Can art be pharmaceutical?
Seattle artist Buster Simpson thinks so. He’s the guy who made national news in the 1980s slinging disks of limestone into the Hudson River, an action he titled Hudson River Purge. The news media dubbed the disks—intended to de-acidify the polluted waters—“River Rolaids” or “Tums for Mother Nature.”
Simpson lives at the juncture where environmental activism meets aesthetics. For more than 40 years he’s been turning ideas, found objects, puns, and the detritus of urban life into mind-expanding metaphors. He figures if he can get people to think the way artists do, the planet and its inhabitants will be healthier. Now, in the show Buster Simpson//Surveyor, the Frye Art Museum is attempting to recap a career that has ranged from 1970s guerrilla art installations and ad-hoc street performances to nationally celebrated actions and commissioned public artworks.
Buster Simpson//Surveyor begins outside the museum and that’s where this art is most at home. A concrete and tree root sculpture Secured Embrace—a lyrical union of man-made and natural forms—adds drama to the reflecting pond, where a handful of pixilated frog shapes, made from water-sweetening limestone, creep along the bottom. Funky yellow barricades, seemingly crafted from bent iron bedsteads, cradle trees on the parking strip and draw our attention to their silent work as air purifiers.
Inside, there’s much elegance and humor to be found, as Simpson plays off art historical icons such as Venus de Milo and The Last Supper (or Judy Chicago’s feminist icon The Dinner Party.) Simpson’s proclivity for crows seems spot-on. Ingenious, provocative scavengers, adaptable to urban environments and revered in Northwest Native cultures (where Earth stewardship is a traditional value) they seem like perfect emblems for Simpson himself.
Thru Oct 13, Frye Art Museum, free