Boxing Day

Three artists seal themselves inside a crate to inaugurate Scott Lawrimore's trend-setting new art gallery.

Scott Lawrimore's belt buckle declared in bold caps: "Open for business." And on Thursday, June 22, he finally was. On opening night at his much-anticipated new art space, the Lawrimore Project, Scott played Gatsby to a crowd of critics, curators, art dealers, and artists who trekked down to Airport Way to see what the buzz was all about. For Lawrimore's project was nearly reaching the status of urban legend. It was rumored for months to be opening soon. At least one local magazine even reported that it already had.

So it's doubly ironic that this alternative space should be inaugurated with thinking that's clearly inside the box. Opening night, local performance art provocateurs and Cornish Art grads SuttonBeresCuller got sealed inside a 32-foot-square crate, with plans to emerge three weeks later with some sort of installation. The trio won't, as initially promised, be locked in like some crazed reality TV stunt for the ARTS channel. Just during business hours.

Lawrimore's eco-friendly and contemporary space was designed by local art team Annie Han and Daniel Mihalyo of Lead Pencil Studio. The main area is a 46-foot-square room with 15-foot ceilings, four skylights, and cement board walls that can hold thousands of pounds. "It's a raw space for artists to do big gestures," says Lawrimore, who will leave the stained concrete floors as is. From the large gallery, you pass into "a very almost tongue-in-cheek elegant gallery space."

His office, "lovingly called the Shimshack," is an homage to his humble upbringing in a trailer park in Redding, Calif. It's a stylish hodgepodge of glass and wood, raised on pier blocks. There is also a small (ironically underused by SuttonBeresCuller) theater space for video displays, an outdoor sculpture court, and a lounge area with a fireplace, bar, and large table where he plans to hold "salon-style" dinners open to "anyone who's engaging."

"This is a confabulation of every gallery space I've ever seen," says Lawrimore, who admits that "Western Bridge has certainly set the bar" for such space in this town. The Project is more intimate than Western Bridge, in part because it is smaller. But it can also be attributed to the warmth of the design—renewable bamboo floors, windows that let in slices of natural light and frame the industrial environs.

Lawrimore, 36, moved to Seattle 10 years ago after trying unsuccessfully to break into the cliquish San Francisco art scene ("a very difficult old-boys' club"). Stints at three reputable galleries—Foster/White, Davidson, and Kucera—and some savvy art deals later, he has his own art space, partly funded by Mom and Dad (who now own the trailer park). He has a five-year lease on the former sign shop, which has 5,000 square feet of art and office space, plus 3,400 square feet for storage and rental.

"It's a stunning place," says Western Bridge director Eric Fredericksen at the opening. "I think the set of galleries it offers is really versatile and significant. The large space that you first enter is what sold me. . . . No other commercial gallery has that sort of space."

Located near the old Federal Building, known as the INS Building, the Project potentially expands the parameters of the city's edgy art scene. Unlike Western Bridge, which is on the south end of SoDo, it's walking distance from Pioneer Square.

Lawrimore hopes to entice serious collectors with his novel wares. His roster of challenging artists includes Lead Pencil; large-scale, often-surreal sculptor Cris Bruch; and, of course, SuttonBeresCuller. Of many artist submissions, he has so far only signed on French-Tunisian conceptual artist Sami Ben Larbi, known for his inflatable suits featured at Bumbershoot a few years ago ("kinda creepy body sculpture," says Lawrimore), and 2006 UW Arts grad Tivon Rice, who creates digital visual installations. "I am looking for artists who are adding to the discourse."

Former boss Greg Kucera sounds duly impressed by his protégé. Says Kucera: "I think the space is wildly good: smart, witty, clever, multifaceted, ambitious, cheeky, intelligent, inventive, humorous, and classy— a perfect summation of Scott's personality and tastes. I have kidded Scott in asking whether his business is at the intersection of Commercialism and Idealism or whether those are parallel streets that don't cross. In fact, I think Scott will navigate them well."

Lawrimore, in the meantime, is thinking on a mythic scale: "Thirty-six," he says, "is the age when you are supposed to slay your Minotaur."

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