Friday, January 16, 2015

Matter Gallery to close

 Published in The Weekly Volcano, Jan. 15, 2015

Interior Matter Gallery. Photo by Gabi Clayton

Pat Tassoni's lamps at Matter Gallery
Matter Gallery in Olympia is closing at the end of the month. At least in their present location. The owners of this artist-run gallery say they are looking into options for reopening in another location, but at least for the foreseeable near future they are history. And what a history.

Jo Gallaugher stablished the gallery in downtown Olympia in2009. She started out with 48 artists including George Kurzman, Christopher Gerber, Don Freas from Olympia; Eric Osborne, Vblast, Russ Morgan from Seattle; Brian Mock, Joel Heidel from Portland; Jason Brown from Bellingham and Don O’Connor from Ellensburg. Matter features artworks that, in Gallaugher’s words “incorporate recycled, reclaimed, and responsibly harvested materials” including a balance of functional crafts and fine art pieces.

Today they represent more than 100 artists and is one of the most popular South Sound galleries among fellow artists and arts patrons, having been named best gallery in Olympia by the Weekly Volcano’s reader poll in 2011, 2012 and 2014. In its five years of operation Matter has surely provided more exhibition opportunities for local and regional artists than any other gallery in Western Washington.

Gallaugher moved to Seattle in March 2014, and ownership of the gallery was taken over by a small group of owner-artists who ran it as a cooperative venture. Shortly before Christmas they announced — on Facebook, naturally — that their last day in business at the Washington Street location would be Jan. 31. The final straw was a rent hike hitting in the slowest months of the year, which the Facebook posting said was “more than we can sustain as a small gallery featuring green/sustainable outsider and non-traditional art. We are not giving up, we just need to fall back, regroup and as Jude put it, ‘hibernate to incubate’." (Jude is co-owner Jude Manley.) I recently spoke with Manley, who said they have looked into some possibilities for a new location.

Gallaugher said: “I was inspired to create Matter when I saw the work of Olympia artists George Kurzman, Jude Manley, Pat Tassoni, Bil Fleming, Christopher Gerber, Ruby Re-Usable, and Jennifer Kuhns. Some I saw at ArtsWalk, some were recommended to me by patrons. Throughout the following five years, many other very special artists joined Matter. While I found it to be very hard work, it was incredibly rewarding to be surrounded by inspiring artists and artworks — and wonderful patrons. I came to know so many as friends, delivered work to their homes, called when new work from their favorite artists arrived. Conversations with patrons… that’s what I miss the very, very most.”

Not many businesses of any kind offer that kind of personalized service.

Gallaugher went on to say: “It’s been a tough road for all storefronts downtown this past year, and the artists who took the reins when I moved to Seattle in March have done a remarkable job. I respect their decision to rethink how Matter will operate, leaving this particular venue. I have faith that Matter patrons will support Roxanna, Pat, and Jude (and all the artists) so that a positive transition takes place. Quarterly pop-up galleries… who knows? Matter will continue to exist… it will simply be in some other form.”

Artist Steven Suski said, “For me it was great having my art at Matter to validate artists who make art out of junk or recycled material. Matter’s art pushed my boundaries of what art can be made of and what can be art. Matter's closing is a real loss of diversity for Olympias art community.”

Operating an art gallery is a tough business. Since I have been reviewing art in Olympia and Tacoma I have seen more than a dozen fine galleries bite the dust. If Matter is not able to reopen in some other location it will be a great loss to the area.

When I visited last week there was more empty space than I have ever seen there. Some of the artists have already picked up their work. But others are staying until the end, and the gallery is offering a 25 percent discount on all artwork through Jan. 31.
Matter Gallery, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and noon to 5 p.m.

Sunday and Tuesday, closed Monday, 422 Washington St. SE, Olympia, 360.943.1760]

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