The title of the Frye Art Museum's new exhibition, Swallow Harder, is taken from Seattle artist Mark Mumford's wall piece consisting of the ambiguously confrontational phrase repeated twice in large vinyl lettering. The piece is a prominent fixture in the home of Ben and Aileen Krohn, collectors whose holdings in video, photography, painting, performance, and sculpture are now seen for the first time in public. The title has other meanings, too. It is a directive from the museum (which has gone from stodgy to daring) to longtime patrons (who may find the new art hard to swallow). It also refers to the sexual content in the show. All three meanings came together at the opening, when an elderly couple stood in front of Chicago artist Jason Salavon's 76 Blowjobs, and glared.
The Krohns—Aileen is a stockbroker, Ben hunts for art—have some 300 works, but only 47, non-abstract pieces are here, selected according to compatibility and space rather than a unified theme. The loose motifs that arise involve sex and porn, popular culture, and humor, which, together, make for a popping good show.
Each artist is represented by a strong example. Seattle-based artists Claire Cowie, Patrick Holderfield, Leo Saul Berk, Jeffry Mitchell, Victoria Haven, and others join an international group whose only real commonality is a kind of visual potency, from assume vivid astro focus's mesmerizing psychedelia to Stuart Hawkins's transfiguration of wet toilet paper to Matt Greene's absurdly gothic scene of knights and electric guitars in a dark forest. Anthony Goicolea pictures himself as a series of teenage boys playing with tampons. Curator Robin Held placed Dean Sameshima's photos of a shirtless hunk miming secret homoerotic signs high on the walls, like actual signs. And of course, there's Salavon's 76 Blowjobs, a composite of 76 close-ups of fellatio that, viewed sideways, looks like nothing more than a hazy, romantic painting of a sunrise.