Fifth Row Center

We heard an interview with Virginia Wright last week at the Seattle Art Museum. She’s well known in the area for her art philanthropy. The interview was part of KUOW’s Front Row Center series, and Melody is a big fan of Marcie Sillman’s work on the series of events.

If you go through the Seattle Art Museum you’ll see Bagley and Virginia Wright’s names on several pieces. While Virginia was in love with modern art (paintings, sculpture, etc.) her husband Bagley became involved in the Seattle theater world, so much that the Seattle Repertory Theatre (of which he was the founding president) is known as the Bagley Wright Theatre. He was one of the five principal developers of the Space Needle.

Marcie led Virginia through her beginnings into art. She was a big fan of Renaissance art until she took a modern art class at Barnard, after which she was a complete convert.

Her first purchase was #10 by Mark Rothko which she knew she had to have when she first saw it. She asked Betty Parsons about purchasing it, offering to pay over several months. She was told that she would have to talk to Rothko himself, who had the one condition that she not loan it out for exhibit for the first year. She was worried it would be too large for her home but was assured that it would be fine, which it was.

In the Wrights’ early days in Seattle, the Seattle Art Museum wasn’t displaying modern art. Virginia got together with other collectors and asked if they could put on a modern art exhibit, and they were granted permission to do so. When asked if it was well-received, her answer was that they did several of them; yes, it was successful.

The piece which Virginia feels is her most important contribution to the city, as well as the piece which is her favorite, is Barnett Newman's Broken Obelisk which she was able to have installed in University of Washington's Red Square. One thing she said that has been learned with that installation is all the public art needs to be maintained; Broken Obelisk needed to be removed for a while to be repaired (the Houston version also went through extensive repairs), not just patched like it had been at one point. When she was still driving, she would be happy to see it when driving on I-5.

The Front Row Center events center around a particular performance or installation, and this one was about the exhibit Big Picture: Art after 1945 which includes works donated by the Wrights as well as loans from other collections.

Marcie Sillman has been hosting Front Row Center events for quite a few years, but when we spoke with her before the interview she said that the funding for it is improving and she even has help with it now. It used to be very grassroots and not very well publicized. Melody has been going to so many of them that Marcie always looks for her and makes a point to say hello. It certainly helped that at one event Melody was the only person in the audience who stayed for the Q&A session.

While we arrived early for this event, the first couple rows were reserved for family, so we ended up sitting in the fifth row. Yes, in the center.