Seattle’s Best Contemporary Art Galleries

Seattle skyline
Seattle skyline | © Inge Johnsson / Alamy Stock Photo

From Henry Art Gallery to Roq La Rue, Seattle has a burgeoning art scene, with emerging and established artists exhibiting in all manner of art spaces. The commercial and non-profit galleries of Pioneer Square and beyond offer an eclectic mix of contemporary art from across the USA and the Northwest, Washington and Seattle itself. Don’t miss out on regular art events, such as Seattle’s First Thursday Art Walk or Georgetown Art Attack.

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Henry Art Gallery

Nestled within the University of Washington and founded in 1927, the Henry, which is actually a non-profit museum, is an established and highly acclaimed presence on Seattle’s art scene. Currently home to a vast collection of over 25,000 objects, the gallery brings together an array of interactive installations and exhibitions, including works by Bruce Nauman, Sean Scully and Louise Bourgeois. Although much of the permanent collection has been digitized and can be accessed via the Internet, nothing can replace walking into Light Rein, James Turrell’s Skyspace project, a profoundly spiritual site-specific installation that allows visitors to focus their attention on a single slice of the sky. At the heart of the Henry’s mission is the dynamic, open-ended (and open-minded) discourse on art – and indeed, this makes it Seattle’s foremost art destination.

SOIL Art Gallery

SOIL, Seattle

SOIL’s origins can be traced back to 1995, when a group of ambitious local artists began their search for a space to exhibit their work. The gallery’s cooperative spirit is still very much palpable. Run by artists and for artists, SOIL organizes open-application curated shows on a biannual basis, giving emerging artists the chance to showcase their work. Be it a live reading from the artist’s seventh grade diary (Christopher Buening, 2014) or an aluminium sculpture embodying the frailty of memory (London Tsai, 2014), SOIL prides itself on its dedication to art, whatever its medium or subject matter. Legend has it that they even once exhibited ‘gerbil art’.

James Harris Gallery

Roy Dowell, installation view, 2013

There is a reason why James Harris Gallery is unafraid of taking risks: though they launch the careers of many emerging artists, their exhibitions are characterized by meticulous curation and long-standing, international experience. The art space, which recently moved to a new location just around the corner from Pioneer Square, is also home to a number of established artists: Noah Davis, Matthais Merkel Hess and Roy Dowell to name but a few. In 2013, James Harris Gallery was Seattle’s only exhibitor at Pulse Miami, presenting an impressive range of challenging artworks, which included Adam Sorensen’s lush, utopian landscapes and Alexander Kroll’s mixed-media, multilayered collages.

Platform Gallery

Situated in the Tashiro Kaplan arts center, Platform has been in operation since 2004, making it a new – but confident and stimulating – addition to Seattle’s art scene. The main focus here is art with a profound conceptual edge: they have hosted shows with themes as diverse as gender identity as a framework for art and information overload in contemporary society. Platform’s rotating program of exhibitions mainly presents solo shows, and hence offers its undivided attention to these thought-provoking projects. Steve Lyons, the gallery’s owner, is widely appreciated for his open mind and the active support he gives to his artists – both regional and international.

Greg Kucera Gallery

In operation since 1983, Greg Kucera has developed a solid reputation as one of the most authoritative voices on Seattle’s art scene. The exhibition space opens with a large, airy hall and extends further back into a tangle of smaller rooms, each filled with artworks worthy of contemplation. But the most astonishing thing about Greg Kucera Gallery is perhaps the sculpture deck, an outdoor balcony featuring a number of wrought-iron sculptures. From Deborah Butterfield’s haunting bronze horses to Claude Zervas’ hypnotizing geometric ink paintings, Greg Kucera’s curation is at once careful and creative.

Roq La Rue

Roq La Rue has always been fascinated by underground art and pop culture – and claims to have been one of the world’s first galleries with this focus when it first opened in 1998. Currently finding itself in a new, airy location in Pioneer Square, Roq La Rue still proposes the same funky, cheerful programme it has always prided itself on. Though the exhibitions here sometimes verge on kitsch with a distinctive pop feel, this is really the point: underrepresented, highly creative artists take centre stage, and retain their freedom to produce works of art that are often fantastically complex and always refreshing.

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