This Episode: “Curators in Transition”

Event Date: Tuesday, April 17, from 7 to 9 pm

Admission is free. Tell your friends.

This roundtable conversation series happens at Vermillion, an art gallery, bar, and neighborhood gathering place at 1508 11th Ave, Seattle ( For more information on the series, call John Boylan at 206-601-9848. If you want to link to this announcement, you can do so at

This time, we’ll be joining a cohort of curators in transition, for what promises to be a lively conversation about art and about what curators do. Read on below.

The Guests (see below for guest bios)

Elizabeth Brown, curator and writer

Robin Held, curator and writer

Jake Seniuk, curator and artist

And a possible fourth

The Story

Seattle has been blessed with a good number of talented arts curators. Some, such as SAM’s Chiyo Ishikawa and Pam McClusky, or the ever-amazing Beth Sellars at Suyama Space, continue to mount excellent exhibits at established venues across the city. Others, like Jesse Van Nostrand with her Project Room, Klara Glosova at NEPO House, Sierra Stinson at Vignettes, and Vanessa deWolf at Studio Current, have carved out small new spaces for experimentation and then filled them with artists and art.

Seattle’s artists have an interesting relationship with their curators, especially at the major institutions. The best curators are well respected, of course, and occasionally take on a bit of a rock star status. Their arrivals and departures are often accompanied by a flurry of questions and concerns, a miniature version of the faithful waiting for the puff of white smoke from the Vatican chimney. And some artists will ask the questions: What will this curator do for me? Can I get a show? Will this curator focus on Northwest artists?

In a way, those questions are understandable. Traditionally, a curator at a major institution has been in a position to marshal significant resources to put art before the public. But the questions also suggest a certain powerlessness, and perhaps a misunderstanding of what curators do.

This year has seen a number of curators leaving long-time posts, and it occurred to me that it would be a great thing to get them into a room and have a conversation with them about the nature of the work that they do, about what they’ve done and expect to do, and about art, any art. Elizabeth Brown, long-time Chief Curator at the Henry Art Gallery, and Robin Held, formerly Deputy Director of Exhibitions and Collections at the Frye Art Museum, were both naturals. They’ve both played an impressive role in the life of this city, over the past decade or so. Then the aforementioned Beth Sellars suggested adding Jake Seniuk to the mix. Jake has been an artist in the region for many years, and since 1989 has been director and curator at the Port Angeles Fine Arts Center, a position he will soon be leaving. He’ll add a valuable perspective to the mix.

I know: the other natural curator in transition is Eric Fredericksen, the director of Western Bridge, which is counting down toward closing its doors. I’ve been in touch with Eric, but he was unable to commit as of this mailing. We will see.

One note: I have a feeling that this conversation will be well attended. I suggest that you get there early, have a drink and something to eat, and wait for the words to start. And remember that finding parking in the neighborhood can sometimes take awhile. But do come: this one will be very good.

The Guests

Elizabeth Brown is a curator and writer focusing on contemporary art in all media. She was Chief Curator at Henry Art Gallery from 2000 to 2011, and before that she served as Chief Curator at the University Art Museum, UC Santa Barbara, from 1992 to 2000. She has curated numerous exhibits, including “I Myself Have Seen It: Photography & Kiki Smith” (2010), “WOW: The Work of the Work” (2004), as well as “150 Works of Art,” and “Akio Takamori: The Laughing Monks,” along with solo shows of work by Kader Attia, Ann Lislegaard, William Kentridge, Arlene Shechet, Brian Junger, Kori Newkirk, Eirik Johnson, and many others. Since opening at the Henry, “I Myself Have Seen It” has toured to Skidmore College, Northwestern University, and the Contemporary Art Museum, Scottsdale.  Currently she is working on several writing projects dealing with photography.

Brown earned her PhD in Art History at Columbia University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences with a dissertation on Brancusi’s photographs and a Master’s thesis on Roy Lichtenstein. She was an honors Art History graduate of the University of Michigan. In 2008, she attended the Getty Museum Leadership Institute, (now the Getty Leadership Institute at Claremont Graduate University).

