The Year in Art

A look back at stuff that got on my nerves.


The current Isamu Noguchi show at Bryan Ohno. As if galleries weren't intimidating enough, now there's this. To create the ambience suitable for a Very Important Artist, Bryan Ohno has blotted out most of the light entering through the windows and requires visitors to remove their shoes (presumably out of respect for the artist's Japanese heritage, but a bit odd given that the floors are bare concrete). The atmosphere encourages visitors to view the art in silence, or, if they must speak, to do so in awestruck whispers. The stifling reverence is a striking contrast to the playful, informal nature of the sculpture itself, with its funny, fruity shapes and squiggly lines.


The "censoring" of Jack Daws at the King County Art Gallery. Those who make deliberately provocative art shouldn't be surprised when it successfully provokes. For his show at this gallery in the Smith Tower, Daws included a metal box titled "Misdemeanor" that was said to contain marijuana sealed under multiple layers, a piece the gallery quickly booted out of the show (it was later shown at Greg Kucera). Well, duh. Was the county supposed to allow an illegal substance inside its publicly funded walls and put the future of the gallery at political risk? It is typical of the art community's sense of entitlement that some might think so, but this is an issue of common sense, not intolerance.


Group shows with one-word themes. The idea with shows of this type is to choose a word whose multiple meanings will be drawn out by artists in interesting and unexpected ways. A partial list from this year: Pound, Pet, Convenience, Gems, Switch, Sanctuary, Seed, Fictions, blurred, Seclusion, and Color. But there's a fine line between artfully ambiguous and simply vague, and artists in these shows often used old work that only kinda sorta fit the theme. If there are to be more one-word shows, how about more specific words to keep the artists honest. Suggestions: Arugula, Corolla, and Odometer.


Jim Woodring. If you've been lavishly praised in Time, The New York Times, and more tiny alternative journals than you can shake a disturbingly anthropomorphic frog at, one mixed notice shouldn't get your panties in a bunch, but my review of Jim Woodring's show at the Elliott Bay Caf頲esulted in his Web site being turned into a virtual hate-mail machine, with talking points and an e-mail link to Seattle Weekly. Letters from apoplectic Woodring fans came for months, a few every time I opened my in box. I didn't mind so much being called a fucking moron, but the guy who called me a "jag off"? Ouch. How did he know?


Forgotten Works. The manifesto posted on the wall of this indie gallery rails against critics, academics, and anyone else liable to use the word "juxtapose." Declare the curators: "We believe that art doesn't have to be a puzzling, chin-scratching experience," and that "anyone who comes in here trying to pull that intellectually superior crap is in serious danger of getting bitch slapped." Good one, Forgotten Works. Juxtapose juxtapose juxtapose.


Mark Tobey. SAM, Kurt Lidtke, the Museum of Glass, Martin-Zambito—the dead "Northwest Master" popped up somewhere just about every month this year. I know he's important and all, but does anyone's heart really skip a beat at the prospect of seeing his drab and earnest canvases yet again? Most of his stuff looks pretty dated to me. His ballyhooed experiments in Japanese calligraphic techniques are notable only because they make Tobey among the first of many Westerners to be drawn to the spontaneity of Zen Buddhism while completely missing its underlying martial discipline.


"States of the Union" at Greg Kucera. This 9/11-themed show had a few artists who reflected meaningfully on horror and victimhood (including Katy Stone and Jon Haddock), but most prominent were pieces like Peter Edlund's "Four Hundred Years of Cultural Genocide" that reveled in the reflexive anti-Americanism that is the only response the left has to any event. What could possibly be the point of including work as trite as Joe Sances's idealized landscapes with little doors that open to reveal lynchings, Indian slaughters, and other of the greatest hits of American sins? That we should feel any less traumatized by terrorism because we aren't as perfect as we like to think? Give me a fucking break. President Bush visiting a Muslim community center soon after 9/11 to denounce racist attacks—an action that would be unthinkable anywhere but in an industrialized democracy with our values of pluralism and tolerance, however imperfectly these may be implemented—put that in your goddamn painting.

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