(f)art jokes and courtesans

Where did the week go?

The royal we loves Jason Hirata. Opinions vary, though. When asked last night, another artist blew him off: “He’s lazy and uninspired.”

For better or worse, I really like Hirata for what he gets away with. His practice is a mashup of relational aesthetics and arch artist in-jokes through which he maneuvers like a trickster puppeteer (who may or may not even get his own jokes) and convinces people to do strange things. Like eat black bread together.

This happened in the back space of SOIL Gallery on Thursday, where Serrah Russell and Hirata teamed up in a show called Paire/Pare. This little multimedia installation claims to "investigate creativity and significance in food making and consumption." The duo set up two crude banquet tables made of planks and sawhorses. One board was spread with fresh loaves of black bread, knives, a large shaker of sea salt and a heaping bowl of butter. The other table was strewn with beets, iceberg lettuce and other vegetables almost completely dipped in plaster. Hirata assured me that the veggies were rotting inside because it had been a few weeks since they’d been plastered. As people came and went in the gallery, they sliced and salted their bread and gleefully consumed. A bread machine in one corner churned away quietly, kneading edible charcoal powder into the dough.

(Russell and Hirata)

Only two gallery stops later did I realize I had black bread stuck in my teeth. I’d stopped in a bathroom and was aghast to glance in the mirror and realize I’d been chatting away at people like this for the better part of an hour. And that’s what I mean about what Hirata gets away with. Was the whole point of the experiment getting people to walk around like fools with black bread in their gums? Or is it a thinly-veiled fart joke? Charcoal helps with flatulence by absorbing gas. It helps victims of poisoning by absorbing toxins. It also absorbs all nutrients in the stomach, preventing digestion period. So the charcoal cancels out the nutritional value of the bread. Black bread is self-canceling, a zero. The plastered veggies are also nullified, inedible, nutritionally useless. The Russell/Hirata banquet comprises a void, a classic, still life vanitas

Then again, I suspect my over-contextualizing and groping for didactic nuggets is part of Hirata’s puppet mastery. I’m not sure there’s any context for black bread other than it existing for its own sake. Because it's weird. Maybe black bread is just art for art’s sake.

“It’s really funny what people are painting these days,” said my friend Arnie, while passing William Burton Binnie’s paintings of sausages and BBQ meat at Greg Kucera Gallery. It makes sense to me. Binnie is from Dallas, my old stomping grounds. His academic-style work has an underlying, humorous morbidity seasoned with cowboy sensibility. Two large paintings called Conquest depict vast landscapes on Mars and a (slowly melting?) ice shelf in an arctic sea. They’re final frontiers offering no spoils, nothing to be gained by their conquest. But their vastness does remind one of a sprawling Texas plain. Nearby, drawings of spiderwebs with spun text messages are like a darker version of Charlotte’s Web: “ENJOY YOUR HELL,” “END IS NIGH,” “HATE THEM.”

In the front room of Greg Kucera is Ed Wicklander. Who would win in a fist fight (I wondered out loud): Dan Webb or Ed Wicklander? Dan Webb, answered my friend! Dan Webb, answered a SAM curator! Wicklander was Webb’s teacher once upon a time, and the resemblance in their work is nothing if not familial. Wicklander’s stuff is almost too perfectly made and too perfectly humorous. Welded steel balloons drifting up a wall are super cute. Woodcarvings of cuddling cats also super cute. An hourglass filled with tiny porcelain skulls (called Wasting Time) is super cute and kind of Tim Burtonesque.

More woodcarving and morbidity at PUNCH Gallery, where Howard and Lorraine Barlow have a show called xoxo. The husband and wife team both feature knitting and shooting in their work a lot, riffing on motifs about rural Americana, love, violence and ritual. This exhibit is about death, about being prepared to deal with one another’s inevitable separation. Their work is always impressive. There’s a knitted body bag that looks like a cozy shroud (a death sweater?). And a wall lined with 1,000 ammunition shells filled with pieces of Lorraine’s wedding dress. Trunks of wood have been carved to form a forrest of human-size matches, heads burnt to a crisp.


