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The Art of the Stamp:
A Victoria,BC Love Story

Kimerly Rorschach: Seattle Art Museum Director

Jo-Anne Birnie Danzker: Frye Art Museum Director

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Behind the Scenes

By MATTHEW KANGAS

Frye Art Museum front entrance

Frye Art Museum front entrance

Jo-Anne Birnie Danzker: Frye Art Museum Director

Jo -Anne Birnie Danzker

Jo -Anne Birnie Danzker Photo: Mark Woods

The fifth director of the Charles and Emma Frye Art Museum in Seattle since its 1952 opening, Australian-born Canadian citizen Jo-Anne Birnie Danzker has brought new life and success to a privately owned, publicly accessible art gallery that was in a transitional period. Her tenure under Vancouver Art Gallery director Luke Rombout in the 1970s, running the first art museum video program in Canada, also came with historical collection curating and exhibition responsibilities.

As she said in a recent interview, the young curator soon learned from Rombout that she was to be part of something much bigger: “Luke had been at the Stedelijk [Museum in Amsterdam] and worked under the great Willem Sandberg, probably the most innovative European curator of the period. He added graphics, film series, lectures, and also had that characteristic sparse installation hanging style that I learned from Luke.”

“I was to take such a legacy very seriously,” Birnie Danzker added with a smile.
Her other professional experiences before Seattle were the perfect training for her job at the Frye: to relate public programming to the Frye Founding Collection. “At eighteen,” she says, “I was benefiting from cheaper airfare and was among the first generation of university students to stop referring to visiting Britain as ‘going home.’ The world was our home.”

Managing editor for Flash Art magazine at 22, curator of Canada House in London, founder of Toronto’s first video gallery (Electric Gallery) – all were forerunners of Birnie Danzker’s “multi-platform” approach today at the Frye.

“And it all fits in with the Munich Secession artists in the collection – Lenbach, Stuck and others. They had interfaces and collaborations with poets, dancers, composers and theorists, all the time questioning the function of art. That’s what we’re doing!”

She points out how “Canadian” the Frye is in that its emphasis on education, art classes, art history lecture series and community outreach are all similar. “Even though Mr. Frye was a self-made man, he always saw himself as collecting for a public, and to complement what others were collecti???ng, especially once Seattle Art Museum turned down his offer of the collection.”

Building on such strengths, Birnie Danzker announced the first-ever U.S. retrospective of modernist giant Alexei Jawlensky, a student of Frye master Franz von Stuck, coming in 2017; and a huge French museum loan survey of Corot and the Barbizon School in 2018. Next year, the great Danish landscape painter Vilhelm Hammershøi will be featured in another huge loan survey.

When many had written off the Frye as hopelessly passé, Birnie Danzker’s predecessors did their best to restore or add some lustre. However, her quiet but radical makeover makes it seem like the shine was there all along. Stuck, Lenbach and Munkácsi, all those stuffy, fusty central Europeans now seem, thanks to the current director’s efforts, more contemporary and relevant than ever. Since the closing of Western Bridge and the Lawrimore Project, Birnie Danzker’s Frye is clearly the beating heart of contemporary art in Seattle today.

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