I Hate You, Visual Art

An exploration of the duality of antipathy.

(This harangue has been updated to correct the spelling of artist Fay Jones's name.) What are the hot art shows this spring? Hell, I don't know. They're probably all going to suck. I hate art in Seattle. I'm sure you're just dying to know why, so let's start with Fay Jones, the "quintessential Northwest painter" and an artist I hate so much I get about six brain aneurysms every time I see her work. Good God, Fay, enough with the cats, fedoras, flying umbrellas, and enigmatically smiling ladies! How much adorable whimsy can we take? Quite a lot, apparently, because people fucking love her here. I once waited tables at an upscale Japanese restaurant where the Ladies who Lunch would murmur reverently to each other under one of her vast and inert compositions. "Zen murmur murmur dream-like murmur murmur enigmatic murmur murmur." No one has any idea what her paintings mean, but whatever it is, it's something comfy and pleasant. A vague, serene vision of feminine self-regard. It's art for yoga, for tea time, for reading Winnie the Pooh on a rainy day. Nice art for nice people. And it all looks the same. The Fay Jones formula: Start with hazy fields of soft pastel colors, then layer on faux-naive line renderings of giraffes and kimono ladies (feel-good ethnic references are always a plus), then add a swirly or two, and voila! $50,000, please. While she may be the Queen of Twee, this goes far beyond Fay Jones. If I were to make a typology of bad Northwest art (my hatred prevents me from making the effort), she'd be at the head of a type I'd call Cats and Hats. There are artists and galleries whose whole existence is devoted to this harmless, bloodless tea-time fancy. I'm looking at you, Grover/Thurston and Joe Max Emminger. The typology of Seattle art badness would also include the category MFA Obscurity. Oh look, it's a tangle of black wire hanging from the ceiling at the Lawrimore Project! And illegible ink drawings applied directly to the walls of James Harris Gallery, accompanied by a big pile of lumber! And there, embedded in the floor of Howard House, grainy videotape loops of slow-motion hammering and children eating! These things are said to be "gender-theory-informed explorations of the proximate versus the infinite," "inquiries into the referential possibilities of grid patterns," or "meditations on representations of other representations." As if any actual human being is actually interested in any of these things. What most of these artists are really "exploring" is the hope that they might someday earn an unintelligible write-up in Artforum. A subgenre of obscure MFA Obscurity: Indie Rockers Go to Art School. Which means lots of trash culture references and a penchant for recycled materials. Excuse me, "subverted" materials. And, golly, what a dangerous group of subversives the Asics-and-hoodies crowd is, as they meticulously decapitate and reassemble thrift-store plush toys and mount them in a careful grid. "An imaginary taxidermy of childhood memory that is equal parts creepy and cute," someone will be sure to write, "this exhibit is quietly disturbing." (It was once observed that art critics seem to be the most easily disturbed people in the world.) Of course, as far as the whole creepy/cute thing goes, Roq La Rue's "Pop Surrealism" has the market cornered. I actually don't hate the Pop Surrealists. At least they have a sense of craft, and have ditched the bullshit art talk. But, really, how long can they ride this thing out? Aren't the tattoos getting a bit saggy? A wheelchair-bound cartoon character holding an intricately rendered pork-chop balloon in a dark forest of grinning trees is totally great the first time, but the 300th time? So much to hate. There's what I call Somber Mud: landscapes or "semiabstract" landscapes in glum earth tones, cranked out by the score in oil, watercolor, and (shudder) encaustic. This type is suffused with a narcotized, warmed-over mysticism that probably derives from the immortal Northwest Mystics themselves. And by "immortal" I mean that it seems like they'll never go away. More Mark Tobey? Please God, no! Eastern influences, buddies with John Cage, lots of ponderous squiggles—we got it already! For transplants like me, Mark Tobey is rivaled only by Patches and Ivar for the title of Beloved Local Figures the Mention of Whom Most Quickly Makes Our Eyes Glaze Over. And since we're taking potshots at sacred cows, is there anyone who, in their heart of hearts, doesn't think Jacob Lawrence looks more and more dated every time he's trotted out for our veneration? Anyway, as far as Somber Mud goes, you can see it at Francine Seders, Foster/White, Ballard Fetherston, and a coffee shop near you. Hate, hate, hate. Whenever I go to galleries in another city, I realize it's not me. Seattle's art scene really is cliquish, smug, pretentious, pseudo-intellectual, humorless, and profoundly shitty. Of course I did just buy a SAM membership. The expansion is fabulous! The sculpture park, also fabulous. I will never get tired of James Turrell's Skyspace at the Henry. And the Frye! It seems like they can do no wrong since Robin Held took over. LOVE the Robert Crumb show. Ah heck, I love it all. I was just kidding about that hate stuff. I love it the way a Catholic loves mass even when he knows the church is run by science-hating facilitators of pedophilia. I became attached to the ritual of going to see art as a teenager (thank you, Ponderosa Steakhouse Contemporary Collection at the Dayton Art Institute!), and sometimes the art itself can almost be an afterthought. For a churchless person, a gallery's quiet and order are blessings in themselves. You can't really expect more. At least not in this town. dstoesz@seattleweekly.com

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