Arts Reviews

Last Chance to See “Edible City: A Delicious Journey” at MOHAI

MOHAI’s ten-month long exploration of food and its place in Seattle’s economy and culture closes Sept. 10. If you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favor and stop by. Then again, you who have already enjoyed it may want to get another look at the history of Seattle’s tastes and innovations in food production and distribution.

Seattle food culture is rich, unique, and distinguished. From the oyster middens and spear fishing of its Native American peoples to the farmers markets and award winning restaurants of today, people in Seattle have sought great eats and have learned to capitalize on the riches that abound here.

This exhibit touches on many of the foods Seattleites of all ethnicities cherish. We learn of their history and the myriad ways we use this plethora of good things to eat. There are sections of the exhibit that explain how we’ve collected or harvested the wild foods as well as the farmed. Sure there are sections on salmon, morel mushrooms, huckleberries, oysters, cherries and so many more raw ingredients, but you’ll also learn about the industries that have grown up around our foods both wild and farmed.

Fascinating, too, is the story of the innovative food culture that developed right here in Seattle. Starbucks anyone? Canned salmon anyone? Five star restaurants anyone?

I would say this exhibit is a tasty treat, but I dare not lest you groan and throw tomatoes (locally grown of course) at me.

Through Sept. 10 at the Museum of History & Industry, 800 Terry Ave. N., Seattle, 206 324-1126 or mohai.org

Two Exhibitions at the Frye Museum

Some art is an experience that speaks to one’s aesthetic sense. Other art calls more to one’s intellect. It speaks more to the mind than the eye. The Frye offers both types currently. “AMIE SIEGEL Interiors” is for the mind, a cerebral excursion (Through Sept. 3). “Between the Frames” offers far more aesthetic appeal (Through July 23). Together, the shows offer an interesting juxtaposition, but also an appropriate commentary on the Museum’s development since its founding in 1952.

Siegel’s work investigates what the curator calls “ideas about objects and their perceived cultural value, and the power systems that evolve from connoisseurship, collecting, and image making.” Using film, slides and video she explores our relationship to things. Through examination of the things in London’s Freud Museum she points out parallels between the scrupulous care given to Freud’s collection of archeological objects and his conscientious process of analysis—removing the dross to reveal the essence.

Another work consists of two black and white 16mm films simultaneously projecting a sequence of shots of Le Corbusier’s white Villa Savoye outside of Paris and a black copy of the building in Canberra, Australia. Each film is printed in a manner that reverses dark and light. Here too the artist is mapping out “the interior mechanisms of the mind as well as the museum . . . that define aesthetic and social worth.” It’s food for the intellect more than delight for the eye.

The other current exhibition, “Between the Frames,” consists of art that speaks directly to one’s aesthetic sense. It features works acquired under each of the directors of the Museum since its founding in 1952.

The Frye’s had a vision. They wanted to create a free, public art museum for the people of Seattle. We are still enjoying the benefits of their generosity. This exhibit offers a retrospective of the growth and change in the collection since the Museum was established. It highlights the development of the Museum’s collection from the original 200 representational works donated by Charles and Emma Frye to today’s much expanded collection that includes cutting-edge contemporary works.

Wheat Gatherer by Winslow Homer, acquired in 1958.

“Between the Frames” showcases examples of the acquisitions made by each of the six directors. Through their oversight and vision, the museum has, decade by decade, reframed the past, informed the present, and speculated on the future.

The first Director, Walser Sly Greathouse, maintained the focus on representational art,  as did his wife Ida Kay who succeeded him after his death.  Interest in local artists and those from the Pacific Northwest, including women artists were hallmarks of her tenure.

Girl in Striped Robe by Philip Pearlstein

The next director, Richard V. West oversaw the major remodel in 1997 that resulted in the building we have today. Under his direction the collection continued to grow with representational works like Philip Pearlstein’s “Girl in Striped Robe.”

