Visual Art

The Unfelt Tremors of Mw [Moment Magnitude]

Frye Art Museum's latest exhibit only registers as a rumble.

By Seth Sommerfeld October 23, 2012

Leo Saul Berk, Clinkers, 2012, Duratrans, sculptural light box. 78 x 65 x 5 in. Courtesy of the artist.

Now on display through January 13 at the Frye, Mw [Moment Magnitude] brings together some of Seattle's heavy hitters in the arts community with the hope that the free-form survey of contemporary art—painting, photography, sculpture, performance pieces—will dissolve lines between mediums. You know, shake things up. Mw’s name comes from the moment magnitude scale that seismologists use to measure the energy released from earthquakes. But this group exhibit, curated by a collective of Frye directors and local artists, only registers as a rumble.

A series of loosely tied ideas form the connective tissue of the exhibit—emphasis on loosely: love, Seattle artists, community, collaboration, innovation, a new approach to the familiar, the artistic process, wet paint, and—naturally—no theme at all.

Matt Browning’s stark and organic monochromatic Landscape paintings—wood panels coated in shiny black tree sap that never truly dries—succeed on their own. The only truly joint effort on display is the Black Constellations’ video project mixing Maikoiyo Alley-Barnes' videography with music by Shabazz Palaces and THEESatisfaction. Shot in the Cascade foothills, Methow Valley, and Carnation, the earthy cinematography combined with some of Seattle’s finest hip-hop make for an invigorating blend of Northwestern modernism—though it's not exactly revolutionary. (Video began killing the radio star in 1981, after all.)

The wild card for Mw is the series of art-performances to be staged in the Frye's Great Gallery. Dance-art project zoe | juniper, performance artist Wynne Greenwood, and buzzy singer-songwriter Perfume Genius are on the calendar, and in December, Lilenthal | Zamora will install an ever-changing light work in the space.

By far the most compelling series in Mw is Leo Saul Berk's three-piece mini-exhibit created on return visits to his childhood home in Aurora, Illinois. The centerpiece is Clinkers, an otherworldly photograph of the house's exterior masonry, made of coal and chunks of glass cullet, glowing emerald green. With Walking to His Dreams, Berk partially sculpts the spiral oak dome ceiling originally planned for the home…and doesn't fully succeed using modern technology, which in turn showcases the ambition of designer who had the gall to dream it in the 1940s. Astrodome, a video piece where calcium deposits and filthy water swirling down a bathtub drain resembles the starry cosmos, was the result of Berk's attempt to draw water in his old bathtub. Together, thanks to strong contextualization, the three works come together to create a portrait of Berk's past and the place that made him an artist. They succeed thematically in the micro where Mw fails in the macro.

Mw [Moment Magnitude]
Thru Jan 20, Frye Art Museum, always free

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