Exhibition Proves People Still Care About Art

By Marissa Yamasaki

Originally published in the November 2014 issue. 

Is art still relevant in the Internet Age?  It is indeed, at least judging by the enthusiastic online response that fueled the Frye Art Museum’s new #SocialMedium exhibit.  The exhibit uses social media to reignite passion for art, resulting in a delightful juxtaposition of the classic and the modern.

The Frye Art Museum is a non-profit establishment based on the collection of Charles and Emma Frye.  Admission and parking are free, and the Capitol Hill location (at 704 Terry Avenue) is within walking distance of Seattle Central College.

The Frye initiated the exhibit this past August with polls on social media sites, allowing art appreciators to vote for their favorite pieces from the permanent collection.  The votes and comments, both local and international, are featured in the exhibit alongside the top-scoring paintings.  The Frye website touts the new exhibit as embodying “the spirit of the ‘citizen curator.’”

I stopped by the museum when the exhibit opened, curious to see a refreshed presentation of the familiar permanent collection .  I was greeted by a bright yellow gallery entrance featuring a reproduction of the iconic Charles Frye portrait with superimposed ALT hashtag, heart, and speech bubble symbols.  To the right, a wall was covered from floor to ceiling with internet usernames in tiny print.

Inside, the familiar permanent-collection paintings were displayed in new glory.  Broad white-and-yellow walls added a modern whimsy, contrasting with the richly framed artwork.  Instead of descriptions, the plaques beside the paintings listed vote tallies and a selection of comments from social media sites.

Anyone who frequents the museum can recognize many of the paintings. William-Adolphe Bouguereau’s Gardeuse de Moutons (The Shepherdess, 1881) made the cut, and stared glumly from her frame.  Across the gallery, Franz Xaver Winterhalter’s immense Susanna and the Elders (1866) showed Susanna startled from her bath.

The comments ranged from contemplative to short and saucy.  “Strange,” quipped user tessashultz of Gustav Majer’s Stella (1889), which depicts a nude woman, flanked by waves, dreamily dangling a string of pearls above her head.  Such frank statements, coupled with detailed explorations of paintings’ meanings, showed that the public are worthy curators.

Toward the end of the exhibit, I found one of my favorite paintings, Adolf Schreyer’s The Burning Stable.  Wild-eyed horses strain to push through flaming stable walls, frozen forever in hysteria.  The subject is haunting, but the painting is beautiful for its realism and humanity.

Reading the comments, I felt as if I could finally connect with other enthusiasts who share my views.  A comment by Anne Silberman says, “The terror and panic in these horses is overpowering,” and Colleen Maloney adds, “I want the horses to escape.”  But the last comment, by Leon Baham, put forth a new view I had never considered: “I love this painting for the hopeful blue around the edges.” Sure enough, the sky is clearing in the corners, a detail I would never have noticed on my own.

If you’ve never been to the Frye, #SocialMedium provides a taste of the permanent collection.  But the exhibit is also a must-see for frequent visitors, since it portrays the familiar artwork in an entirely new light.

So the next rainy day, stop by the Frye and relish the wealth of paintings that can be viewed for free right on Capitol Hill.  The Frye’s #SocialMedium exhibit lets you compare your views with those of online networking users worldwide, proving that a trip to the museum really can be social.  The #SocialMedium exhibit runs until January 4th.


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