It was a coincidence. I had no idea what Jeffry Mitchell had been getting up to over at the Rainier Oven Building these last few months, and he didn't know about the research I'd been doing for the last two years. We've never met.

But we've been thinking about the same thing. Mitchell is an artist people love—at the Henry Art Gallery's Bashville auction this past summer, a super-talented illustrator loudly declared Mitchell's small sculpture (two deer faces with their eyes blocked out) the best thing on offer—and when Western Bridge commissioned a new work from him for its current exhibition, Boys and Flowers, Mitchell knew immediately that it was going to be a piece of art about Club Z. The finished thing is titled The Tomb of Club Z. It consists of an eight-paneled screen of plaster-like pressed paper (with lighthearted animal and nature scenes in relief, inspired by the Chinese tradition of burying the dead in ceramic tombs decorated with scenes of life) and, behind the screen, stacked in a glass vitrine, an earthenware recreation of the inside of Club Z. Club Z is a 30-something-year-old bathhouse housed in a 100-year-old building on Pike Street that's set to be demolished this year. An essay I wrote about the building's malevolent, mostly unrecorded history in The Stranger ["Bleak House," April 6] hit the streets six days after Boys and Flowers, featuring The Tomb of Club Z, went on view at Western Bridge.

The scenes Mitchell has created—the holed walls, the open doors, the lockers, the toilets, and the naked men, who look more like men crossed with monkeys crossed with bears, and have freakish penises—are messily glazed in an obscene white goo, sort of like the hard, shiny frosting on Mother's Iced Oatmeal Cookies, with red clay underneath peeking through. The scene that gets me is of a man/monkey/bear on his back on a sling, alone, holding his penis, waiting for someone to come into his room and, meanwhile, staring in the direction of the sky, as if he's regarding God. The Tomb of Club Z is meant as an evocation of the aloneness Mitchell used to experience when he would go to Club Z, and that single figure says something I wasn't able to get at in 7,000 words.

Support The Stranger

This is art, actual art, unlike the "art" that journalist Patrick Moore describes in his book Beyond Shame: Reclaiming the Abandoned History of Radical Gay Sexuality, a book honoring the doors-flung-open bathhouse sex of the 1970s. "These men were using flesh and spirit and sexual energy as their artistic tools," he writes. "The sex of the 1970s was creative; it was art." It's an interesting argument, but it's specious for a billion reasons. Moore is a generous, lascivious historian, but sadly not much of a thinker; he exhausts 200 pages describing old haunts and never does any work to prove his thesis. It's a letdown. I don't recommend it. But The Tomb of Club Z? Go see it.

frizzelle@thestranger.com