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"Moulting Ducks," ca. 1900. Charles and Emma Frye Collection.
The ducks are winning. (“Moulting Ducks,” ca. 1900. Charles and Emma Frye Collection.)

The people have spoken, and the people love the ducks.

“It’s a pleasing painting, but it’s just a group of ducks,” the Frye Art Museum’s Chelsea Werner-Jatzke said about the 1900 work by Alexander Max Koester that’s winning an unusual popularity contest on social media.


Moulting Ducks” is one of the 232 century-old paintings in the Seattle museum’s foundation collection that are finding new life online this month. That’s thanks to a slick and rather daring crowdsourced curation project that the museum calls “Social Medium.”

The rules are simple. You — yes, you anyone — go to Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest or Tumblr and “like” your favorite paintings.

The ones with the most votes will appear with any choice voter comments in a new exhibition this fall.

Even the ducks, which are winning. Or these monkeys.

Or maybe even the drunk guy.

“Why do we always call him the drunk guy?” communications staffer Shaun Kardinal asked as we looked at the painting in its heavy frame in the Frye’s back gallery.

“I don’t know,” Werner-Jatzke said. “He just looks drunk.”

The project, which had drawn 9,000 total votes across online platforms and physical ballots Tuesday, accomplishes a few goals at once for the small city museum.

It attracts a new, younger audience and boosts its online presence.

But what’s more interesting is that it remixes a permanent collection of old and stuffy paintings in a way that assumes that, 60 years after the museum’s founding, they could stand to take themselves less seriously.


I didn’t get that when I first landed on the Facebook album with the paintings, feeling lost and unqualified. I can react to pictures of food, cats and sunsets with nothing but a “like” or pithy comment, but don’t these carefully collected works of art deserve more?

If I’d seen the marketing campaign, I’d have known the museum’s answer without having to ask.

“Irreverence is OK,” Werner-Jatzke told me at the museum’s cafe, then pulled out her phone to show me some of the memes the staff had created to draw attention to the project.

In one, the woman with the bulgy, black-rimmed eyes in Franz von Stuck’s 1902 “Saharet” has a message: “I woke up like this.”

There are no hugely famous paintings in the Frye’s founding collection, which makes for a more or less level playing field on the crowdsourced ballot.

But ducks, monkeys and memes aside, the traditional favorites are front-runners, too. Especially “Die Sunde,” or “Sin,” an intoxicating portrait of a woman with a serpent regulars agree is one of the best pieces in the museum.

Voting started Aug. 11 and ends Friday. The resulting exhibition will run from Sept. 27 through Jan. 4 and is very much a work in progress.

"Portrait of Hanna Welch"
“Portrait of Hanna Welch”

Seattle design shop Civilization, which helped build the project and website, is set to work on it, as is Dylan Neuwirth, the artist behind the “just be your selfie” project in Pioneer Square’s Occidental Park that got big this summer. He’s a social media consultant with Frye on the project.

Frye’s director, Jo-Anne Birnie Danzker, brought the crowd curation model to the museum with this project, then sidestepped her curatorial role and let the communications team get online and get to work.

Going back into the Facebook image album, I had to disagree with the crowd on “Moulting Ducks.” “Shepherdess” does more to catch my eye, as does “Moonlight Scene.”

Then I found my absolute favorite — Friedrich August von Kaulbach’s “Portrait of Hanna Ralph.” It reminds me of photos I’ve seen of my great grandmother as a young woman, and all the ways I like to think of her. Strong. Independent. Clever beyond belief. I clicked like, then stared for a while.

I hope she makes it.

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