Diamond Dust, Sea Slug, Wink
Three New Shows Reviewed
Sparkle Then Fade
Tacoma Art Museum
Through Sept 3.
The summer blockbuster exists in the art world, too. In Tacoma Art Museum's group show Sparkle Then Fade, lights, mirrors, diamond dust, and crystals are crowd-pleasing stand-ins for sleek action stars and amazing feats. But in art, nobody talks about good and evil. As Andy Warhol would say, art is what you can get away with. Except he was playing. Then again, he was always playing; playing was who he was—so he was never playing.
Warhol is the godfather of Sparkle Then Fade, a show much like the blingy SHINY at the Wexner Center last year. His diamond-dusted prints of mythological figures (Santa Claus, Uncle Sam) from the 1980s hang like Mona Lisas in the background of a roomful of newer works. Few of those directly poke the hornet's nest of Warhol's legacy the way Damien Hirst's $100 million human skull covered in diamonds and now on sale in London does, for instance. Which is probably a good thing, since at least part of Hirst's career is already devoted to testing whether valuables can survive the karma of exhausted concepts.
Rock Hushka curated this show of national, international, and local artists, starting, he says, with inspiration from TAM's collection of ukiyo-e Japanese woodblock prints—visions of the "floating world," the world of fleeting pleasures—which will also be on display this summer.
Jim Hodges's 1999 Coming Through is the beating heart of the show. It's a grid of naked lightbulbs of all types, struggling not to burn out as the exhibition wears on. They generate a cloud of heat along with the various colors of light—golden, cold marble, orange coil. Coming Through might refer to something otherworldly, or maybe it's simply the longing sensation of hoping not to be disappointed.
The show opens with the brainless, psychedelic images and loud beats of assume vivid astro focus (aka the artist Eli Sudbrack), which irritate me but at least provide a soundtrack—a contrast that sets the most complex, satisfying works in the show in constant high relief. In that category are materially and conceptually thick pieces, especially Donald Moffett's What Barbara Jordan Wore (2002), which includes three videos projected onto a triptych of glittery monochrome paintings. One video is a close-up of the Houston congresswoman in her hot-pink suit as she delivers her landmark 1974 speech, a mighty piece of testimony arguing for Nixon's impeachment, which plays on speakers above (one wishes her clarion words were more audible). The other two videos show the committee of the hearings, and the crowd. The glimmering paintings are lit up by the videos, and vice versa, to give everything a righteous, devotional glow.
Sparkle Then Fade makes unexpected links between artists. Alex Schweder's lusty, striped scratch-and-sniff wallpaper, with glistening colonoscopy videos set into the walls, finds echoes not just in Jeffrey Simmons's miragelike optical abstract paintings but also in Marilyn Minter's photographs of garish, bejeweled, dirty, sweaty bodies. Then there's James Rosenquist's horror painting, Gift-Wrapped Doll #14 (1992), the affect of which is a dead ringer for Alice Wheeler's fascistic portrait, Apple Blossom Queen at the Daffodil Parade, Tacoma 2003.
Wheeler has three images in the show. Her photograph of Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill is hung so that Hanna screams lyrics in the direction of Kurt Cobain, also photographed by Wheeler. Hanna has her eyes closed, and Cobain wears sunglasses. But just across from them, in a pregnant juxtaposition, the gleaming eye of Jack Daws's bubblegum machine stares at them. Titled Anywhere but Here, the machine is full of prescription drugs. TAM has a hit on its hands, but it has something more than a hit, too.
James Harris Gallery
Through July 7.
In 2003, Claude Zervas began making white-light sculptures. The first were modest wall installations of fluorescent tubes with dangling cords and wires that didn't look quite composed, but they didn't look uncomposed, either. The basic references were Dan Flavin and Eva Hesse, and maybe Hudson River School—these were sublime landscapes.
Nooksack (2005) was a breakthrough, a major installation in a dark room, of white lights lifted off the floor on an armature like a miniature viaduct, with its cords spreading out around it, like the three-pronged arteries and many tributaries of its namesake, the Nooksack River in northwest Washington. Nooksack also looks like a glowing, flattened scorpion. Seattle Art Museum bought it. In 2006, Zervas moved from landscape to history and made Elba, a quiet homage in white light and cords to Napoleon's last days and tomb, shaped something like the stone tomb, with a series of symmetrical banners of wire and bulbs overlapping to form a loose, delicate tapestry on the wall. Bill and Ruth True bought it.
Zervas's light sculptures are entering the pantheon of Seattle installations, and for good reason. The artist has cast about for years in various mediums, and he continues to work outside sculpture, but this monochrome medium hits a rich vein in him, synthesizing elements from across his artistic personality: his playfulness, his earthiness, his formality.
