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Friday, September 2, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

Visual Arts

A unified group of provocative exhibitions

Seattle Times art critic

Normally the Bumbershoot visual-arts lineup is an eclectic mix, with an emphasis on variety and grass-roots fervor. This year is different. Visual-arts director Yoko Ott-Dayton took a more curatorial role and invited a group of participants rather than hoping for the right people to apply. The result: a much more unified group of exhibitions, with quality that leaps out.

The dark horse of the lineup, "Recontextualized Vistas: Concerning Place" (in the Shaw Room), was assembled by Donna Stack, an assistant professor of sculpture at Central Washington University. Despite its academic-sounding title, the show is welcoming and provocative, and beautifully installed. Just being in the room is a pleasing experience.

Stack, like others who make art away from urban centers, wrestles with the issues that go along with such relative isolation. She put together "Recontextualized Vistas" with an eye toward proving that gutsy art does happen on the other side of the Cascades — in case you think otherwise.

Choosing from former students at Central Washington University, she selected a convincing show, with an emphasis on three-dimensional media. The Keith Haring-esque sculptures of Howard Barlow stand out for their inventive use of materials (they are made of bright-colored earplugs, poking up like hundreds of rubber nipples) and the startling arrangements of figures atop their wild-colored stands.

While Stack worked with the dichotomies of East (side of the mountains) vs. West, "Raw & Refined" (in the Lopez Room), assembled by Jess Van Nostrand, looks at the tension between materials in their natural state and those that have been synthesized by industry and art.

THE BEST OF BUMBERSHOOT

"Bumbershoot: The Seattle Arts Festival," 11 a.m.-11 p.m. today through Monday, Seattle Center; $28 a day, $45 two-day pass, $80 four-day pass, $8 a day for kids 6-12 (with an adult) and seniors 65 and over, kids 5 and younger free; (206-628-0888, tickets available at Ticketmaster or visit Bumbershoot online).

She chose eight artists — from Seattle, California, New York and the Netherlands — whose work plays up that balance. Don't miss the hidden enclosure built by Seattle artist John Grade, circled with a radiant ring of honeycomblike casting. The space evokes the womb, its light-source ebbing and flowing, alluding to the work of James Turrell.

Another common theme among many of this year's exhibition is sound. Visual artists working in various new media are not content only to appeal to the eyes.

One of the most extensive exhibitions, "In Resonance" (in the Rainier Room), was selected by Fionn Meade and Robert Millis to show how pervasive the incorporation of sound and visuals have become in contemporary art.

I loved "Fear of High Places and Natural Things," Steve Vitiello's poetic array of suspended 10-inch speakers pulsing gently like arteries and emitting no discernable reverberation. "In Resonance" includes work by about a dozen artists and carries over to a moving installation at the Center on Contemporary Art (see Hot Ticket, Page 53).

The only single-artist exhibition this year is by Tokyo-based Miyooon. With help from an interpreter, Miyooon explained the conceptual underpinning of his installation "Cell Works" (in the Orcas Room), an invigorating multimedia display based on cellular growth, evolution and the complexity behind even the most simple things. The most explicit demonstration was his sculpture "Left and Right," which evokes the unfathomable working of the brain and "how thought has a life."

In the Fidalgo Room, "Outside In" seeks the place where technology meets nature. The show features a group of artists and techies who use electronic media to make visual and sound installations. It's a lively interactive show, where you can experience the mood of a lawn, and, if you are lucky, witness an explosive birth when Seth Lewis' "Hatching Apparatus" — a pneumatic machine attached by tubes to four large ceramic eggs — reaches full term.

Also on display in the Olympic Room is "Art of Modern Rock: The Poster Explosion." The show explores the evolution of poster art from psychedelic complexity to pristine simplicity and it worth a visit just to survey the wildly imaginative names that rock groups have chosen for themselves over the years.

And in the breezeway connecting all the visual-art exhibitions, Bluebottle art gallery and store will show its one-of-a-kind wares for those who want to shop for art instead of just look.

Sheila Farr: sfarr@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company


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