Dec 11, 2013

Art and Design Go Hand in Hand with Storefronts Seattle

Earlier this spring, Chutney’s, an Indian restaurant and longtime resident in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, closed its doors. Like many shuttered buildings, the one housing the former restaurant sat vacant for months, until early August, when a crew of 10 workers started covering the exterior with wood from recycled palettes. Clad in the overlapping material, it appeared shingled. Within several days the entire building, including the large standalone sign, became an art installation.

The brainchild of architectural designer Greg Lewis, it was the first in a series of installations that would take place as a part of Storefronts Seattle—a program of the non-profit fiscal arts supporter Shunpike that strives bring positive change to Seattle streetscapes by working with architects, land lords, and Realtors to provide artists with installation space in storefronts or buildings that would otherwise sit empty.

When Stream Real Estate—a sustainable development company that was planning on turning the restaurant’s lot into a mixed-use building with 36 residential units and 3,400 square feet of retail space—heard about the Storefronts program, it jumped at the opportunity to work with the organization.

“We knew we needed an interim use, I started doing some research, located them and we quickly determined it would be a good fit,” says Stream agent Marc Angelillo. “Storefronts is a perfect interim use for use to have some activity at the building while immediately having a positive impact on the neighborhood until we start redeveloping.”

According to Storefronts manager Anne Blackburn, permission to alter exterior structures is so rare, that she called back, “about 10 times,” just to double check before giving Lewis the OK to proceed. If you drive by the corner of 15th Ave. E. and E. Mercer on Capitol Hill, it’s hard to miss the structure. And even though a new exhibition is up, Lewis’ work still remains.

“It’s like that Exquisite Corpse game,” Blackburn explains. “One artist does their installation, but leaves it up when their exhibition is up, then the next artist comes in and builds off that, and when their exhibition is up the next artist works from that. It’s a really exciting challenge.”

The current artist, Jennifer Zwick, created “Lamps Meninas”—a three-dimensional vignette representation of Diego Velazquez’ 1656 painting “Las Meninas”—using various lights donated from Rejuvenation to represent different figures in the painting. The original piece depicts a scene from the Spanish royal court that shows Velazquez painting a portrait that the viewer cannot see, but an artfully placed mirror at the back of the room reflects the king and queen, who stand in the exact same position as the view. The young princess, her attendants, and a dog are also present. 

“I wanted to reduce it to its simplest lines, but on another level take it in a completely different direction that I’d never seen,” Zwick says, describing her installation. “Finding ordinary objects that are used for another purpose and reconstructing them is interesting to me. I took what I saw as the essential attribute of each figure compositionally, and used that to choose the light that represented it.”

If you find yourself on Capitol Hill before the end of the month, be sure to check out Zwick’s installation—drive by at night to get the full effect, and check out the images below to see how Zwick has used interiors in her previous work.

Seattle artist Jennifer Zwick on Capitol Hill next to her Storefronts Seattle installation "Lamps Meninas." All lighting was donated from Rejuvenation.  

"Lamps Meninas" is a three-dimentional interpretation of Diego Velazquez'  iconic "Las Meninas," a painting depicting a scene from the Spanish court.

Architectural designer Greg Lewis, the artist who installed before Zwick, covered the entire exterior of the former Chutney's restaurant with recycled palettes. 

"The Explorers" A 2005 archival pigment print. 

A 2012 window installation by Zwick entitled, "I'm Pretty Sure This is Exactly Right." Zwick often uses furniture and interiors scenes in her work. "It seems like Jennie is also interested in the emotional content of living rooms," Blackburn says. "There's an intimacy're conversing with these objects and there is that intimacy because they are your own.

"The Dream" A 2007 archival pigment print. 

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