Visual field of dreams

Summer arts cover all the bases.

Put together a new ballpark in July, spectacular exhibits and a citywide studio tour, and the promise of a new sculpture park for Seattle, and this summer begins to look like pennant season for baseball and art.

Safeco Field may be unique among major-league ballparks in commissioning 11 site-specific artworks. Seafirst Gallery (Columbia Center, 701 Fifth, 585-3200) will show the work of these 11 artists (7/1-8/13), both locally and nationally known, and other baseball-related art, such as Tina Hoggatt's baseball cards (pictured on p. 69).

Gail Gibson Gallery (122 S Jackson, 587-4033) is just a well-aimed pitch from the luxury boxes. This is one of the classiest galleries in town, and its July show of found baseball photographs will remind you of how deeply the game has embedded itself in our national psyche.

Seattle Art Museum (100 University, 654-3100) will be knocking it out of the park with a major impressionism show (6/12-8/29), featuring the fearsome batting order of C麡nne, Degas, Gauguin, Manet, Monet, Pissarro, Renoir, and Van Gogh. SAM will also present an important exhibit of contemporary German art (6/4-12/5), including Bagley and Virginia Wright's spectacular gift of a monumental Anselm Kiefer painting. Imagine Sigmund Freud's head grafted onto Joel Grey's body, and you'll get a taste of 20th-century German art—dark psychological narrative combined with sharp, bitter social commentary.

But SAM's most important contribution is happening behind the scenes, where it is raising private money to build a free sculpture park near Myrtle Edwards Park. Jon and Mary Shirley and the Kreielsheimer and William Gates foundations, along with many others, have contributed more than $10 million for purchase and management of the site. Raising $12 million by July 9 will take even more commitment, but this spectacular opportunity to crown Seattle's cultural skyline should not be lost.

You should catch at least one away game at the Tacoma Art Museum (1123 Pacific, Tacoma, 253-272-4258), which is on a winning streak. The Art Guys (Jack Massing and Mike Galbreth) are the Dizzy and Daffy Dean of modern art (ends 7/25). Their pointed humor lets hot air out of contemporary art that seems willfully obscure, like slices of cheese arranged to mimic a famous minimalist sculpture. They deftly skewer contemporary culture, too, turning themselves into walking billboards with their custom-made suits plastered with logos, from Larry's Markets to Absolut Vodka. TAM is also showing Sue Coe, whose dark, intense prints are a prosecutor's indictment: like Kathe Kollwitz or Otto Dix, her renderings of brutality to children, animals, and women are unforgettable (ends 7/25).

The Bastards are coming to Davidson Gallery (313 Occidental Wy S, 624-7684), and it will be this summer's most interesting group show (8/5-28). Since 1993, Los Angeles sculptor John Frame and painters Jon Swihart and Peter Zykovsky have been reinvigorating contemporary art with the human figure. Frustrated by the bloodless discourse of postmodernism and philosophically committed to drawing from nature, their work has already been acclaimed as an important movement in late-20th-century art history. The six artists in the exhibition perform a rare balancing act: They use realist techniques as old as Rembrandt to create narrative allegories of modern Southern Californian life.

The Frye Art Museum (704 Terry, 622-9250) has made a catch worthy of Willie Mays: in a first for Seattle, the Frye is mounting a retrospective of John Register's work (7/2-8/13). Often compared to Edward Hopper, Register's work painted the bare bones of Western life: from anonymous motels to lonesome cafes and lunch counters. His mastery of light and shadow makes him a fitting companion to the Frye's late summer show of Norman Lundin, one of the most poetic of living Northwest artists (9/3-10/31). Lundin's empty rooms seem emotionally haunted, as if a door had slammed on a stormy scene right before the viewer walked in.

Seattle nights are bright with Indian summer into the fall, so mid-September will be perfect for the Art Detour. Sarah Savidge is arranging a tour of at least eight artists' buildings, from Ballard to Beacon Hill, giving Seattle art lovers the rare opportunity to see—and buy—the work of talented and unrepresented artists across the city.

For the second year in a row, the Horsehead Project will transform Sand Point Naval Base (7400 Sand Pt Wy NE) into a 300-acre visual proving ground, displaying the work of artists from Seattle, Taiwan, Italy, Canada, and Belfast (where a companion show will exhibit in August). Sean Elwood, curator for the Seattle Arts Commission, is coordinating Five Sites, a group show of artists from Seattle, San Francisco, and New York presenting site-specific sculpture to accompany the Horsehead Project (7/10-9/30). Seattle is an urban laboratory, continually combining unusual elements to create new life-forms. Like any good lab, it sets off sparks and explosions from time to time. Introducing the baseball stadium into an existing environment has not always been easy, but it's resulted in exciting new public art. Horsehead, unkempt and funky, has found a home at Sand Point—as Sand Point works through all its issues, Horsehead could create bonds of tradition and community.

By the summer of 2002, we might remember SAM's park as the most exciting contribution to Seattle made in the last 50 years. It's innovation in the true Seattle tradition: using art to link neighborhoods, create national interest, and provide downtown open space. And like many of Seattle's unique creations, it all began on the waterfront.

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