*Critics (*means we highly recommend it)
Vital 5 Productions, 254-0475.
Through July 1.

Well haw, haw, haw, you've all had you're fun. Now let's talk.

What's more satisfying than giving authority a poke in the eye? Not much. It's certainly one of my favorite activities, in whatever form--the subtle subversion of expectations, the big ugly gesture, the unimpeachable well-researched argument. I had high expectations for *Critics (*means we highly recommend it), no matter how unflattering the consequences may have been for yours truly, because the things that can't survive a good poke probably shouldn't survive at all.

"Unflattering" is one word for the result; "inconclusive," I guess, would be another. There was the riotous and also nightmarish aspect to seeing one's face five or six times on the walls of a gallery (at the opening, guests could also choose a critic to impersonate, with mask and fraudulent name tag); it was a lot like that scene in Being John Malkovich with all the senselessly repeating Malkoviches. And although being the subject of a handful of paintings may very well create a kind of blinkering that makes criticism hard, if not impossible, I will go ahead and admit that I don't know what to make of it. I don't know why I was shown as a cat, or riding two horses in a rodeo, or why I was painted nude on black velvet.

Lord knows I'm probably trying to channel my embarrassment through an intellectual funnel. But criticism is an odd animal--both dependent on artists and not; indirectly for them, but mostly for everyone else--that could benefit from the weird grammatical reversal (the writer projected into the sentence, the doer of the verb becoming indirect, if you follow me) that Greg Lundgren initiated when he had about 30 artists create portraits of Seattle critics. There are some very good questions to be asked: What do critics do? Where do they fall on the continuum that has at one end your basic support-the-community hug and at the other the I-hate-everything harpoon? What is good criticism's value, both for the artist and the art-viewing public? What is bad criticism?

Although *Critics does have a critical undertone, it seems more to derive its power from its peculiar reversal of power than from answering or even asking these questions. For example, a modified Magic 8 Ball became an object-portrait of Matthew Kangas, who writes for the Seattle Times and Art in America, which suggests that he's capricious and inconsistent in his criticism; I find him, if anything, pretty rigid in his preferences. (Kangas actually walks away with some of the best paintings in the show, with a surreal multiple-eye rendition by Leiv Fagering, plus a full-length portrait that grants him a funny but unquestionable sort of gravitas.) Cynthia Rose, formerly of the Seattle Times and occasionally of the Seattle Weekly, is shown as a dominatrix; Regina Hackett of the P-I is a giant piñata head; someone I couldn't identify is a creature in an allegory.

What I'm trying to say is that I don't mind being an object of satire, but I wish the satire had been in service of something larger than just satire itself. Perhaps the lack of specificity was intentional, a purposeful jab at the irrelevance of critics. It doesn't matter, perhaps, what your philosophy of criticism is, how you write, what you write, but just that your perceived position of authority is just that: only perceived. Perhaps there is no conclusion to be drawn from the fact that I'm a cat, a wrangler of cattle, a piece of kitsch; or perhaps the critic herself is meant to supply the connection, a kind of free-associative gambit on the part of the artist.

But then, maybe that's it, that whatever gets written by critics about this show forms a crucial second act to *Critics. The possibility of this can't have escaped Lundgren, who has given us nearly two years' worth of pointed inquiries into the discrete activities of the art world. As a critic you have a few choices: to respond, to ignore, to identify with or rail against. The response to the dare becomes as interesting as the dare itself.