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  • Thursday, January 02, 2020 12:52 PM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)



    Fifty coffins by Ebony G. Patterson, decorated with fabric flowers, fringe, glitter, lace, rhinestones, ribbon, and tassels stand in a dense cluster in the center of the Henry Art Gallery. Glorious to look at, “Invisible Presence: Bling Memories,” celebrates as well as mourns. The coffins bear witness to the lives of youths killed in violence during only four weeks. At the same time, in the tradition of Carnival, they suggest a celebration. Patterson amplifies that with three almost mural scaled collages that celebrate with a dense pattern of toys and, on the floor, paper-mâché balloons, the hopes and joys of youth who die young with titles like “…they were filled with hope, desire and beauty (…when they grow up…).” 


    Nearby we mount a large platform with several bookcases, part of Oscar Tuazon’s installation based on his continuing “Water School” project adapted to each locale where he shows it. For this installation, he included large maps of the rivers of the Olympic Peninsula and Lake Washington, highlighting the native names of rivers and omitting roads. His work, both visionary and historical, encourages us to think about water on indigenous land and the colonialism of dams, pipelines and other abuses.


    These two impressive works are part of “In Plain Sight,” the first large exhibition by Senior Curator Shamim M. Momin. The exhibit features fourteen national and international artists whom we have not seen in Seattle. It fills the entire Henry Art Gallery with artists who address topics, communities, and stories not usually visible in public spaces. The exhibition gives us the opportunity to see artists with a sharp critical edge as they expose untold narratives.


    For example, Sadie Barnette’s moving installation “Room to Live” features the story of her father, Rodney Barnette, who was an active, but little-known, Black Panther, under extensive FBI surveillance. She juxtaposes redacted pages of his FBI file with a living room setting from the sixties, suggesting his personal life. Sanford Biggers’ combination of sculpture and textile mixed media wall pieces also forces us to rethink racial clichés and news bites. The bronze sculpture “BAM (for Michael)” confronted us in the stately museum medium, here pockmarked and damaged, with the reality of police violence.


    Tom Burr’s installations throughout the exhibition, quietly written in corners, list the names of locations he cut out of “Spartacus,” an International Gay Guide, for gay men to meet up. The piece originally conceived in 1989 and recreated for this show is all the more affecting for its subtlety.


    Hayv Kahraman’s dramatically scaled paintings would seem more straightforward than Burr’s lists of street names, but in fact they are equally layered with meanings that are hard to immediately grasp. Kahraman fled her native Iraq as a child in 1991 to escape Saddam Hussein’s brutal policies toward Kurds. But her paintings feature ironic statements on international entertainment fundraisers that stereotype victims as they raise money. She “orientalizes” the women she depicts, rendering them all alike as “other” as seen by Westerners.


    Beatriz Cortez of El Salvador created an intense steel portal honoring the 1000 men, women and children in El Mozote, brutally massacred in 1981 during the Civil War. In a corner of the gallery, she spoke the names of each victim layered over one another. We cannot understand the names, just as we cannot grasp the tragedy.


    Alison O’Daniel addresses hearing loss and alternative means of communication through a series of videos called “The Tuba Thieves.” Based on an actual event in which tubas were stolen from a South Los Angeles marching band, stealing a crucial sound, she creatively conveys the difficulty of communication for the hard of hearing.


    “In Plain Sight” requires time to experience, particularly for the video works. It is easy to miss Mika Rottenberg’s “Cosmic Generator” at the end of the exhibition in a very dark room, too dark to read the explanation. Rottenberg swerves between surrealism and narrative, documentary and pop to explore artificially created boundaries. Filmed in a Chinese restaurant in Mexico and a kitsch souvenir shop in China, the larger theme is the corruption of capitalism. Amusing scenes underscore that in wildly unpredictable imagery like a taco with men in suits lying inside.


    The exhibition provides an opportunity to see a provocative range of very current artists who address the difficult topic of hidden stories for the ironically titled “In Plain Sight.” Thanks to Shamim M. Momin for bringing these challenging artists to Seattle. 


    Susan Noyes Platt

    Susan Noyes Platt writes a blog www.artandpoliticsnow.com and for local, national, and international publications.


