Release & Capture
Kirkland Arts Center
Through May 7.

The whiff of preciosity that's often found in works on paper is used against itself for a kind of subtle aesthetic subversion in Release & Capture. The deceptively modest work in this survey showcases seven variously gifted and idiosyncratic Northwest artists, who demonstrate a remarkably cohesive vision under curator Fionn Meade's direction.

Many of the artists use the conventions of paper to inventive ends, delivering the pleasure of old-fashioned elegiac sensualists with a defiant contemporary edge. Mary Simpson's natural impulse for formal grace and fluency is applied to perspective and scale in her copper etchings. Her figures convey loneliness; they are adrift in an expanse of negative space on the white paper. Claire Cowie's horses and riders adorn a mobile, with the watercolors seeming light even as the dark undertow of battle spins and glints in the sunlight.

Dawn Cerny's tiny pencil drawing of a prison starts on the wall and takes metaphoric flight, extending across the wall through a pair of framed prints and turning into busy and beautiful bird cutouts pinned to the wall--part specimen and part decoration. The symbolism from capture to release is obvious, but it's Cerny's incisive use of different mediums, changing from pencil to intaglio, that gives the freedom its necessary heft.

Marc Dombrosky and Gretchen Bennett are collectors of paper detritus. Dombrosky collects scraps of paper--notes, to-do lists, receipts--and embroiders them, delicately embellishing discards. Bennett uses castoffs from stickers and scraps to create collages and abstractions (similar to some of Robert Yoder's work). Here she razored animals and landscapes out of wood-grain contact paper for nature's unnatural approximation. Like handwriting at the very edge of illegibility, this work has a nearly tender inscrutability that on further examination reveals a tough and strong voice. NATE LIPPENS

Help Wanted: Collaborations in Art

Center on Contemporary Art

Through April 23.
The best collaborations between artists tend to happen naturally. The artists are either already hanging out and brainstorming ideas or they're in art school together. Forced or mediated collaborations rarely succeed--when artists are brought together and directed to make something that combines each of their talents, they're automatically limited to whatever the other person can or cannot offer. In naturally occurring collaborations like Destroy All Monsters, Forcefield, the Royal Art Lodge, Group Material, et cetera, the artists know each other's potential and are curious about what would happen if that potential was combined. The results are often bigger and more realized than an individual artist could manage on his or her own.

Help Wanted looks like a case of mediated collaboration and, unfortunately, the results are either not fully realized or are poorly executed. If it is the act of collaboration that we should care about then the show has a few intriguing moments (although it would make more sense as a weekend finale than a six-week exhibition). There are some interesting combinations--one piece was created by a playwright, an architect, an estate-sale planner, a visual programmer, an interactive designer, and a 3D modeler--but the results often lack the intensity that's generated when people are more excited about the idea than about the final product. And in several cases the artists make up for a lack of content with sheer size. Just because it's big doesn't mean it's awesome, though. There are great feats of technological magic in the show but ultimately it's a lot of smoke and mirrors. Scratch the surface and you won't find much beyond a moment of entertainment. Of course, everyone involved should be applauded for their efforts, but that doesn't necessarily mean we have to applaud all of the results. KATIE KURTZ

The Red Thread: Glimpses of International Art in Vienna

Howard House

Through April 30.
The Red Thread features work by more than a dozen artists who are in some way connected to Vienna. The theme ("the red thread" is a German phrase about one's chain of thought) was very much on my mind while I was there on a recent rainy Saturday--mostly because my own chain of thought was as discursive as the show's contents. I was self-conscious while standing in front of Muntean/Rosenblum's little painting of a girl in a red bikini top staring at the viewer with "And then I'm thinking why am I like this? Why?" printed across the bottom. How many times have I thought that? How many times have you?

Franz West's gigantic sculpture Mercury somehow manages to be both phallic and scatological. It was purchased locally and, according to gallery owner Billy Howard, will have a "nice lake view." Imagining Mercury's view is a more interesting exercise than imagining what West is trying to get across with this piece. Thomas Baumann's DVD loop Vis Motrix (its title is an allusion to Immanuel Kant's theory about mind/body interaction) examines the simpatico movements of a skateboarder and a modern dancer. This is a smart premise but not so interesting to watch. While the dancer performs a series of movements that look like graceful epileptic seizures, the skateboarder self-consciously glides around her, executing tricks. Without a grounding in Kantian philosophy (which I certainly don't have--I had to Google "vis motrix" for this review), I'm not sure what is to be gained from watching the full 30 minutes of this piece.

At one point, Billy Howard gestured to the gallery and apologized for one of the pieces not working. I thought he meant Zlatan Vukosavljevic's homemade antenna/radar system, Occupied Territory, but he was talking about Walter Seidl's DISclose. "No," he said, "That piece is working." Suspended from the ceiling, all bony and technologically useless, Occupied Territory definitely seemed to be working harder than some of the other pieces in the show. KATIE KURTZ

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