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Originally published Friday, March 16, 2012 at 5:31 AM

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Art review

Western Bridge exhibit looks at the fleetingness of time

The gallery will be closing in the fall, and now is a good time to take in the exhibition "Devouring Time," writes Robert Ayers. The exhibit is steeped in powerful works about impermanence.

Special to The Seattle Times

EXHIBITION REVIEW

'Devouring Time'

Noon-6 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays through April 7, Western Bridge, 3412 Fourth Ave., Seattle (206-838-7444 or www.westernbridge.org).
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Get out to Western Bridge in Sodo while you still have the chance. This shrine to provocation, which has been going since 2004, will cease to exist in the fall.

Western Bridge has never gone for art that is easy. Instead, the mission that philanthropists Bill and Ruth True conceived for it was to prompt new ways of thinking, and thus to change visitors' lives a little bit.

Though there have been some enormous works in the space over the years, Western Bridge's forte is art that carries profound meaning despite a remarkable economy of means or, to put it another way, work that means a lot more than meets the eye. If it conjures a little magic along the way, so much the better.

The current exhibit, "Devouring Time," reflects the Western Bridge ethos in all its sublime-to-the-ridiculous splendor. The show has been drawn together by the Trues and director Eric Fredericksen around the theme of impermanence, which is entirely appropriate for an institution contemplating its own winding up.

You might not even notice the first piece you encounter when you visit the show. Walead Beshty has encased the gallery's front desk and counter in panels of brightly polished copper and called them "Copper Surrogates." They are strikingly beautiful, but at least as important for Beshty are the accidental blemishes — fingerprints, spills, coffee-cup rings that they will pick up simply by being in the presence of human beings for several weeks. We like to think of ourselves as creative beings; here we are presented with an example of our tendency for thoughtless damage.

In another piece, Emilie Halpern achieves a sort of physical poetry. She has 4 liters of seawater spilled on the gallery's concrete floor each morning. Over the course of the day, the water evaporates and leaves the merest trace of its presence in a pattern of salt. The piece is called "Drown," and it turns out that 4 liters is the capacity of human lungs.

Immediately adjacent is Matt Sheridan Smith's "Untitled (congratulations)," which is related in its day-by-day method to Halpern's piece, even though it has far more physical substance.

Forty identical glass vases are arrayed in six rows. Each day of the exhibit a vase is filled with freshly delivered irises. The most recently delivered flowers are at their freshest and most beautiful. The bunches that have been in place longer are wilted. The flowers at the back are no more than brittle husks.

It is an eloquent and poignant monument to impermanence, both in the natural world and because the "congratulations" subtitle hints at celebratory bouquets of importance in our own lives.

Western Bridge was conceived as a project rather than an institution, its own temporary nature the key to its continuing energy. There are only two more shows on the Western Bridge schedule before it finally closes shop.

Robert Ayers: robertayers@mac.com

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