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Oxbow Provides Rare Space for Big Installations

“These days Georgetown feels breezy, wide open,” says Ruth Lockwood as she crosses the gravel courtyard between Ciudad Grill and Bar Ciudad. “The development is smaller-scale, localized. There’s a feeling things are bubbling up, for sure.”

Lockwood is part of a small ad hoc team that runs Oxbow, an informal installation space and gallery sandwiched between the two Ciudad locations. Just a few years ago, she says, most visitors to Georgetown didn’t explore too far from the bustling corner at the heart of the neighborhood where Fantagraphics and a spirited archipelago of galleries and shops cluster. That’s changed, and the neighborhood has been steadily making a name for itself as one of Seattle’s premier destinations for serious art.

Entering Oxbow on a sunny afternoon in June, the bright, palatial space is between shows and partly under construction. The empty space is framed by a bank of clerestory windows and massive wooden trusses. Just a month ago it contained an installation by Seattle artist Michelle de la Vega, filled with archival prints featuring vivid provocative imagery, lines of words written in sugar crystals across the floor. People flocked to see it.

Oxbow wasn’t originally planned as a place for such sprawling shows, but divergence is etched into the history of the space. The original building served as a purveyor of frozen fish. But before there was a building, there was the river.

“The Duwamish used to run right through here before it was dredged and made straight and easy,” Lockwood says, pointing at the gallery floor. “There was an oxbow right here where we’re sitting, a small bend in the river. It’s a place where a lot of things come together, people settle there. That geographic feature kind of defines the activity that takes place there.”

When Lockwood & Sons (Ruth Lockwood, her husband, Tony, and Marcus Crider) partnered with designer Gabe Kean of Belle & Wissell, Co. in 2012 to purchase and remodel the building, they planned for parties, rentals, events, occasional art shows displaying sculpture, photo and more traditional programming. Four years later, Mary Ann Peters approached them about using the space as a two-month residency to build a site-specific piece. The resulting installation, impossible monument (nothing but the memory), embedded two adjoining walls of the space with shimmering metallics, crumpled newspaper pages and detritus, and suspended a massive sculpture from above: a net stuffed with found materials.

“Mary Ann helped us realize what was possible to do in the space,” says Lockwood.

If Oxbow has a whiff of the recently closed Suyama Space, it’s in part because the 2012 building redesign was spearheaded by Jay Deguchi of Suyama Peterson Deguchi. Like Suyama, it is one of few large-scale places in Seattle that allows artists to play, unfettered.

Following Peters, Saul Becker took over the space by making a series of large- scale drawings and projected imagery based on his expeditions to the Arctic. This month, Dan Webb, who typically works in a studio around the corner, creates a dining experience with handmade tables, chairs and an assortment of glass vessels he recently created at a Pilchuck Glass School residency. All the objects are utilitarian and visitors are invited to sit down with him and engage in a number of events featuring shared meals and artist talks.

In the fall, Chris McMullen will install an iteration of his “Collaborative Stacking Extravaganza” recently showcased at 4Culture, followed by works by Barbara Robertson and Katy Stone.

“We have an idea of the direction we want to nudge [the gallery] in, but we can be really opportunistic about what happens here,” Lockwood says. “It’s almost like the little plant that’s really hardy and you want to water it and care for it as much as you can.”

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