January 4

Portrait Power

Pivot Art + Culture’s new exhibit explores how artists convey the essence of their subjects.

A Closer Look: Portraits from the Paul G. Allen Family Collection is a wide-ranging new exhibition at Pivot Art + Culture that spans continents, cultures, and centuries and includes pieces from Northwest artists and works by everyone from Renoir and Pierre-Auguste to Ansel Adams and David Hockney.

To know the impetus for A Closer Look, you have to step back and look at another exhibition from Allen’s collection. Seeing Nature: Landscape Masterworks from the Paul G. Allen Family Collection is a traveling exhibition that made its way to Portland Art Museum, the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C., Minneapolis Institute of Art, and New Orleans Museum of Art before it makes its final stop at Seattle Art Museum on February 15. According to Greg Bell, Pivot Art + Culture’s curator, when Allen began discussing sharing his collection in a more public way, the first thing they looked at was the strength of the landscape work. That evolved into evaluating the rest of the collection for exhibits, including the Pivot’s sci-fi assemblage Imagined Futures last summer, and now A Closer Look.

“We found this really interesting mix of things happening here. It ranges from post-impressionist work that you would expect to see in the gold-framed section of museums, to glamor shots, to contemporary pieces, to musicians, and a whole lot more,” Bell said.


Most shows are set up in such a way that there’s a flow to them, and Bell explains that’s usually because there’s an overarching narrative to it. But A Closer Look is really more of a selection. The cohesion here comes by way of groups­—a pair of dancers, one contemporary from 2015, the other Ana Pavlova from the turn of the 20th century; standing figures with direct gazes; photos of movie stars, musicians, scientists, and more.

“I wanted to add an element of compare and contrast here, which is not something normally seen in museums. There usually isn’t the mix between photography, painting, and the different time periods. Because of the nature of this show, I had the ability to intermingle things so that the viewer could make their own associations,” he said.

According to Bell, there is no one piece that defines A Closer Look. The challenge, Bell said, was to bring together pieces that have range so that there are touch points for different people. Some will come to Pivot and gravitate towards the more classic post-impressionist work. Seasoned photographers will appreciate the photos in this exhibit because several of these pieces have never been on display. Painters will likely make a beeline for the big, bold David Hockney piece.

In addition to the A Closer Look, patrons should check out the smaller collection of pieces by Northwest artists set up in a gallery to the side, mixing portrait photography, sculpture, painting, drawing, and video. The complementary exhibition, called Implied Fictions, features work by Holly Andres, Marsha Burns, Aleah Chapin, Scott Fife, Ann Gale, Susie J. Lee, Jim Phalen, Akio Takaori, Storm Tharp, Samantha Wall, Tariqa Waters, and Alice Wheeler.

“The Northwest is not normally known to be the center of portraiture but there are some really good artists doing portrait work here. I thought it would be interesting to put together a selection of works by contemporary artists working in the Northwest so that you can have more of that kind of compare and contrast,” Bell said.

A Closer Look: Portraits from the Paul G. Allen Family Collection is on display Tuesday through Sunday 10am-6pm, and first Thursdays 10am-8pm through February 26. Don’t miss special programming like artist talks, aura photography, curatorial tours, and more.

Story by Ethan Chung, Photos by Robert Wade

At The Center

SLU is the geographical center of Seattle