In 2003, Elsa “Midge” Bowman assumed leadership and soon brought in Robin Held as head curator. Together they reinvented the exhibition program. Video and performance art were presented. The whole question of how to define representational art was examined and the museum’s mission statement was revised to more adequately reflect both the intentions of the Fryes and the vision of its board.

When Jo-Anne Birnie Danzker was appointed director in 2009 new collaborations and further expansion of the exhibitions program were initiated with a continued focus on contemporary art. Her tenure set the stage for current director Joseph Rosa who will build the collection, just as the Fryes built their collection—on the contemporary art of the time. “Between the Frames” offers a splendid summary of how the Frye has broadened its collections since its inception.

Frye Art Museum, 704 Terry Ave., Seattle, fryemuseum.org, 206 622-9250, free admission and parking.

Emancipating the Past: Kara Walker’s Tales of Slavery and Power

Bellevue Arts Museum is now offering an exhibition of Kara Walker’s work, especially her phenomenal, provocative, in-your-face silhouettes with their stinging social commentary. If you don’t know her art do get to the Museum before Nov. 27 to be introduced to her genius, and, if you are familiar with her work, go and be reminded of just how powerful her art is.

One of the youngest recipients of the prestigious John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Genius Award, she delights and disturbs viewers with her images that shine a spotlight on issues of race and gender in the American past and present.

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The Keys to the Coop, edition 39/40, 1997, Linoleum block. 46 X 60 1/2 in. Photo: Courtesy of the Jordan Schnitzer Family Foundation

Although this show contains video, sculpture, and a mural, it’s the stark black silhouettes that most enthralled me, especially the depictions of white plantation owners and their black slaves. She cuts detailed images that mock the stereotypes of both races. They are powerfully funny at the same time that they are effective representations of an evil history and a disturbing comment on contemporary race relations.

As one major collector has said about Walker’s work, “It’s provocative and impossible to view passively.” It does indeed cause the viewer to question his or her own preconceived notions. First you’ll laugh at the image before you, then you’ll be overwhelmed by what it all means.

Walker’s work is in major museums in this country and abroad. How nice to have some of it here, even if only for a short time.

Through November 27, Bellevue Arts Museum, 510 Bellevue Way NE, Bellevue, (425-519-0770 or www.bellevuearts.org).

“Bren Ahearn Strategies for Survival” at the Bellevue Arts Museum

What comes to mind when you hear that there’s an exhibition of finely embroidered cloth samplers? Most of us think of needlework done by young girls in previous centuries. Girls were required to sew samplers so that they might learn the important feminine art of stitchery and also learn their alphabet, numbers, and important moral and religious lessons. Charming and beautiful, today these exercises in domesticity and femininity make lovely accompaniments to museum exhibitions or period rooms, but very few young girls maintain this art form. Bren Ahearn, however, keeps the tradition alive.

The samplers by Bren Ahearn show all the precision and artistic merit of those earlier pieces, but his work (yes “his” work for Bren is indeed a man) addresses modern issues and speaks to the fact that needlework need not be the purview of women only. His works are charming, wry, unexpected, and even humorous with their comments on contemporary life especially as it relates to manhood, its expectations and realities.

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Sampler 13 (detail). Photo: Miles Mattison

Most of the 11 samplers on display are large, very large. And although most have beautifully cross-stitched alphabet letters and numbers, it’s their exploration of issues in his own life as a male that resonates. With needle and thread he puts the spotlight on masculinity’s conflicting messages.

I was particularly taken by Sampler 10 about the aftermath of meeting his lover:

He stole back home via the roof
Lost his footing and died in a poof.

And you are sure to want to read the sampler called “The Pussy Chronicle.”

Through Jan. 15, 2017, Bellevue Arts Museum, 510 Bellevue Way NE, Bellevue, (425-519-0770).

Treasures and Delights at the Bellevue Arts Museum

Each time I venture across the lake and visit BAM I’m reminded of how much I love that place. Invariably it has a number of exhibits that delight and amaze me. The current selections are among the very best.

