Viva BIMA! by Kathy Cain

Monday, July 01, 2013 1:54 AM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)

It was a bright and beautiful day in the rainy city. And it had been nearly two weeks since the last First Thursday so I was feeling a little art starved. Since NYC is crawling with tourists this time of year, not to mention the heat, humidity, and invasion of baby strollers from Brooklyn, I did what any other sensible art seeker in my shoes would do. I hopped a ferry and went to Winslow.

What? Okay, maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but very soon, that's exactly what sensible art seekers are going to be doing now that the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art is open.

At the risk of giving you the impression that all the sophisticated art-crit vocabulary got knocked out of my head the moment I walked into this place, I just need to say that BIMA is so totally cool. Honestly, I tried to maintain my visitor-from-the-big-city demeanor but this place is hard to resist. The curved concrete, glass, and steel building designed by architect Matthew Coates is big and handsome - it kind of dares you to walk by - it's walking distance from the ferry. Take the first left turn and you're there.

I think that the best and most surprising thing about being inside BIMA is all the natural light that pours in everywhere. If you're one of those people who gets gallery fatigue from the lack of light and air in those cloistered spaces where art usually lives, then you’ll be pleasantly surprised by all the views of the outside world. If there ever was a museum that's ideal for seeing and being seen at the same time, this is it. A good place for both of those pastimes is the John and Lillian Lovelace Gallery on the first floor. It's a rare and delightful experience to be wandering through selections of Northwest art from BIMA's permanent collection while ferryboats float in and out of view and people stroll the streets of Winslow just outside the window. Especially when the collection is as much fun as this one is.

I like the pair of elegant but cheeky Philip McCracken sculptures - different versions of eternally suspended tension - that are sitting right next to each other. In one, a dangling stack of scissors, pliers, and a wrecking ball threaten the structural integrity of a delicate china plate; in the other, a drawn steel bow is loaded up with an arrow that's ready to fire but never does. There's also a painting by Max Grover ("Red Car Trip at Dusk"), a serene Harold Balazs steel sculpture, and Karen Hackenberg's incendiary "American Pie." I love the fact that many of the pieces in this disparate collection are staged in clever little narrative vignettes, like the Patty Rogers painting "Each in the Other's Heart" that hangs above Robert Spangler's chair that sits between a Philip Levine sculpture and a wedding crown by Hekki Seppa.

Upstairs in the Rachel Feferman Gallery you'll find "First Light," a regional group exhibition that's wild and wonderful, which is not surprising since it was assembled by BIMA Executive Director Greg Robinson, with the expert assistance a stellar list of Pacific Northwest curators that he rounded up for the occasion: Max Grover, Norie Sato, Cynthia Sears, Jake Seniuk, Janice Shaw, and Barbara Earl Thomas. If you recognize any of those names, I don't have to tell you any more. If you don't, then just trust me when I say that you’ll wander happily through this show with your eyes wide open and your brain buzzing.

It includes more than 50 artists, established and upcoming, from all over the Northwest, working in every possible medium. You should go to the BIMA website for the complete list (http://www.biartmuseum.org/exhibitions/first-light-regional-group-exhibition/), but I want to list a few of my favorites: Lucy Congdon Hanson's big kinetic "Spoon"; Chris Jordan's "Oil Barrels," a hypnotic modern mandala with a rusted oil barrel at the center looking for all the world like our poor planet Earth, which is hung next to David Kroll's haunting "Koi and Blue Flower Vase;" a drawing and dry-point etching by the endlessly amazing Carl Chew; Allen Moe's elegant pottery vessels that are startlingly enhanced by what I will only describe as unexpected accouterments; Steve Einhorn's timely Peace Piece ("Guns Into Ukes") musical contraptions (look for the vintage Packard hubcap); and "Fire Inside the Heart," a big, sexy painting by Linda Okazaki that's full of secret symbols. If you ever find yourself regretting your decision to skip the NYC art scene, sit down in front of "Roundelay," Heather Dew Oaksen's video installation and watch the subway cars shoot by for a while.

The views from the second-floor Beacon Gallery (or as I call it, the prow; sometimes I can't tell if this a museum or a luxury yacht) are even better than those on the first, but you’ll find yourself distracted from all that natural beauty by the unnatural beauty of "Sea 'scape" an installation by Port Townsend artist Margie McDonald. It's an invasion of fanciful and delicate marine creatures, made from recycled copper, yacht rigging wire, and fishing line, that look like the merging of sea-life and neural synapses. On opening day, this was still a work in progress so it's impossible to say what it will eventually look like, but McDonald definitely won my award for most creative use of gallery space thanks to the spidery sea stars that cling to and crawl out from the crevices in the glass wall panels.

On the ferry ride back to Seattle I felt a little turned around, like I was returning to the quiet island from an art adventure in the big city. That alone was worth the trip. And given how easy it is to walk on the ferry downtown and walk off the boat at BIMA’s front door, I’ll be doing it again soon because there’s still plenty more to see.

Kathy Cain

Kathleen Cain is a Seattle-based writer who has been spending an inordinate amount of time on the Bainbridge Island ferry lately.

Bainbridge Island Museum of Art is located at 550 Winslow Way East on Bainbridge Island Washington and is open dailty 10 A.M. to 6 P.M. Admission is free. For more information, visit www.biartmuseum.org.


   

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