To see the three newest sculptures, get the gallery to turn out the lights in the back room. Nudibranch (2006) is an update on an untitled work from 2003, in which a spine of lights is attached to a rib system of cords. In this iteration—and in his new work in general—the lights move instead of remaining static, and the shapes refer to simple marine organisms (marine minimalism?). Nudibranchs are sea slugs, and the soft, calm, slow flickering of the lights mimics the way the animals breathe, through plumes on their backs. It's a simple portrait of strange beauty.
Diatomoton 1 (2007) also refers to a sea creature (diatoms are algae), but it moves further beyond its source. There's a vertical row of small LED chips mounted on little poles on the wall. Each chip has four tiny LED lights on its face, and each is connected to wires that twist around the length of the row to form a helix that casts lines of shadows on the wall. Next to the shadows are the spots of quivering white lights. They shake faster and faster, almost to a climax (Zervas has added new elements: time, sequence), and then stop abruptly, and the loop begins again. It's like a row of miniature billboards or movie screens having an epileptic episode; film and video come to mind as much as underwater life. Diatomoton 3 (2007) is a less successful departure. The lights are hidden behind a thick sheet of vellum, shining through to form the vague shape of a squirming jellyfish or a psychedelic potato. This light is smooth like liquid, but it's too smooth. I miss all those dowdy, elegant bulbs and wires.
SOIL Art Gallery
Through July 1.
Not 10 minutes after I saw the group show Crud at SOIL, I was crapped on by a bird. It's a clean show, I realized. Not very cruddy at all. It's decent—low energy, with a certain ambition and experimentation missing.
Claire Putney gets closest to the spirit of the title with her Crack drawings. They look like large tracings of sidewalk cracks, but the lines are actually drawn as downy little black hairs. They're uncanny, sexual, and cartographic. Almost invisible streams of shaved hairs blow around in the white space. But they're restrained, too, as though Putney hasn't quite yet decided where she's going with them.
Degradation, deterioration, the stuff of messes and aftermaths: this was curator Ellen Ziegler's premise for the show. Ziegler, in her series Chemistry Is the Emotion of Matter, makes drawings by burning holes in paper, using an electrically charged stylus on a copper table. The drawings are of indeterminate forms, maybe shells, or chemical components, or sea flotsam. They're attractive but generic. When they're cut out and presented as objects rather than portraits on white paper, the near-destruction of the fragile paper is more affecting, in opposition to the tidiness of Ziegler's draftsmanship.
Susan Zoccola's sculptures are coming apart, too: heavy twisted wires connected only by thin strips of gut, or a horn wire mesh ripped open. Her tiered-cake-like form with growths spurting out from its waxy surface is sly in its disorder. But all three sculptures feel slack, aren't quite convincing.
When Timea Tihanyi looks at a body, she thinks all the way to the inside of it, because she's a medical doctor. Her artworks are flat, but thick, physical, and visually penetrable, especially a series of sewn felt pieces trapped inside sheets of thick, brown-yellowy, bubbly latex. For another piece, Tihanyi has stripped every leaf from a head of cabbage down to its veins and encased each one, in order of descending size, in a clear plastic sleeve. It's perfectly lovely, but much more intriguing is the latex trapping and suffocating the felt across the room, the felt's red-thread seams giving it a barely visible bloody outline.
Nola Avienne has the most memorable and unnerving work in the show. A disembodied blue doll's eye with black eyelashes is dragged around and around in a small circle inside an old record-player suitcase, powered by a hidden motorized magnet. The eye jerks as it rolls, and, horribly, winks. In another work, called Embed, a mound of tiny metal filings (also run by hidden motorized magnets) sits atop a white pedestal that looks an awful lot like one of the twin towers (maybe the suggestion comes to me from the title, which in one meaning refers to the military practice of "embedding" journalists). The surface of the brown, hairy-looking mound moves as if disparate, competing forces were trapped inside it, condemned to chase a resolution that will never come.
Frye Art Museum
Mixed media sculptures and paintings by Willie Cole in Anxious Objects: Willie Cole's Favorite Brands. Through Sept 3. Fiat Mambo: A retrospective for the underrecognized Seattle artist David C. Kane. Free. Artist talk with Kane, Sat June 23, 2 pm. Reception and gallery tour Fri June 22, 7 pm. Tues-Sun. Through Oct 7. 704 Terry Ave, 622-9250.
