By way of introduction at the press preview for the Frye's brand new concurrent shows, Unicorn Incorporated and Your Feast Has Ended, outgoing deputy director Scott Lawrimore mentioned that the museum contained multitudes—from "pirate radio to earrings."
But really, that isn't the half of it.
Those that attend after the Friday, June 13 opening will meet gangsters, cowboys, gatekeepers, dream killers, and round, fleshy women—via longtime Seattle artist and activist Curtis R. Barnes—and confront vintage sneakers, Africanized basketball jerseys, breakdancing videos synched up with indigenous ceremonial dance scenes, and jewelry that makes Eddie Borgo look woefully part-time.
That last list comes from Curtis R. Barnes' son, Maikoiyo Alley-Barnes and his friends and collaborators, and Nicholas Galanin of Sitka, Alaska and Nep Sidhu of Toronto. The trio's individually made work coalesces here as a group show that gets at, as Alley-Barnes put it to me after the media walk-through, "anthropologizing the anthropologists."
The senior Barnes' paintings, drawings, collages, and sculptures catalog his personal, professional, and political experiences of the '60s, '70s, and '80s while the younger crew provides a more recent—and future-thinking—widely multimedia snapshot of the same.
Sidhu is a former welder who crafted a sterling silver saber-shaped single earring (!!!) that can sit in your ear like a militant Bluetooth earpiece if you've got $200 to trade for it at the Frye's excellent in-house shop. But his work also includes embroidery, often references his mother's spirit, and straddles the hard-and-soft stuff of architecture and memory.
Galanin is a Tlingit/Aleut whose forefathers were forced to lose their language. A collection of fifty or so of his Delft pottery-esque arrows convey a sort of sweetly wrapped supremacism as you enter the exhibition rooms. Later, a photo collage asks you to reconsider an icon of style and beauty.
Alley-Barnes has worked as a political commentator, gallery owner, and vintage clothing specialist who was brutally beaten by the SPD in 2005. He collaborates with Shabazz Palaces on music videos and stage adornment, and his work here skips similarly from moving pictures to graphically pleasing 3D assemblages that get denser and denser the more you get to know them.
Though not entirely Seattle-specific or even entirely Northwest based (though almost ...), the two shows are an important opportunity to understand all the people(s) we are in this region, and, for that matter, on this continent. Can it be, maybe, about understanding people everywhere, and our collective and disperate experience with self-expression and identity?
How do we reveal ourselves to others? How do we identify? Who do we identify—as sacred, as stylish, as protected, as dangerous, as worth saving?
And when are we going to finally get real about all of it?