An Alternative Place for Us
On April 21, 1974, in celebration of the Space Needle's 12th birthday, and/or opened its doors at Oddfellows Hall on 10th Avenue with an exhibition of Space Needle paraphernalia. The multi-medium show included found and made objects, and was organized by a group of artists who had previously set up similar informal shows in living rooms and fairs and called themselves the Seattle Souvenir Service: visual artists Focke, Rolon Bert Garner, Ken Leback, and Robert Teeple (b. 1941), musician Jerry Jensen, and arts supporter Anne Gerber (1910-2005). This first show did not include performance or video (a later and/or restaging of the Space Needle theme did), but it reflected other foundational values of and/or: working collaboratively, leaving categories open and undefined (art or souvenir?), and good-natured irreverence (hence the lower-case name). Visitors to the show even began to bring to the gallery their own Space Needle keepsakes, which and/or added to the exhibition.
Focke had worked for Seattle Arts Commission and in education at Seattle Art Museum. She'd done occasional arts programs at television stations in Seattle. She knew how big institutions functioned, and that certain types of art weren't flourishing in mainstream environments. "I just knew there was a lot going on that wasn't at the museum," she said in a 2013 interview (Jen Graves interview, March 23, 2013). Alternative nonprofit artist-run spaces had begun to spring up around the country; New York's multidisciplinary center The Kitchen, founded in 1971, was a particular inspiration for the Seattle group. While serving on the contemporary art council of Seattle Art Museum, Anne Gerber had been dispatched to find out what was new, and she'd brought ideas back west, sharing them with Focke. The two bonded in spirit. Focke was already working with the other artists, organizing small, informal experiments at various locations, including her studio basement in a building near Oddfellows on Pike Street, where Jensen stored equipment from the previously existing group New Dimensions in Music (it would fold into and/or).
"And/or didn't get born out of anger or irritation or a sense of opposition," Focke said. "Back in the late '60s and early '70s, people just did things. ... It was almost a joke that we should be an organization" (Jen Graves interview, March 23, 2013).
An Immediate National Profile
At first, and/or rented only the first floor of Oddfellows Hall, where Oddfellows Café + Bar is now (2013) located. Teeple and fellow artist Alan Lande did the construction. They built a back wall and eight-foot walls near the front windows to separate the area into an office for Focke, what would become a library, and the central gallery. Focke continued temporarily to work part time for the City of Seattle's public-art division while running and/or. The library subscribed to hard-to-find periodicals, and a full events schedule began immediately: a group exhibition of local artists' books followed by sculpture from California ceramicist David Gilhooly, then "Videotapes from the National Center for Experiments in Television at KQED in San Francisco." It continued apace: a performance by Seattle artists Paul Lenti and Steven Minch of the "Madame Blavatsky Songbook" (inspired by nineteenth-century Russian theosophist Helena Blavatsky [1831-1891]), selections from a newly created Northwest Film and Video Festival, an "audio-image performance" called "Reflections from the Road" by the influential early digital storyteller Dana Atchley; and an early national show of women conceptual artists curated by the feminist art critic Lucy Lippard (b. 1937) called "c. 7,500."
Word about and/or began to reach the East Coast. There was nothing else like it in Seattle, so when David Ryan, assistant director of the museum program division at the National Endowment for the Arts, was visiting Seattle, he made a stop at and/or and invited the fledgling band of volunteers to apply for funding. "I thought, to the NEA?" Focke says. "In the museum program? He said sure. I said, 'I thought you had to be two years old as an institution' -- that was the rule. He said, 'Oh, don't worry about that'" (Jen Graves interview, March 23, 2013). With its first grant from the NEA, and/or organized its first big show involving national artists. It ran from October 3 to November 30, 1975, and and/or published a catalog. The artists were William Wegman (b. 1943), Joan Jonas (b. 1936), Peter Campus (b. 1937), Shigeko Kubota (b. 1937), and Terry Fox (1943-2008), all central figures in the canon of early video and performance art taking shape in the 1970s.
A Product of Its Time
Seattle artist Robert Teeple, who works with electronics, music, and animation, was there from the beginning. He never became a division head, running music, or video, or art -- one of the "staffers" and/or eventually paid modestly in later years. Rather, Teeple showed there, worked there, organized events there. For many artists it was a clubhouse. "It was like an extension of art school," Teeple said. It taught him that "art is not a solitary endeavor" (Teeple interview).
And/or was also the place to see the most exciting new work from around the nation. Teeple remembers seeing Laurie Anderson (b. 1947) perform at and/or in a small room with an audience of maybe 50. He attended a concert there led by minimalist composer Terry Riley (b. 1935). He remembers a Martin Puryear (b. 1941) installation in 1981: a giant yurt inside Oddfellows Hall, made of wood ribs covered in fabric. Teeple was on the installation crew. It was the day after his 40th birthday, and he said Puryear's sculpture cured his hangover. "I was so sick when I started, and I felt so good when it was done. ... There were some very strange artists that came through that I thought were total frauds, but there were also charming and brilliant people that came through. There was a hell of a lot going on. For years after it closed, I found myself just missing the constant activity" (Teeple interview).
