IN PAST YEARS, Bumbershoot's art programming has been rather dispirited and dispiriting: laxly curated, poorly installed shows wholly overwhelmed by their surroundings amid the baker's dozen of live music stages and the glut of goofy art-ish decor installed on the grounds of Seattle Center. This year's five shows were an exception: There were very real treats to be found in the little warren of rooms around the north edge of KeyArena.

I'll just touch on Jacob Lawrence and Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence: Together in the World (did we really need yet another celebration of Seattle's favorite transplanted artist, so soon after the Henry's hagiographic retrospective?); Sculpture: 40,000 Years Later (apparently, the 40-millennium history of sculpture has led us to a dozen local sculptors whose work would look great around my gracious patio, if I had one); Alexei Kolesnikov: Transformations (great draftsmanship and creepy German Renaissance style from this Russian painter); and Villa Velour: The Velvet Masterpieces of Edgar William Leeteg (a beautifully installed show of fairly attractive, but not stunningly so, black velvet paintings by an early master of the medium. Nice rack on his favorite Polynesian model, though).

The most interesting shows were a pair devoted to early-career Seattle-area artists. Phresh (juried by Trevor Fairbrother) and More (curated by Christian French) had multiple overlaps, were in adjacent rooms, and could easily be viewed as companion pieces. Together, they gave a good preview of artists to watch for over the coming year.

More bore the tendentious subtitle "A Show about American Consumption," but managed largely to avoid lapsing into broad political statements. It had its bad moments: Jamie McMurry's video of himself eating and masturbating may have been intended as a critique of consumption, but it worked better as a critique of bad performance art, McMurry's included. But More also had some delights: a complex wood structure housing quirky ceramic tchotchkes by Ryan Berg, Ellen Forney's large-scale celebration of Pamela Anderson Lee, Demi Raven's ceramic plates with decals commemorating "Great American Foodstuffs" like Miracle Whip and Velveeta, and Susan Robb's Paul McCarthy-style installation of a humanoid rabbit vomiting yellow liquid onto a pile of carrots and $20 bills.

Next door, Seattle Art Museum's modern art curator Trevor Fairbrother selected from slides submitted by Washington artists to make Phresh, a looser, unthemed show with a very grassroots feel. A few artists are represented by galleries here, but most of the familiar faces were known only through their regular appearances in CoCA and Bellevue Art Museum's Northwest Annuals, and in alternative spaces around town.

The room was flanked by two strong pieces which both included recordings of water sounds. Ellen Ziegler's Pearl was a high-finish, opalized fiberglass shell, round with edges where its two halves were attached: elegant and plain. Across the way, Jesse Paul Miller showed a green box made out of corrugated plastic sheeting, with an aquatic-sounds tape playing inside it and a soft light emanating from within. His approach to a key minimalist form -- injecting real-life objects and themes into a kind of art meant to be completely non-referential -- was a winning one.

A jury from SAM's Pacific Northwest Art Council chose an apparently random pair of works to give special awards to: I've no idea why they picked the pieces they did, and I've wholly forgotten what those pieces were. Jesse Miller's box would've been a fitting recipient, as would a photo by Todd A. Kephart, a recent transplant to Seattle. That photo depicts a scene on some nowhere corner in a beat-up city. In the foreground are two young slacker types, one stretching, the other crouching on a junk-strewn sidewalk. Behind them looms the largely blank wall of an industrial building, with a small door, a set of factory windows, and some graffiti as its only features. What sets the photo in motion is the flat roof of the building, which -- through unorthodox construction methods or tricks of perspective -- angles down to the right. After noticing that oddity, everything in the photo looks out of scale: the street sign, the two slackers, the wide sidewalk they're standing on. The photo breathes strangeness into a mundane scene, and looking at its details becomes a compulsive act.

Support The Stranger