Henry Art Gallery
A retrospective of the edition-based works of General Idea, a trio of artists who lived and worked together—including making the famous AIDS logo modeled after Robert Indiana's LOVE—until two of them died of AIDS in 1994. Through Aug 5. Mouth Open, Teeth Showing: the contemporary art collection of Bill and Ruth True, owners of Western Bridge. $10 adults, $6 seniors. Tues-Sun. Through Sept 23. 15th Ave NE at NE 41st St, 543-2280.
Seattle Art Museum
SAM at 75: The Future Now is more than 200 works recently gifted to the museum in honor of its 75th anniversary and its new facility, designed by Allied Works of Portland. $13 adults, $10 seniors, $7 students suggested. Tues-Sun. Through Sept 9. 1300 First Ave, 625-8900.
Tacoma Art Museum
Works by the eight 2007 Neddy Artist Fellowship finalists. Tues-Sun. Through Aug 19. Sparkle Then Fade sharply surveys the use of light by contemporary artists, with Glenn Ligon, Marilyn Minter, Alex Schweder, and many others. $7.50 adults, $6.50 kids/seniors/military. Tues-Sun. Through Sept 3. 1701 Pacific Ave, 253-272-4258.
Vancouver Art Gallery
Not to be missed: Andrea Zittel's first comprehensive North American exhibition. $15 (Canadian) adults, $11 seniors, $6 kids. Mon-Sun. Through Sept 30. 750 Hornby St, 604-662-4719.
Belle and Wissell Studio Gallery
Time and Sequence: Telling Tales with Moving Pictures featuring Webster Crowell, Matt Daniels, Margot Quan Knight, Nicole Linde, and David Waingarten. Free. Reception Sat June 23, 7-11 pm. Fri, Sat. Through July 14. 6014 12th Ave S, 206 322-7908.
Fantagraphic Bookstore and Gallery
Cartoons and comics by Peter Bagge and photographs by Lance Mercer in Buddies. Free. Reception Sat June 23, 5-8 pm. Mon-Sun. Through July 31. 1201 S. Vale St, 658-0110.
Iampayingattention: new work by Stranger Genius Award winner Victoria Haven. Free. Reception Thurs June 21, 6-8 pm. Tues-Sat. Through Aug 4. 604 Second Ave, 256-6399.
How Did I Get Here?: A 20-year survey of work by sculptor Cris Bruch. Free. Reception Thurs June 21, 6-10 pm. Tues-Sat. Through Aug 4. 831 Airport Way S, 501-1231.
Seattle Central Community College
Latino Life in the Northwest: Photographs by Hugo Ludeña. Free. Reception Thurs June 28, 5:30-7:30 pm. Mon-Thurs. Through July 31. 801 E Pine, Fine Arts Building, 4th fl, 903-3205.
Paintings by Oliver Vernon and Damon Soule. Free. Wed-Sat. Through June 30. 2316 Second Ave, 374-8977.
Catherine Person Gallery
Status: new multimedia work by Ron Lambert. Free. Tues-Sat. Through July 7. 319 Third Ave S, 763-5565.
Crawl Space Gallery
Diana Falchuk: Sweet Remains. Free. Mon-Sun. Through July 15. 504 E Denny Way, #1, 322-5752.
Garde Rail Gallery
Ab the Flagman sculpts flags and other scenes from furniture scraps and found objects. Free. Wed-Sat. Through June 30. 110 Third Ave S, 621-1055.
Greg Kucera Gallery
Sculptures and drawings by Claudia Fitch, drawings by James Castle, and prints by Kiki Smith and Deborah Oropallo. Free. Tues-Sat. Through June 30. 212 Third Ave 2, 624-0770.
New paintings by James Lavadour. Free. Tues-Sun. Through June 30. 309 Occidental Ave S, 223-0816.
Jack Straw New Media Gallery
Catalyst: Paul Rucker's new interactive sound and video installation on the process of creating art. Free. Mon-Fri. Through July 20. 4261 Roosevelt Way NE, 634-0919.
James Harris Gallery
Claude Zervas: New light sculptures. Free. Wed-Sat. Through July 7. 309A Third Ave S, 903-6220.
Big Fuckin' Hands: Big fucking hand paintings by Ellen Forney. Free. Mon-Sun. Through Aug 1. 517 15th Ave E, 323-9898.
Disconnects: Artists from Seattle and Brooklyn play with the tensions between media and subject matter. Free. Tues-Sat. Through June 30. 2209 Second Ave, 441-3314.
OKOK's one-year anniversary featuring Banjo Quilt: works on paper by Mel Kadel and Anthony Yankovic III. Free. Tues-Sun. Through July 14. 5107 Ballard Ave NW, 789-6242.
Objective Sound: A new installation by pioneering sound sculptor Bill Fontana. Free. Thurs-Sat. Through Aug 4. 3412 Fourth Ave S, 838-7444.