I was walking along 12th Avenue last week when someone stopped me on the street. I highly regard her. She’s a pillar of the Seattle scene. And she had advice for me.
She told me, basically, to stop misbehaving. She questioned whether I was, as a woman writer and woman curator, not taking my role seriously and responsibly enough. She said that admitting to ever being drunk undermined my opinions. She said men can get away with it, but women really can’t. That as a woman behaving this way, I wouldn’t be able to earn the respect and attention of the right people in order to advance my career. It came from a place of mentorship and good will, but it made me cringe.
I went home and cried for a minute. Did it hit below the belt because there was some truth to it? To get ahead in the art world, to matter to the right people, do I really still have to be the virgin and the whore? That old chestnut. Then I cleaned up and went to an art show.
IN THE FUTURE, ALL ART CRITICS ARE COMEDIANS
What I was headed to see was Dreamland Sinkhole, Graham Downing and Ian Schempp’s visual-art-inspired-improv-performance brainchild hosted at Andralamusya. This was the second Dreamland Sinkhole in a series that will take place every few months. I’d missed the first one.
The tongue-twister-ific Andralamusya is a DIY venue set up at artist Hanita Schwartz’s home in Columbia City. I arrived at dusk. The destination was a lovely, mid-century rambler already packed with patrons and performers nibbling on hors d’oeuvres. We eventually filed into the basement, which Schwartz has remodeled as a performance space complete with small stage, red velvet curtains and seats. By the time the show started, there was standing room only.
The concept of Dreamland Sinkhole is call and response with a twist: improv performers are called on to make comedy inspired by visual art. For Wednesday’s event, Downing and Schempp invited Gretchen Bennett, Susan Robb, Lindsay Apodaca and Eric Aguilar to bring visual work and Molly Arkin and Doug Williot to provide the improv.
Truthfully, I wasn’t blown away by the improv. I wasn’t rolling in the aisles. But if the comedians floundered occasionally, they also had their bizarrely shining moments, like the response to Apodaca’s This Should Make Your Day, a very brief video piece about Garfield getting stoned to a Nirvana soundtrack. As soon as Apodaca’s projection stopped rolling, the improvisers jumped right into a sketch about competitive feline lovers getting zapped in electric chairs. The improv cast responded to one of Robb’s Upper Kingdom pieces by building a living sculpture onstage from audience-sourced objects, including keys, a hat and one member of the audience curled in a fetal position. The evening wrapped when the theater curtains parted to reveal a large window opening on the back lawn. Outside, the fire pit was roaring. Performer Eric Aguilar was poised on the other side of the glass, dressed in carnivalesque plumage, the hallucination of a paper firebird sputtering halos of flame. He danced a slow, half strip-tease, feathers fluttering from arms and chest.
The remainder of the evening comprised the requisite chitchat and backyard wine-quaffing as our clothes filled with the smell of smoke and stars poked out. I kept thinking, What on earth just happened? It was weird, hilarious and terrible at times, but I’m so glad this exists. Residents of Columbia City, you have a really amazing thing happening right in your backyard, and it’s a shame if you miss it.
YOU BREAK IT, YOU BUY IT
Amongst a maelstrom of report-worthy openings (like Sherry Markovitz’s eerie-ethereal gouache paintings of bisque dollies on silk at Greg Kucera and Peter Scherrer’s watercolors of dank Northwest landscapes at Platform Gallery), the highlight of Thursday’s openings was Klara Glosova’s It’s growing on me at Gallery 4Culture.
Most people probably know Czech-born Glosova for opening her Beacon Hill home as an art gallery in 2010. For these expansive one-day exhibits, Glosova would remove all the furniture from her house and transform the nooks and crannies by infusing them with the artwork of 30+ artists. That included installation, sculpture, video, DJs. Nothing was out of bounds. Later these monumental events gave way to smaller, monthly exhibits called “Little Treats.” These were contained (usually) on the first floor of NEPO House. “Little Treats” eventually gave way to the annual smorgasbord of site specific art that is NEPO 5K DON’T RUN.
Known mostly as the indefatigable whirlwind behind so much curation and organization, it’s a treat to take in this other side of Glosova, whose range of technical skill is staggering and whose playfulness with materials is fearless.
It’s growing on me as a body of work feels emotionally naked. The gallery is filled with dozens of intimate and quirky pieces, including work made of unfired clay and porcelain, watercolors, a wall covered in xerox copies from sketchbooks and large photographic prints. Many of the clay pieces are delightfully exact mimetic recreations of underwear, socks, camisoles: things she’s exhibited before (if rarely) which speak to both a tender pleasure in domestic chores and a melancholy bondage to familial duties. But much of the sculpture in the show is a departure. These new pieces are gnomish, half-human, half-golem figures. Their faces and bodies are funny and lumpy, like malformed puppets. She’s scattered them nonchalantly around. A few are hiding in cardboard boxes. Two figures squat on all fours on a stack of pillows. They face each other, almost touching puckered lips, while one shits gold coins out its ass. Maybe it’s making mockery of the art object’s ability to garner wealth. Maybe it’s a good luck talisman. Knowing Glosova, it’s probably both.