The National Endowment for the Arts was vital to and/or. It had been created in 1965 by President Lyndon B. Johnson (1908-1973) and was highly energetic in its early years. Responding to Vietnam-era artists who were working, often in collectives, toward a more democratic, decentralized, and non-commercial American art, certain NEA staffers, like Ryan, identified and supported alternative organizations like and/or.
"It certainly would not have existed without President Johnson unleashing all this money in those days," Teeple said (Teeple interview).
The Early NEA
During the life of and/or, the NEA had a media program, a visual arts program, a museum program, and a music program, providing funding to artists forming organizations around the country. With its interdisciplinary programs, "we tapped 'em all," Focke said (Jen Graves interview, March 23, 2013).
NEA money could be leveraged to raise more. It was a stamp of approval. But the financial support was not even the most important part, Focke says. She began to be invited to serve on funding selection panels at NEA headquarters back east. "Because we were way out here, we were asked to be on them a lot because of the need for geographic diversity," Focke said. Ultimately, Focke became chair of the NEA's visual arts panel. "I mean, the money was important. But it was more the connections that you made. These were your peers all over the country" (Jen Graves interview, March 23, 2013). And/or quickly found itself at the center of the new American art it championed.
A Who's Who
Young Seattle artist Norie Sato (b. 1949) -- a fresh graduate from the master of fine arts program at the University of Washington -- showed her work at and/or during those first few months in 1974, among video and prints by three other artists with UW connections: Carl Chew (b. 1948), Dennis Evans (b. 1946), and Bill Ritchie (b. 1941). Chew, Evans, and Sato had studied with Ritchie at UW, where he headed the print department but added a focus on video as the new medium emerged. Ritchie's students created the sort of interdisciplinary works that fit right in at and/or, and they would become regular exhibitors over the years. After the 1974 group show, Sato came back, first as a volunteer setting up Five Artists and Their Video Works and, before long, as the director of video, then as director of the entire exhibition program, a post she held until and/or's end.
The roster of experimental artists, musicians, writers, thinkers, curators, and critics associated with and/or during its 10 ½ years is a who's who of its time. They explored the major issues of the era, from land and environmental art to body art, surveillance art, art and technology, racial identity, mass media, politics, feminism. They were serious but also regularly demonstrated the playfulness of the time.
When and/or closed in 1984, Focke compiled a list of the associated "visual artists, composers, videomakers, performers, writers, sculptors, filmmakers, photographers, curators, playwrights, performance artists, poets, and more" (Anne Focke, untitled typescript dated September 10, 1984). An alphabetized sampling of those based outside Seattle: Vito Acconci (b. 1940), Kathy Acker (1948-1997), John Adams (b. 1947), Judy Baca (b. 1946), John Baldessari (b. 1931), Lynda Benglis (b. 1941), Robert Bly (b. 1926), Chris Burden (b. 1946), Germano Celant (b. 1940), Jo-Anne Birnie Danzker (now director of the Frye Art Museum in Seattle), Constance DeJong (b. 1950), Agnes Denes (b. 1931), Philip Glass (b. 1937), Hans Haacke (b. 1936), Alanna Heiss (b. 1943), Gary Hill (b. 1951) (before he moved to Seattle in 1985 to establish the video program at Cornish College of the Arts), Nancy Holt (b. 1938), Robert Irwin (b. 1928), Ed Kienholz (1927-1994), Nancy Reddin Kienholz (b. 1943), Rem Koolhaas (b. 1944), Suzanne Lacy (b. 1945), George Maciunas (1931-1978), Tom Marioni (b. 1937), Meredith Monk (b. 1942), N.E. Thing Co., Pauline Oliveros (b. 1932), Nam June Paik (1932-2006), Adrian Piper (b. 1948), Martha Rosler (b. 1943), Royal Chicano Air Force, Morton Subotnick (b. 1933), Marcia Tucker (1940-2006), Mierle Laderman Ukeles (b. 1939), Stan VanDerBeek (1927-1984), Steina Vasulka (b. 1940), Bill Viola (b. 1951), Jackie Winsor (b. 1941), Krzysztof Wodiczko (b. 1943).
