The Slutty Eye: Craft-Matic

The Bellevue Arts Museum is a good place to visit if you think today's smart-aleck artists have no respect for old-fashioned craftsmanship. After being driven nearly to extinction by mismanagement, an awkward new building, and "adventurous" programming (i.e., pale imitations of the Henry, with much worse lighting), BAM returned to its craft and design roots when it reopened in 2005 (and added an "s" after "Art"). These days its shows are almost guaranteed to be full of well-made objects. They're also likely to demonstrate the pitfalls of technical razzle-dazzle. Take Paul Vexler's impressive but instantly forgettable Hexagonal Mosaic Transformation in the lobby—a complex array of panels that, powered by a system of gears and chains, continuously rotates itself into different configurations. Or the exquisitely textured and deeply snooze-worthy wooden sculptures on the second floor by Lopez Island's Michael Peterson. Empty technique also characterizes a lot of artists in the show on the top floor, "ÜberPortrait." (Just because you can make a roomful of ceramic busts in a dozen different Chinese styles, Ah Xian, doesn't mean you should.) All the more reason to welcome the nasty glee of Kukuli Velarde's slickly made Plunder Me, Baby. The piece comprises nine rudely gesturing, vagina-flashing terra cotta creatures (three are shown in the photo above), modeled with the artist's own face and based on the pre-Columbian ceramics of her native Peru. Its target may be a bit easy (or maybe more supporters of the Conquistadors go to art museums than I realize?), but Plunder Me shows just what craftsmanship can accomplish in the service of rage and bad taste. 

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