Text-based pieces in the form of literary quotes (and one from D.W. Burnam) play a central role in the show as well. Glosova hand-formed each letter of each word with evident, painstaking care, then installed the fragile sentences hazardously on the floor. They could be stepped on, crushed, pulverised in a moment. “AND PERHAPS IN THE PLACE OF MY HEAD SHE WILL PLACE A MELON,” one of Beckett’s quotes reads. They’re mostly happenstance stuff she’s jotted in her sketchbooks over the years. Another entire wall is filled with xeroxed copies of drawings from archives of her sketchbooks. It’s the stuff of uneasy dreams, of Jung, of desired strangers, of many-breasted women on all-fours.
Around the corner from the woman’s bathroom, tucked away and easily missed, there’s a pile of broken letters arranged carefully. I stood over them, trying to make out the message, but no matter how I attempted to read it—forward or backwards or both—the piece was incoherent as a hex or asemic scrawl. She told me later it was nonsense formed from broken scraps of words. As though the only thing left to do at the end of the day is gather the fragments, the lost breaths and unfinished thoughts and leave them like bread crumbs.
When I was on my way out, one visitor accidentally stepped on a ceramic tube sock arranged on the floor. It shattered. “Put a red dot on it,” he said. “It’s mine now.” It seemed a fitting punctuation. Glosova’s work is dangerous because it’s so sincerely senseless and acceptingly humorous. It bellows futility. She makes things to be broken. Yet nothing broken is wasted. Walking into the space, we, like her, can barely breathe without breaking.
Sunday afternoon, art collectors, aficionados and glitterati filled gallerist Greg Kucera and Larry Yocom’s rooftop garden for a wedding. “If a bomb drops on us right now, the Seattle art scene is screwed,” someone commented as we all congregated around the happy couple for an exchange of vows.
Despite guarantees that this wouldn’t be the anxiety-attack-provoking perfect Gay Summer Wedding of our nightmares (their email invite even included a reassuring link to the SNL skit), everything was perfect. The sky was cloudless. A three-tier, red plaid wedding cake matched Kucera’s suit. We washed down crab cakes with prosecco infused with syrupy, pink elderflower liqueur. As a pair of handsome young men sang in dulcet, choir-boy tones as syrupy and pink as the elderflower liqueur, I leaned over to my date and said, “This is disgustingly tasteful.”
“Xanax for Gay Summer Weddings,” he mumbled back. Another wedding-goer had actually gone to the trouble of bringing a bottle of little blue pills for the occasion. He poured out a handful of blue tabs. “Tic Tacs,” he assured us. Whatever they were, I popped two.
(All jokes aside, many congrats to a wonderful couple who have done so much for Seattle and the arts.)
At one point during the festivities, I ran into the one and only, conspicuously absent arts writer Regina Hackett. She looked effervescent. She hinted at a return to art writing.
I recounted to her how I’d been recently reprimanded for my irresponsible art writing.
Her eyes narrowed. “It makes me think of Anatole Broyard, the book critic who wrote for the New York Times in the ‘40s. He was part black, but he kept the fact a secret till his death because he didn’t dare risk being pigeonholed as a black writer. And in those days, you couldn’t just be a writer. You would be a black writer first, and he knew that. Of course that was then, and this is now. But sometimes it still nags: Do I have to be a woman? Can’t I just be, you know, a person?”
It probably has something to do with my generation, but I’ve never been preoccupied with overcompensating for my second sex status. I don’t lose sleep over it. I don’t alter my course because of it. Of course my gender informs my work as well as my everyday behavior. But more than being female, my identity is tied to and informed by my milieu, by my creative community, by the dark, bizarre, sublime ambience of the region. One of the things I love about this place is that it’s bursting with female curators, arts administrators and writers. Being a successful cultural contributor and producer here doesn’t require extra political maneuvering and manners because of my genitals. That’s not the city I live in.
This irresponsible writing is my document of a moment, a zeitgeist. This is my dear diary love letter to a city not exactly known for following the rules. Or for being very buttoned up or ladylike. This is who we are and this is what we do. Here, girls can be bad boys too.
NEXT WEEK IN THE ARTS
It’s the fourth anniversary of the Blitz Capitol Hill Art Walk! There’s an afterparty at Narwahl and free guided walking tours with some of the Hill’s “Cast of Characters,” including Purple Mark, Emmett Montgomery, Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, Jen Graves, Ellen Forney, Joey Veltkamp and Mylinda Sneed.
Amanda James Parker’s Tent Union (Gimme Shelter) at Joe Bar. In Parker’s unqiue (self)portraits, she dons a garment that doubles as architectural structure (a tent of sorts) and engages her subjects in settings both mundane and unusual. I had the pleasure of “sitting” for one of these, draped on my fainting couch as she popped over me, sneaked a kiss and the shutter snapped.
Dan Hawkins‘ The Water Project at Photographic Center NW. For years, Hawkins has been documenting urban landscapes as well as capturing unforgettable moments of performance for groups like Saint Genet. In this thesis exhibit, Hawkins traveled to locations around the region where the water meets the urban environment. He photographed the locations using an 8×10 camera, then developed the film in water from each location.
Convertibles at Vignettes (one night only). Convertibles presents the multimedia work of Drew Miller and Joe Rudko, two relative newcomers to the scene.
Dancing with Dummies at Hard L. Another one-night only show, featuring sculptures by Eve Cohen and Sonja Peterson.
Friday, June 15: Buster Simpson’s Surveyor at Frye Art Museum. 2pm gallery talk.