An alphabetized sampling of those based in Seattle: Richard Andrews, Linda Beaumont (b. 1950), Gloria Bernstein, Clair Colquitt, Ted D'Arms (1937-2011), Stuart Dempster (b. 1936), Paul Dorpat (b. 1938), Dennis Evans, Jon Gierlich (1941-2011), Tina Hoggatt (b. 1954), Matthew Kangas (b. 1949), Andrew Keating (b. 1948), Ken Kelly (b. 1955), Jack Mackie (b. 1946), David Mahler (b. 1944), Sherry Markovitz (b. 1947), Michael McCafferty (b. 1947), Nancy Mee (b. 1951), David Nechak, Ries Niemi (b. 1955), Barbara Noah, Heather Dew Oaksen (b. 1949), Ann Obery (b. 1949), Gamelan Pacifica, Larry Reid (b. 1953), Elizabeth Sandvig (b. 1937), Seattle Mime Theater, Buster Simpson (b. 1942), Michael Spafford (b. 1935), Paul Taub (b. 1952), Patti Warashina (b. 1940), Bill Whipple (b. 1947), Nancy Worden (b. 1954), Ze Whiz Kidz.
Quite a few Seattle visual artists of that era, including Norie Sato, went on to careers in public art. One of the exhibitions, Radical Nostalgia 1967-'70, was drawings and comic strips by Walt Crowley (1947-2007), founder of HistoryLink.org, the online encyclopedia of Washington state history.
A Community Center for Local Artists
Mary Ann Peters (b. 1949) is a Seattle artist who arrived in the mid-1970s to do graduate work at the University of Washington without knowing much of anything about contemporary art. She didn't find much to help her at any of the large institutions, "which didn't have a contemporary art focus or were steeped in their own biases," so she went to and/or (Peters interview). Like many visitors, she eventually volunteered to work. She recalls installing an exhibition by Judy Chicago and meeting the California feminist during the years when Chicago was working on the large-scale installation -- The Dinner Party -- that would become the centerpiece at the first American feminist museum wing at Brooklyn Museum of Art. "I thought, 'If I can go and rub shoulders with somebody who's that feisty, I should do that," Peters said (Peters interview).
Because experimental contemporary art at the time was often what critic Lucy Lippard termed "dematerialized," and/or could save the money that would have been spent shipping heavier conventional art objects (video versus painting, for instance) and instead bring the artists themselves, which created a community-center atmosphere. Big-name artists just hung around, in addition to contributing their formal performances and events. They almost always came to give talks rather than just sending their stuff.
"And/or was the contemporary art class that was missing at the UW," Peters said. "That's what it was" (Peters interview).
Videos by Joan Jonas, performances by Laurie Anderson, and a Fluxus show at and/or changed Peters's idea of what art could be, and what she could make as an artist. She also "probably used their library as much as I used their programming," she said (Peters interview).
"A good lesson of and/or was that it didn't have to be polished," Peters said. "If you had a good idea and thought it might have resonance -- it might flop, I mean, they did a lot of flops, they did a lot of programming -- but…" (Peters interview). Immediately after graduate school, Peters got the gumption to propose an installation to the director of the Henry Art Gallery on the campus of UW. It was her first three-dimensional/interactive piece, a winding pathway with a one-inch slice of mirrored glass at eye level.
When and/or closed, Peters co-founded the offshoot Center on Contemporary Art (with Richard Andrews, who later served as director of the Henry Art Gallery). Its first exhibition, from January 29 to July 29, 1982, in the Lippy building at 1st Avenue and Yesler Way, was composed of four glowing installations of light (three of them new) by the now-world-renowned artist James Turrell (b. 1943). Turrell's meditative Skyspaces are fixtures at museums around the country, including the Henry Art Gallery, and he is sculpting an entire crater in Arizona. Turrell's works were also acquired by Seattle Art Museum, but as of 2013 SAM has never installed them.
According to Focke, and/or occasionally exported influence out of Seattle, too. One of the people who found inspiration in and/or's gutsy example was Marcia Tucker. Tucker visited and/or during its first year. In the late 1970s, she became famous as the curator who left the establishment Whitney Museum of American Art in New York to found a whole new home for emerging art in New York, the New Museum. Focke served on Tucker's advisory board.
Closing It Down
In August 1978, four years into its life, and/or's newsletter began with this note written by Focke:
"As staff members we are very conscious of the fact that and/or is four years old and in many ways has become an institution. Being an 'institution' is probably unavoidable if only by virtue of our age, but we hope not to lose flexibility, energy, or responsiveness in the process of growing older" (Anne Focke, "A letter to and/or members," dated August 1978).
Focke continues in the manner of a manifesto:
"and/or was started by artists and continues to be run by artists ... and/or began with a commitment to the support and presentation of new art forms and of work without a forum in Seattle otherwise. This has resulted in a willingness to take risks (like the risk that there would only be a small audience to any specific event); a commitment to participation in a national as well as a local community ...; an interest in work in many media ...; a willingness to move outside our own space in order to present work in a more appropriate setting or in a different context; and a strong interest in cooperative or co-sponsored programming with other groups both in and out of Seattle. ... and/or supports both the presentation of completed works and a variety of services to artists" (Anne Focke, "A letter to and/or members," dated August 1978).
