“City of Tomorrow” exhibition at Seattle Art Museum shows highlights from Virginia Wright’s collection of modern and contemporary art.

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IMAGE: Courtesy Seattle Art Museum

When we speak about Art in Seattle, and mostly about contemporary art, we must speak about Virginia Wright. Without her, Seattle would not have such a wide collection of art. She and her husband, Bagley, built the culture of modern art in Seattle. Virginia, or Jinny, is the daughter of Prentice and Virginia Bloedel, titans of the lumber industry, who donate their property on Bainbridge Island to create the beautiful “Bloedel Reserve”.

Virginia and her husband worked to change Seattle into a cultural hub. In the early 50’s, she started collecting art. The first piece she bought was from a little-known artist named Mark Rothko, who would go on to become one of the major figures in Abstract Expressionism. Most of their collection was housed in their home in the Highlands. The house was designed as a gallery, with walls large enough to hold some of their largest artworks. Even the children’s play structure had to be art. In 1965, Virginia commissioned New York sculptor Mark di Suvero to do a piece for their garden. This piece, Bunyon’s Chess, was later donated, along with works from Elsworth Kelly, Tony Smith, Anthony Carro and Roxy Paine to the Seattle’s Olympic Sculpture Park in 2007.

Jinny Wright was involved in many aspects of the art life in Seattle, among them was the opening of a non-profit 4000 square foot gallery, on Dexter in South Lake Union called the Wright Exhibition Space. It was devoted to 20th century contemporary art. Sadly, the gallery closed in 2014. I was lucky enough to see its final exhibition “9 from LA”.

“City of Tomorrow” shows highlight’s from Jinny’s collection of modern and contemporary art. The 64 pieces presented gives a sense of modern art history in the US and in Europe—and the trends that have shaped the last 60 years from Abstract Expressionism to Pop Art to Minimalism. Some of these pieces are displayed at SAM for the first time. The work is accompanied by artifacts that document the linkage between Jinny’s cultural exploration and the growth of Seattle.

In this exhibition, one can distinguish Jinny’s sense of humor in the collection. A large abstract painting, “Big Picture: Art After 1945” (Franz Kline), painted with seemingly random strokes of black paint is accompanied by a smaller study with the exact same composition. Robert Gober’s “Urinal” makes a sly wink at Marcel Duchamp.

More than anything this exhibition shows a highly intelligent woman with a strong love and curiosity for art and artists who chose to share this love with the city of Seattle. An exhibition not to be missed.