Robin Held is the Executive Director of Reel Grrls, the first media arts and technology training program for young women aged 9 – 19.

She previously served as Deputy Director of Exhibitions and Collections at the Frye Art Museum, and was a key player in its institutional renovation (a turn alt-weekly The Stranger called “the most inexplicable museum transformation.”). Held worked closely with the executive director and the board of trustees to examine and overhaul the museum’s mission, artistic vision, strategic goals, investment management, fundraising strategies, and governance, as well as other important aspects of the museum’s operations. She was part of the team in 2008 that made a successful petition to the State of Washington under the Trust and Estate Dispute Resolution Act (TEDRA) for a reinterpretation of the museum founder’s will, an important legal decision that had an immediate positive impact on the Frye and its ability to realize its potential. Among the exhibitions of visual art, performance, and film Held curated for the Frye are “The RetroFuturistic Universe of NSK,” “Heaven is Being a Memory for Others” (Dario Robleto), “Empire,” “Degenerate Art Ensemble’s Red Shoes,” and “Implied Violence: Yes and More and Yes and Yes and Why.”

As Associate Curator at the Henry Art Gallery, Held curated such nationally recognized exhibitions as “Hershmanlandia: The Art and Film of Lynn Hershman Lesson” and “Gene(sis): Contemporary Art Explores Human Genomics” – both of which received extensive editorial coverage in the New York Times. The latter was the first art museum exhibition to be registered with the National Institutes of Health, providing a new museum model for the safe exhibition of life forms created by artists.

Held has published and lectured extensively on contemporary art and performance. In 2009, she was a Center for Curatorial Leadership Fellow. She has also received a Goethe Institute Visiting Scholar Travel Award (2009), a Stranger Genius Award (2005), and a Getty Grant Program Curatorial Research Fellowship (2003).

Jake Seniuk has been director and curator at the Port Angeles Fine Arts Center, the Olympic Peninsula’s art museum, since 1989. There he has originated some 150 exhibitions that have included master solo showcases of artists including Leo Kenney, Charles Stokes, Philip McCracken, George Tsutakawa, Dale Chihuly, William Morris Dennis Evans & Nancy Mee, Gayle Bard, Mary Randlett, Anne Hirondelle, Marilyn Lysohir, Ann Morris, Trimpin and many more. He’s presented a rural audience with a wide swath of contemporary art practice through dozens of topical thematic shows including Envision Cascadia, HomeLand, Money, Disaster, The Back Country and Safe Harbor. In 2000 he guided the transformation of the sylvan five-acre Webster estate into Webster Woods Art Park, and has served as resident curator for twelve annual seasons placing some 250 works into a natural context for viewers to discover on a magical walk.

As an artist Seniuk has created introspective works that combine photography, text and sculptural elements. His works have been exhibited at museums and public venues including the National Gallery of American Art (Washington, D.C.), the Seattle Art Museum, the Wadsworth Atheneum (Hartford, CT), the Yale University Museum, the Princeton University Art Museum, the George Eastman House (Rochester, NY), the International Center for Photography (New York City), the Henry Art Gallery (Seattle), the Long Beach Museum of Art, the Center for Contemporary Art, Seattle, and the Bellevue Art Museum.

He is past recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Photography, an Artist Trust Visual Artist Fellowship, and the Logan Prize for Critical Writing in Photography, among others. He has served as a juror for Artist Trust, Washington State Arts Commission, the Seattle Arts Commission, the Idaho Council on the Arts, the Nevada State Arts Council, the New England Foundation for the Arts, the Flintridge Foundation, and others. He has taught photography at Cornish College and prior to coming to Port Angeles managed per-cent for art projects for the Washington State Arts Commission. He is co-author of two University of Washington Press monographs: Ann Morris Sculpture Woods  (2008) and Anne Hirondelle Ceramics (2012)

Jake earned his B.A. in Fine Arts from Harvard University in 1972 and his MFA in Photography from the University of Washington in 1983.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: