Seattle's Only Arts Section • Oct 20 - Oct 26, 2005
 
 

Richard Nicol

Henry Art Gallery - A room with many views.

On Exhibit

The Warehouse of Art

150 Works of Art
Henry Art Gallery
Through February 26, 2006.

Artists often accuse curators of wanting to be artists. The Henry's chief curator, Elizabeth Brown, cannot be accused of such ambitions, even if her curatorial approach has the vitality of an artist. For her latest, 150 Works of Art, Brown cleverly collaborated with the Seattle-based architects Annie Han and Daniel Mihalyo, AKA Lead Pencil Studios, to stage a show of photographs, paintings, and video from the Henry Art Gallery's permanent collection. The surprising result is one that calls into question display and viewership while simultaneously delivering an excellent overview of the collection. Brown selected the pieces and collaborated with Lead Pencil on the show's display configuration. Entering the gallery from the north, the 150 pieces of art are arranged so that they have their backs to the viewer. Their plain plywood backings are set up on metal easels creating row after row of panels, each neatly labeled with the year the work was produced, the artist's name, and the title. The art has been moved to center stage where the viewers typically stand and gawk, leaving the walls bare and gray. The organization of the works suggests a warehouse; in fact, Han said that one of Lead Pencil's proposals was modeled directly on warehouse art storage, but with the feel of a cocktail party or a dinner party with perfectly assigned seating. The rows of works progress chronologically, but there are little other indicators or curatorial intrusion (for guidance there is a computer kiosk outside the gallery). The maze contains multiple and, as you proceed through it, multiplying viewing strategies that are full of allusions, associations, and visual games. As with WOW, the group contemporary art exhibition at the Henry last year, Brown leaves the connections and interpretations open to the viewer. It's a large part of what makes the show and her approach so successful: She is smart enough to trust her audience's intelligence and intuition. And she's sly enough to guide with an unseen hand. NATE LIPPENS

New Paintings: Jeffrey Simmons
Greg Kucera Gallery
Through November 12.

Chapter Three of William Gibson's Neuromancer opens with this description of BAMA ("[T]he Sprawl, the Boston-Atlanta Metropolitan Axis"): "Program a map to display frequency of data exchange, every thousand megabytes a single pixel on a very large screen. Manhattan and Atlanta solid white. Then they start to pulse...." The new paintings of Jeffery Simmons—a local artist who has been exhibiting in the Northwest since 1995—visualize Gibson's programmed map. They at once call to mind computer screens with millions of glowing pixels, and nighttime aerial views of sprawling cities. What we see in each painting in this series is not the city itself but the energy it expends, its heat, its power networks; its circuits, concentrations, and flows of information and money. Simmons's cities, however, are not on earth; these luminous patterns of green, blue, red, and orange lights relate to social arrangements that are inhuman. We are not looking at the "outlines of hundred-year-old industrial parks ringing the old core of Atlanta..." We are looking at otherworldly centers populated by industrious ATLiens. CHARLES MUDEDE

Acting Out: Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore
Frye Art Museum
Through Feb 12, 2006.

Lucy Schwob and Suzanne Malherbe were two early proto-performance artists who worked on the margins of identity, gender, photo-documentation, and French surrealism. Schwob grew up in a prominent Jewish publishing family and Malherbe came from a privileged, Christian background. They adopted male names; Schwob became Cahun and Malherbe became Moore. From 1920 to 1937, the couple lived together in Paris, participating in avant-garde theater and the Surrealist movement. They then moved to the Isle of Jersey where they were arrested, sentenced to death, and then spared during the Nazi occupation. All along they created private performances just for the camera, creating personas and scenarios that took on the look of public dreams. The most indelible of these are from the earliest period of their collaboration. Acting Out, guest-curated by Tirza True Latimer from the California College of the Arts, traces their collaboration chronologically. The work is startlingly contemporary, with obvious antecedents to the shape-shifting, gender-loaded work of Cindy Sherman and Nikki S. Lee. But ultimately the two women remain elusive. Much of their work was destroyed by the Nazis and even their prison time and subsequent release, precipitated by a cryptic official letter of protest from an Isle of Jersey official, remains frustratingly murky. Without larger context, the haunting and strange images remain out of reach. Was their work a private practice or was it widely viewed? They were lovers who lived as sisters; Moore was Catholic but was buried next to Cahun with two Stars of David on their shared headstone. The photographs of their loaded play-acting are penetrating, seeming to reveal the layered lives and mythic propensities that they lived or dreamed of living—but at the end of the exhibition the two remain enigmas, fascinating but unknowable. It's both fitting and incomplete. NATE LIPPENS

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