Beloved: Pictures at an Exhibition
February 4 – April 15, 2012
The Frye Art Museum presents Beloved: Pictures at an Exhibition, a selection of twenty-two paintings from the Frye Art Museum’s Founding Collection. Frieda Sondland, a ninety year-old resident of the First Hill neighborhood who has visited the Museum nearly every day for the past ten years, has chosen the works on view in collaboration with Jo-Anne Birnie Danzker, Director of the Frye Art Museum.
Sondland first attended the Museum with her husband, Günther, who passed away in 2004. Like Charles and Emma Frye, the founding patrons of the Museum, Frieda and Günther were art-viewing partners. During their visits to the Museum, the Sondlands would sit for hours at a time, discussing the paintings and debating their virtues. In the exhibition, Sondland shares reminiscences of their conversations in gallery labels.
Sondland’s strong attachment to the paintings she has chosen in homage to her family and to the Fryes recalls Modest Mussorgsky’s (1839–1881) inspiration in composing Pictures at an Exhibition, his suite of descriptive piano pieces. This evocative music, in an orchestral arrangement by Maurice Ravel (1875–1937) from 1922, has become an indispensable mainstay of the classical repertory. Mussorgsky’s inspiration was an exhibition of pictures by Victor Hartmann, shown posthumously in Saint Petersburg in the spring of 1874. In only six weeks Mussorgsky completed his tribute to his friend by imagining “roving through the exhibition, now leisurely, now briskly in order to come close to a picture that had attracted his attention.”
Beloved continues the Frye Art Museum tradition of inquiry into whether there is a single “correct” interpretation of a work of art or multiple understandings and forms of appreciation. Who “owns” the reading of a painting? Is it the curator or art historian? Is it the psychologist or theoretician of aesthetics? Or is it the museum patron who, like Frieda Sondland, visits a museum to savor its collections and, perhaps, ruminate on the larger questions of life?
Sondland’s selections for Beloved evoke her pleasure and reflection while viewing these paintings with her family. These days her companion on visits to the Frye Art Museum is often Eli, her nine-year-old great-grandson.
Born in Berlin in 1921, Frieda Piepsch married Günther Sondland in 1937, when she was sixteen and a half years old. They were married only a short time when a pregnant Frieda and her parents fled Nazi Germany for Montevideo, Uruguay. While in South America, Frieda supported her family by designing haute couture. Günther joined Frieda eight years later, and in 1953, the couple and their young daughter moved to Seattle, where Günther’s family had emigrated after the war. In Seattle, Frieda altered clothing for department stores until she and Günther opened their own dry cleaning and alteration business in West Seattle. In 1957 they had a second child, a son.