Curator Yoko Ott puts her imprint on the Hedreen Gallery
Hedreen Gallery curator Yoko Ott embraces the challenges of showcasing art in unconventional spaces.
Photo by Rajah Bose
Yoko Ott embraces—nay, make that thrives on—a challenge. As the curator of the Hedreen Gallery, which visitors pass through en route to the theater inside the Lee Center for the Arts, Ott is tasked with presenting art in an unconventional space.
Located in what is essentially the theater’s lobby, the gallery is somewhat narrow and long, opening to a wall of windows that reveal what’s inside to passersby and foot traffic along 12th Avenue. But Ott, who started as curator in July 2008, has creatively made the most of the venue.
For her first exhibit earlier this year, Ott went with a trilogy of installations to showcase not only three distinctive artistic voices but also the nuances of the gallery. The show, called “Void Blank Blank Void Sweated Blank Void Sweated Spark” featured works by New York artist Adam Putnam, Seattle’s Wynne Greenwood and the TM Sisters of Miami. Each artist was given the task of creating art that incorporated or elevated the gallery’s unique architectural elements.
Working with artists—both known and relatively unknown—and presenting pieces that provoke contemplation is nothing new for Ott.
A graduate of the fine arts program at the University of Washington, Ott originally started as a photographer. After graduation she supplemented her work with odd jobs such as bartending before making the transition from artist to arts administrator—a move she says came about by accident. Her segue into curatorial work started when she landed a job as visual arts curator for Seattle arts organization One Reel. She worked with One Reel for six years before leaving to take a job at the Frye Art Museum, where she managed the teen and young adult programs and community outreach.
“In terms of curatorial practice, I gravitate toward working with new artists,” says Ott, who in addition to her work at SU also serves as deputy director of 826 Seattle, a creative writing center founded by writer Dave Eggers. “I understand the language of the artist.”
Although unflappable in her move from working artist to working with artists, Ott was conflicted early on.
“There was a transitional period where I felt like I had abandoned art.”
But as she put together more shows, she realized she could merge her passion as an artist with her vision as a curator.
Down the road, Ott envisions developing educational outreach between the Fine Arts department and artists, and for the gallery “to be viewed as a valuable resource for professors and students to come here and have face time with the artists.”