Marela Zacarías works on one of her MadArt murals. Photo by David Wulzen.
While performance venues and many movie theaters remain very much closed, Seattle’s visual art spaces have inched back open lately: galleries first, followed by most of the city’s museums. [Update: As of November 16, museums are closed through December 14, as part of governor Jay Inslee's new pandemic restrictions. Many galleries have decided to close or further limit access as well.] All have new rules for entry: masks, timed tickets, limited hours, etc. But this November, the city’s visual arts scene feels like it’s returning to something close to health with exciting shows opening (or staying open). Here are some to see.
MoM Finally Lets You Visit
First, the newsiest item. Initially, First Hill’s Museum of Museums (MoM) was supposed to open last October. Then it got pushed back to February 7. Then it got delayed again. Then: pandemic. Now, in November, it’s finally opening (probably, almost, very nearly!). Members can swing by already. MoM mastermind Greg Lundgren is still waiting on a final occupancy permit for a full public opening and told me at a Wednesday press preview he just has to press a button for ticketing ($10) to go live. The paint on the wall says 11.1.2020. So it should open in November (I’ll update this when there’s a firm date).
And what a treat when it does. There’s too much to get into here—a gift shop, a mask show, a four-seat cinema, elaborate bathroom design—but here are three highlights.
1. As soon as you walk in, Goodwitch/Badwitch is to your left. The 50-artist show is curated by artist Bri Luna and Lundgren. It's about witchcraft, art, and magic, but not always prototypically. So Santa Fe artist Debra Baxter’s Dark Knuckles—brass knuckles, only made of sterling and smoky quartz—might fit your witchy expectations. But what about Janet Galore’s Rock Garden: Generator which projects video eyeballs onto rocks along with a soundtrack I can only describe as spa-wave? (See video.) The whole exhibit is fun, multivalent, and engaging.
2. There’s a miniature museum in the museum: the Supperfield Museum of Contemporary Art. It’s designed by NBBJ, the same firm that designed MoM’s building, and is full of little dolls and tiny pieces of art. You can follow its institutional drama via the Instagrams of founder Margaret Supperfield (a fictional figure) and the SMCA. Let the self-reflexive commentary commence.
3. The upstairs is given over to Energy Drink from Neon Saltwater and Brian Sanchez. It makes you feel like you’re in an old video game: trippy, beautiful, and imbued with a surprisingly emotional sense of escape if, like me, you’ve spent most of the past seven months trapped in your own neighborhood.
La Vaughn Belle’s PNW Debut Show, Twice
On Saint Croix, one of the U.S. Virgin Islands, ceramic shards appear in the soil after a rain, remnants of plates and cups brought over during colonization from places like Denmark. The first time Saint Croix–based artist La Vaughn Belle visited Denmark she saw the whole ceramics on display. She’d only known them as “chaney”—the fragments in the soil. In A History of Unruly Returns (Oct 8–Jan 3), her show at the National Nordic Museum, Belle joins the imagery of those fragments in six large paintings—a visual pry at colonialism's effects and represent how Caribbean culture has been pieced together from many influences.
It’s Belle’s first solo show in the Northwest, but barely, since it overlaps with her second. Soon after, at Phylogeny Contemporary, The Land of Dissenting Boundaries (Nov 28–Jan 9) opens. In it, Belle also interrogates the dissonances of history and colonialism, here through three series. In the Swarm Series, for instance, she takes reproductions of archival photos, which cast a nostalgic eye on colonialism, and cuts and burns patterns into them. This looks a little like swarms of insects covering parts of the images, the backgrounds, the white colonizers. “A lot of what I wanted to do was to help rescue these Black bodies from the power and hegemony of these images,” Belle said in a virtual talk.
Edvard Munch Experiments at National Nordic Museum
If you were to conduct a poll about which piece of art people identify with most this year, I’m sure more than a few would pick Norwegian Expressionist Edvard Munch’s famous The Scream. Face warped in distress—check. Social distancing/alienation—check. A sunset the nightmare red-orange of our fire skies—check. Just as relatable, though, are some of the images in The Experimental Self: Edvard Munch’s Photography (Oct 29–Jan 31), showing simultaneously with Belle’s work at National Nordic Museum. Photography was still finding its footing and Munch was playing with all the ways you weren’t supposed to take a picture. The results have a ghostly austerity.
Two New Seattle-centric SAM Shows
Last week Seattle Art Museum opened its first big new show since closing in March: City of Tomorrow: Jinny Wright and the Art That Shaped a New Seattle (Oct 23–Jan 18). Wright, a major collector (and a SAM board member), died this February. She and her husband Bagley Wright, one of the first Space Needle investors, had an outsized impact on what the arts in Seattle, and the city itself, look like. This show features 64 of the works the Bagleys donated to SAM, including pieces by Mark Rothko, Frank Stella, Andy Warhol, and Helen Frankenthaler.
Later in the month Seattle artist Barbara Earl Thomas opens her first SAM solo show, The Geography of Innocence (Nov 20–Nov 14, 2021). Her installation features some portraits that look like they were drawn with fire onto a black canvas (actually paper cutouts). In part, the show asks viewers to consider what we as a culture impose on children, especially Black kids—a responsibility or "sinister intent" they don't have, Thomas told me. Instead she wants us to look upon the kids’ actual state, on innocence.
See Inside a Mesoamerican Pyramid at MadArt
In South Lake Union’s artist lab/gallery MadArt Studio, Marela Zacarías’s show Inside Out (Oct 16–Dec 12) contains a wire mesh and wood replica of the Temple of the Feathered Serpent, a Mesoamerican pyramid near Cuernavaca, Mexico. Zacarías has surrounded the replica with murals (see top of page) and placed at its center one of her incredible plaster sculptures—it looks like a colorful blanket that’s been tossed in the air, then frozen mid-fall. It takes its name, Cihuacoatl, from the Aztec goddess who gives women strength during childbirth. If you want to know more, Crosscut has a good story.
Beauty Reigns at Wa Na Wari
Zahyr Lauren’s drawings engulf you. They’re richly colorful, kaleidoscopically intricate, and full of a sort of syncopated symmetry. You can fall into such images in the artist’s show Where Beauty Reigns: Visual Meditations (Oct 2–Jan 10). It’s one of four exhibitions up at Wa Na Wari this fall, alongside work by Andrea Coleman, Ilana Harris-Babou, and Zachary James Watkins.
Systems and Processes at Soil Gallery
Ilana Zweschi picks corrosive documents, turns them into algorithms, then uses the algorithms to make paintings (MoM has one hanging now). At this show, Systematic Calculated Government Sanctioned (Nov 5–28) in Soil Gallery, she’s displaying the middle part of this process: the texts turned into color codes. They’ll hang alongside Bradly Gunn’s The Sound of the Rain Needs No Interpretation (Nov 5–28), which contains “small, colorful assemblage pieces.”
A Guilty Party at Wing Luke
The group show Guilty Party (Nov 14–Nov 16, 2021) at Wing Luke Museum features work from a few LGBTQ+, Asian Pacific American artists like Jeffery Augustine Songco, Queen Gidrea, and the collaborative trio Mail Order Brides. Its multimedia works investigate what identity and community mean when everything is out there on social media.