GOLEM Abstract algorithms.
Jason Salavon
Howard House, 2017 Second Ave, 256-6399.

Through Oct 19.

You could argue, and be largely right, that art changes as consciousness changes, and that's why no art movement lasts forever. The art that blew people's minds in the '50s and then the '60s and then the '70s now seems tired and familiar and old due to appropriation by advertising and recycling through popular culture; Andy Warhol, bless him, now seems more of a benevolent uncle than a provocateur.

The slow disposal of the idea that you can create an immortal masterpiece should be liberating for young artists. It lifts the burden of forever-ness, and allows for play, however serious. And serious playfulness is all over New York artist Jason Salavon's The Church of Endless Elaborate Variation, his first solo show in Seattle.

I first encountered his work at the Whitney in New York. The piece that trapped me (with my full cooperation) was a computerized representation of every frame of the film Titanic, each frame reduced to its average color. Part of the thrill was that a useless blockbuster movie had been transformed into something rare and beautiful in its own right, a narrative of little color chips. But it was also seeing so much information condensed into an abstract work, which registers as a perfect barometer of changed art consciousness: In lieu of the natural abstraction of the Abstract Expressionists--which was also visual pleasure combined with a new kind of artistic transgression--we now have informational abstraction.

Salavon could have easily made a career out of information-packing, but he's moved forward in ways that continue to inquire into what contemporary art is. In this show's major work--called Golem, after the Hebrew creature created out of clay and given life for the purpose of work--he eliminates the shibboleth of Ab-Ex, namely the hand of the artist. Salavon's golem is a really, really big large-format high-resolution Hewlett Packard inkjet printer that spits out a painting at the rate of about one every 15 minutes, and the paintings are generated by software written by Salavon, which transformed the work of abstract, color-field-oriented painters such as Mark Rothko, Hans Hoffman, and Richard Diebenkorn (and a bit of Gerhard Richter, in his big-brushstroke moods) into algorithms, and then translated these algorithms into 100,000 possible paintings.

That these works exist at so far a remove from a painter's hand would, to some minds, be enough to dismiss them from the arena of legitimate art. But in fact, the work answers quite nicely to the tenets of modernist painting, which used the limits of paint and canvas to explore how far art could go. The equivalent here is the pixelization where one color meets another, the random smattering of tiny squares of unlike colors trying to approximate that border, and it functions much the way the accidents of paint--the brushstrokes, the drips, the bare spots of canvas--did 50 years ago.

The joke, if you have to call it that, is Salavon ends up where much abstract painting does, but by entirely other means. His series Every Playboy Centerfold takes the same surveyor's attitude toward data; each image is a composite of centerfolds from a decade of Playboy, from the '60s through the '90s. And while there may or may not be cultural information to be gleaned from them (the average hair seems to get lighter, the figure grows thinner and then more voluptuous), what's most striking is an affinity with Willem de Kooning's Woman series, women who look only marginally and indistinctly like women. The difference between the two is instructive: de Kooning's works were largely seen to reflect his fears about women (think of the teeth around the neck), and Salavon's are achieved more systematically, almost objectively.

Knowing the artist's process certainly enhances the work, especially if you're given to speculation on how art pushes at historical boundaries, but there's a sweet irony in how simply good-looking and visually logical the results are as well. And Salavon seems to take pleasure in how information that's not particularly scintillating makes work that is gorgeous, as are his series of modified graphs of domestic shoe production. They're universes of tiny lights, as grand and awesome as shattering moments in science-fiction movies--the landing of the mother ship, the first, great jump to warp speed.