In Art News
Light Show for UNESCO at Howard House
Past the nice big galleries with high ceilings at Howard House is a crowded area with rows of plastic-wrapped paintings leaning on each other and a few unwrapped artworks sitting or hanging, attempting to exhibit themselves despite their surroundings.
Leading away from that area is a low tunnel-like corridor and a doorway to the back room, where past visitors have stumbled upon and squeezed around a lawn chair held aloft by balloons, and videos of real chained-up motorcycles going crazy trying to escape, and paper sculptures of birds in snow. This room is ugly, claustrophobic, and has a bumpy floor. But art people are in the business of transubstantiation. So this ugly, claustrophobic, bumpy room is called Project Space, which makes it sound like it could one day become a very important place.
Today is actually sort of that day. Seattle artist Matthew Offenbacher has transformed the back room into Light Show for UNESCO.
The light show is on the walls, where the whiteness is deeply dyed by a ceiling track of lights in the colors of a tropical sunset. The walls look so good, so soft and concentrated and glowing, that hanging anything on them would be wrong. The gallery director compared the project to the transformation of a regular old place (unlit) into a UNESCO World Heritage Site (rapturously well-lit!).
In the middle of the room, with a single neutral light falling on it, is a hollow plywood box. The box's top surface is a platform for a miniature art show of miniature artworks, each one strange and lovable and slightly unsightly in its own way, presented like a collection of trophies and plaques for the misunderstood.
The objects include a painted ceramic elephant and circus ringmaster the size of salt and pepper shakers (by Jeffry Mitchell); a thin white thread with three pearl balls on it (Heide Hinrichs); a dried dahlia and books on various subjects (Egyptian wall paintings, rocks and minerals); a lumpy clay ashtray that appears to depict coitus but does not (Offenbacher; it's Narcissus and his reflection); a foamy spray-Styrofoam lion (Jenny Heishman); a totemic figure wearing a staircase dress (Claudia Fitch); two flat, screaming, eyeless faces (Gretchen Bennett, adapting designs from stickers).
On the back of the box, hung low, Bennett has glued a bad print of a blurry drawing she made of a disco ball. The difference between the degraded print and a real, glinting ball aches. The whole room aches. A handout says that Offenbacher used the three-part UNESCO mandate to create the show: "1. to promote diversity, 2. to mobilise active forces, and 3. to fertilise."