TAM's lovely building by Antoine Predock
Last Saturday I was lucky enough to trek on up to Tacoma and take in The
9th Northwest Biennial
. This biennial is notable partly because TAM is
the only major Northwest institution that still does a broad survey of the region's art, and they have 1st class facilities.
Also, this particular Biennial's execution was doubly important since the previous 8th version of the show was such a letdown.
Happily this 9th NW Biennial, co-curated by Rock Hushka (Tacoma Art Museums
Curator of Contemporary and Northwest Art) and Alison de Lima Greene (Curator
of Contemporary Art and Special Projects at the Museum of Fine Arts) Houston
is a lot better than the previous attempt. Still, it doesn't have the very serious
museum feel that the
CNAA's at PAM
Betty Bowen Award at SAM
Here is the short take:
TAM's 9th Northwest Biennial doesn't break any new ground or make any strong arguments, instead it seems to prefer
works that that are framed, put in vitrines, have very defined borders or otherwise
make nice orderly rectangular forms. Because of those shortcomings the show
wouldn't get much positive attention if it happened in Portland, a city full
of good installation artists (many with national reputations and not represented here). For comparison,
TAM's 7th Biennial had twice the space and since it was curated by the
had a lot of very successful installations.
In this current instance the installation pieces by Stephanie Robison, W. Scott
Trimble, Tannaz Farsi, Linda Hutchins, Jack Daws etc.. are all presented in
an orderly and very contained way.
Susan Robb, video documentation of Warmth, Giant Black Toobs, no. 4, 2007.
Temporal outdoor installation of polypropylene, air, sun, height: 80 feet; other
dimensions variable. Courtesy of the artist and Lawrimore Project, Seattle.
Even Susan Robb's video work is just a documentation
of an installation (it's the only video in the show... and an unfair choice to represent an entire genre). Thus, despite the most successful works being by Jack Daws, Linda
Hutchins and Michael Brophy it is the often fussy presentation of photography that
seems to dominate the mood this outing. That isn't a bad thing in the case of
Michael Kenna, Susan Seubert and Isaac
but it feels more like an argument of exhibition design convenience.
It isnt news that art
in the Northwest is frequently intensely spatial, but this key element felt stunted here. Thus, this show is hardly definitive and a bit tame. That said there is some good stuff on view.
Here's my opening
Portlander Stephanie Robison's Wrecking Ball Cloud
in the courtyard
was not very visible during the opening (due to the glass tinting) but wonderfully present during the day. It
wasn't a bad piece but she is more successful when the result isn't so literal. The
danger with her work is to avoid seeming like an illustration of a narrative.
Still, I love how the mountains and clouds are reflected off the atrium's otherwise
problematic reflective glass, showing Robison's sensitive installation touch.
Eugene artist Chang-Ae Song addresses her Korean heritage and is part of a
long line of rectangular works on the longest wall in the room.
Seattle's Jack Daw's solid 18K gold and copper plated Counterfeit Penny
was one of the most successful works in the show. Using the largest vitrine
available was a very successful way to cut the Gordian Knot of the "borderitus" in the show. It was also a hilarous twist on viewer expectations of form and value at a museum.
Lineal Silver (in progress), 2007. Drawing with
silver spoon directly on gallery wall, 2 walls, 8 x 25 feet each. Courtesy of
the artist and Pulliam Deffenbaugh Gallery, Portland. Photo: Cheri Smith.
Linda Hutchins' Lineal Silver
installation, was also very successful and deserved to win the juror's prize.
W. Scott Trimble's Untitled #4 made an interesting attempt to use the space
but ultimately felt underdeveloped. Related artists like, Puryear, Mary
and Alice Aycock
make their constructions more than constructions. Even Maya
Lin's 2x4 landscape seen at The Henry in 2006
made better and more elegant
use of its massing.
Michael Brophy's Firewall
paintings were great but
so heartbreaking I have trouble evaluating them. Years ago Brophy and I bonded
in the deep unspoken way akin to how 2 veterans from a war can... basically we
had chased and yelled at a drunk driver who had hit a motorcyclist and was dragging
him under his car while he motored down NW 21st in Porland's Alphabet District. The poor guy was being rolled over and
over between the front and rear wheels. When the driver eventually noticed something
was wrong (due to yelling and chasing from onlookers, but not hitting the motorcycle)... he stopped and then ran over the poor guy a second time with his rear wheels. The motorcycalist
lived but it didn't look good (not only did we get his license # the plate fell off and we handed it to the cops). I'll never forget how Michael was the first person
I saw after I was simultaneously speaking to the 911 operator and made certain
some other people gave the right first aid (Michael had been part of the crowd yelling
at the driver). Similarly, Michael's
studio (attached to his home) caught fire a year and a half ago
community rallied around him and his equally traumatized renter. Horrible things
happen to people that don't deserve it and there's the rub, tragedy strikes
and you can really only rely on your fellow man to have your back. Overall, I think these tiny
gouaches are wonderful because they detail the night of the fire and the things
you do to recover your life afterwards. For an artist
like Brophy, life is work
I saw a sweet article on Martin Puryear with audio and lots of good photos at http://www.flypmedia.com/issues/22/#4/1