Rebecca Albiani and mindfulness meditation — has moved entirely online, which is where you’ll find it even after the museum reopens.
More info: fryemuseum.org
The National Nordic Museum
The National Nordic Museum reopened Sept. 4, and will launch two new exhibitions in October. While it may seem a little on the nose at a time when the national mood resembles the scream-face emoji, “The Experimental Self: Edvard Munch’s Photography” (opening Oct. 29) provides new insight into the artist perhaps best known for the panicky mastery of the 1893 painting “The Scream.” Munch also worked in photography, and the show brings together his photographs, prints, watercolors and films for a new look at an iconic expressionist.
A contemporary exhibition, “A History of Unruly Returns” (opening Oct. 8) centers the contemporary work of St. Croix-based artist La Vaughn Belle, who interrogates Denmark’s colonial past, here through references to “chaney.” A portmanteau of “china” and “money,” the term describes the blue-and-white ceramic detritus that abounds in St. Croix’s soil, a physical residue of its history.
“Coming first as plates, tea pots and cups from Holland, England, Denmark and North America as part of the vast transatlantic trade of the last centuries of the second millennia, they became its detritus, broken down into the soil, just like the traded bodies,” says Belle in the Nordic Museum’s show notes.
Two previous shows, “Gudrun Sjödén — A Colourful Universe” and “Swedish Dads,” will remain on view until Oct. 18 and Oct. 4 respectively.
More info: nordicmuseum.org
Greg Kucera Gallery
Greg Kucera Gallery is forging ahead with several exhibitions planned for the 2020-21 season. Humaira Abid’s politically resonant sculptures in carved pine are currently on view in “Sacred Games,” which Kucera described as “a really groundbreaking show” with “a whole lot of room to sink your teeth into” and a vested interest in gender and global politics.
It’s Abid’s first show with the gallery, and it’s accompanied by Chris Engman’s “Intimate Immensity,” a photography show featuring images that superimpose closed-in domestic spaces onto wide-open landscapes (in the context of quarantine, this is an especially poignant sight).
Kucera said that visits to the gallery had dropped off during the initial outbreak of COVID-19, but that “we’re seeing pretty regular traffic now,” and that he was looking forward to the gallery’s upcoming roster of emerging and established artists.
While the usual crush of First Thursday is off-limits, Kucera said that he’d found smaller gatherings to be an effective way to get eyeballs in front of the gallery’s shows — and potential buyers in line, keeping the represented artists afloat.
The appreciative responses Kucera got affirmed the work he was doing. “People said, ‘Oh my God, this is the first chance I’ve had to look at art in four months,'” he said.
More info: gregkucera.com
Studio e closed out summer with a two-person show featuring work from Emily Counts and Ko Kirk Yamahira. In October, the gallery will welcome new work from painter Sarah Norsworthy, whose chunky landscapes and botanical-themed pieces make for potent indoor viewing.
Like many arts organizations, studio e’s Dawna Holloway has adapted to the pandemic in creative ways, making surprisingly clever use of YouTube for showing brief videos of gallery shows. Her description of Counts’ playful sculptures is a soothing, engaging watch, and a good way to see artists represented by the gallery without leaving your house.
Holloway said that there was a silver lining to some of the new limitations: the potential to connect with viewers in new ways. “Since we have stopped having opening receptions and have been open with smaller or one-on-one visits, we have been able to really get to know our base of visitors much better and offer them a more personal experience,” she said.
More info: studioegallery.net
After a four-month closure due to COVID, Gallery Onyx, the arts space run by Onyx Fine Arts Collective out of a space inside Pacific Place, reopened July 3, said Earnest Thomas, president of the gallery, but “for about the first two to three weeks, I think we saw maybe 10 people.”
While reduced foot traffic downtown had impacted the gallery, he said, “we’re open,” noting that Gallery Onyx had just celebrated its 15th anniversary in August, and has a group show planned for the second week of October, featuring 48 artists. The space, which is dedicated to work by artists of African descent, typically has one major exhibition annually, and group shows every two months. Thomas said that the nonprofit gallery would show work on its walls and online.
While he was hopeful that downtown is “slowly returning,” Thomas said community support was important to galleries’ longevity. “Galleries really only exist if there’s interest in them,” he said.
More info: onyxarts.org
Also on view (virtually)
Wa Na Wari resumed operations in July, and has made good use of virtual gatherings as a way to build community and shed light on exhibited work. On Sept. 1, the gallery hosted a virtual artist talk with Lisa Jarrett, whose work “House/Field/Home” is currently on view at the Wa Na Wari house, providing expanded insight into the artist’s work, which is focused “within the African Diaspora where the desires and limitations of representation are contentious sites … Recent drawings examine hair care and beauty regimens within black femme culture.” More of the gallery’s virtual events can be found on Wa Na Wari’s Facebook page. More info: wanawari.org
Back in April, Seattle artist Mary Anne Carter started posting photos on of herself on Instagram wearing increasingly elaborate masks — bandannas dripping with delicate chains; masks with fringe, feather and/or studs; leopard-print and floral masks; a mask with a crooked grin on it; masks made out of hands. It’s an incredible evolution and an endless cataloging of an item none of us wore regularly pre-COVID and now tie around our heads daily, delivered with humor, craftsmanship and incredible style. I covet these masks. You can see them all from the comfort of your phone, where a series of the masks is pinned to her profile on Instagram. More info: instagram.com/jesusmaryannejoseph, thisismaryannecarter.com
While you can visit J. Rinehart Gallery in person (appointments are encouraged), there’s another way to attend the gallery’s upcoming Lakshmi Muirhead exhibition, “There Is Always a Before.” Muirhead and gallery owner Judith Rinehart will give a live tour of Muirhead’s work on Sept. 19 as a “virtual opening.” While it might seem like a strange way to look at art, the subtle textures of Muirhead’s paintings translate effectively to video, and viewers will have a chance to ask questions live. More info: jrinehartgallery.com