The one-night exhibition, opening this Thursday during the monthly art walk at the new construction at 1532 15th Ave E, checks many of the typical boxes. It is curated by two local artists, Gabriel Molinaro and Alexander Keyes. And it groups together a group of great local artists, such as Jennifer Zwick, Philippe Hyojung Kim, Natasha Marin and local bands like Cumulus and Mahal. It also name-checks a French philosopher (Gaston Bachelard) along with a fancy-sounding concept (topoanalysis, in this case).
What’s peculiar, however, is its setting: six new construction townhouses. Hosted by Keyes, artist-turned-real-estate-agent, and real estate developers and investor company Build with Style, ‘The Intimate Values of Inside Space’ is also a real estate open house.
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“The show is also a launch event,” says Keyes. “The townhouses are going on the market on Thursday.”
Keyes is not the real estate agent for the properties, though he said their price will average $1.2 million. The art on display, by artists Serrah Russell, Sara Long, Robin Arnitz, Jennifer Zwick, Philippe Hyojung Kim, Natasha Marin, Ling Chun, Lauren Dake, Kelly Bjork, Alex Harris and Keyes himself will be on view and for sale until February 16, with prices ranging from $400 to $2,000 — a steal, possibly, compared to the houses.
Ahead of the opening, Keyes walked CHS through one of the houses, stopping at a series of ceramic wall-mounted sculptures by Ling Chun, all brightly hued amorphous blobs of clay, paint, hair, metal, glaze and fly-dry materials. “Ling likes to say she’s a ‘beauty school dropout’,” Keyes explains. “She uses all of these hairs, little piece of jewelry and decorative pieces, really beautiful.”
He points to a large painting by Sara Long of a woman resting on the beach. “Sara paints these intimate moments.” Upstairs, there’s more art, including a couple of intimate prints by Serrah Russell, who photographed and abstracted magazine advertisements to small polaroid-windows, hanging in the still-empty master bedroom.
Keyes,who describes his realtor persona as “Wes Anderson and Tom Sachs teaming up to do real estate”, has gotten used to these kind of tours, though usually, he’s talking about the house, not the art. Keyes started working as a real estate agent last September, but is still active as a professor and artist.
“Being an artist and adjunct professor is a hard lifestyle, it doesn’t pay well,” he says. “Last year, my wife and I did a ‘flip project’. We bought a condo at foreclosure in Everett. We wanted to continue doing the flip projects, but working with a real estate agent cuts into your price. Becoming a real estate agent saves on costs.”
So he became one. Since September, he’s sold three houses. He’s not the real estate agent for these townhouses, just the curator-slash-advertiser (though he’s planning on using the opportunity for networking, he says.).
Saying art and real estate have a complicated relationship in Seattle would be a grave understatement. Seattle’s development boom has contributed to the loss of beloved art and other types of spaces. In the eyes of many artists, a group hit hard by rising rents and changing neighborhoods including the Hill, developers are akin to the devil. And house flippers are not that much better.
“I’m still navigating that,” says Keyes when I ask how he feels about his role in it. “A few of the artists I asked didn’t want to be involved in this, ‘because Seattle developers are evil and destroy neighborhoods and push artists out’.”
“I feel a little bit of guilt,” he continues. “But you know, I’m also I’m also hoping that I can help artists find housing and navigate all of these issues. I’ve been making an effort to learn about affordable housing, ways you can get into a house, like buying homes together, going into foreclosure auction.”
Keyes says he’s also hoping other artists can profit from the situation. 100% of the profit of the art sold goes to the artists. “These homes are fairly expensive, so it’s a select clientele. Which means the artists get a whole new audience and hopefully some sales. With a lot of galleries closing in Seattle, artists are losing the opportunity to show and sell work. This could be a nice avenue for that.”