Art Review Revue
The Various Virtues and One Fatal Flaw of Three Art Shows
Bellevue Arts Museum
Through Nov 30.
In the long line of men making art in the wilderness, John Grade represents a break. He is not like the artists who compete with nature, the ones who make mountains in the desert
using bulldozers (Michael Heizer) or outdo the woods with tricks of light and composition (the Hudson River School), or like the ones who just tickle nature and let it shiver beautifully (Andy Goldsworthy). He labors on obsessively refined sculptures that look like nests or hives—gridded, postminimalist, human versions of animal creations—and then he sinks them to the bottom of a bog to lie with the rotting bones of people frozen there decades ago, or he submerges them in an oyster bay, or he posts them to the front of his pickup truck and drives through clouds of bugs. He signs up for decay and lets go of form, but he keeps the old dream of form alive in the meticulous structures that persist under the pockmarked surfaces.
Bellevue Arts Museum has done Seattle a favor by mounting an exhibition on the front end of what is shaping up to be this significant Seattle artist's middle period. He didn't have to have a middle period. For a while there he was making sculptures and drawings that sold well and were plenty good enough. He possesses Leonardo-like—demigod-like—reproductive powers of the hand and eye, especially on paper. Some of his semiabstract pencil drawings, often nothing more than fuzzy gray fields with bright spots, are so soft and atmospheric that they seem to introduce new zones into the world. They don't have to be of anything; they are things, without playing head games or touting theories. Their attitude is something like the art of Cris Bruch's: Do whatever you like; I'll just be over here working.
A few drawings are on display at BAM, in the exhibition Disintegration: Sculpture Through Landscape (which was curated by Stefano Catalani and has a very nice catalog to go with it), but for the most part the show comprises sculptures that have been subjected to, or are about to be subjected to, the out of doors. The four major works are Fold, Collector, Host, and Meridian. Their dates are all given as either 2007 or 2008, but the truth is that they undermine the idea of dating a work of art, fixing it in time. Meridian, for instance, is a giant, carefully lit spectacle that looks a little embarrassing all tarted up and given its own darkened room. You can stand inside the giant hollowed-out hive, which is somewhat fun because of the way its translucent rubber surface traps and changes light, but in the gallery it is like a costume waiting for an actor.
The point of these sculptures is that they migrate from indoors to outdoors and back. They are always in transition. Anything might happen to them, and I'm not sure Grade knows yet exactly what he wants to happen to them. What is their end point? When does he decide to stop moving them, to freeze them in time? Or will their destruction be forever deferred? Eventually, will the photographs and the itineraries of the sculptures stand in for the sculptures? I get the feeling that the answer to this question is no, that the bodies themselves have to persist. The reason why is their physical majesty. Take Fold, a seven-and-a-half-foot-tall object that looks like a slice of a tunnel, its surfaces all crumpled and irregular as if it were made of foil. But it's made of hard wood and even harder resin, and its surface is like honeycomb, all rectangular holes. These are chambers where termites will be able to crawl inside and make themselves at home when the sculpture is sunk into the sand in the Great Basin Desert in Nevada, like a great, curvy, Zaha Hadid–inspired insect apartment complex jutting up out of the earth only slightly. After the termites eat through the wood, they—and we—will still have the resin. Right? JEN GRAVES
Seattle Art Museum
Through March 1.
Edward Hopper, the wall of Seattle Art Museum tells me, liked to look in people's apartment windows and see what they were up to. "He would like to get into the apartments but there's no excuse," wrote the New York Post in 1935, the year my father was born. In the year my father was born, it was still something of a novelty for a lady to go eat a sandwich by herself in a restaurant. Today, only one generation later, I, a lady, can do pretty much whatever I want, which is exciting. But also, duh.
Edward Hopper's Women is not exciting. Because DUH.
The walls of SAM, in the two rooms that contain Edward Hopper's Women, say a bunch of stupid shit. They tell me nothing that I want to know about Edward Hopper's women. Instead, they offer heaps of historical context ("Women were on public display as never before"), excessive literality (America, like chop suey, the food in Chop Suey the painting, was all mixed up! All mixed up, you see!), and mushy, squishy study questions, which I did not write down because it seemed impossible at the time. Too boring. But they went something like this: "What is this woman thinking about? Is she tired? Is she sad? Where does she live? Is she enjoying her fucking sandwich? Is your mind blown by Edward Hopper's Women yet?"
All the information SAM offers is about content. It is literary. Nothing is about composition. But what the fuck is the point of looking at a painting if you don't tell me anything about why it's a painting? Isn't composition kind of the entire point? Because without it, you could just tell me, "There is a woman sitting at a table," and we could sit there and talk about women in the workforce and the male gaze and whether or not we think this woman sitting at a table is sad and enjoying her fucking sandwich. What I would like to know about Edward Hopper's women is this: Why so many corners? Why is she over there instead of over there? Why is this shade of green the prettiest shade of green that ever greened?
Edward Hopper's Women is very pretty, in fact. But I feel like I learned nothing about it. Teach me, SAM. I need you. LINDY WEST
Free Sheep Foundation
Through Nov 28.
The heart of the current film and video installations at Free Sheep Foundation is Merely Mouthpiece. This core is a wall that's wide and faces a line of video projectors. What's executed on it are 10 short experimental films directed by Adam Sekuler. Each short has no real beginning or end, but a strange sequence of actions, objects, faces, and spaces. The table supporting the projectors also supports a number of radios. Crackles, hisses, and strains of lost music—rap, classical, rock—phantom-drift out of the little speakers as each film runs a sequence that's set in some known or unknown part of Seattle: Cal Anderson Park, a bar near Madison Street and Boren Avenue, an anonymous attic. Let's go to the attic.
The sequence involves a furry rabbit mask, a handsome man and woman, white blankets, and a closed world of wood. In one part of the sequence, the camera, which is directed by Matt Daniels, moves Steadicam-backward from a closed door. From the right, a woman in a rabbit mask walks swiftly across the attic's space and confronts the man. Stop. Something important has happened here. This something relates to the success of this installation. The movement of the woman, which is dancelike (in fact the majority of the actors in these films are dancers), and the movement of the camera, which is noirlike, connect to form a cinematic code. A look at each of the shorts on the wall reveals more and more of these types of codes. In the Hollywood movie, this code would express a moment of danger, or mystery, or suspense. What letter is she writing? What do those secret words have to do with the murder that was committed last night? That's the code in the condition of Hollywood. However, in these experimental films, which have no story, just sequences/situations/spaces, these codes are what they are: codes of pleasure, mystery, and suspense.
That is the core. Orbiting it is a project called Search and Rescue—16 mm films Adam Sekuler and Matt Bakkom have rescued from destruction—and Interpretive Site: Kosmos, a short shot by Benjamin Kasulke set in a grassy area that was once a real town called Kosmos. Back in 1968, the State of Washington destroyed the town with water redirected by a dam. Not too long ago, for environmental reasons, the water was removed, and what's left of Kosmos is just roads and grass. In the film, people dance and do other activities on this gone town. But because the history is not stated in the installation, there is no way to enjoy the meaning, and the meaning is the most enjoyable part of the film. It's a meaning that has even more resonance when one considers the transient nature of the art space itself, Free Sheep Foundation, which is leasing its Belltown rooms temporarily from a developer, until the day he decides to destroy the building. CHARLES MUDEDE