Tuesday, December 19, 2023

 Why did I do this, anyway?

That's a very good question.  Nineteen years ago (well, not quite since it's 10 days short) I started this blog.  It's not that I posted every day or even every week.  That said, the total is about 75,000 words.  The very first post (reprinted below) was my motive, or maybe justification or rationale, for adding to the Mississippi River flood of stuff on the internet.

After I finished the previous post I idly clicked on "older posts" and reread my first post.  This popped out at me:  "how irritated I get at the lack of coverage of visual art in my local media -- and how lame the little coverage that visual art does get seems."  Alas, that hasn't changed and I really didn't have any expectation that what I posted would trigger a change but I'm sad that it hasn't.  In fact it has gotten worse.  

So with thanks to my loyal followers (all eight of you), the random visitors who have left comments from time to time, and those who read but didn't leave any tracks -- this will be the last post on NOT BAD BUT IS IS ART and I'll take the blog down when I can figure out how to do so.  I now have a mostly-monthly newsletter "The Occasional Rumour" to which you can subscribe on my website www.ronfstop.com if you want to keep up with my own photography.


DECEMBER 29, 2009

Why am I doing this, anyway?

That's a very good question -- it's not as if I have a lot of time hanging heavy on my hands. I suppose my biggest single reason for doing a blog about art is how irritated I get at the lack of coverage of visual art in my local media -- and how lame the little coverage that visual art does get seems.

The immediate spur came from my friend, Joe, giving me a full-page article from the NY Times of Sunday, November 8. It is about one of my heroes, Bruce Davidson, whose work is the subject of a new, three-volume retrospective published by Steidl as well as two concurrent shows in New York. The article is informative, witty, carefully researched, and articulate. It is accompanied by several photographs by Mr. Davidson and an excellent environmental portrait of him by a NYT staffer, Damon Winter.

Dang, what a concept! Real writing and in some quantity about visual art?  I'll bet I would have to scrape bits and pieces from the local paper for at least a month to make up a full page. The only bit I can remember from the last few weeks that was accompanied by a photograph was about the closing of Benham Gallery (that, by the way, was the best and longest running photography gallery in Seattle). Oops, I let slip where I live (almost) so you can now identify the local paper. Oh, well. I might as well add that they just finished a three-part, front page series of articles on sports fans

Not to be entirely down on the local Times, they do have reasonably good coverage of books since Seattle is a very bookish town. They do have reasonably good coverage on music, even classical. They have reasonably good coverage of movies, especially the Film Festival and NW Film Forum. Visual art? Well, not so much. When Seattle Art Museum has a blockbuster show it gets some coverage. The other museums and the galleries ... pretty slim.

A couple of years ago a new magazine "City Arts" appeared on the scene with three localized editions. It is a side effect of the publishing company that does the excellent programs for most of the local performing art venues -- opera, symphony, ballet, theater. What a good idea. It looked promising for a while. Between the economy flop and their merge with the local music magazine, the prospect for a lot of visual art coverage beyond the calendar doesn't look good. Their feature articles are beginning to look sort of like "what the hip artist is wearing".

Why me?

Another excellent question. I do not claim to be an authority. I do not have a degree in art history or studio art. I don't even claim to be an artist. I am a photographer. Some of what I do is art, some is just for fun, most of it is rubbish -- just like every other photographer, painter, sculptor, (writer). I read about art a lot. I look at a lot of art. I have a lot of strong opinions about art. Considering a lot of what gets published, I'm not a really bad writer. 

So why not me? I have no good notion of how this blog is going to help, how it is going to shape up, even how long or how often I will continue to write for it.


Monday, December 18, 2023


Echoes of the 2023 Bumbershoot

In my just previous post I mentioned that I had a few prints in the photography show co-sponsored by Photography Center NW and A/NT Gallery in the latter’s space across from the International Fountain.  It was a big show — something over 90 prints — all of which were printed for the show at PCNW from the jpegs that were submitted for judging. In sizes from 16x20 or so to likely 36x48 (big).  I had five prints in the show — I suspect mostly because mine were black and white (of course) and from way back in the lifespan of Bumbershoot.  Only one other photographer had more (six prints) in the show.

Time passes.

The curator at PCNW decided that the show was too much work to only have it up for only a weekend. 

Background:  PCNW recently (like early this year) negotiated with a developer to build them a new facility in the street-level floor of a mixed used building.  When complete it will cover both the existing footprint of their building (in serious need of repair) and the parking lot to the rear of it., also owned by PCNW.  The developer’s plan was to begin demolition early in 2024 so the gallery would be idle until the new building is done. 

Back to the Bumbershoot show.  Facing closure of the gallery starting that soon she decided to host a replay of the show in the last month of 2023, which they did and the gallery and auditorium were barely big enough to wedge nearly all the prints in.  The show came down last week and the photographers were invited to pick up their prints (for free) which I did.

I’m pleased and more than a bit flattered that my five prints were among the largest prints in the show.   Now what?  My usual prints are small and these are big.  One of them, my favorite, looks spectacular big but what am I going to do with them?  I don’t have a shelf or closet space big enough to hold them.

In the interim the schedule for redevelopment of the PCNW property has (big surprise) slipped to demolition beginning January 2025.  I presume that there is a mad scramble in progress to plan next year’s shows.  When I picked up my prints the curator wistfully noted  that she hopes there will be on further delay.  (optimistic?)


