Hanita Schwartz, Peter Nelson, Maggie Romano, Alwyn O'Brien. Those are the four artists—of the 22 artists and designers who graduated from the University of Washington's master of fine arts program a few weeks ago—whose sculptures and video I find sticking with me. The whole class's work is on display at the Henry Art Gallery.
Schwartz's yellow shipping crate has something inside it, a fallen-apart center. What's in there is a disassembled easy chair, but since you never get a full view of it, you're not sure what else. It's viewed from various openings in the sides and top of the crate, and the views are governed by various lenses and windows and, in one place, a closed-circuit surveillance feed. A video on the wall features a man sleeping. A bronze version of one of the easy chair's leather cushions sits on a pedestal next to the crate. There's also an unfussy photograph of the cushion. It doesn't feel quite finished, but it intrigues.
Nelson's project started with interviewing his parents about their relationship (they are still together, but it has not always been easy). He then performed their answers with his wife in their own home, while wearing papier-mâché hands and heads that looked like the parents—this video plays in the gallery. On opening night, the parents sang live in front of the video onstage; this looping family seemed both decipherable and mysterious, nonfictional and fictional. The piece isn't as funny as Guy Ben-Ner's family portraits, as creepy as Tim Roda's, or as aggressive as Isabelle Pauwels's; instead, it is earnest. This earnestness probably is Nelson's strength and his weakness.
Romano's two pieces are delicate and poetic, maybe a little too much so. But they are also materially sensitive—the thinking and the making seem to have happened truly in tandem, to have unfolded. One piece is a life-size portrait of the artist's freckles only, with all the other identifying information removed from a photograph of her. They're embossed onto white paper, so you can barely see them at all, but they stick up ever so slightly so you could feel them if you were to run your hands across it. The other piece is a balloon hooked up to a machine that pumps it full of helium and another contraption that directs salty water into it. A tiny hole in the bottom of the balloon means that it leaks onto a concrete slab on the floor that absorbs a salt landscape over time. It is a body that tenses up, then releases, and it reminds me of Ann Hamilton's work.
The body of work that comes across as most complete is, in spirit, much like the work of Jeffry Mitchell: O'Brien's painted, collaged, drawn-on ceramic blobs with feet, connected to patterned two-dimensional pieces that stretch onto the walls. It references historical forms and the whole world of decoration, but its surfaces happen right here and now in front of your eyes, meaning it's erotic for both body and brain, working together.
This story has been updated since its original publication.