Seattle has a lot to offer the art lover, from the newly-expanded and now world class Seattle Art Museum to the waterfront Olympic Sculpture Park to dozens of galleries spread across the city. Tucked away in the shadows of several giant medical towers on Seattle’s First Hill is the Frye Art Museum, first opened to the public in 1952 and featuring paintings and sculpture from the 1800s to the present.
Among its many qualities, the Frye is a great bargain – admission is free and there’s lots of free parking across the street from the main entrance on Terry Avenue between Columbia Street and Cherry Street.
The museum currently features an exhibit called “Beloved,” a small selection of the Frye’s original 232 paintings, flanked in separate rooms by the works of two contemporary artists, providing a startling contrast in the museum’s relatively small space.
The Beloved exhibit is a good introduction to the museum’s core collection, which was donated to the city by private collectors Charles and Emma Frye. The paintings on display were selected by 90-year-old First Hill resident Frieda Sondland, who has visited the museum nearly every day for the last 10 years. The 21 paintings, accompanied by insights and comments from Sondland, are arranged on themes of religion, portraits and landscapes.
Visitors contemplating the older, relatively tranquil paintings in the Beloved show will undoubtedly wonder about the sounds of piano and voices spreading through the gallery. The sounds are from a separate exhibit, “Of Breath and Rain,” featuring two works by the contemporary Seattle artist Susie J. Lee.
“Rain Shower” is an installation piece that takes over the ceiling of one of the museum’s larger rooms. Featuring a matrix of carefully-timed blinking LED lights and a sound track of piano and deep, obscure voices, the work does a surprising job of evoking the feelings of a warm summer rain.
The second contemporary artist currently exhibiting at the Frye is Chinese sculptor Li Chen. He is well known for his brass and stainless steel sculptures, but this show, “Eternity and Commoner,” features works made of more elemental materials such as wood, rope and clay.
On entering the show, the visitor is presented with a group of smaller sculptures, followed by a large installation piece called “Commoner,” dominated by a looming 12-foot wooden figure and an entourage of smaller figures, all standing in a bed of clay dust. The large central character, embracing an armful of glittering black gravel, evokes thoughts of politicians, “one-percenters” and others who horde power and wealth.
For current information on museum hours and current exhibits, visit the museum’s web site at http://fryemuseum.org.