    “In Plain Sight” is on view at the University of Washington’s Henry Art Gallery, located at 5th Avenue NE & NE 41st Street in Seattle, Washington. The hours are Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from 11 A.M. to 4 P.M. and Thursday 11 A.M. to 9 P.M. For more information, visit www.henryart.org.



  • Thursday, January 02, 2020 11:28 AM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)


    “The Lavender Palette: Gay Culture and the Art of Washington State” at Cascadia Art Museum is the first of its kind. Curator David Martin seeks to document and illustrate the influence of gay artists in Washington state and outline their regional, national, and international importance. The public and private artworks and writings of these artists are on display for the first time together in this exhibition. Martin describes significance of this in his introductory statement, “While certain aspects of their creative output exist in public collections, art with subject matter illustrating their personal lives was often destroyed or weeded out in museum collections in order to preserve a sanitized version of their lives.” The show touches on many aspects, including stylistic contribution,international acclaim, the risk of persecution and imprisonment, aesthetic influences, and documentation of gay culture. However, I believe that the core strength of the exhibition is that it shares the stories and significance of these artists, and in many cases these personal narratives are being shared with the public for the first time.


    There are four artists whose work is synonymous with Northwest art. Kenneth Callahan, Mark Tobey, Morris Graves, and Guy Anderson are the “big four” artists who make up the core of the Northwest School. Three of those artists, Tobey, Graves, and Anderson, are included in this exhibition. Tobey’s paintings show his experimentation with white lines, which would become his signature style. Several of Graves’ paintings from the 1930s are included and they are wonderful examples of the social realistic style. A later painting, “Preening Sparrow” from 1952, is also included. I was particularly thrilled to see Guy Anderson’s “Fisherman Dreaming of Home” from 1964 which is oil and metal collage on wood. His paintings and prints are staples in the both private and public art collections in the Northwest, but I think his mixed media pieces are especially personal because would often use materials in his immediate surroundings.


    It is vital that Tobey, Graves, and Anderson be included in this exhibition, but there another dozen artists featured that will likely not be familiar to even the most devoted Northwest art connoisseur. Once the visitor has entered the galleries, the first images that the viewer sees when entering the space is a series 54 mugshots of men arrested for sodomy between 1893-1913. On a perpendicular wall, portraits of many of the artists are also installed. I was so grateful to be able to put faces to the names of artists that I was learning about for the first time. I am very familiar with portraits of Morris Graves, for example, but other artists like Thomas Handforth, Sarah Spurgeon, and Richard Bennett were completely new to me. Rediscovery has become a theme for the exhibitions at Cascadia Art Museum and it is a real benefit for the artistic community.


    The galleries that hold the exhibition feel intimate and the visitor can easily stand in a position so that they can see the majority of the room. As I stood at the entrance of the largest room, I was amazed at the number and variety of artworks. Since the works are arranged by artist, it can be a wonderful visual exercised for the visitor to try to note some of the thematic through-lines as they move from artist to artist. Many themes are revealed, including interior mid-century scenes, fashion illustrations, labor scenes in social realist style, Northwest School style paintings, and more. However, the artworks most interesting to me focused on intimate subject matter and portraits. The thesis of the show is to bring the private lives of these artists to the forefront; lives that they often had to hide to varying degrees. These intimate writings and  images tell many stories including the “wedding” of Jackie Starr (“a top female impersonator at the Garden of Allah Club in Seattle” according to the exhibition text) and Bill Scott, the long-lasting professional and personal relationship between Del McBride and Clark Brott, Orre Nobles’ diary in which he describes “chats” (code for sexual experiences), and photographs of naked men in a variety of poses and displayed in the “mature content” section of the exhibition.


    As stated in the introductory text, this exhibition is groundbreaking. The time and knowledge required to gather all the artworks and primary sources together in this show is staggering. I was told by the docent that there a catalog is forthcoming, but its release date is unknown at this time. There are three Coffee with the Curator events throughout the run of the exhibition and the last event is on January 5. If you want to discover artists who will likely be new to you and learn more about their concealed personal relationships and artworks, this is the exhibition for you.


    Chloé Dye Sherpe

    Chloé Dye Sherpe is a curator and art professional based in Washington State.