Unless you go this weekend you’ll miss Chris Antemann’s amazing porcelain installations created in collaboration with the renowned Meissen Porcelain Manufactory in Germany. The highlight is a long panorama of miniature semi-clothed men and women feasting—on each other and tiny varieties of fruits, wines, cakes, and other delights. It’s reminiscent of the decadent and romantic works of the painters Watteau and Boucher. Each figurine is carefully painted; each face reveals sly, coy, or hungry emotions. It’s a mesmerizing miniature world that combines the comic with the historical. You won’t be sorry to make a special effort to get to see it before it closes.

But there’s more, so much more. The largest exhibit is “Inspiring Beauty 50 Years of EBONY Fashion Fair.” Here you’ll find manikins garbed in the most luxurious and beautiful fashions imaginable. I just returned from New York where I visited the Metropolitan Museum’s current fashion show. The Bellevue show is far, far better in all respects. The exhibition was organized by the Chicago History Museum in cooperation with the black-owned Johnson Publishing Company LLC.

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Stephen Burrows (United States) Evening dress, ready-to-wear, spring/summer 2007 Rayon jersey Photo: John Alderson © Chicago Historical Society

Eunice W. Johnson, co-founder of the company, initiated the Fashion Fair to bring attention to black designers by showing their work in association with garments by the world’s most highly lauded designers: Givenchy, Balmain, Ungaro, Dior, Missoni, Yves St. Laurent, Blass, you name the haute couture icon and his or her work will be represented in this show.

The fabrics are luscious, opulent, audacious. There are furs, chiffons, silks, taffetas, beaded pieces, jerseys. Sexy sheaths hug the body. Flowing saris and kimonos contrast with sleek metal numbers. The use of buttons will astound you. What is particularly interesting is that even the 50-year-old pieces still look great today, not dated.

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Givenchy by Alexander McQueen (France) Evening dress, haute couture, fall/winter 1997-98 Synthetic raffia mounted on silk gauze Appeared in The Jazz Age of Fashions Photo: Courtesy of Johnson Publishing Company, LLC

In addition to providing a banquet of beautiful design and materials, the exhibition tells the story of changing attitudes toward race in the past 50 years. Initially designers were hesitant to submit their work to Ms. Johnson, worried that it’s placement in an “Ebony” show would turn white customers away.

Of course it didn’t. What it did was provide a vision of what was possible for African American women. The fashion show was a major event in all the cities it visited. The drama of the runway was accompanied by music. Funds were raised for local charitable causes (more than $55 million for civil rights groups, hospitals, community centers and scholarships). These were glorious clothes for good causes, and their history is well worth knowing.

And there’s more to see at BAM right now. Don’t miss the Kara Walker show. Her silhouettes challenge and delight. And certainly don’t miss Seth Rolland, the wood artist who appears to do magical things with wood.

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Seth Rolland Dreamcatcher Hall Table, 2016 The base is a single block of wood Photo: Frank Ross

His particular brilliance is “kerfing.” Kerfing is an old, but terribly difficult technique for bending and expanding wood. It makes possible musical instruments such as violins and guitars, and in Rolland’s hands it expands the wood.

By making precise, closely placed cuts in a solid piece of wood, he can create open spaces between each cut. Thus expanded, he fans the piece out to serve as the base for tables, sculptures, and wall hangings. His pieces and their shadows seem impossible to realize. Yet they serve utilitarian needs as well as being art objects.

The final exhibition currently at the Museum is “Atoms + Bytes: Redefining Craft in the Digital Age.” This collection draws on artists from around the world. Sadly, I didn’t have time to see it when I was there. That just goes to prove that BAM has such a wealth of exhibitions with such a diversity of offerings that just one visit isn’t enough. Do check it out.

Bellevue Arts Museum, 510 Bellevue Way NE, Bellevue, (425 519-0770 or info@bellevuearts.org).