I tend to work through art exhibits haphazardly, looking at one piece, drifting across the room, moving to a different one, until finally I’ve seen nearly everything. So at a preview of Jeffrey Gibson’s new Seattle Art Museum exhibit, Like a Hammer (which has its opening celebration from 5–9 tonight), the first and last works I encountered sat directly beside each other. Luckily these bookends were an excellent distillation of this weird, witty, expansive, beautiful exhibit.
The first was Shield No. 15, consisting of an elk hide stretched over an ironing board and exuberantly painted. It flaunts Gibson’s ability to work seamlessly across various modes. Like a Hammer is painting, sculpture, installation, pop art, native art, avant-garde art, but—most emphatically—it’s just good art.
Gibson is of Cherokee and Choctaw heritage; grew up in the U.S., South Korea, and Germany; hung out in queer clubs; dug punk music, it seems, and hip hop. That’s all here—in the Everlast punching bags adorned with beads, in the figural sculptures that bristle with jingles and fringe and studs, in the arrow quiver with a long neon bulb in place of arrows, in the huge abstract geometric paintings, in the sort of tapestry composed in part of canvases (run through a washing machine) from his beginnings as a painter.
"Diversity" is the word most easily at hand, but something that sounds less like a corporate mission statement is necessary. So let's try this: Like a Hammer has a manyness, a simultaneous quality that instead of diffusing into some fractured postmodern identity coheres into something singular.
That last piece I saw was called Head On. It uses similar materials and technique, and has a concept akin to Shield No. 15, but its deer hide canvas—painted with triangles of color beaming from points, like light hitting a disco ball—is stretched across an antique shaving mirror, and I saw reflected there not myself, precisely, but a many-layered history, personal and public, motionless yet utterly moving.
Jeffrey Gibson: Like a Hammer
Feb 28–May 12, Seattle Art Museum, $25