Sunday, September 3, 2023


A not so brief review of the 2023 Bumbershoot

In 2019 I posted about the demise and hopeful rebirth of Bumbershoot.  Well, it finally happened.

Summary:  needs work.

Bumbershoot is an umbrella festival for the arts, music, visual, dance, what have you held at the Seattle Center in the fall – near or around the Labor Day weekend.  I have been a Bumbershoot devotee since 1975 or 76.  It and the Folklife Festival over Memorial Day weekend have been the bookends of summer for me for a very long time.  The first post-pandemic Folklife festival was in 2022 and, while a bit more mellow than the earlier ones it, and the 2023 version maintained the traditional home-grown and loosely organized flavor. 

A bit of history.  This was the 50th anniversary of the first Bumbershoot but the first post-pandemic so only the 47th actual one.  And the festival is actually 52 years old.  The 1971 and 1972 versions were officially the Mayor’s Festival of the Arts.  The sparkplug for them was Seattle’s first Arts Coordinator Ann Focke.  (I met her a time or two early on but can’t place when or where.)  She was also the sparkplug behind the creation of Artists Trust.  With some kind of magic she convinced the city council, in the midst of the most serious financial crisis since the great depression, to earmark $25,000 (about $200,000 in today’s dollars) to a festival to act as sort of a ray of hope during the then-current “Last person out of Seattle turn out the lights.” Boeing faceplant.  (I missed the first few festivals because we had fled to New York State until said faceplant had sort of blown over.)

The first festival was five days and the calendar shifted back and forth for a few years until it settled in to “Free Friday” and the three days of Labor Day weekend.  There was initially no entry charge but a modest charge became necessary as city support waned but it was still a mostly volunteer driven event – a lot like the Folklife Festival.  There was a wide variety of music on several smal stages, several well curated art shows, and a good deal of spontaneous goofiness.  On Free Friday there was not a lot of music that I recall but the visual art displays were open and the mayor actually turned up to present several annual arts awards.

So it went until 2008 or 2009.  In the face of further declines in city financial support the festival contracted with One Reel Vaudeville to organize the weekend.  Under their leadership it became, well, more organized.  Entry fees went up, Free Friday went away, the emphasis changed to fewer but more “headline” music groups and much less of the spontaneous goofiness that is the result of a volunteer organization. 

After several more years of decline, organization of the festival went to AEG, a national producer of music festivals and the emphasis lurched very much towards bands with national recognition and a shrinking component of other arts – and a big increase in attendance fees.  Attendance numbers dropped.  After the 2019 festival it went dormant in honor of the pandemic and AEG threw in the towel.

 During the three year hiatus two local groups stepped up to organize the 2023 edition and hopefully return it to its homegrown roots.

The Crosscut Arts and Culture editor wrote: “After a three-year pause, Bumbershoot returns this weekend with more local music, more visual arts and a lot more old-school Seattle quirkiness.

This is good news for those of us who in recent years felt the fest had lost its way. Under the direction of mammoth producer AEG Presents, Bumbershoot gradually traded the creative oddities and locally conjured surprises it was founded upon in favor of huge musical acts — and huge ticket prices to finance them.”


Which brings me back to this year’s Bumbershoot.  Again: “needs work”. 

The hunger for a return of Bumbershoot was quite clear and the crowd was huge and cheerful.

It had shrunk to two days instead of three.  The single day-of-event pass was $75 and the claim was that it was cheaper than it was for the 2019 version (but without national headliner music groups.)  I scored a free pass to the Saturday/Sunday festival by having a few photographs in the 50th Anniversary show held in the A/NT gallery across from the international fountain.  I had every intention of going both days but gave up after one.

Yep, it was organized.  My major gripe was that there was absolutely nothing happening that had not been planned and choreographed with no elbow room for anything spontaneous or old-school Seattle quirkiness.

While the music was not by national names it still was the obvious anchor for the festival.  There were three large stages, one at the Horiuchi mural -- one on Fisher Green, and one on the north end of the fountain lawn -- each with elaborate video support and bands that, to my jaded ear, all sounded alike and were loud to the level of near pain.  From a block or so away the sound levels were loud enough to drown out conversation.  Walking down the avenue south of the fountain I felt like I was being pummeled from left and right stages. The crowds surrounding them were dense and enthusiastic so maybe that is my problem.  Between sets there was video on the stages and there were large scale video displays scattered about the grounds, many with corporate sponsors. There were a couple of much smaller stages that seemed to only be populated in the evening.

There were a number of smaller areas with sundry attractions – fingernail painting, fashions, and a “cat circus” that had a line more than a block long waiting to get in.  In the area that formerly was the amusement park there was a space for double-dutch rope jumping, roller skate dancing. 

Visual art included the 50th Anniversary photography show, the Flatstock poster show and several “out of sight” exhibitions – a large show in the Fisher Green  Pavilion and sculpture on the plaza of the Pacific Science Center.   

Then there was the matter of entry, security, and exit.  There were two entry gaits, one through the Memorial Stadium and one next to the Exhibition Hall – both with metal detectors, bag searches, and very long lines.  There were also metal detectors and bag searches to enter the Pacific Science Center plaza.  There were, I believe, eight exits on the map – but all clearly marked “emergency exit” with a guard posted at them.  It turned out that the guard would open the gate if you wanted to exit (and would remind you that there was no reentry.)

Praising with faint damns -- It was better than no Bumbershoot at all but a far cry from a resurrection of the Bumbershoot of old.  Better luck next year.