'Slippery Slope': art collection as obsession
At Seattle's Wright Exhibition Space, artists, art collectors and art dealers reveal their pack-rat side with "Collecting: Art is a Slippery Slope."
Seattle Times arts writer
'Collecting: Art is a Slippery Slope'10 a.m.-2 p.m. Thursday and Saturday through May 26, Wright Exhibition Space, 407 Dexter Ave. N., Seattle; free (206-264-8200).
What do art dealers, art collectors and artists themselves collect when they're not actually buying and selling art?
If you said "folding chairs" or "electric mixers" or "mercury glass," you are uncannily in tune with the spirit of "Collecting: Art is a Slippery Slope."
The show, on display at Wright Exhibition Space, is curated by Merrill Wright — daughter of famed art collectors/donors Bagley and Virginia Wright — in collaboration with gallery owner Greg Kucera and art-book publisher Ed Marquand. Strolling among its shrine-like offerings is a little like being ushered into a world of private and maybe even shameful obsessions.
It's also a glimpse into the sort of mischief Seattle's arts aristocrats get up to when they take a vacation from taste and an object lesson on how inconsequential content can matter in art. If you bring a lively sense of display to your task, it seems, the results can be undeniably artful, or even downright opulent, no matter what sort of junk you're putting on exhibit.
Merrill Wright sets the agenda with her comments on her own display in the show: "All collections are personal in different ways. I collect Space Needles for obvious reasons," she writes. (Her father was a key figure in building the Seattle landmark.) "My grandmother collected English Staffordshire figurines. ... I inherited my grandmother's collection (funny, no one else wanted them) and added more. I've paired these with my mother's Jeff Koons giant steel figurine, 'French Coach Couple.' Slippery, eh?"
Indeed, the link between the coy 19th-century figurines and the kitschy (and, no doubt, pricey) Koons piece couldn't be more direct. Other items in Merrill Wright's five-wall space set the tone for the other mini-exhibits here.
Michele Clise, author of the popular Ophelia teddy bear books, delivers a veritable altar of beat-up fabrics, lacy fans, dainty antique furniture, scampering toy mice, the odd chandelier or two and scores of other doodads. Swathed in a widow's veil of net fabric, her installation has an unlikely rat's-nest grandeur.
Charles Krafft, notorious for his porcelain Disasterware, assembles a poignant ode to his friendship with artist-of-all-trades Von Dutch. Krafft pairs brightly illustrated letters from his pal with a sampling of his own artistic handiwork: a painting, plus two plates of "postage stamps" commemorating his friend.
Some displays are almost proxy autobiographies. Mark Calderon's religious statuary chimes with his Catholic background. Larry Reid's lunchboxes, car models, etc., all testify to his love of auto racing. Spafford Robbins' Mao souvenirs date from his time in post-Cultural Revolution China. (Robbins, it should be noted, has the most succinct collector's credo: "Saw it. Loved it. Had to have it. Got it.")
For those who wonder what kind of display you can make from folding chairs (belonging to art collectors Bill and Ruthie True), the answer is: a surprisingly seductive one. When it comes to electric mixers — artist Ginny Ruffner's contribution — the answer is: not so much.
Amid the junk, ephemera and blissful thrift-store finds, there's at least one entry that, to my eye, shouts out "Real Art!" That's Grady West's collection of eight paintings and five drawings by Chicago artist Gregory Jacobsen. Jacobsen's subjects include smiling heaps of internal organs and cheerfully deformed critters of indeterminate species, all masterfully painted.
West, better known as Dina Martina, describes Jacobsen's work as "a ridiculous collision of hideous and pretty."
Art may not be the point here — but I'm glad West's obsession brought Jacobsen my way.
Michael Upchurch: email@example.com