    “The Lavender Palette” is on view through January 26 at the Cascadia Art Museum, located 190 Sunset Avenue in Edmonds, Washington. Museum hours are Wednesday through Sunday from 11 A.M. to 6 P.M. and on 3rd Thursdays Art Walk Edmonds from 11 A.M. to 8 P.M. For more information, visit www.cascadiaartmuseum.org.


  • Thursday, January 02, 2020 9:53 AM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)


    Perry and Carlson Gallery & Shop • Mount Vernon, Washington


    After decades working in New York and Seattle as design professionals, couple Trina Perry Carlson and Christian Carlson were primed to build a life with their personal creative imperatives on the front burner—textile-based artwork for her, abstract painting for him.


    “My motivation for coming was to have time and space and creative freedom,” explains Christian, an architect. “And Trina’s was to start a retail business.”


    They decided that moving to a smaller, more affordable community would set the stage for realizing their aspirations. So as their youngest child neared the completion of high school, they began looking at real estate with that ineffable “it” factor in Oregon and Washington.


    Their sweet spot turned out to be an hour north of their Capitol Hill home, in Mount Vernon, where they purchased a 6000-square-foot building in the town’s commercial heart. Since moving into the 1924 property almost five years ago, they have transformed its street-facing area into two fluidly conjoined spaces: a gallery featuring contemporary artists and a retail shop rich with handcrafted objects and vintage finds. And in the back, an enviable loft-like residence, with room for their own studio spaces.


    “Mount Vernon is one of the most intact towns in the West, at least on First Street,” according to Christian. “We’re both urbanists and understand what makes a town healthy or unhealthy and Mount Vernon seemed to be doing everything right.” The pair was impressed by the town’s active farmers’ market and downtown business association, mix of retail, restaurants, cafes, and bars, and a recently completed flood wall and riverwalk.


    “One thing that really spoke to us was how vibrant the community co-op is,” says Trina. “People travel from Bellingham to shop at the Skagit Valley Co-op and also to go to the Lincoln Theater. It felt like if this town supports these two really strong community-based businesses that’s a good sign.”


    They wanted to avoid the gallery being a gift shop with art on the walls. And, unlike many of the Valley galleries which mainly focus on local artists, its exhibitions have featured national and international artists.


    “We were trying to make a splash with bringing more of a big city kind of art scene to the Valley,” Christian explains. “We got some nice attention for that. And then the local artists started kind of paying attention to us. And in the meantime, in the last three years, we’ve met dozens of local artists.”


    Looking ahead, he says, “there are two things that we haven’t done that we would like to do. One is more focused on installations, where we invite artists to take the gallery for a month and build something in situ. And the other is new media.”


    The unexpected pleasures of the move have been many. Trina explains, “We feel like we’ve built more community in the last four years than in 20 years in Seattle.” Another boon of moving to a smaller town is that “there’s a real value in getting involved. There’s room for involvement and you can make a difference. Christian’s on the planning commission now, he’s a planning commissioner and helping the city.” Collaboration with other artists, artisans and galleries has been rewarding as well.


    And Christian’s work has changed profoundly. Prior to the move, he considered himself an inveterate abstract painter. “I’d never been interested in landscape art in any way, shape, or form. To me landscape was the same as still lifes or something. It was just kind of too representational and too sort of light.”


    Once settled in town, “I kept noticing how the horizon organizes everything that you see, especially in the Valley where you pull over to the side of the road and there’s a field that starts right in front of you and goes almost to the horizon. And then there’s stuff on the horizon, trees, buildings, telephone poles, whatever, and then usually a uniform white sky. And so it ends up being this very abstract composition. And so I started really focusing on the line of the horizon. I would just sketch this again and again, and then I started painting it.”


    His fascination continues. “I’m just obsessed with it. I can’t stop. I paint the Valley again and again and again.” Christian’s Valley-inspired work is on display in the gallery through January 31. Entitled “Skagit Winter,” the show includes drawings and paintings in encaustic, acrylic, and oil.


    Clare McLean

    Writer Clare McLean is based in Snohomish County.


    “Skagit Winter” featuring paintings and drawings by Christian Carlson is on view Monday, Wednesday through Saturday from 10 A.M. to 5 P.M. and Sunday from noon to 4 P.M. through January 31 at Perry and Carlson located at 504 South 1st Street in Mount Vernon, Washington. For more information, visit www.perryandcarlson.com. 


