Gary Smoot
Wiener II and III

CMA Gallery, Ceramics Dept, University of Washington, 4205 Mary Gates Memorial Dr, 543-0178. Through Feb 23.

In last year's Wiener, balloons twisted into the eponymous dogs traveled from the nicest possible sweatshop through a pipe into a gallery, where they floated up to the ceiling; there they swayed ever so slightly in the breeze while we waited, propped up on pillows and listening to polka music, until one or two or a whole squadron detached and nose-dived to the ground. It was both the saddest and funniest installation of the year, as well as one of the smartest.

As it happens, Wiener was the first of a seven-part saga, an ongoing investigation into the projected pathos of deterioration. After the first part, artist Gary Smoot photographed every single balloon, as methodically as a forensic examiner, cataloging every possible stage of deflation and (implied) decay. Four hundred and fifty of these photographs comprise Wiener II, and they form the compulsive background for the continuing story of Wiener III.

This time, the wieners were filled with water and frozen, and the balloon skin, for the most part, peeled off. All of this work took place outside the gallery, in cold storage. During the opening, the frozen dogs were reverently carried inside and placed on a conveyor belt, and from there it was a short trip to a pile of other melting wieners.

In this saga's absurdity lies its smartness. Like a shaggy-dog story, it requires a whole lot of work for an anticlimactic end, and is a twisted allegory for the futility of any mortal undertaking. By the time you read this, Wiener III will be just a puddle on a gallery floor--an event gone by, the sincerest application of "you had to be there." Smoot invokes a rather grand paradox by using elements (air, water) that seem transient but are in fact indestructible, and documenting these performances in permanent materials (film, videotape) that eventually will go the way of all flesh. Neither photographs nor moving pictures can halt the passage of time.

Existential depression, anyone? Emily Hall