Thursday, September 17, 2009

Visual arts on the cheap

This is a little piece I wrote for the Weekly Volcano's Fall Arts Guide.

Art on the cheap? You can’t get much cheaper than free, and that’s what it costs to get in any of the art galleries in the South Sound. Museums charge admission fees, but compared to the cost of movie tickets, or a cover charge and a drink or two at most night spots, or tickets to a Rainiers game (forget a hotdog and a beer) it’s the cheapest form of entertainment available — and it won’t rot your feeble little brain. General admission to Tacoma Art Museum is $9 and Museum of Glass $12, and both are free during Third Thursday ArtWalk.

Of course the reason art galleries are free is because they want you to buy the art. But we’re not talking used car sales. Nobody’s going to pressure you. Gallery owners fully expect that 99 percent of their visitors are just window-shopping, and they’re happy for you to do so. And if you do decide to buy an original work of art, it might well be the best investment you’ll ever make. People think only the rich can buy art. How stupid, stupid, stupid that is. Yeah, maybe only the rich can buy an original Andy Warhol silkscreen or a painting by Jasper Johns, but almost anybody can afford paintings and sculptures by local artists, which will give you endless hours of enjoyment and will almost certainly increase in value. We’re talking the cost of a big date or a few dinners out.

So what is the state of the gallery scene in the South Sound? Considering the economy, it’s not bad. Most galleries are holding on by the seat of their pants, but they’ve always done that. We’ve lost some good ones recently. The Helm obviously comes to mind. And Grand Impromptu lost their building when the Grand Cinema needed to take it over in order to expand. Hopefully they’ll be able to find another venue in which to carry on. On the other hand, Fulcrum Gallery and Robert Daniel Gallery seem to be thriving.

Down south in Olympia, things are not looking so good. The only vibrant, avant-garde gallery in town went out of business a year ago, and just about the only galleries in town now are Childhood’s End and Art House Design. I don’t know what gives with Olympia, but this town that is so well known for music and theater has never had an exciting visual art scene. Not that there are no artists in town. They’re all over the place. They just don’t have many places to show their work. What a shame.

Ah! But then there are the typically overlooked art galleries that typically show quality work but are seldom visited by the general public. I’m talking about college and university art galleries. Kittredge Gallery at University of Puget Sound, the galleries at Tacoma Community College and Pierce College, PLU, UW-Tacoma, The Evergreen State College — they all have excellent art galleries but there’s a general feeling among the gallery-going public that they’re for students only, and the colleges don’t do a very good job of dispelling that myth. As a rule, they do a lousy job of publicizing their shows, so we seldom see them. To remedy that, I suggest bookmarking their Web sites and looking for them in the Weekly Volcano arts calendar. — Alec Clayton

[Fulcrum Gallery Art Space, 1308 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Tacoma, 253.250.0520]
[The Robert Daniel Gallery, 2501 Fawcett Ave, Tacoma, 253.227.1407]
[Childhood’s End Gallery, 222 Fourth Ave W, Olympia, 360.943.3724]
[Art House Design, 420 Franklin St SE # B, Olympia, 360.943.3377]
[Museum of Glass, 1801 Dock St., Tacoma,]
[Tacoma Art Museum, 1701 Pacific Ave, Tacoma, 253.272.4258]

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