Saturday, January 23, 2016

Northwest Museum Snapshots: Henry Art Gallery

Beyond busy downtown Seattle and Portland Art Museums, many smaller museums and galleries thrive in the arts-minded Pacific Northwest. Look for several to be featured this year here at Pacific Northwest Seasons 

A treasure trove of contemporary art in Seattle sits perched on the western edge of the University of Washington campus, just below the UW's iconic sculpture of George (Washington) himself.

Originally a small brick box of a building that opened in 1927, in 1997 the Henry Art Gallery completed a major expansion that quadrupled the overall gallery space and created an amalgam of quasi Neo-Gothic and contemporary architecture. I think this juxtaposition of new and old is part of the Henry's unique appeal.

When I was studying art history at the UW, I used to love to wander into the Henry and browse the manageable-sized galleries. I don't know about you, but I get sensory overload in big museums (and big box stores for that matter). While the Henry now has more space to exhibit, it still feels intimate. 

The old (left) and the new (right) Henry Art Gallery buildings

This rainy, cold January afternoon was perfect for getting a dose of art, so I drop by the Henry for the first time in a couple years. As usual I'm challenged, amused, and inspired by the art and installations there.

My first stop is, as always, the James Turrell Skyspace room (pictured at the top of this post and below). The first time I was here was for an intro to Zen meditation, and since then this space has hosted many more such events for quiet contemplation and perception-bending light displays.


Entry to this space is via the original entrance to the Henry, and I pass outside to reach this open-door, unheated room. It's about experiencing natural light and the elements, tweaked with a genius artist's touch.

Looking at the original Henry entrance from Skyspace

After sitting, absorbing the light, then taking photos, I sneak back into the warmth of the original main galleries.  

Right now the feature exhibit, The Body Draws, is the first major American exhibition of avante garde German artist Franz Erhard Walther's work.  His art is as much or more about the process than the finished product. So the exhibition features drawings, films, and fabric elements of his participatory events, of which there was one at the Henry earlier in the exhibition.

Franz Erhard Walther installation

As I stand and watch some of the films of the events, which are slow and deliberate, my natural impatience wells up until it gives way to the "being" of the artistic moment. Which is partly what his art is about.

Then I walk downstairs to the large lower level space, where a colorful exhibit by Californian artist Pae White is set up. I get so caught up in the sensory feast that I get reprimanded by a museum staffer who sees me walking into some of the display yarn on the floor, which I didn't notice. My bad.

Pae White installation

Then it's time for me to head back out into the damp January chill, where I enjoy the view outside the entrance back up campus to distinctly  not contemporary Suzallo Library.  

View toward Red Square and Suzallo Library

Like I said above: juxtapositions. I believe they make our lives richer and more interesting.

Happy trails and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons! In between blog posts, visit Pacific NW Seasons on FaceBook, Twitter, and Instagram for more Northwest photos and outdoors news.

 When You Go
The Franz Walther exhibition runs through March 6, 2016. The Pae White exhibit only runs through Sunday, January 24, 2016. Besides the art exhibits, the Henry offers a vibrant menu of events, ArtBreaks, film screeningstalks & performances, and ArtVentures (second Sunday of each month at 2 pm). Here are directions to the Henry and hours/admission. Like many museums, it's closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.  There used to be a cafe at the gallery, but right now it's not operating. The guy who took my admission said they are seeking a new vendor to operate the cafe, so hopefully this year.


Dave Wenning said...

The old Henry Gallery was like the Tardis. From the outside it looked tiny, like a telephone booth. When you went inside, it became large. Red Square was a gigantic hole in the ground the year I graduated and headed to Iowa.

Suezy P said...

Beautiful post Jill. I appreciate the narrative and your personal connection to the UW. I LOVE that you took the outside photos of the Henry in the starkness of winter - aesthetically pleasing to me.

jill said...

Hey Dave, Ha, I had to do a Web search to learn that the Tardis is....yes, agree, was always surprisingly spacious inside compared to the outside appearance. I remember hearing about when Red Square was a big hole. Think my oldest sister was at the UW when that was happening, or shortly thereafter.

Suezy, thanks so much as always for your thoughtful comments. I really appreciate the dialogue. Yea, I love the stark winter landscape too. Glad you enjoyed!

Anonymous said...

Jill, I have always loved the Henry for its size and the beauty of the building. I don't hate the new part but does everything need to be bigger. That said I strongly encourage you to visit the Tacoma Art Museum. Not hard to find and it actually has parking below. Really loved it when it was in a old downtown bank building. The new place is still not all that large and has good light and great flow. The galleys are reasonably sized and the collection has a hard focus on northwest artists. What is kind of amazing is the outstanding collection of art about the west - its stunning. You will particularly love the landscapes. They are in the process of hanging new shows, wait until the second week in Feb and GO! Mary Lou

Lesley said...

I always enjoy textile art. Look like some of the works here fall into that category. Color and texture... Thanks!

ashley g said...

Very cool! I've walked by there a few times but have yet to stop in. This makes me want to check it out now. :)