The Museum of Museums is like many spaces we’ve missed during the COVID-19 era — full of interesting things we can’t quite see just yet. But as venues open again across the city, this new First Hill space of art and creation is also ready for visitors as it prepares to officially open next month.
“Everything around here is like 96% done. There’s a lot of things that need to be kind of massaged into place, but we’re done with construction. Just a lot of little details,” Greg Lundgren says.
Museum founder Lundgren recently gave CHS a tour of MoM, as he simultaneously delegated tasks to volunteers and explained works in progress. Part of MoM’s mission, he says, is building a better Seattle by increasing the artist population and creating spaces for exhibition, fostering collectors and artists, and investing in youth programming. MoM’s non-profit partner is Coyote Central, the Central District’s youth arts organization.
Last June, the co-owner of The Hideout and Vito’s set his sights on repurposing another part of the First Hill neighborhood for something better, transforming a vacant medical building on Broadway and Marion and activating it as a contemporary art museum.
He originally hoped to open the space last August, coinciding with the Seattle Art Fair, but challenges and delays quickly piled up. A massive amount of clean up (the restoration team hauled out 120,000 pounds of construction debris), necessary seismic retrofitting, a frustrating back-and-forth with the city over zoning permissions, and of course a pandemic all contributed to the setback. Now, about a year and five months after Lundgren signed the lease, the Museum of Museums is real.
The three story, 8,000 square feet MoM is “like a layer cake,” and is as much a product of Lundgren’s ever-evolving vision as it is a co-creation with the building’s legacy, and its quirks. The top floor houses the Ruth True Space, a gallery designated for immersive installation by one artist or a team of artists. The gallery will show an immersive work by Neon Saltwater. Below the True Space is the Barbara Malone Gallery. With over 550 lineal feet of exhibition space, it’s more like a traditional gallery; expect to see Janet Galore’s “Rock Garden,” photography by Natalja Kent, and a shrine by Living Altar there.
To the south of the Malone Gallery is the Lobby, which encompasses the Emergence Room, featuring work done by artists from six to 16 years old, the Margret Supperfield Museum, and the Shaun Kardinal Museum. The Margaret Supperfield Museum will house sculptor Jennifer McNeely’s miniature museum, and the Shaun Kardinal Museum is an homage to the local artist and curator’s home museum. Also in the Lobby is the Museum of Museum of Museums, a bathroom that showcases art made about or within MoM.
The Kitchen and Gift Shop make up the bottom floor, which features murals by artists Nahaan and Kristen Ramirez. While the upstairs galleries are a little more fixed in their functions, The Kitchen is intended to be flexible, with potential for art classes, weekend markets or pop up exhibitions. Right now the Kitchen hosts Mask Parade, a curation of face masks made by 27 different artists, the sales of which go to Coyote Central. Between the Kitchen and Gift Shop is the Mudede Theater “our COVID-friendly four-seat cinema,” now playing an animation by 10 year-old Orion Razat.
The Gift Shop is a curation of 63 objects, some from featured artists, and some foraged by Lundgren. “The 63 objects are designed to incite wonder and a little bit of joy and to make people happy. It’s recognizing partly that we’re on Swedish campus, [and] we’ve also got Virginia Mason and Harborview [nearby],” Lundgren said, adding that this year everyone could use a little joy.
On the back wall of the Gift Shop is a raised platform with a desk and guest couch for the Talk Show, “a little bit David Letterman, a little bit public access.” Conversations with artists or audience members on the Talk Show will be streamed live on social media platforms. Behind the Talk Show stage is a 20 by 7-foot oil painting “Sasquatch Daydream” by Crystal Barbre. A depiction of a Sasquatch fantasy, the painting shows babely cryptids in various stages of hunting and repose. In some ways, it’s an ode to what used to be in the Gift Shop, a retailer of intimate apparel and prosthetics for women with breast cancer.
MoM’s debut will come as the city’s art spaces have slowly come back to life amid the ongoing pandemic. But it has been a sleepy awakening. Volunteer Park’s Seattle Asian Art Museum remains shuttered even as the downtown SAM reopened with limited capacity. SAAM shuttered in mid-March as COVID-19 numbers began to rise. In February, the building had reopened after three years of closure and construction to overhaul and expand the museum.
Meanwhile, First Hill’s Frye Art Museum is again allowing visitors with “member only previews” starting October 22nd.
CHS first wrote about the project in the summer of 2019 as the vacant building seemed destined for a new life. But the project hit snags with City Hall along the way over its permitted use as a medical facility. Now the paperwork is in order and an opening is drawing near.
When Lundgren signed a five-year-lease with Swedish for the building and began cleaning and construction, he also made a surprising discovery. It was correctly assessed as a mid-century design, but Lundren learned it was one of architect firm NBBJ’s first buildings. Constructed in 1945, it was ahead of its time for mid-century architecture in Seattle. “1945/1946 is really avant-garde for this type of architecture, especially in the Pacific Northwest. It really does have a mid-century royalty status,” Lundgren said. “It’s the oldest standing NBBJ property. It is the first property that they ever got national press attention for. This building was featured in Architectural Forum in October of 1946.”
What was once a medical building with small 8 by 6-foot women’s health offices was vacant for 10 years before Lundgren took it on. After removing the human waste, garbage, and needles in the building, as well as knocking out walls that separated the small offices, the structure itself invited a certain collaboration. Small and narrow spaces offered unique opportunities for presentations and moments within MoM.
“You keep running through all the different scenarios about how we can use this little eight foot by 10 foot room, and if you cycle through a bunch of ideas, one actually ends up sticking,” Lundgren explained, “It’s like a puzzle. You do the part that you know and then you kinda sit back and come back to it. There’s still parts of this that haven’t been totally figured out.”
The Museum of Museums is located at 900 Boylston and set to open to the public in November. Watch for events and pop-ups in the meantime. You can learn more at museumofmuseums.com.
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