Morse Clary, Waiting #2, 2014.

The Bellevue Arts Museum has been known to get crafty, and every two years hones in on a specific craft-based medium to showcases the best of what our region has to offer. The last go-around focused on fiber, and ceramics preceded that. This year’s BAM Biennial explores possibly the humblest of materials: wood. Artists explore, investigate, problematize, and even exploit lumber in the appropriately titled Knock on Wood exhibit.

From a pool of nearly 200 applicants the jurors of this year’s biennial selected 39 artists—both emerging and established—that work in wood from around the Northwest region. While the roster draws heavily from Washington, it also includes artists from Oregon, Alaska, and British Columbia. BAM’s third floor galleries are filled with wooden works that explore almost every conceivable size (miniature to enormous) and form including furniture, sculptures, and installations. A multitude of tools and techniques have been employed to manipulate the wood in extraordinary ways. Yes, even chainsaws. That said, don’t expect anything akin to roadside chainsaw art.

Group shows of this size are notoriously hard to make coherent, so in curating this show BAM’s artistic director Stefano Catalani divvied up the artworks to create a new conversation in each gallery rather than trying for a strong overarching thematic statement. His choreography of the exhibition balances size, color, and themes with a few unexpected additions at each turn. A gallery with an emphasis on furniture juxtaposes the clean minimal lines of Tom Coglon’s lightweight laminated Writing Table and Side Chair with Mark Wedekind’s curvaceously sculpted 3 Legged Stool, whose rungs wrap around a rock much like a tree root might do. Another gallery clashes the bright colors and geometric patterns of Julia Haack’s large wall panel Cantinas with the earthy brown of Laura Buchan’s suspended sculpture Cetus, a chimera skull composed of elements of a bowhead whale, wholly mammoth, and flamingo carved in roasted poplar (it’s worth getting up close to give it a sniff). And in another space,  Michale de Forest’s room-dominating Mask, an enormous face crafted with techniques similar to the elaborate design coffins of Ghana, watches over a gallery where it is paired with a collection of Morse Clary’s carved books, each sculpted as if opened to a page with intimate inlaid treasures.

The conversations sparked by the BAM Biennial begin with a bit of awe; each work demonstrates a true understanding of the material, yet none of the works share the same creation processes. Knock on Wood’s takeaway comes in the realization of the vast array of techniques that can be applied to the medium of wood. There is a sense that all of these talented artists have found their own unique voice artistically in a material that quintessentially defines our region.

BAM Biennial 2014: Knock on Wood
Thru Mar 29, Bellevue Arts Museum, $10

Mark Wedekind, Sculpted Three Legged Stool, 2014, cherry, walnut, and granite, 35.25 x 23 x 21 in.

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