Three New Exhibits at the Frye

You never know quite what to expect at the Frye—staid landscapes, partially clothed women from the late 19th Century, cutting edge contemporary performance art, sculpture, what? The current exhibits offer a range. There’s “Beloved: Pictures at an Exhibition” drawn from the permanent collection. Right next to it is “Of Breath and Rain” a new media installation by Seattle artist Susie J. Lee. Then there’s “Eternity and Commoner,” sculptures by Chinese artist Li Chen. Each offers its rewards.

It’s hard to pick favorites, but Li Chen blows me away. Using what appear to be scraps of lumber, heavy rope, and clay, he creates figures that majestically look down on viewers, reminding us of life’s transiency, nature’s power, and false gods. In the major piece, “Eternity” created especially for this exhibition, a commanding twelve-foot tall wooden figure holds a glittering treasure representing human spirit and wisdom. Surrounding him are sycophants and subordinates. They stand on a bed of clay, mere skeletons of wood. It’s a gallery-sized morality piece inviting us to examine who and what we are.

Susie Lee invites us to stay a while. A 30-minute HD video (Still Lives: Exposure) reminds one of earlier work by Andy Warhol. See how quickly you can identify her subject. Her second piece, “Rain Shower,” takes up an entire darkened gallery. Walk in and be surrounded by the sound of rain on a roof and occasional music; above 512 “stars” flash on and off in what appears to be random fashion. Stand quietly, sit, or lie on the floor. Assume whatever position frees your mind and lets the aural and visual effects wash over you. It’s a stunning experience.

Complementing these two contemporary artists, are works from the permanent collection, works loved by one of the Frye’s oldest and most regular members and visitors. Frieda Sondland visits the Frye almost every day and has been doing so for years, first with her husband and then alone. She was invited to select her favorites for “Beloved Pictures at an Exhibition” and to comment on her reason for selecting them. What makes this exhibition particularly interesting is the inclusion of Ms. Sondland’s interpretive labels with the art historian’s labels.

So, three exhibits, three reasons for visiting the Frye.

Through April 15 (April 8 for Li Chen), Frye Art Museum, 704 Terry Ave., Seattle, (206 622-9250 or www.fryemuseum.org).

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