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Originally published August 23, 2010 at 11:58 AM | Page modified August 23, 2010 at 11:58 AM

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Corrected version

Visual arts

Something funny going on at Francine Seders

On the darkest days of the year, a little humor can go a long way. Artist Barbara Noah and gallery owner Francine Seders joined forces to curate a show devoted to funny stuff — and, with daylight so scarce, who can blame them if the humor gets a little dark?

Seattle Times art critic

Exhibition review

"But Seriously Folks: Funny Art and Its Deeper Meanings" works by Dawn Cerny, Erik Geschke, Stephen McClelland, Jennifer McNeely, Barbara Noah, Joseph Park, Alice Tippit. Also: in the upstairs gallery, more funny art by Kathryn Glowen, Robert Mirenzi, through Jan. 6, Francine Seders Gallery, 6701 Greenwood Ave. N., Seattle (206-782-0355 or www.sedersgallery.com).

On the darkest days of the year, a little humor can go a long way. Artist Barbara Noah and gallery owner Francine Seders joined forces to curate a show devoted to funny stuff — and, with daylight so scarce, who can blame them if the humor gets a little dark?

I considered the show a success when I laughed out loud (as I did with Erik Geschke's clever sculptures and the combined effort watercolors by Dawn Cerny and Alice Tippit), a good thing when I was engaged (Joseph Park and Jennifer McNeely) and a letdown when I was baffled (Noah and Steve McClelland). Throw in the intricate and intriguing work upstairs by Kathryn Glowen and Robert Mirenzi and the whole shebang deserves a spot on your holiday rounds. Here's a condensed shopping list of what you'll see:

In Geschke's work, the humor is one part incongruity and one part dissonance, with some graceful composition and silky white surfaces on top. The simplest of his three mixed-media sculptures, "Cross Section of a Cloud," is a flight of fancy, laughable because there's no way it can happen in the real world. Geschke made a flat-sided rectangle with a globular top (like a blown-up bit of bubble tea) that's what you might get if clouds were solid chunks of plastic foam and could be dissected. His "Idealized Explosion," based on similar imagery and principles, is a wafting tapioca-pearl mushroom cloud, plunked in the middle of the gallery, that would likely rain giant bubbles on the land rather than terror — a pleasing thought.

On the other hand, Geschke's imagination also produced the funny-creepy "Touch (Ghost)" a scarecrowy thing that struck me as the condensed essence of a sexual prowler. Two giant arms hang off a protruding chunk of two-by-four, with their big hands turned out in grope-mode. You can take it from there. (Of course the suggestiveness of the piece could change with the hands rearranged.)

My other favorite part of "But Seriously Folks" is a series of 14 sweet little watercolors that Cerny and Tippit made in a long-distance collaboration. Cerny, in Seattle, would start a painting, then ship it off to Tippit in Chicago, who'd take it from there. (Or, I suppose, vice versa.) We don't know who did what on which, but the watercolors are delicate, mysterious, adorable, nutty. They run the gauntlet from goofy (as in "Santa Kills" where the bearded guy in red — probably strung out on something — takes out a bunny) and lyrical (as in "Rivals," where two trees stand in a void, one radiant and voluptuously leafed-out, the other dark, bare and seemingly without hope).

Sex is usually a sure-fire way of getting some laughs, but in Park's deliberately cartoonesque drawings, the humor escapes: Isn't that the prelude to a gang rape we are looking at in one of them? Any humor in Park's work is wrapped up in the humanoid stand-ins doing the acting out: little bunny-eared creatures and huggy bears who remind us we are just a bunch of animals. Sex, too, propels McNeely's soft sculptures, which take off from the body-based imagery of Louise Bourgeois, but take it to bawdy extremes. These sculptures may cause some uncomfortable laughter with their gangly parts and hairy crevasses.

Then, there are McClellan's squiggly abstractions. Maybe I'm missing something, but they don't strike me as particularly funny. As a co-curator, Noah explains her take on McClellan's work in an essay about the show, calling it "organically rambunctious." I won't argue with that. But I will take issue with Noah including her own work in this exhibition; as a rule, I have serious reservations when curators do this. I'm willing to listen if someone is upfront and has a good case to make for self-selection, but to my eye Noah's altered photographs aren't an important element of this lineup. And to read her describing her own work in the third person — as if somebody else had chosen it and were writing the essay — made me squirm. I had to inquire who wrote the essay in the print handout: Noah has a copyright notice in it. She is also credited on the gallery Web site.

Sheila Farr: sfarr@seattletimes.com

Clarifications: The position of the hands in Erik Geschke's artwork "Touch (Ghost)" had been rearranged by viewers when Sheila Farr visited Francine Seders Gallery to review "But Seriously Folks." The artist intended the hands to face the wall; pictures of the work both as it was intended to be shown and as Farr saw it are posted with this story. Also: Exhibition co-curator Barbara Noah was invited by Seders to participate in and select artists for "But Seriously Folks: Funny Art and Its Deeper Meanings," at Francine Seders Gallery; she did not select her own work for inclusion. Farr was told by Seders that Noah selected the artists and Seders selected the individual works. A previous version of this story stated that the author of the essay in the printed handout was noted on the gallery Web site but could not be found on the handout. The handout does contain a copyright notice by Barbara Noah. Correction: The watercolor "Santa Kills" by Dawn Cerny and Alice Tippit shows a large bunny, not a reindeer.

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