  • Wednesday, January 01, 2020 11:52 AM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)


    After Allison Collins’ 2002 painting, “Steptoe Butte”


    The squares of yellows and oranges like a library—all angles in their places until an unsuspecting hand…a melding, a greeting of hand to angle, of that which is fresh and sinewy and pale to the stacks, a landscape of yellow boxes and orange boxes amid a landscape of green expanse and lavender above. Who lingers here and who drives through. Who knows how to mix the rhythm of green—that undulation of grass not yet harvestable for straw, but plumbing in nutrients, hay perhaps, grain or crops, those that someone nods to on his way to the city where cement stacks ride on brick and the sky turns a pink some nights because of the smog, and it makes him recall the purity of a lavender sky astride the velvety green of field, makes him recall the symmetry of these shapes like books on the shelf of his own body.



    Janée J. Baugher

    Janée J. Baugher is the author of two ekphrastic poetry collections, The Body’s Physics and Coördinates of Yes. Her poetry and prose have been published in Tin House, The Writer’s Chronicle, Boulevard, NANO Fiction, Nimrod, and The Southern Review, among other places, and sheteaches at Richard Hugo House. In autumn 2020, McFarland will publish her academic book, Ekphrastic Writing: A Guide to Visual-Art-Influenced Poetry, Nonfiction, and Fiction.

  • Wednesday, November 06, 2019 8:49 AM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)


    May You Never Have To Run For Your Life

    One of life’s unavoidable responsibilities is to show up at your friend’s fund-raising event. You could send a check. But if she’s been reminding you of the date for months; comparing her entertainment line-up to Hamilton, you really do need to attend.

    I’m joking. But even if I wasn’t, I’d never want to let her down. She’s been good to me. Loyal, generous, honest. But not too.

    Still, I’m a little fearful of round table seating. It makes me feel like I’m ten years old again waiting for the popular kids to reject me.  So I always try to find at least one person I can see myself making small talk with.

    One woman looked interesting enough. At least I wanted to think her tree-of-life earrings meant she might be fun. I put my coat over the back of the chair next to hers and we got to talking. Of course we did.

    I wish I could say it’s possible to recognize what side of an issue someone is on based on earrings alone, but one should never make such assumptions.

    Now, I’m a little sensitive about immigration, I feel protective. The more my tablemate drank, the more obnoxious she became, and we were only halfway through our salads. And so came the probe. “But your parents came legally, right? They didn’t come expecting a free ride?”

    I wanted to say, free ride? How many immigrant’s do you know who want that? Most come to work at kitchen or field labor. I’m sure you didn’t raise your son to move on down to Fresno to hand pick tomatoes. But to answer your question directly, no, I don’t think my family came legally, they came desperately. It’s why they were called WOPS. Without Papers. The legal process began after they arrived. Oh, and one other thing: May you never have to run for your life.

    I didn’t say this. I sat there with a big fat fake smile on my face, trying to be socially-correct where the worst thing you can say is the truest thing you feel. The polite thing to do is just say, “Excuse me,” and pretend to see someone you know across the room.

    I did know someone! At the head table.

    After congratulating my friend (she raised a ton of money for a scholarship program), I passed two women discussing Good Friday, “What’s so good about it again? I can’t remember.”

    “It’s when Jesus rose from the dead.”

    “Was it before or after he walked on water?” They laughed. “My first husband thought he could walk on water, too, but my lawyer showed him just how quickly you can go under.”

    Every once in a while you overhear someone who knows how to make easy, light, irreverent conversation, who reminds you that it’s possible to be sassy and bold and respectful all in the same breath. Not that it’s ever smart to assume. But I pulled up a chair anyway.

    I’ve replayed a lot of the evening over and over in my mind, looking for a reason I should have stayed home in my sweats, but I can’t find one. It was a really good cause.

    And the entertainment was top notch.

    Mary Lou Sanelli

    Mary Lou Sanelli is an author, speaker and dance teacher. Her first novel, “The Star Struck Dance Studio (of Yucca Springs)” was recently published by Chatwin Books. Ask for it at your favorite independent bookstore. For more information, visit
    www.marylousanelli.com.

