installation art

Wa Na Wari: a Seattle version of 'Hotel California'

When I reluctantly ended my first visit to Wa Na Wari, I told one of the co-founders if I didn’t get out now, I’d never leave this home-turned-gallery space. Apparently that was plan all along: get people in the door with the art, then lull them into staying. Kinda like Hotel California, but homey instead of sinister.

Wa Na Wari co-founder Rachel Kessler and visitors

Wa Na Wari co-founder Rachel Kessler and visitors

Creative reminders of home are woven throughout the house, like the hanging sculptures by Henry Jackson-Spieker. They literally mark “places that were points of gatherings or comfort” when the Greene family lived there.

Henry Jackson-Spieker glass & wood sculpture above family table

Henry Jackson-Spieker glass & wood sculpture above family table

Wa Na Wari continues the revived trend of home-based art exhibit spaces. Not pop-ups — permanent galleries. No surprise that New York artists have done this in apartments — or just in one apartment room — considering New York rents. The phenomenon seems to be solidifying in Seattle and nearby communities too, as real estate gets pricier by the minute.

Still from “Remembering Her Homecoming,” a film by Natassja E. Swift

Still from “Remembering Her Homecoming,” a film by Natassja E. Swift

The thing I love the most about Wa Na Wari, though, is it still feels welcoming like a home — not merely a house-shaped gallery. In fact, the view into the backyard shook me for a moment: it’s strongly reminiscent of my grandparents’ home in Kentucky, which no longer exists.

Contemplating art & community with Wa Na Wari co-founder Inye Wokoma

Contemplating art & community with Wa Na Wari co-founder Inye Wokoma

This weekend is an especially good time to visit: environmental artist and icon Marita Dingus is teaching a doll-making class on August 11th. Plus, her own doll sculptures are on display upstairs.

Selected works by Marita Dingus

Selected works by Marita Dingus

If you have so much fun you can’t bear to leave, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Three things you don't do at the Seattle Art Fair

Let’s pretend you’re more interested in the air conditioning than the art at the Seattle Art Fair. Here’s a quick etiquette lesson on three things you just… don’t… do… before you get in the door.

1. Don’t talk smack about the art. They can hear you.

Holly Ballard Martz, “Danger of Nostalgia in Wallpaper Form (in utero),” at ZINC Contemporary

Holly Ballard Martz, “Danger of Nostalgia in Wallpaper Form (in utero),” at ZINC Contemporary

Overheard at preview night, about Holly Ballard Martz’s stunning work: “It’s really abortion-y.”

Wow. That was all you got out of this installation of wire hangers, each bent by hand into the shape of a uterus? If you don’t get it, why not ask about the art? That’s what the gallery staff — and the artist — are there for, to talk to you. P.S. Holly’s less ‘abortion-y’ pieces are on the other side of the wall.

2. Don’t touch — not with your hands, butt or shoulder.

Bigert & Bergström, “Incubator for Earthquakes” (provided by the artists)

Bigert & Bergström, “Incubator for Earthquakes” (provided by the artists)

This is not a children’s museum where you get to play with the exhibits. Don’t touch the art. Even if you intend to buy it. No leaning on the booth walls, either. If you need to sit, use one of the padded benches outside the booth. (While I’m at it: Don’t touch the art in art museums, either. Slow down and breathe deeply until the urge passes.)

3. Don’t hold back on the shine.

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Wanna show your followers how amaaaaazing the art is? Go for it — and remember to tag the artist AND the gallery presenting the work. You don’t even have to type in names: take a photo of the wall text identifying the piece and post that too. This one simple action shows you know something about the art world, and you’re not just some rando who’s there for the air conditioning. Bonus: you remember the artwork better when you write something about it. Extra credit bonus: other people get to check out the artist and gallery if they like the work.

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One last thing: there will be selfie-bait. Before you take the picture, check your surroundings so you don’t back into the rest of the art. You don’t want to be that person, do you?

"Library of Black Lies" at the Henry

Thank goodness most art venues give you a few months to see the work of major artists: I’d miss pretty much everything if they were two-day pop-ups. Fortunately, my schedule opened up the other day, so I seized the chance to see Edgar Arceneaux’s installation at the Henry Art Gallery.

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The danger of a single narrative — especially about black people — is one of his primary themes. Part of the wall text reads:

Arceneaux’s architectural installation Library of Black Lies furthers this conceit, positing that there is no singular truth to history and that even well-intentioned narratives can lock things down to one agenda or cause. Arceneaux argues that the true nature of people and events, which is insistently messy, chaotic, and rhizomatic, is often whitewashed and sterilized.

Talk about “messy”: the installation includes several of Bill Cosby’s books, partially encrusted with sugar crystals. It’s lovely and disturbing, because the crystallization gradually eats away at the book. What a profound way to illustrate how Cosby’s (pre-rape-conviction) narratives and fatherly image morph into something else.

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As an artist who also explores different ways of being black, I’m inspired by this traveling installation — and also really glad I didn’t see it before my museum exhibit. I can imagine going down a rabbit hole of comparing my work-in-progress to his… and nobody wants to see that end result. If you’d like to see the “Library of Black Lies,” seize the day: the installation closes the first weekend of June.