The new exhibition at The Washington Center for the Performing Arts draws from the prodigious stores of a dedicated art collector: the State of Washington.
With more than 4,500 works, the collection is one of the largest state-owned art collections in the country. It also is one of the oldest. The Legislature established the collection in 1974.
The exhibition, which opens Friday (Jan. 8), is a rare opportunity to see a collection of the works, administered by the state Arts Commission, on display in one place.
“We’re super excited,” said Janae Huber, the collections manager of the commission’s Art in Public Places program. “I’ve been here 10 years, and we haven’t done anything like this that is so temporary.
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“This is really an exhibition, and the works were chosen to tell a story.”
The story is about the breadth of the collection, which includes two- and three-dimensional works by artists from Washington and beyond.
“This about expressing the diversity of the collection as much as we could, and also picking pieces that hang well together, that have a conversation with each other,” Huber said.
She and Brittania Kerschner, curator of the center’s gallery, worked together to select the mostly two-dimensional works that will be displayed on three of the center’s four levels.
“It was an impressive collection and a challenge to make final decisions about what to include,” Kerschner said.
Most of the art in the collection can be found at schools, universities and state agencies. The works for the exhibition were chosen from among works that are temporarily at the State Art Commission’s offices in Olympia, whether because they needed repair or because the commission is storing them while a building is being renovated.
“They needed to be pieces that we had ready access to,” Huber said. “We don’t have the resources to go across the state picking up art works to curate the very best example that tells a certain story.”
It was an impressive collection and a challenge to make final decisions about what to include.
Brittania Kerschner, curator of The Washington Center for the Performing Art’s gallery
Among the available pieces are quite a few larger works by nationally known artists, including Alfredo Arreguin, Marita Dingus and Jaune Quick-to-See Smith.
The works upstairs will be some smaller scale pieces that work well at close range.
“Some of these pieces are very intimate,” Huber said. “In the Washington Center, if you want to take the time, you can have a one-on-one relationship with them.”
The exhibition also will include several pieces from “Who We Are: Autobiographies in Art,” a project the Art in Public Places program commissioned in the early ’90s. The works in that project, created by 10 artists, toured schools around the state.
“That was created as an exhibition, so it has a cohesion,” Huber said.
More recent works in the collection are typically site-specific; those will be represented in the exhibition by a series of photos, including photos of works at South Puget Sound Community College, The Evergreen State College and Chambers Prairie Elementary School in Lacey.
“The two-dimensional works are reflective of the history of the collection,” Huber said
The pieces that will be shown at the Washington Center are just a tiny fraction of the total collection. Huber and Kerschner suggest seeing much more of the state’s collection online at the My Public Art Portal page on the commission’s website, arts.wa.gov.
“That’s a great way for people to view the artwork in the collection,” Kerschner said. “Not everyone is going to be able to tour all the different locations within the state, although that would be really fun to do.”
Washington’s State Art Collection
What: Some pieces from the State Art Collection get a chance to shine in The Washington Center for the Performing Arts’ newest exhibition.
When: Friday (Jan. 8)-Feb. 29, with opening reception at 6 p.m. Jan. 22. The exhibition is open to the public noon-4 p.m. Mondays-Fridays; it’s necessary to call ahead.
Where: The Washington Center for the Performing Arts, 512 Washington St. SE, Olympia.
Information: 360-753-8586 or washingtoncenter.org.
Collection online: View many of the works from the collection at arts.wa.gov.