It was because and/or had been successful that its goals needed strong reiteration -- in defense. Like the proverbial startup, and/or was continuously facing the decision of whether it should grow bigger. By 1980, it had already reached an awkward plateau. "It was this rough-and-tumble artist place," Focke said. "It either needed to go away or step it up" (Jen Graves interview, March 23, 2013).
The visual art exhibition space shut down first. After the final program on August 30, 1981, Norie Sato left a note on the exterior door of Oddfellows Hall at 1525 10th Avenue. It said, "The secret is knowing when to stop" (Jen Graves interview, March 23, 2013).
But and/or was still very much alive -- just more decentered than ever. Focke oversaw a program that continued to support artists' projects with small grants, giving out dozens between 1981 and 1984. Applications were sometimes addressed to "and/or Fairy Godmother Committee" or "and/or pot of gold." (Anne Focke, various files dated 1981-1984). Money went to a punk-rock musical, an outdoor group exhibition on a 10-acre farm near Arlington, a gallery installation made entirely of sticks, a performance-artwork that functioned as a restaurant set up from the perspective of waitresses, and one award given to a busy public artist who simply wanted "time ... to pursue his work without a specific public commission" (Anne Focke, various files dated 1981-1984).
On the streets of Seattle between 1981 and 1984, and/or was represented by its broadsheet interdisciplinary arts magazine, Spar, which contained reviews, interviews, and essays on various subjects. Regular advertisers included Peter Miller Books, Seattle Art Museum, On the Boards, Trattoria Mitchelli, Cinema Books, and Rosco Louie Gallery, some of them venues for contemporary art that had arisen since the start of and/or, helping to fill the same void.
Meanwhile, the other non-gallery components of and/or were alive and well in Oddfellows Hall, reaching tentacles up the four floors and across into the west wing. Soundwork was a center for composers and performers; for a time there was another music venue called The Warbler. The Philo T. Farnsworth Editing Studio for video changed its name to Focal Point Media Center. The library lived on, known by a few names over the years, including The Annex. (Eventually, Focal Point and the library would join to become 911 Media Arts Center. Artech, the handling company, had spun off in 1978 as a private, for-profit business.)
But the question of "what next?" could only be put off for so long. In 1983, and/or entered into a soul-searching process with support, again, from the National Endowment for the Arts. Focke wrote in an essay about and/or that was published in 2010 as a chapbook:
"In 1983, and/or received one of the biggest grants that the National Endowment for the Arts offered to smaller organizations, an Advancement Grant. This program aimed to help organizations with strong artistic programs become stronger organizationally (management, finance, fundraising, etc.). …The award involved a year's work with a consultant, the development of a multiyear plan, and then a sizable grant (approx. $25,000) in each of the following three years" (A Pragmatic Response to Real Circumstances).
The first idea was to buy Oddfellows Hall, and sometimes it seemed as if the laconic Oddfellows were willing to sell. And/or had no debt, and the NEA money could have financed a real-estate purchase. But the Oddfellows went back and forth. From A Pragmatic Response to Real Circumstances:
"After a failed effort to buy the building that housed and/or, I had one of those all-of-a-sudden moments when a new option opens up. ... I decided to close and/or -- something flipped over, and closing down became the way to advance.
"The idea came in summer 1984, and we celebrated with a big party in October that same year -- 'Good Night and/or A Wake.' I managed to convince the NEA that we should keep the Advancement Grant and use it to support our existing program divisions so they could develop as independent organizations."
What went into that "all-of-a-sudden moment"? There's a hint in A Pragmatic Response to Real Circumstances: "Much tension ran through and/or at the time; it was loaded with internal power dynamics. As an organization, its time had run out; contention and power players seemed stronger than vision and commitment."
At the same time, the radical move of closing and/or was foretold from the start. In 1976, in a daily public writing project at and/or, Focke wrote:
"Somehow it's fairly easy to see the initial setting up of and/or as an artwork -- creating, making the space, making an organization where there wasn't one before, pulling ideas together that eventually became the programs, the general definition. It's more difficult to describe the ongoing of it as an artwork ... . One of the greatest challenges is working with an ongoing form; the 'trick' is not to simply have an organization that perpetuates itself, but to have one with life, challenges, risks, and new ideas -- that also manages to have a life span" (A Pragmatic Response to Real Circumstances).
In 1984, she expressed it this way: "and/or was not built to last, profoundly not ... . It was allowed to become a 'myth,' to have a beginning and an end" (A Pragmatic Response to Real Circumstances).
Focke went on to serve for 10 years as the first executive director of the national organization Grantmakers in the Arts. She is now on the board of trustees at Suyama Space, where her current bio says she "always has something new on her mind."