"Do you want to guess?" Cory Verellen asks. I'm quiet, lingering in the pregnant moment when if you don't answer whether you want to guess, the person might just blurt out the answer and spare you having to think about it. Verellen sits through the temporary silence—so I'm going to keep silent, too. In this review, I won't disclose the subject matter of Brian Lane's many abstract-looking, vivid color photographs showing at Rare Medium, Verellen's Capitol Hill gallery. "Paint?" I finally guess. "That's the closest anyone has gotten," he says. That's the only clue I'll give.
There are three parts to the show: a ledge at shin height running the length of two walls, holding a row of vertical 4-by-6-inch photos you're invited to pick up and rearrange any way you like, "to create a new horizon line, orientation, coupling, or sequence"; a dozen horizontal prints staggered on one wall, each 9 by 13 inches and framed; and, filling the other wall, one pristine, 26-by-40-inch framed photograph.
Lane is using macro lenses, so each image is a close-up of something. But you can use a macro lens to take a picture of another photograph; its mere use doesn't mean your subject is small, despite the fact that molecular-scientist friends of Verellen keep stopping by the gallery and asking what petri dish these came out of. The pictures are a perfect balance of odd and pretty, their subjects vague, like a cross between the pictures in Macro-fauxology, Susan Robb's series of perky-colored landscapes made of Play-Doh and spit and food and hair, and more dour and indeterminate abstract color-field paintings. Lane calls his pictures "dreamscapes," but they capture a real place, somewhere local that Lane has been documenting for years. (Ask the gallery or e-mail me for the secret, just look first. You'll be glad you did. If you can't go, the photographs are well represented on the gallery's website: raremediumseattle.com.)
The form of the pictures is simple, magnifying variations. Each picture is divided by a horizon line, variously fuzzy or defined. In one, there are some bubbly drops rising from the ground—are they actually rising from the ground? Which way is really up? Over there, is that the moon? And here, are those teeny, tiny hills of colored powder? Because you could swear they're the Olympic Mountains seen from a blurring super-distance. Is what I'm looking at very small or very large?
The gamesmanship of looking is Lane's real subject, just as it's the pastime in a coincidentally related, also-Rashomonic show called Horizon at the Frye Art Museum. Horizon is a playroom. It's 14 paintings, all different sizes in their gilt frames, hung along a wall so close they're almost touching—lined up to form a single, contiguous horizon line running across Russian farmlands, Dutch seas, German pastures. Thrown into stark relief are the bare, limited tools available for shaping a view—artist's tools: scale, shape, shade, color.
On the facing wall, there's a single, giant video projection. It was made in 2003 by living artist Paul Pfeiffer (the paintings are by dead artists), and it's called Morning After the Deluge. A sunrise and sunset come together in the center of an unhinged sky, unhinged because Pfeiffer adjusted the view frame by frame to create the alignment, shifting the seen universe for the sake of creating something that is simple to the eye but extremely perplexing to the mind. It takes many minutes of viewing the 20-minute video loop—I ended up lying on the museum bench on my side—to get your mind around how Pfeiffer made it. In those minutes, you're seeing yourself seeing, and that has to be art's greatest gift to humanity that's also a good time.