Every month, downtown art gallery owner Lorinda Knight hand-labels 2,000 announcement cards for her new exhibits. This month, the cards included an extra announcement: the Lorinda Knight Gallery will close on Nov. 28 when Knight retires.
“I think she might just have surprised the entire community. I didn’t hear a whisper about it,” says Ben Mitchell, curator of art at the MAC. “It was complete shock. And, you know, disappointment. Almost a kind of mourning.”
Labeling the mountain of cards each month, says Knight with her characteristic gentle chuckle, is a task she’s glad to leave behind.
Closing now coincides with Knight’s husband’s retirement and the end of her downtown gallery space’s five-year lease. “The times made sense,” she says. In 13 years of gallery ownership, she has had 140 exhibits and represented around 40 local and regional artists.
Though it may make sense, it certainly leaves a hole. “Lorinda’s eye and her really ferocious sense of aesthetics” contributed to consistent excellence in the gallery’s monthly exhibits, says Mitchell. “I didn’t always love every artist that she showed, but I was always challenged.”
The Lorinda Knight Gallery is the only one of its kind in Spokane — a classic “white box” space, containing nothing but the art against white walls, displayed according to convention. “You walked into Lorinda’s and you might be the only person, and it was just you and the artwork, beautifully hung, in the room,” says Mitchell.
“It’s the one place you could go in and get that big-city gallery experience,” says Scott Kolbo, Spokane artist and Whitworth University art professor who has shown his work at the gallery.
Knight says she did not consider selling the gallery, nor does she know what will occupy the location in its absence. As far as the hole she’s leaving in the downtown arts scene, she says, “I would think new spaces would pop up.”
Ben Mitchell thinks this is part of that big-city gallery experience evolving. He wonders “if Lorinda represents maybe the passing in our community of the pure, white-box refined experience of excellent contemporary art.”
When asked who will now lead downtown’s contemporary art scene, Knight, Mitchell and Kolbo all immediately named the Saranac Art Projects, an artists’ cooperative in the Community Building downtown. Saranac shows exhibits by members on a rotating basis, including solo and group shows. Kolbo, who is a founding member of the cooperative, had already “made a really hard decision and moved his [art] from Lorinda’s into Saranac,” says Mitchell.
Although there’s excitement around finding new ways to display and sell art, Mitchell is disheartened by what he sees as a waning appreciation — and market — for contemporary art in Spokane. “It’s not a great environment right now in our culture for artists,” he says.