New at the Henry Art Gallery: Jeffry Mitchell, Laurie Anderson and more
Seattle's Henry Art Gallery has a new fall lineup, including a 25-year retrospective of work by Jeffry Mitchell, a group show addressing the "destabilization" of the art object, an exhibit of books by Laurie Anderson, a mind-bending video by Pipilotti Rist and a survey of outdoor-made art, all on display into 2013.
Seattle Times arts writer
Henry Art Gallery11 a.m.-4 p.m. Wednesdays, Saturdays-Sundays, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Thursdays-Fridays, Henry Art Gallery, University of Washington, Seattle; $6-$10 (206-543-2280 or www.henryart.org).
There's something new on every floor of the Henry Art Gallery this fall — and that includes some video you can actually walk on as it's projected on the parquet beneath you.
Here's what's on offer.
"Like a Valentine: The Art of Jeffry Mitchell" (through Jan. 27, 2013):
This 25-year career retrospective of the Seattle artist reveals an effervescent mind at work.
Now in his mid-50s, Mitchell dabbles in an eclectic variety of media, including ceramics, wood and plastic. He also creates perfectly lovely watercolors on paper (peonies are a favorite subject) and items that could pass as custom-made household furnishings (fanciful electric "Elephant Lamps," for instance).
"Like a Valentine," organized by Henry exhibition curator Sara Krajewski, is a big, woolly exhibit that highlights both Mitchell's wit and his unruliness. There's a headlong energy and charm throughout his work, but not always much finesse. His technique, especially in his ceramics, can be simultaneously playful and crude, primitive and ornate, effusive and blunt.
Gay content is prominent in many pieces, usually manifesting itself in whimsical form. Two poignant glazed earthenware pieces, titled "Good Council (At the Bus Stop)" and "Good Council (on cracked ice)," depict casually nude males in thoughtful conversation.
The cheekily titled "The Joy of Touching a Ball" couldn't be more innocent as it symmetrically matches two happy glazed-earthenware elephants engaged in circuslike antics.
Mitchell's more ambitious efforts are impressive as well as beguiling. "Counter Pane" is an installation of several dozen yellow ceramic creatures — dogs, bears, rabbits, elephants, etc. — arrayed around a bedside lamp. It's like a children's quilt come to three-dimensional life. "Peace on Earth," with its rows of Delftware-like plates and vases on an elaborate three-shelved wooden mantelpiece, tips its hat to Dutch humanist utopianism.
A three-tier installation under glass, called "The Tomb of Club Z," ventures into more X-rated territory (Club Z is a Capitol Hill sex club). Yet even it has a kind of naiveté to it, stemming in part from how deliberately simplistic Mitchell's handling of the clay is.
The eight images of "Some Things and Their Shadows," created with spray paint on paper, are spooky, feel disciplined, and show Mitchell gamely trying something new.
"Now Here is also Nowhere, Part I" (through Jan. 6, 2013)
A couple of years ago, the Henry Art Gallery drew heavily on its permanent collection to put together a two-phase show called "Vortexhibition Polyphonica." It's doing something similar with "Now Here is also Nowhere, Part I," curated by Henry deputy director of art and education Luis Croquer, with assistance from senior curatorial associate Merith Bennett.
Billed as a survey of how "artists continually question and destabilize the nature of the art object," the exhibit is a lively if uneven grab bag. Its erratic qualities can even come into play in the work of a single artist.
Example: Thomas Friedman's "Open Black Box" is a delight, while his "Untitled" (a plain cardboard box "garnished" with two Styrofoam peanuts) feels like a boondoggle.
There's no question which work is the eye-grabber. "Open Black Box" hints at, but doesn't quite spell out, a huge black floating cube by suspending eight construction-paper "corners" at an angle above the viewer. The room's ventilation sometimes "destabilizes" this box you're not quite seeing. But when the air is still, the imaginary shape seems almost tangible.
Photographer John Baldessari messes with expectations in a different way. His photogravure/aquatint diptychs create absurd yet lively juxtapositions. In "Legs, Straw, Diver," a tryst behind a haystack is contrasted with a hokey undersea-exploration image.
In "Two Figures (One with Shadow)," a prone, relaxed male sunbather is oblivious to the bloodied, supine corpse above him. Other photographic entries in the show are just as strong.
The most hypnotic video work is Korean artist Kimsooja's 25-minute "A Needle Woman," in which the dark-haired, pony-tailed artist stands motionless, her back to the camera, as crowds of pedestrians on a Paris sidewalk ebb and flow around her. The more you watch, the more you marvel at how riveting and disruptive a still figure in a busy scene can be.
Marcel Broodthaers' video, "Defense de Fumer" ("No Smoking"), subverts reality in a more comical way. Sure, its male subject isn't actually pictured with a cigarette in his mouth — but, thanks to clever jump-cuts, he's exhaling smoke nonstop.
For every engaging piece of work in "Now Here," there's something that falls flat or feels pretentious. But the highlights make it well worth a visit.
Other exhibits: "Collected Stories: Books by Laurie Anderson" (through Feb. 3, 2013) samples the performance artist's appealingly off-kilter publications, ranging from a 1971 wordless picture book about a mysterious package to a more recent illustrated dream journal. "En plein air" (through Feb. 16, 2013) somewhat haphazardly throws together oil paintings by Boudin and Corot, photographs by Atget, Cartier-Bresson and others, and two fascinating video installations by French-Algerian artist Neïl Beloufa.
Finally, French artist Pipilotti Rist's "A la belle étoile" (through March 24, 2013) seems ironically timed in its arrival in Seattle. Spend a little while with this trippy audiovisual work, where the whole floor of the Henry's East Gallery becomes a moving dreamscape, and the passage of I-502 will start to seem redundant.
Michael Upchurch: firstname.lastname@example.org