I keep thinking back to Ari Glass.
"This was one of my students at Franklin [High School]!" Seattle artist and high-school art teacher Jed Dunkerley told me yesterday, proudly escorting me over to two paintings by Glass.
Dunkerley's own deadpan parodies of romantic landscape paintings hung not far from Glass's cold, bold, and together depictions of multicultural pride representing Seattle's south side, in the huge Northwest survey exhibition Out of Sight coinciding with Seattle Art Fair this weekend.
This year is the second year of the fair and Out of Sight 2.0, too.
Yeah, I thought, walking up to Glass's paintings in the midst of more than 200 installations, videos, paintings, and sculptures by more than 100 artists and artist collectives from across the Northwest and Vancouver, B.C.
This is what Out of Sight can do.
It can signal-boost what's fresh. It can lay down lineages, broadcast love letters, and dance at the edges of the insular commercial and academic art worlds. It can celebrate, bemoan, and document longstanding Northwest furies, fears, prides, jokes, voluptuousnesses. And it punches up.
Far more Portland artists are included this year. Take the collective Weird Allan Kaprow. You already know Weird Al Yankovic. Allan Kaprow was the artist who invented Happenings in the '60s. Weird Allan Kaprow digitally blends pop songs and videos and blue-chip artworks at museums and auctions to create hilarious postcolonial karaoke singalongs. For instance, Left Eye from the video for "Waterfalls" by TLC appears inside a 19th-century Hudson River School painting in a number about rapacious art collectors ("don't go takin' continents"). The Jackson 5's "I Want You Back" turns into a love song about giving back the indigenous artifacts displayed under glass in museums. And the Beach Boys' "California Girls" is about Oregon's legendary tax breaks, so convenient for big-time art collectors and institutions in that state.
There's a seriousness of purpose but a lightness of approach across the board.
Blair Saxon-Hill's collages are delicate but historically weighted with feminist materials and images.
Mario Lemafa's memorial to a trans woman is a series of leis made of flowers and candy, and Lemafa invites the Pacific Islander public to add leis onto the pedestal if they're so moved.
Brent Watanabe streams a modded version of Grand Theft Auto V, in which the player is replaced by a deer who wanders through the fictional landscape of San Andreas, based on California. The deer is programmed to make its own decisions, so it plays against the game, an animal caught out of its environment. It's both absurdly funny and sad and poignant.
The largest work in the entire exhibition is hiding up in the rafters, invisible unless you actually look up. It's a huge upside-down spire suspended from the ceiling, with the tip of the spire pointing downward over your head like a sword of Damocles. The spire is big but lightweight, made of gray and white camouflage netting fastened together with twist ties.
Its shape echoes the actual historic clock tower that's eight stories above and jutting into the real sky. Prentis Hale and SHED architecture made Ghost Spire as part of curator Beth Sellars's program of site-specific installations, which is something new at Out of Sight this year. (Kudos really need to go to the entire, mostly new curatorial and exhibition-design team of eight.)
Fierce politics are here. I like that they're reported as experienced, reported from the inside. Clyde Petersen and Kerstin Graudins created a poster after the shootings at Pulse Orlando and it hangs on the gallery wall, framed. It has fun graphics but bold black letters. The poster reads, in part, "To those who will burn this fucking place to the ground ... I love you."
During the opening Thursday night, a go-go dancer will dance on a pedestal right in front of the poster all night. As the old saying goes, a revolution without dancing is not one worth having.
Abstraction is alive and very well in the Northwest. Susan Dory is doing her best work. Seth David Friedman's long table of sculpted stones, resins, and other materials is like a cross between Brancusi's studio in Paris and the laboratory for a futuristic dildo-maker who's dealing with multiple genders and proliferating erogenous zones. They're not silly. They make their first connection through the eyes and then reach right on into the flesh.
It's terrific to see Tacoma underground artist Kenji Stoll's mural of flowers and barbed wire intertwined—an internment-camp echo?—and Tacoma artist Christopher Paul Jordan working at large scale directly on the wall, to create one of his portraits of kids making portraits of each other. He teaches art classes, and his paintings based on photographs of those classes are enigmatic. If you like Noah Davis (and why wouldn't you?), then I'll bet Jordan's work will get you. (Jordan wasn't yet finished with his mural yesterday when I saw Out of Sight.)
You want figurative painting? Amanda Kirkhuff made a larger-than-life-size oil on canvas portrait of Jody Lynn Bowman, a woman the label explains shot and killed her boyfriend when she caught him molesting her 3-year-old daughter, who told the jury that yep, she meant to do it, and the jury acquitted her, in 2004. She stands sidelong in the vigilante portrait, gripping her gun and wearing her biker outfit.
And as far as straight photography, see Canh Nguyen's four portraits of the residents and places of the disappearing Yesler Terrace, Seattle's leafy housing project that was the first racially integrated one in the nation, now being transformed into a mixed-income experiment.
Nguyen's subjects look at him intently. Nguyen lived in Yesler Terrace as a kid himself. Eventually, Nguyen had to stop taking portraits of Yesler, he told me a couple of weeks ago in a separate conversation. He felt just too helpless, and making photographs didn't constitute help.
Five photographs by Doug Newman are stacked into a corner, huddled together. It's a perfect installation decision. They're a group. They're personal. The people in the portraits are connected. Like Nan Goldin's subjects, they represent an underworld of queer Capitol Hill, the old gay neighborhood of Seattle that's been gentrified to within an inch of its life.
The pictures feature people, but they are about time, and loss. Instead of a wall label, Newman wrote a love letter that speaks for several of the quietly melancholic works running down the spine of Out of Sight. He wrote, "When they finally do tear it all down, Davora will still be there, standing in The White Room, timeless, willing you to find out who we were, who we wanted to be. Love, Doug."