March 8, 1999
Willem DeKooning's Woman, an oil on board painted in 1943, is just one of the works from the collection of art collectors Virginia and Bagley Wright.
Photo courtesy of Seattle Art Museum.
by Deborah Stone
A major exhibition of works from the collection of Seattle's prominent art collectors and patrons, Virginia and Bagley Wright, opened recently at the Seattle Art Museum.
"The Virginia and Bagley Wright Collection of Modern Art," on view in SAM's Special Exhibition gallery through May 9, consists of up to 100 works spanning half a century. Highlights from the Wright's personal collection, as well as art they have donated to other museums, showcase a cross-section of many art movements. The exhibit is a review of the art of the past fifty years and includes works from major abstract expressionists of the 1940s to today's emerging painters and sculptors.
The Wrights were early supporters of Abstract Expressionism, Hard-Edge Painting, Pop Art, Minimalism, Neo-Expressionism, Graffiti Art, and Appropriation Art. Since the 1950s, they have purchased many pieces of contemporary art, most of which were considered cutting-edge and avant-garde for the time. The works on display at SAM have been in storage at the Wright's home.
Among the exhibition's highlights are Willem de Kooning's Woman, Mark Rothko's #10, Jasper Johns' Thermometer, Helen Frankenthaler's Venus Revealed, and Katharina Fritsch's Mann Und Maus. A sampling of sculpture includes pieces by Claes Oldenburg, Mark di Suvero, Robert Irwin, and James Rosenquist. Works by notable Northwest artists Mark Tobey, Morris Graves, and William Ivey are also represented.
The installation of the exhibition does not follow a chronological sequence or particular pattern. Art is sometimes grouped by style, color or contrast. The gallery is well-lit and pieces receive the proper space needed to appreciate them without undo distraction. Colossal-sized installations are balanced with small works, showing the wide range and unique taste of the Wright's collection.
The art represented elicits many emotions, but primarily a keen sense of curiosity prevails as one moves through the exhibit. Pieces fascinate, repel, delight, and surprise viewers, all the while evoking continuous questions.
"This extensive exhibition reflects their (the Wright's) extraordinary eye for art that is new and challenging, and their commitment to sharing it with the public," says Trevor Fairbrother, SAM's Deputy Director of Art, who curated the show.
Coinciding with the special exhibit at SAM, the Wrights have opened a 4,000-square-foot gallery in the Seattle Center area to display additional works from their collection. The new gallery space, located at and named 407 Dexter Avenue North, is a project of the Virginia Wright Fund and will be open to the public Tuesday-Friday during the run of the show at SAM and then after that, by appointment only.
With this large space, the Wrights will be able to exhibit works that have been in storage for a long time or that haven't been exhibited anywhere yet. To understand how vast this couple's collection is, it is interesting to note that between the Dexter space and the SAM exhibition, only about half of their holdings will be on view. For the Wrights, having a place to show their acquisitions both at their new gallery space and at SAM is a once-in-a-life opportunity.
"It's very exciting for us," says Bagley Wright, "and an eventful time."
For more information and directions to 407 Dexter, call 206-264-8200.