  • Wednesday, November 06, 2019 8:47 AM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)


    After Francisco de Goya’s painting,

    The Third of May 1808 in Madrid: The Execution at Principe Pío


    Goya admired the maverick monarch Napoleon, but when his army invaded Spain, Goya experienced war firsthand. In addition to conveying sympathy for the victims of war, he showed how the French soldiers were also victims, with their “just follow orders” mindset. Some soldiers cover their eyes in disbelief and choke on gun smoke and blood liberating from the luckless. The blood reaching the soil, penetrating the earth, lurching to its core, mingling with other roots and life in which God exists. The cells of the blood, the pebbles on the ground, the fine outerwear of the guards, and the night which holds each man there and can do nothing else. Cued: five prisoners, including a tonsured monk. On one side: a mound of three dead. On the other side, a group awaits the firing squad which functions as a single unit. Each of the Spaniards bearing a long shot-gun—their hat-shaded faces are staring into the eye holes, their stance is leaning balanced on a collective bent knee. Kneeling prisoner in the center—lit by a lantern between the killers and the killed. His hands palms-up to Madrid’s night sky in vain, for the group of dead beside him will rise to eight. How close we stand to death, to our rites, where brooding men loom in their top-hats and long jackets. Their full sheaths swinging beside them as they reload and take down men as easily as a tree struck by lightning. The bark flings off the tree bole, exposing the white inside. The blood of these war-captured stains the ground disappears into a stronghold of roots destined to rot to the core, the core of the earth where men trod mindlessly over the amount of blood it takes for the work to be done. They will not reap what they sow, but the cells will descend and inhabit the soil, inhabit the land which grows the bread that these soldiers will deliver home and break for their children to eat.

    Janée J. Baugher

    Janée J. Baugher is the author of two ekphrastic poetry collections, The Body’s Physics and Coördinates of Yes. Her poetry and prose have been published in Tin House, The Writer’s Chronicle, Boulevard, NANO Fiction, Nimrod, and The Southern Review, among other places, and she teaches at Richard Hugo House. In autumn 2020, McFarland will publish her academic book, Ekphrastic Writing: A Guide to Visual-Art-Influenced Poetry, Nonfiction, and Fiction.

  • Wednesday, November 06, 2019 8:44 AM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)


    After Sandro Botticelli’s c. 1475 painting, Spring


    In a citrus grove in spring, the wind distributes the pollen, then gestation happens and hence, flora sprouts from her mouth. Spring personified as the maiden carries a bunch of flowers and petals. Mercury as Wind on one side of the canvas. The three Graces, intertwining all 30 fingers, signify love for humanity. In the center, Venus cloaked in a white gown and red wrap. Cupid hovers above her and aims his arrow carelessly. All bodies are symmetrical and serene. The translucent gowns, see the curves and see their faces like friends. We must relish in spring, but not adhere to it. In winter, the mind was at home with the cold white mornings and the short days smelling of decay and endings. Do not let spring fool you, she begs, relish in all the elements: Talk to the wind so no one will hear you, look to Cupid’s aims if you’ve lost direction, gaze at Mercury, for when he appears, it’s only an illusion. The fruit and flowers depicted in that painting couldn’t have existed in nature at the same time. But the artist could not consider realism, the way grass grows upward and green, and how some nights the wind gusting through your window is a little blue man. As for Venus, she can name the flowers and fruit, but she can never describe to you their colors.


    Janée J. Baugher

    Janée J. Baugher is the author of two ekphrastic poetry collections, The Body’s Physics and Coördinates of Yes. Her poetry and prose have been published in Tin House, The Writer’s Chronicle, Boulevard, NANO Fiction, Nimrod, and The Southern Review, among other places, and she teaches at Richard Hugo House. In autumn 2020, McFarland will publish her academic book, Ekphrastic Writing: A Guide to Visual-Art-Influenced Poetry, Nonfiction, and Fiction.

  • Wednesday, November 06, 2019 8:21 AM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)

    A river flows through the center of the ArtXchange Gallery. June Sekiguchi’s poetic exhibition, “The Pulse of Water,” features a river constructed by the artist of fiber board intricately cut on a scroll saw. As we immerse ourselves in the swirls and patterns of the river that flows down the wall and across the gallery, we can feel the spirit of the river as it moves from the purity of the mountain stream to the siena browns of the lowlands. 

