Archive for December 2011

“Theaster Gates: The Listening Room” at Seattle Art Museum

Theaster Gates is very much interested in “acts of sincerity,” and his current installation at the Seattle Art Museum is certainly that. Gates, a highly acclaimed young artist, was selected by SAM to be their 2011-2012 Gwendoyn Knight and Jacob Lawrence Fellow. The fellowship, is awarded bi-annually to an early career black artist.

Gates describes his work as an exploration of the ways history, place, and performance intersect. His installation at SAM consists of record albums (vinyl discs from the ’60s through the ‘80s) that he bought when the Dr. Wax Record Store in Chicago’s Southside went out of business. The store, long renowned as a center for rock, hip-hop and blues music, was pivotal within the community.

In addition to the records, his installation consists of found and recycled objects—fire hoses turned into wall hangings, chairs made from the floor boards of a Chicago police station, a kneeling stand from a church. The church element has been refashioned as a DJ station and on first Sundays and first Thursdays during the exhibition, a Chicago DJ will play music. At other times, visitors can leaf through the albums in boxes on the floor and, one at a time, play a selection on the one portable record player in the center of the space.

Gates, who believes that the Chicago community’s history and politics were embedded in the store and within the music, sees the installation as drawing together community and activism in art. He invites you to discover that past as its music is presented, archived and preserved.

Through July 1, 2012, Seattle Art Museum, 1300 First Ave., Seattle. (206 654-3100 or

“Best Christmas Pageant Ever” at Seattle Public Theatre

The Seattle Public Theatre offers two Christmas shows. “Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol,” is the one designed for an adult audience that yearns for a new take on an old standard. “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever,” tells a funny seasonal story and gives the children in the theatre’s acting school a chance to show their stuff along with four adults.

Last year I saw the Jacob Marley work and thoroughly enjoyed it. I assume it is equally good this year, but I didn’t see it. Instead, I attended a performance of “The Best Christmas . . .”, a tale of good kids and bad kids and how the miracle of Christmas makes all little children good kids.

This is the one to take the children to. They will love seeing a stage full of kids of all ages and will relate to the experience of facing bullies and achieving peace with them. They will forgive any overacting, finding it, instead, just right. They and you will love the antics of the extremely energetic Christmas angel. And in the end, you’ll all be moved by a nativity tableau that you might have guessed could never happen.

Through Dec. 24 at the Bathhouse, 7312 W. Greenlake Dr. N., Seattle. (206 524-1300 or Check the theatre’s web site or box office for dates of each production.

“Owen Meany’s Christmas Pageant” produced by Book-It Repertory Theatre

When Book-It’s co-directors Jane Jones and Myra Platt first adapted John Irving’s unforgettable character Owen Meany from book to stage in 1997, its enormous popularity caused the production to be reprised every year through 2002. Well, all I can say is welcome back Owen Meany, you little, squeaky voiced, incredibly domineering youngster. We haven’t seen you in Seattle for nine years, and many of us had almost forgotten how much we adore you.

What Owen does to the Christmas pageant at Christ Episcopal Church in Gravesend, New Hampshire, can only be described as a holy horror. Despite the well-laid plans of the mealy mouthed rector and his imperious, self-important wife, everything that could go wrong does. Little Owen somehow manages to get the most inappropriate girl selected as Mary and the worst possible choice made for the role of angel. He anoints himself as the baby Jesus, tosses out the crib and installs himself on a bed of hay.

But Mrs. Wiggin, the heavy-handed minister’s wife, thinks she knows just how to take Owen down a peg. Sadly for her, every one of her efforts is a disaster. And every misstep in the Christ Church Christmas production is a hilarious moment for the Book-It audience.

Jane Jones’ direction is brilliant. Her cast, from Josh Asseng as Owen to every donkey, cow and shepherd in the ensemble is strong. Every action and its resulting catastrophe is choreographed as carefully as a classical ballet. My only caveat, and it’s a small one, is for Owen to use a little more face makeup, he’s a bit too beardy for an 11 year old.

That said, this is wonderful fun for all but the littlest children.

Through Dec. 23, at Center House Theatre, Seattle Center. (206 216-0833 or

“Isaac Layman—Paradise” at the Frye Museum

Although Layman’s work is included in many museum collections, this is his first one-man museum exhibition and includes more than 20 photographic constructions created especially for this show. Curated by Frye Director Jo-Anne Birnie Dansker, it addresses questions about the meaning of life.

Sometimes with contemporary art, the theory or philosophy behind the work is so complex or convoluted that it stands in the way of appreciating the work. Layman is as much philosopher as artist. When you go to the exhibition, read the introductory text, tuck it away, and then go into the galleries and just enjoy the art.

Each of the photographic constructions is composed of multitudes of individual images that he has made of a single object and then digitally manipulated into one enlarged picture. The result is a sort of minimalist feast. You’ll have a hard time figuring out exactly what thing he photographed so intensely, but why bother trying? The illusion of depth that he creates is astounding. On some of them (most of which are untitled) you have the sense that you could jump in and just delve deeper and deeper within.

See if you can figure out which one is an air duct grate. If you do, you’ll see it in greater depth than ever you saw one on your wall or floor. There’s one soaring piece that reminded me of ethereal clouds. It’s so lovely. Well guess what, it’s a bunch of Kleenex in a pan of water. And that’s what this exhibit is all about really. We find our paradise, our beauty, our wonder where we will. Just look for it.

Through January 22, 2012 at the Frye Museum (always free as is its parking lot) 704 Terry Ave., Seattle. (206 622-9250 or