Farewell, Suyama Space! 5 Reasons We Will Miss You

Posted on November 18, 2015, 2:42 pm
13 mins


With heavy hearts, we learned this week that Suyama Space in Belltown will finish its 19-year run at the end of 2016. For those who have not yet visited Suyama Space, you have a year left, and I highly encourage you to find the time. Here are five reasons why we are going to sorely miss it.

1. It exemplifies the intersection of business and art to the benefit of both.

People may discuss how art benefits business in one’s community in abstract, often glib terms. It is hard to qualify, let alone quantify, precisely how having art in one’s surroundings has a material benefit, but it does. The insertion of purely aesthetic objects amid spaces built for efficiency of function is a reminder that analytic ideals alone are not sufficient to ensure our wellbeing and happiness. By becoming objects of pure thought and feeling, artworks express synthetic ideals that are vital to innovation, rooted in a fuller awareness of one’s environment and one’s relation to it. This in turn refreshes one’s approach to processes and spaces that we might otherwise take for granted.

The intersection of analytic and synthetic ideals is crucial to good architecture, so it makes perfect sense that Suyama Space is the antechamber to the offices of architecture firm Suyama Peterson Deguchi. The space is not mere window dressing; the changing installations (even their construction and deconstruction) have undoubtedly challenged and inspired the architects themselves. Few businesses have the means or space to host the large-scale, site specific works one sees in Suyama Space, but all can take a page from this model to think about how to incorporate art into the working environment.

2. The curation has been impeccable.

Curator Beth Sellars has brought a mix of emerging and established artists from the region to create these world-class installations, from Damien Gilley’s Axis (2013) to John Grade’s Seeps of Winter (2008). Each artist and studio has transformed the space, often with simple materials used to striking effect: Lilienthal | Zamora used clusters of fluorescent tubes; Gilley used green tape; Lead Pencil Studio used industrial woven line (over 100 miles of it, in fact). In each site-specific installation, the unique character of the space was considered (the high ceilings, the natural light, the rustic flooring, its history as a former stable and garage), and the unique opportunity presented never felt squandered.

In some cases, the installation was also a stage for more performative work. Aesthetically, the work of Avantika Biwa (titled At Owners Risk) was among the more abstruse installations to fill the space, but it really came alive during a reading of four poets who cycled throughout the space one afternoon.

Sellars’ curatorial eye has been a boon to the community, and I sincerely hope she has opportunities to share her gift even when Suyama Space ends its run.

3. It has allowed local artists to dream big.

The scale of the space has allowed artists to generate works that would never fit in a commercial gallery, let alone be expected to sell. The openness of the space and its diffuse light make it a blank canvas, and—though it sits in the center of the building—at times makes it feel like an exterior space, open to the sky. That has allowed artists to play with dichotomies of inside/outside, public/private, exposure/enclosure, etc. in ways that is almost inimitable. Installations that referenced the outdoors (e.g. Drawn from the Olympics by Wade Kavanaugh and Stephen B. Nguyen) could not have survived had they been exposed to the elements, but functioned more effectively because of this quality of the space. Even the current installation, The Seattle Floor by Veit Stratmann, is served by this sense of being open to the atmosphere, as it provides a setting for an open-ended game (how one moves through the space) and glows more vividly in the reflective light from above.

4. It has kept Belltown on the map for art.

Belltown was years ago the home of many artists, but those numbers have dwindled, as have the number of galleries. Many businesses display art and participate in the neighborhood’s own Art Walk (every second Friday), but commercial galleries are few in number. Suyama Space has provided a consistent locus for the arts in the neighborhood. It has done a lot to keep Belltown on the map in the arts community. New hubs like Common AREA Maintenance and spaces like ONYX Fine Arts (in the front of Form/Space Atelier) and versatile event spaces like Object will ensure that there is a creative presence, but there is nothing else quite like the Suyama Space in Belltown…and actually…

5. There’s nothing else quite like it in Seattle.

For all the reasons listed above, Suyama Space is singular in the city. There are other beautiful spaces for the display of new works and installations. Among spaces where work is also being sold, studio e is probably the top. South Lake Union’s MadArt is grand and gorgeous and has the added benefit of being visible from the street, inviting passersby into the construction process of its large installations—for instance, the works of two Suyama Space alums, John Grade and Rick Araluce. Grade’s Middle Fork was constructed and displayed in MadArt over many months and just had its big premiere at the Renwick Gallery to critical acclaim. The 2012 Suyama Space installation Uprising by Araluce and Steve Peters is among my all-time favorites, and he is currently building a massive replica of the The Great Northern train tunnel in Mad Art. This exposure to the street gives every passerby the benefit of seeing the creation process (and in Grade’s case allowing volunteers to participate), which is wonderful. Still, the airy seclusion of Suyama Space is unique, and so even if we see installations of the same caliber, their nature cannot be replicated.

We still have a year, though, so get down there while you can. The Seattle Floor runs through December 11 and will be followed by Joan Tanner‘s The False Spectator, opening January 18, 2016. In closing, I will include some of our favorite Instagrams from Vanguard Seattle and Suyama Peterson Deguchi, in no particular order. But first, check out video documenting Tivon Rice‘s 2014 installation Site Machines. (Read more about it in my review of it.) As one of the most intimate views of the building itself, Site Machines is perhaps the most complete tribute to one of Seattle’s most vital and vibrant art spaces.

Update (November 21, 12:00 PM): An earlier version of this article explained that ONYX Fine Arts is in the space “formerly known as” Form/Space Atelier. In fact, Form/Space Atelier still operates in that location (98 Clay St, attached to the Avenue One property) but has organized the placement of ONYX Fine Arts within the gallery.



T.s. Flock is a writer and arts critic based in Seattle and co-founder of Vanguard Seattle.

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