What to See at the Pioneer Square Art Walk
No art history degree required 🖼️
August 26, 2022
There are art walks up and down the region, from Burien to Edmonds, but the biggest one is in Seattle’s Pioneer Square neighborhood. It’s hailed as the longest-running art walk in the nation, and it goes down during the early evenings of every first Thursday of the month. The walks include everything from blue-chip art galleries like Greg Kucera Gallery to artist-run cooperatives like Soil. Bouncers won’t quiz you on postmodern sculpture at the door; someone will probably wear Tevas with socks. It’s Seattle. You can be casual.
While there’s art on basically every corner of this gallery-driven neighborhood, here are five biggies to help a first-timer get a sense of the scene.
Greg Kucera Gallery
212 3rd Ave S
A stop at Greg Kucera Gallery is fundamental to any Pioneer Square Art Walk. The gallery is the de facto central hub of First Thursdays, with its two spacious showrooms exhibiting an internationally competitive collection of paintings, photographs, and sculptures. Founded by the eponymous Greg Kucera in 1983, the gallery quickly became host to showing art history textbook-level artists in Seattle: Jasper Johns, Kerry James Marshall, Jacob Lawrence, Helen Frankenthaler, Glenn Ligon, Jenny Holzer. It’s also served as a launching pad for local artists like Anthony White, hosting his vanitas-inspired portraits of millennial excess, and Drie Chapek, with her labyrinthian and physical paintings. Walking through Greg Kucera Gallery feels like walking through a museum—but it’s free!
101 Prefontaine Pl S
Right on Prefontaine Place sits the Gallery 4Culture, a 1,000-square-foot space operated by King County’s cultural funding agency, 4Culture. Powered by the Lodging Tax and 1% for the Art funds, 4Culture focuses on four primary areas of service: arts, heritage, historic preservation, and public art. And its gallery in Pioneer Square is an active participant in First Thursdays. The space is reserved for contemporary King County artists to exhibit their work each month, except for its closed months of August and December. Often, 4Culture’s shows are site-responsive and play with the layout of the space—like Yunmi Her’s trippy VR installation or Ko Kirk Yamahira’s shredded canvases hanging right in the middle of the gallery. While you’re swinging on through, take a peek at the windows. There you’ll find 4Culture’s Storefront Media Gallery, which features digital artworks from artists across the U.S. (They also upload these art pieces to their Vimeo every month.)
112 3rd Ave S
Hankering to see a gelatinous-looking mini sculpture? A bizarre video installation? Sculptural paintings made of found fabric, dandelion seeds, and resin? SOIL is your place. The art space forgoes the typical gallery model and operates as an artist collective. You could see anything from magical light-up sculptures to funny-sounding noise installations. The 25 or so dues-paying members share responsibilities by curating, producing, and installing shows together without a defined hierarchy. As Seattle Times contributor Ann Guo put it, the result is a platform “intended for pure experimentation” where artists can “detach themselves from the pressure to produce commercially successful pieces.”
Martyr Sauce and MS PAM
108 S Jackson St
Between 1st and 2nd Ave, follow a bright pink railing down some stairs and you’ll be right smack at the entrance of Martyr Sauce. Inside, the walls are lined with $20 bills featuring Harriet Tubman, disco balls, neon lighting, and giant Bubbalicious bubble gum sculptures. The hybrid space (it’s been everything from an art gallery to community space to music venue to Black beauty supply store) has been in operation for ten years, run by 2020 Neddy Award winner Tariqa Waters. Martyr Sauce says it’s “committed to keeping the weirdos in the city,” centering and showing work by Black artists alongside Pop Art confections made by Waters herself.
Just upstairs is Waters’ newly opened Martyr Sauce Pop Art Museum, affectionately known as MS PAM. The checkered-floored, pink-walled museum features a giant, spinning Julia-themed lunchbox with Waters’ face superimposed onto Diahann Carroll’s body with a giant thermos to match. It works in tandem with the original Martyr Sauce space and gives off a more Pee-wee’s Playhouse showroom-type vibe. MS PAM has a small showcase of 20th-century Black pop culture artifacts, a DJ booth, and another visiting artist space to double your Martyr Sauce fun.
View this post on Instagram
110 Union St #200
OK, yes, tEcHnIcALLy, Traver Gallery is not located in Pioneer Square. But! The gallery, located just steps away from Pike Place Market, is very much part of the grand tradition of First Thursday Art Walks. Opened by William Traver in 1977 and currently run by his daughter Sarah, Traver Gallery is internationally known as one of the best places to see glass art worldwide. It has deep ties to the Pilchuck Glass School and connections to Italian glass masters like Lino Tagliapietra. If you pop by Traver during Art Walk, you’ll likely see the elegant, fine-lined glass forms of Dante Marioni or Preston Singletary’s Tlingit designs on monumental glass works. The gallery also shows superb non-glass art, like Marita Dingus’ mixed media sculptures made of salvaged material and the expressive, whimsical ceramic works of Patti Warashina. Traver Gallery makes an excellent first or last stop on your tour!
There's so much to see in the neighborhood:
Jas Keimig is an arts and culture writer in Seattle. Their work has previously appeared in The Stranger, i-D, Netflix, and Feast Portland. They won a game show once and have a thing for stickers.