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Originally published September 1, 2011 at 7:01 PM | Page modified September 2, 2011 at 11:45 AM

Bumbershoot preview: Visual arts

The 2011 visual-arts lineup at Seattle's Bumbershoot festival includes "The Magic Show" (contemporary artworks involving an element of illusion), "Bumber By Number" (paint-by-numbers high jinks) and a video variation on a game popular with the Surrealists.

Seattle Times arts writer

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Bumbershoot

Some optical-illusory magic ... a little paint-by-numbers nostalgia/subversion ... a video variation on a game popular with the Surrealists.

That's what's on offer at this year's Bumbershoot visual-arts lineup, much of it striking an appealing balance between aesthetic adventure and friendly audience inclusion.

This year, you'll find the exhibits in a new location: Seattle Center Pavilion (south of KeyArena).

"Bumber By Number," curated by husband-and-wife team Marlow Harris and JoDavid, plays havoc with an "art form" that caught on like wildfire in the 1950s: Craft Master's paint-by-number kits.

Every baby boomer alive must have had a run-in with the phenomenon, and with "Bumber By Number" boomers will have a chance to relive their paint-by-numbers memories (or nightmares).

Artist Ryan Feddersen has constructed a larger-than-life paint-by-numbers template for Édouard Manet's "Le Déjeuner sur l'Herbe" ("The Luncheon on the Grass") and is producing crayons in the shape of astonishingly lifelike picnic comestibles that visitors can use to color in the image. Feddersen has made enough "food," I'm told, to keep visitors supplied with coloring implements all through Labor Day weekend.

Next to Feddersen's piece is a whole "salon" full of paint-by-numbers pieces that have been messed with by Seattle artists. Jeff Mihalyo takes a stereotypic mountainscape and visits upon it an enormous floating head with a city skyline for a headdress. John Brophy turns a bland horse-head into a biting parody of itself by showing it munching on $100 bills.

The Craft Master version of Thomas Gainsborough's "The Blue Boy" becomes an anatomy lesson in Janet Galore's hands as she peels back the lad's 18th-century finery to display his internal organs. Elizabeth Jameson seems to be rebelling against decades of Craft Master color dictates by turning an ordinary pastoral landscape into a scintillating psychedelic vista.

JoDavid notes that paint-by-numbers inventor Dan Robbins is still alive and, by all reports, pleased at this new twist on his brainchild.

Curator Kathy Lindenmayer's group exhibit, "The Magic Show," takes on levitation, vanishing acts and other hocus-pocus pastimes.

One highlight of the show is Seattle artist Jason Puccinelli's "Portrait of Jherek Bischoff," an exercise in anamorphic illusion. Viewed through a peephole, the piece consists of illuminated glass globes painted with disembodied facial features that rotate seemingly at random ... until they suddenly coalesce — fleetingly, teasingly — into an androgynous visage.

Just as haunting is Thomas Petillo's photograph of the late Vic Chesnutt, a musician who used a wheelchair most of his life. In the shot, Chesnutt and his wheelchair float on an invisible cushion of air, casting exquisitely precise shadows on the hardwood floor below them.

Not yet installed on Tuesday were a levitating tire by Doug Young ("We don't know how it works," Bumbershoot arts-programming manager Chris Weber admits) and a steel "Cut Chair" by Peter Bristol, looking, in its fragmented state, as if it couldn't support a mouse but apparently capable of handling the weight of a whole human being.

The one real disappointment is a printout of a craigslist ad for used magic equipment, the handiwork of the SuttonBeresCuller in a lackluster performance.

As for that Surrealist game, it's the project of New York artist Leslie Lyons. Titled "Expedition," it invites audience members to build a story one sentence at a time, with only the previous contributor's sentence to guide them. Lyons is dividing the narrative into seven chapters — "Birth," "Dreaming," "Friends," "Kissing," "Love," "Magic" and "Immortality" — and will post them on her website, www.LeslieLyons.com/Expedition, as they're completed. "Birth" should be online by the time you read this.

Michael Upchurch: mupchurch@seattletimes.com

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