After the Boom
Mika Tajima Responds to the Collapse of WaMu in the Gallery at SAM
Now that everybody is protest-occupying everything, it's worth paying attention to what's gone unoccupied. For example: That sparkling wafer of a tower once full of the business of Washington Mutual in the center of Seattle. The bankrupted bank formerly paid life-sustaining rent to the Seattle Art Museum located on the tower's lowest floors. Three years ago, when SAM invited a New York artist to create a commission in one of its galleries, she happened to visit just after WaMu's collapse. After the Martini Shot, her current installation, is her response.
The title refers to that instant just after a film has wrapped, after the last shot of the day, the "martini shot." The artist, Mika Tajima, has arranged a series of videos and movable objects on wheels in SAM's gallery, as though a film set has just been abandoned. When people walk through, they're unsure of what to do, what to focus on. They may notice their movements reflected in the perforated paintings that have been turned into blinds—louvered, laminated with mirrors. Here comes one visitor, there goes another, on the surface of an abstract painting. Other pieces are spray-painted Plexiglas boxes mounted on the walls like hallowed monochromes (think Rothko)—but (literally) hollow and multiple, art as designer decoration, extra inventory in a storage space.
One of Tajima's sculptures, The Extras, is an actual storage rack for art. SAM gave Tajima permission to slide prized objects from the permanent collection into its slots along with her own past works. The system—like an oversized drying rack—creates a series of holes that provide obscured views of SAM's valuables: an orange and yellow square painting by Josef Albers; flowers by Warhol; Mick Jagger's face. This is not the way expensive objects are intended to be seen.
Conspicuously, After the Martini Shot is a semicircular arrangement that's empty in the middle. It feels like these objects could be moved, like they're not in their final place. Tajima is inspired by the 1964 invention of the cubicle, called by its designers the Action Office system. The cubicle—I mean, the Action Office—was intended to liberate workers from the anonymizing rows of desks that preceded it, which looked like dystopic adult classrooms. It makes one's mind wander several floors up.