Two Wall faces an uncertain future

For the first time in years, Two Wall Gallery won’t be a part of the monthly First Friday gallery cruise.

The gallery will be empty, its walls bare in the wake of a recent incident that sparked controversy in the Island’s art community and garnered media attention throughout the region.

“It’s kind of sad,” said Islander Ben Meeker, who founded the gallery and was its curator from 2005 to 2008. “We put a lot of work into that space and turned it into something. For three or four years, it was a pretty dynamic little place.”

Indeed, it appears possible that the gallery — a long hallway sandwiched between shops on Vashon’s busiest corner — will cease to exist altogether. Ray Rice, who with his wife Louise and daughter Wendy owns the Wallflower Building, said he and his wife are done with Two Wall, which never had a formal business structure or paid rent.

“There’s not going to be a gallery any longer,” Ray Rice said last week. The tenants, he added, “can put whatever they want on display.”

Louise Rice, in an interview immediately after the incident, suggested that the Heron’s Nest, an art consignment shop run by Vashon Allied Arts, could take on the gallery. That, too, was nixed, after Molly Reed, VAA’s executive director, said the arts organization isn’t interested.

“We’re very proud of our Heron’s Nest, and we’ll concentrate on that,” Reed said.
The fate of Two Wall is one of the lingering questions in the aftermath of a controversy that took Vashon by storm two weeks ago, when Louise Rice, an elderly Burien woman, paid a visit to the gallery and abruptly removed several works from the gallery’s most recent show, “Go Figure: Body of Work,” a group exhibit curated by Islander Jack Strubbe.

The removed artwork included Greg Davila’s set of soft-focused, semi-nude photographs of same-sex couples and Monica Gripman’s two drawings of a fully clothed teenaged girl, one of which included text with a profane word on it.

Rice did not remove any of the exhibit’s other artworks — most of which contained varying degrees of nudity. Throughout the controversy, Ray Rice was open about the reason for his wife’s unhappiness with Davila’s work.

“The entire homosexual content was part of it,” he said. “We have a right to critique what goes on in our building.”

The incident garnered considerable media attention in Seattle — in part because AnnaLisa Lafayette, who owns Good Merchandise, a shop located across the street from Two Wall Gallery, decided to exhibit the banished works on her shop’s walls and in her front windows.

But now, Davila has removed his work from Good Merchandise, and Gripman said she will take her drawings down from the shop this week. Strubbe  said he planned to take down the rest of the Two Wall exhibit this week, a month ahead of schedule. A few days after the incident, Louise Rice called Strubbe and left a phone message that relieved him of his curatorial duties.

An April exhibit in the space, comprised of work submitted to a Vashon flag competition organized by former Two Wall curator Greg Wessell, is still planned, but no other shows are slated after that.

Meeker, the gallery’s founder, seemes to hold out hope that the gallery could be revived.

“Maybe someone is going to step up and take a shot at it,” he said. “There’s enough artists on the Island.”

Meeker, an artist and teacher, recalled the early days of the gallery, when he not only curated shows but also prepared lavish spreads of food to draw people into the space during art walks. He said he envisioned the gallery as occupying a special place in the Island art scene.

“Our intent was that it could be an incubator kind of gallery — a place for local people who hadn’t had a lot of shows.”

Greg Davila, whose portraits were taken down by Rice, seems to fit Meeker’s profile of a likely Two Wall artist.

Davila, who works as a business manager at Akeso Associates, a company that helps build health care systems in developing countries, had never exhibited artwork before taking part in Strubbe’s show.

But in the wake of the controversy, Davila said he was “frustrated and disgusted” about how the incident was portrayed in a KOMO news broadcast, which led with the question, “When does art cross the line into pornography?”

Much of the media attention, Davila added, obscured the real meaning behind his work.

“This is very personal, and it is hitting me on a personal level,” Davila said. “I created the photographs because I have friends out there who can’t tell their families who they are. It’s heart-wrenching to me that in mainstream America, we’re not even ready to talk about it, to open the door and come out of the closet and have this discussion with our friends and family members.”

For her part, Monica Gripman said she was glad for the controversy.

“It was excellent that it came to pass because it brought up discussion between a lot of people who brought different things to the table,” she said. “I’m curious to see where it all goes.”

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