One of the most reassuring facts of Seattle art history is that when Virginia and Bagley Wright buy a piece of art, it's almost always a good one. Even if you've been looking at the collection for a while—and looking at art in Seattle with any regularity means you have been—every time you look at it again, you see some little thing that seems to exist newly right now. I love this about the Wright collection.
However, the collection is almost never curated. It's hung in the most conventional, formally beautiful, contextually deprived way possible. On the one hand, it's rich. On the other hand, it's barely getting by.
This isn't an accident. Modernism is where the artist rules, not the curator, and the Wright collection is a modern collection, and the Wrights are moderns. It's hard to imagine anything more modern than a show of 13 paintings (and a Judd sculpture) called Big Is Better (Or Some Claim) (at Wright Exhibition Space through March 26)—in which the art doesn't seem particularly big at all, unless you haven't been to an art show since 1959 (or, for that matter, to the world outside art shows). It's a case of modernism undoing itself. Big is only big here; better, too?
What more do you want? The Wrights collected good art, built a space in which to show it to the public for free, and added a post-ironic caveat to their modernist claim: "(Or Some Claim)." The rest is up to you. It's shows like this, in fact, that give critics something to do.
In that case, this could be a review in which I point out how the shapes and colors of the works draw each other out or close each other off; in which I reiterate that some Frank Stellas are better than others and that it's always better to see them in groups (as here) rather than in isolation; in which I relate with surprise that James Rosenquist seems to have the tiniest of hippie sides (are those concentric magical doorways I see, J.R.?); in which I wish minimalists had succeeded in getting across their humane and important ideas, and admit that while looking at Judd's blue stack I'm still just gazing like an animal at pretty shadows; in which I link Robert Longo with Canaletto; in which I resist dissing Julian Schnabel because there's an almost Teutonically expressionist painting of his in the show; in which I wax nostalgic about geometric abstraction and wonder whether this seemingly common reaction is actually what these supposedly hard-nosed artists were going for; or in which I talk about how Jennifer Bartlett seems the most forward-looking of all the artists here, with her bizarre, multiple-viewed painting of a wooden dresser stranded in a rainstorm.
I guess I did want to write that review a little. If you're still reading this, you should probably go to the show.
Wright Exhibition Space, 407 Dexter Ave N, Thurs–Fri 10 am–2 pm or by appointment, free.