    Fourteen years ago June Sekiguchi traveled on the Mekong River for two weeks, “Floating down the river in a long narrow boat slows the pace of life—I could just BE. As I meditatively floated, the riverboat captain was vigilantly reading the river—there are not many rapids, but bubbling whirlpools in constant motion indicate there is something beneath the surface. Trees, rocks, and all kinds of human-made things have been swallowed by the river. I saw the Mekong as a metaphor for our human selves. One may detect hints on the surface, but underneath is where our stories are submerged.” The Mekong river begins in Tibet, flows through South China, forms a border between Burma and Laos, as well as Laos and Thailand, then flows on through Cambodia and Vietnam where it ends in the famous Mekong delta. 

    In Sekiguchi’s installation the swirls of the river in many colors and patterns seem alive and perhaps struggling, as the dark colors and the pure clean white patterns overlap and interact. The artist also created a bamboo bridge across her river about which she states “Every year the bridge is washed away by the monsoon. Each year, the people rebuild the bridge.” Those many patterns though also refer to the threats to this precious river, the source of food for millions of people. It is rapidly being dammed for hydroelectric power, starting in China, and now further South in Laos. The entire ecosystem of the river is under threat. As we well know from our experience here, dams are devastating to migrating fish. So as we look at this celebration of the poetry of water flowing freely, we also can feel the threat to the river.
     
    Sekiguchi recently created “Akha Headdress” to honor the Akha people, a tribal hill people that span from the Yunnan province of Southern China, as well as Thailand, Laos, Burma, and China. Their traditional farming land is also threatened by governments taking their land, although eco-tourism seems to be helping them survive. In China, the Akha people grow Puer and other types of sought-after tea (as well as coffee) and have been integrated into the world economy.
     
    Other works in the “Pulse of Water” include mandalas, bells, and kites, all created on scroll cut wood. The scroll saw moves up and down with a spiral blade, and Sekiguchi frequently works with 1/8 inch thick low grade fiber board that has no grain, allowing her to create intricate designs.
     
    Also at ArtXchange is an exhibition by Lauren Iida, “100 Aspects of the Moon.” Iida creates delicate images with hand cut paper, watercolor, and sumi ink that suggest a fragment of a story. Lauren Iida’s grandparents were detained during World War II at Tule Lake. As a Japanese American, this personal history has profoundly affected her art and her view of the world.
     
    Japanese woodblock artist Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (1839-1892) “100 Aspects of the Moon” inspired the current series. In his case, the themes are taken from Indian and Chinese legends, famous musicians, poets, and heroes of classic novels and plays. Iida chooses to represent personal events for her family as well as to depict scenes from the life of her friends in Cambodia. The moon in each image in both series represents the connections among people no matter who or where they are. Iida suggests a meditative moment in each work, whether it be those waiting for a family member who is detained or a young man standing alone in a field.

    Iida has been based in Cambodia since 2008. Deeply engaged with social projects she sponsors the nonprofit The Antipodes Collective which creates illustrated books in both Khmer and English for Cambodian children. Open Studio Kampot takes place in her house which she has opened up to youth artists, including many with disabilities. Her story suggests her deep feeling for those who struggle to survive, but she doesn’t just feel concern, she collaborates with people who might seem to have no way forward to help them create viable lives.

    Lauren Iida and June Sekiguchi make a perfect pairing of exhibitions that give us insights into an area of the world that shares the same ecological concerns as Seattle, but of which we hear very little. ArtXchange Gallery plays a crucial role in Seattle in exhibiting both contemporary Asian and Asian American artists.
     
    Susan Noyes Platt
    Susan Noyes Platt writes a blog www.artandpoliticsnow.com and for local, national, and international publications.

    “The Pulse of Water” exhibit by June Sekiguchi and “100 Aspects of the Moon” exhibit by Lauren Iida are on view through November 30 at the ArtXchange Gallery located at 512 First Avenue South in Seattle, Washington. Gallery hours are Tuesday to Saturday from 11 A.M. to 5:30 P.M. For information, visit www.artxcahnge.org.

