“Buster Simpson // Surveyor” and Two Other Shows at the Frye Museum

Old landscape paintings, a new environmental consciousness—the Frye combines art, ideas and activism in its current exhibitions, showing that everything is connected to everything else. This is especially apparent when one looks at the exhibition exploring and illustrating the life and work of Buster Simpson.

A community activist against environmental degradation, Simpson has for 40 years been surveyor and caretaker of Seattle’s changing built and natural environments. He documents what was and what is being altered, takes steps to retard any debasement of our natural resources, and creates socially motivated art. Through his many projects he raises awareness and recruits others to his cause.


He’s a spokesperson for recycling, repurposing, and reuse, and his work shines a light on those concepts. One of the large objects in this show is his plywood dining table and stools. The table is set with mottled plates whose discoloration was due to submergence in rivers prone to pollution. Plucked from the streams, slip cast, and re-fired, they look quite modern. Twisted bedsprings hold paper cups. The candleholders are made from tin can covers and the centerpiece is a distressed metal lunch box that serves as a hibachi for a salvaged teakettle.

A galvanized sewer pipe in the rotunda serves as pedestal for a marble Venus unlike any you’ve seen before. Here, instead of a carefully sculpted solid stone figure, we see chunks of marble fit within a Venus-shaped wire cage. The whimsy continues in the galleries where there are eye opening examples of his conceptual art as well as photo-documentation of his public works.

He creates energetic collaborations among public officials, engineers, and artists. One project illustrated in the exhibition involved dropping limestone disks into the Hudson River to reduce pollution. The limestone sucked in the pollutants, acting like Rolaids for the river. He’s been part of the effort to clean up the Duwamish, and, at a time when the entire Seattle waterfront is undergoing change, Simpson is here enlarging the vision for the future.

Complementing the Simpson show is “The Hudson Flows West,” ten paintings by artists from the Hudson River School. This nineteenth century movement glorified landscapes, first of the Hudson River Valley and then of the west. All but one of these works are from the Frye permanent collection.

The final show currently on exhibit is called “horizon” and features more landscapes, again from the Frye’s own founding collection. They are hung in a manner that encourages visitors to contemplate the boundary between earth and sky and be refreshed by that vision.

Through Oct. 13 for the Buster Simpson show (The Hudson Flows West through Sept. 22; Horizon through September 1), 704 Terry Ave., Seattle, (206 622-9250 or fryemuseum.org); the Frye is always free and offers free parking.

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