Caroline Lathan-Stiefel's work at Suyama Space

Caroline Lathan-Stiefel

Suyama Space

Through July 27.

A question comes to mind immediately when you enter PATCH, Caroline Lathan-Stiefel's new site-specific installation at Suyama Space. If the four enterable, tent-like structures slung from the ceiling are a single system, what are they here to do?

In images from another of Lathan-Stiefel's installations, called Whorl and seen in Montreal, the gallery itself appears to have been gobbled up and digested by a thicket of protuberances, grids, and dangling whatevers (the Pennsylvania artist uses whatever she finds—the list for PATCH is "fabric, pipe cleaners, yarn, pins, thread, wire, dry cleaning bags, fruit nets, rubber fishing lures, plastic ties, tacks, and lead weights").

But in the yawning, timber-trussed room of Suyama Space, Lathan-Stiefel's agglomerations—she often, aptly, is dubbed a softer version of Sarah Sze and Jessica Stockholder—are spread thin. You're left wandering among four discrete sculptures rather than being immersed in a whole.

Once you're inside each tent, looking on the micro level, patterns and effects jump out like sparkly things in the sand. Every segment is connected to form these larger tents, but the thrill is in the details. It's as though the tents are rhizomes and you're left to figure out which of the details are the roots, which are the bulbs, and which are the shoots.

Flat grids like tapestries made of pipe cleaners and shimmery fabric at various points pop out into three dimensions. The tents spiral in on themselves in places, creating cryptic heaps of shapes you can make out just barely. The shapes are both architectural and marine-based. Soft bursts of red pipe cleaners bring to mind a colony of scuttling creatures. Occasionally, a protruding form looks like it has been projected forward on long legs, like cartoon bug-eyes.

I have no idea how a construction of pipe cleaners resembling a Gothic-arched stained-glass window and a cloud cover of coral above one of the tents interrelate. Or even if they're supposed to. Because the larger forms seem arbitrarily placed, the details are stranded. One trash pile—a big mess that seemed to have floated ashore—might have been better than four.

Jim Rittimann

Howard House

Through June 16.

Jim Rittimann takes apart insects and puts them back together again as new ones. Then he gives them roles in relation to each other, and pins them up inside white boxes, pale wood frames surrounding every scene.

Paradise Insects/Symbiotic Relationships, Rittimann's first show at Howard House, includes 113 newly invented insects in 42 boxes, as if to provide enough of them to look at so you become inured, after the initial disgust, repulsion, and vague fear dies down.

Rittimann is an exacting craftsman. He'd have to be, since for a day job he hangs other artists' works at the Henry Art Gallery, where he's head preparator of exhibitions. But beneath the polished, academic appearance of the Paradise Insects, there's a surfeit of pop references, to action and fantasy movies, journalistic photography, martial arts, cartoons, and early photography, especially Eadweard Muybridge, who captured motion in successive frames in the 19th century.

Slapsticky, bullfrogish jaws, iridescent wings the color of hot-rod cars on a California strip, stout dark bodies with skinny propeller wings like Black Hawk helicopters, twins checking each other out, monsterly striped horns—all these distract from the fact that what you're looking at are recycled dead bodies.

The effect of a collage intensifies when the objects being remixed are reanimated living things. The uneasiness never does subside fully when you're peering into the boxes at these sharp and pointy remakes. The question is always there, as in animal work by Damien Hirst and others: Which is better, circus-style death or oblivion?

Claudia Fitch

Greg Kucera

Through June 30.

Claudia Fitch has been the leading proponent of overtly postmodernistic art in Seattle for at least a decade. In bold, bright works, she has assumed the mantle, as in cloak, of other eras and various styles, but never assumed any mantle, as in asserted herself as a solely responsible author. This stance is central to the hide-the-ego game of postmodernism, but it also has made some of her works come across as empty and overdetermined. All these cloaks obscure Fitch too much. I'm not convinced that her best work is in static sculpture, although that's what she's known for.

Mantel Pieces and Objects on Paper, Fitch's new show at Greg Kucera Gallery, is her first since 2002. The first part of the show's title, Mantel Pieces, seems to carry all the thematic weight. It references not only the two sets of carved mantels hung on the walls of the gallery but also an entire category of objects—special ones, expensive ones, the ones that go on the mantel. Knives extending from the mantelpieces may be intended to puncture the laxity of luxury objects, but the mantels and Fitch's static figures seem too well behaved by half to be classified as contrarian.

Objects on Paper seems a throwaway title, like the generic Works on Paper that comes up so often in lieu of something more descriptive. But Objects on Paper is a twist, because objects don't survive the translation onto paper; drawn or painted, they cease to be objects and become instead traces, blueprints, ghosts.

It's when Fitch is moving between mediums that her work feels richest. Backdrop (Scholar's Rock) is a large gesso and oil-stick drawing on brown paper of a short table and a rococo burst of shapes rising from the table, all of which look like they're made of smoke and about to dissipate. Yet the drawing is treated as though the objects in it are as tangible as bronze: It is hung low, so the feet of the table rest on the gallery floor. Backdrop (Interior #2), a colored-pencil drawing of a painting, two curly-backed pink chairs, and a flat, wavy pattern between the chairs that implies a table, is also a portrait of in-between-ness. These have precedents in art, but aren't chained to them. They answer instead to Fitchness. recommended

jgraves@thestranger.com