More Tough Love

Our critics weigh in with their own bright ideas for the local arts.


Don't be such chickens

More than any other art form, visual art is dependent on the whims of the wealthy, and judging by the contents of Seattle galleries, our art-buying bourgeoisie is extremely timid. The resurrection of the Bellevue Art Museum as a venue for craft—that is, art minus intellect—is a perfect example: Do we really need another exhibit of teapots? It's hard to swim against the current of bad taste, and so we're left with an abundance of colorful glass, decor-friendly abstract paintings, and cutesy representational art that offends no one and hardly sets a single neuron firing. There are exceptions—Billy Howard and Jim Harris offer some of the most rigorous and fascinating stuff in the city, including recent shows by Mark Takamichi Miller, Victoria Haven, and Mark Mumford. But one suspects they're targeting public art programs and museum curators rather than individual collectors. Even an exceptional gallery such as Greg Kucera has resorted to the occasional show of minimalist sculpture or New Age–y abstraction to pay the bills. Need a role model, arts patrons? Have a look at Bill and Ruth True's amazing private collection at Western Bridge in the industrial South End—brainy contemporary art, plus they've wholeheartedly embraced video as an art form. It's indicative of the myopic state of the local art scene that the city's most brilliant artist—video maven Gary Hill—isn't even represented by a local gallery. Wake up, patrons: It's time to cultivate a fascination for what's difficult. ANDREW ENGELSON


Mix it up

Rock bands play with rock bands. Hip-hop groups share bills with hip-hop groups. DJs spin with other DJs. Sound about right to you? Sure—in the that's-how-things-generally-work sense. But in a music world further and further defined by what can be made of things that weren't necessarily created to go together in the first place (see: mash-up bootlegs, MP3 culture, and iPods), it would be nice to see some more of that happening with the shows being booked in Seattle. Sponsored showcases are one thing, and so are festivals, but a typical local club gig leans on the that's-how-things-generally-work idea more often than it needs to. Of course, eclecticism has its limits—obviously not everyone's going to like everything, and they shouldn't. But making shows just a hair more adventurous isn't going to hurt anyone, and may even turn some heads. MICHAELANGELO MATOS


Give us a chance

Last time I checked, cloning humans was still illegal, which means that if there were four groups performing on three evenings, there is no way someone would be able to see all of them. Despite financial challenges, the dance community has continued to grow, but it's not so big that it can't shoot itself in its pointed little foot. If choreographers and presenters don't put more thought into scheduling conflicts soon, many potential members of the dance audience will throw up their hands and stay home with their DVD collections. There are still weekends when nothing much is happening, but those are increasingly at odd times: right after the madness of Bumbershoot, early in the summer, or at the beginning of each new year. Performances come and go quickly, usually over just a single weekend. Perhaps choreographers should share a program and extend the run. Two choreographers showing their work over two weekends would give more of us a chance to get into the audience, and artists more of an opportunity to get into the theater, without breaking the bank or the datebook. SANDRA KURTZ


Shake off the dust, SAM

Seattle's nonprofit film scene has polarized into two distinct camps: Capitol Hill hipsters congregate at the new Northwest Film Forum; old-school cineasts gather at SAM's downtown Plestcheeff Auditorium. The latter programs safe and reliable classics designed to appeal to series-ticket buyers—who can argue with The Red Shoes, particularly when SAM's series are generally sold out? Problem is, such musty repertory fare is only going to further tip SAM's demographic closer to the graying symphony and opera crowds. Meanwhile, the NWFF's expansion rewards a younger base with works by Guy Maddin, Takeshi "Beat" Kitano, and Aki Kaurismäki. Being within walking distance for a predominantly carless, apartment-dwelling crowd helps, too. And the NWFF is stealing SAM's lunch with series like February's Ozu retrospective. (Caught in no-man's land are EMP's criminally underemployed JBL Theater and the U District's tiny Grand Illusion, without any strong programming identity of their own.) The NWFF's taste isn't always impeccable, but it is adventurous. If SAM wants to reassert its cinematic relevance, it's got to get with the times: Asian cinema, foreign action fare, orphans from SIFF, NC-17 titles deemed too hot to handle by commercial distributors, maybe even cheaper screenings from DVD—anything to attract Gen X and Gen Y visitors downtown. Just because it's a museum, that doesn't mean its films have to be treated like artifacts. BRIAN MILLER


Play contemporary

Look at the records of Seattle's three major musical entities—the Seattle Symphony, the Seattle Opera, and the Seattle Chamber Music Society. Inexplicably, these groups have given us just smatterings of our time's most talked-about composers: Americans like Adams, Glass, Reich, or Corigliano; Europeans like Part or Schnittke. Few of the new works the symphony plays turn out to be particularly memorable; I don't know why Seattle Opera's programming can't be at least as interesting as San Francisco's; and the Seattle Chamber Music Society—considering how its audiences pride themselves on their connoisseurship, they could surely tolerate more music written after World War I. And if we talk specifically about local composers, these organizations' grades are zero, zero, and zero. Do they want to be leaders in the development and enrichment of Seattle's musical culture, or do they want to continue to slough that responsibility off on any number of smaller choirs, chamber ensembles, and community orchestras? If they're worried about ticket buyers abandoning them in the face of anything post-Rachmaninoff, they should ask themselves just how much long-term financial good sucking up to these fair-weather friends is going to do. Classical music's future lies not with the closed-minded but with the considerably younger demographic that turns up whenever something contemporary is on the bill. GAVIN BORCHERT


Make us listen

We have a president who believes that if he says something three times with enough conviction, it automatically makes it true—and that seems to be working for 51 percent of the country. Local stage works that failed artistically this past year did so because they responded to our fears about the ominous imbalance of the world by reassuring us that, whatever the hell is going on with those red states, we know better. Book-It Repertory Theatre, for instance, can make something classic like Lady Chatterly's Lover feel heartrendingly relevant, but when it aims to laud our in-the-know sensibilities, as it did last season with the racism-is-bad aesthetic of Cry, the Beloved Country or the Seattle name-dropping distractions of Waxwings, it's falling down on the job. The happiness of Hairspray is welcome, of course, but we need more shows that challenge us to reconsider what we think we believe, theater that asks us to question our own culpability in what ails us. Witness what did work: Anyone who sat through John Kazanjian's cutting New City production of Wallace Shawn's The Designated Mourner knows what it means to be confronted with your own nagging complacency; even a supposedly simple crowd pleaser like Take Me Out at the Seattle Rep probably shamed a few audience members into re-evaluating the presumptuousness of their liberal "tolerance." The primary concern for anyone creating theater these days should be to make us realize that anything said out loud has several meanings underneath just waiting to be heard. STEVE WIECKING

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