  • Wednesday, November 06, 2019 7:51 AM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)


    On August 14, Ed Bereal woke to find a National Guardsman outside of his studio pointing a gun at him. It was 1965 in Los Angeles and the artist was living in the midst of the Watts Rebellion. Curator Amy Chaloupka titled this section of her essay describing the event as “An Awakening”. From that moment, Bereal’s artworks intensified and became even more pointed and critical. Building on his training and life experiences, his artworks continue to tackle corruption, corporate greed, commercialism, racism, and gun violence. By using characters prevalent in popular culture, from George W. Bush to the Joker, Bereal draws the viewer in by using startling imagery mixed with recognizable figures. The images are often astonishing, and will no doubt hurtle the viewer towards introspection and discussion. Layers of intricate drawings are sometimes superimposed with rough, found materials. In the end, Bereal constructs a poignant criticism and reflection of the challenging aspects of American history.

    “Wanted: Ed Bereal for Disturbing the Peace” is the artist’s first solo museum retrospective. It is incredible that Bereal had never had a significant solo museum exhibition before this point. His work has been exhibited widely internationally at important art institutions like the Getty Museum and Centre Pompidou.

    This exhibit includes Bereal’s artworks from the last sixty years in all areas of his career, including collages, sketches,  photojournalism, sculptures, and videos of his theater work. It also includes the never-before-seen installation, “Exxon: The Five Horsemen of the Apocalypse,” a forty-foot long piece with five “horsemen” created from assembled materials and projected light. The exhibition is impressive for several reasons. The scope and breadth of the artworks exhibited is the first of its kind. In addition, curator Amy Chaloupka expertly organized the exhibition so that a visitor who is new to Bereal’s work can move through his artistic career and many of the artworks have extended labels with more information. The museum does have a word of caution for visitors before they enter the exhibition, and the message states that the content may be emotionally charged for some visitors and that some artworks contain adult content.

    The exhibition is organized into several sections that represent the phases and evolution of his artistic career. At the entrance, the viewer encounters “Political Cartoons” which filled with logos, familiar faces from politics and popular culture, and sarcasm. It is in this section that Bereal’s use of dark humor and his talent for illustration really shine. There is a wall filled end to end with sketches from the 1980s through the present. Bereal studied at the Chouinard Art Institute in their advertising design program and the institute was known for training Disney illustrators, so it is not a surprise that Bereal’s drawing skills are excellent.

    After seeing the political cartoons and large-scale installations, the viewer is brought back twenty years Bereal’s early career when he was experimenting with drawing and assemblage artworks. This portion includes information about his involvement in the infamous War Babies exhibition Huysman Gallery in 1961, examples of his unique use of materials, symbols, and ephemera from the period.

    Significantly, it was also during these formative years that Bereal lived through the Watts Rebellion. The impact of that event is evident in his work. “America: A Mercy Killing” is a mixed-media kinetic sculpture that he made while writing a screenplay and the artwork was originally intended to be a model for the set.

    He continued his interest in performance while teaching at University of California, Riverside and University of California, Irvine. In 1968 he organized a group of twelve student actors into a group called Bodacious Buggerrilla to bring critical perspectives to their communities. For the following decades, Bereal continued to bring performance to the masses and later took his skills overseas as a photojournalist in the 1980s and 1990s. He continued to teach while on assignment outside the United States and sought to demonstrate how people could use photography and film as forms of activism.

    It was very wise to put a warning at the entrance to this exhibition. The images are powerful, at times disturbing, and often evoke an immediate response. As a caucasian, millennial woman, I came to this exhibit with ideas and experiences informed by my life and the world around me. I can’t imagine experiencing what Ed Bereal experienced. A t the end of the exhibition, there is a table with several chairs for people to reflect and discuss their thoughts on the show. Notebooks titled “I leave wanting to…”, “I am still thinking about…”, and “I want to have a conversation about…” are sitting on the table. My recommendation? Take the time to observe the details, maybe chuckle at some of the sarcasm, deliberate about the challenging images, and witness the strange in this show. I also recommend reading the essays in the corresponding catalog. The authors expertly provide context for the artworks and respectfully share Bereal’s story. The curator also gives gallery tours and Bereal has participated in several events at the museum.

    Chloé Dye Sherpe
    Chloé Dye Sherpe is a curator and art professional based in Washington State.

    “Ed Bereal: Wanted for Disturbing the Peace” is on view through January 5 at the Whatcom Museum located at 250 Flora Street in Bellingham, Washington. Museum hours are Wednesday through Sunday from 12 to 5 P.M. For more information,
    visit www.whatcommuseum.org
     

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