REPORT: Seattle

A new nonprofit founded by Paul Allen, Pivot Art + Culture, nurtures a connection between body, mind and art.

Curator Dr. Anfam (left) and director Benedict Heywood
Curator Dr. Anfam (left) and director Benedict Heywood
Photos: courtesy Vulcan Inc.

“The Figure in Process” opened at Pivot Art + Culture on December 5. But that’s not the only thing in development with the new non-profit. Pivot is a 3,000 square-foot “concept space” on the ground floor of the Allen Institute for Brain Science, at the heart of the quickly-exploding South Lake Union neighborhood of Seattle. It’s home to major businesses such as Amazon, the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, and its newest addition, the Allen Institute for Brain Science. Since 2004, Allen’s Vulcan Real Estate Company has developed over 5 million square feet of office, life sciences, residential, and mixed-use projects. Add art to the list. Pivot’s goal is not just to make art accessible to the public, but to continue to turn South Lake Union into a cultural destination.

Little known fact: Paul Allen is a lot more than just the co-founder of Microsoft. He’s a leader in numerous philanthropic efforts, not to mention a major patron of the arts. He’s collected works from the greatest one-namers in art history, who rub elbows in his collection (Manet, Turner, Cézanne, O’Keeffe, Hockney, and Klimt), and he wants to share the experience with others. “My most impactful encounter with major works of art that I had was at the Tate Gallery in London,” says Allen. “If I could just give people a little bit of that same experience and open their eyes to the different possibilities of painting, sculpture and these other forms of art, that would just be a fantastic outcome.”

Benedict Heywood, Gallery Director of Pivot, is determined to usher Allen’s hopes into the limelight. He’s one of the founders of The Soap Factory in Minneapolis, the largest space for emerging visual arts in the Midwest, and a studio and laboratory for artistic experiment and innovation across the contemporary visual arts. For his coming out party at Pivot, Heywood invited Dr. David Anfam to curate “The Figure in Process: de Kooning to Kapoor 1955-2015.” The exhibit, featuring approximately 20 internationally heralded artists from all points of the globe (from Washington State to New York City, Barcelona, Dublin, Bombay, Tehran, and Melbourne), explores how artists have addressed the human figure and its place in the world, from realism to near abstraction, from two into three dimensions, from devolved to evolved.

Installation view: "The Figure in Process: de Kooning to Kapoor, 1955-2015"
Installation view: “The Figure in Process: de Kooning to Kapoor, 1955-2015”
Courtesy: Vulcan, Inc.

Anfam has combined iconic art works with those by emerging or lesser-known artists. Drawn from public and private, and local and international collections, paintings by John Currin, Kehinde Wiley, Francis Bacon, Lucien Freud, David Hockney and Willem de Kooning, are placed alongside sculptures by Barry X Ball, Alberto Giacometti and Anish Kapoor. De Kooning’s Woman as Landscape (1955) and Giacometti’s Femme de Venise III (1956) underscore, as Anfam explains, “the urge to seize appearances, versus the abstract mark making inherent in the medium itself.” Kapoor’s large round sculpture Blood Cinema (2000) can be seen as both symbolic of the human body, as well as a lens through which to view others. Jonas Burgert’s 26-foot-long canvas Stück Hirn Blind (A Piece of My Brain) acts as a potential summary for the exhibit. Spread across multiple canvases and filled with bright colors, are headless creatures and the flotsam and jetsam of both dreams and nightmares.

“The exhibit,” says Heywood, “provides a wonderful opportunity to see works of art not typically on view in public.” It also presents works that, displayed together, reveal the enormous effort that artists have made in the last six decades to capture the various states of human beings being: fractured, desirous, proud, coming together or in the process of falling to bits. Most seem to say: We are flawed. Deeply flawed.

Along with witnessing work on display, audiences can attend a number of programmed events including dance performances by Leyya Mona Tawil and Dance Elixir on January 23, a performance by Andy Sturdevant on January 28, and a dialogue with curator Dr. David Anfam on February 25.

Pivot is hardly the first example of Allen and Vulcan making art accessible to the public. The first Seattle Art Fair (in conjunction with Art Market Productions) in July 2015 showcased a wide array of art practices both in the Pacific Northwest and beyond; put Seattle on a par with other recent US fairs; catered to established collectors’ demands for equally established artists; and nurtured budding local collectors. The second edition arrives August 4-7, 2016. The traveling exhibition of Allen’s personal art collection, “Seeing Nature: Landscape Masterworks from the Paul G. Allen Collection,” (co-organized by Portland Art Museum and Seattle Art Museum, with the Paul G. Allen Family Collection, and curated by PAM Director Brian Ferriso) showcases 39 landscape masterpieces spanning five centuries. Currently on view at Portland Art Museum through January 10, the show will travel to such venues as the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and New Orleans Art Museum before closing at the Seattle Art Museum in early 2017.

And South Lake Union, under the watchful eye of Vulcan, is becoming one of the most successful urban revitalization efforts to date. It’s consistently supported public art projects that “speak” to what’s happening indoors. Architecture and art often conspire here: At the northwest corner of the Allen Institute for Brain Science, for example, a 150-foot-long graphic created by Studio SC titled Pathways poetically translates the complex and collaborative nature of this scientific nonprofit. “Pivot is an extension of Paul’s existing commitment to elevating and enriching arts in the Northwest,” says Ben Heywood.

One of the sculptural works from the exhibit, Crouching Boy in Mirror (1999-2002) by Ron Mueck, requires viewers to bend down in order to view it. “I love how in order to see it, you have to assume the same position,” exclaims Anfam. That enthusiastic shifting of perspectives is only part of what makes the collection, and project, so special. Allen has a monumental collection, and an equally large desire to share works from both his and other collections with the public. Already a proven leader in technology, philanthropy, and the fight against Ebola, Allen is now taking a visible leadership role in Seattle’s art scene, by creating a world-class concept space for art, in the heart of a neighborhood that’s been given new blood.