(top: Howard and Lorraine Barlow; bottom: Marije Vermeulen with Adam Boehmer)


Another wedded artist pair has installed in the front space of SOIL. In One on One: Guido Nieuwendijk vs. Marije Vermeulen, the Dutch couple painted opposing walls in SOIL with bold colors and slick graphic designs (how Dutch!). They describe the installation as an exercise in opposition, a challenge comparable to a breakdance battle in which they respond to the designs on each other's wall. Maybe this is the secret of couples staying together: you battle each other in the gallery. Or instead of fighting, perpetually contemplate one another’s imminent deaths. 

Saturday I finally took a gander through the special exhibit at Seattle Art Museum. It’s a slew of Old Master paintings on loan from the Kenwood House in Hampstead, home to a collection called the Iveagh Bequest. This collection originally belonged to the Guinness family (of the beer fortune, of Daphne Guinness fame) before they donated it to Great Britain.

In my humble opinion, you go to this exhibit for the depiction of gorgeous clothes. And of course for Rembrandt’s late-in-life self-portrait, Portrait of the Artist, which has never left Europe till now. But for me it's mostly about the sartorial detail in the paintings.

Louis, Duc de Bourgogne by Hyacinthe Rigaud and Joseph Parrocel is radiant in metallic armor that shimmers like quicksilver, draped in a blue satin sash that quivers with reflected light. His chestnut locks cascade down the armor in delicate, evaporative wisps. The noble mane dissolves in the air, light as cotton candy—as noblemen’s hair does. Louis is beautiful. Never mind the Battle of Nijmegen raging in the background.

Gainsborough’s Mary, Countess Howe is alchemical: oil paint has been turned to unreal, nacreous pink silk. Pigment transformed to cascades of lace, gauzy ruffles and heaps of perfect pearls choking a long, alabaster neck.

And last but not least in my report, Kitty Fisher as “Cleopatra” Dissolving the Pearl (1759) by Joshua Reynolds. Kitty Fisher was a famous British courtesan, a favorite subject of artists. Reynolds painted her multiple times, here dressed as Cleopatra, draped in pearls, her skin as pale and lucid as a pearl. She's dissolving a pearl in a goblet of wine so she can drink it. Beautiful and irresistible, Kitty the courtesan lived in splendor. Casanova reported that she once ate a thousand guinea bank-note on a slice of buttered bread. But Kitty was as nice as she was spoiled, generous to the poor. She died an untimely death, four months after her marriage to a wealthy, respectable man. Reportedly, she died of lead poisoning from all the cosmetics she wore.

Which leads me to another thing I noticed while strolling through Rembrandt, Van Dyck, Gainsbororugh: all the 18th century girls with their bloodless cheeks and orange lipstick (even Louis!). Since orange lips have been a runway staple of the past few springs, I solicited the help of artist (and recent subject of a City Arts style profile) Monica Rochester to demonstrate her 2013 version of the pallid, orange-lip look so prevalent in the SAM exhibit—hopefully sans the unfortunate side effects of lead poisoning.

Rochester's 21st century "dime store trash" Kitty Fisher tutorial: L'oreal True Match liquid foundation in Alabaster, L'oreal Translucide powder in Translucent, L'oreal H.I.P. eye shadow in Moon Goddess, Almay Intense i-Color in Black Emerald, and for the Reynolds’ (et al) lady-lips: lipstick by Wet n' Wild in Purty Persimmon with a touch of Rose on the corners. Now to go a'pearl drinking.

Thursday, March 14: SAM Gallery’s annual Introductions features work by a bunch of new artists, including Seattle faves like Casey Curran and Chris Sheridan. Particularly, don’t miss Glenn Tramantano’s work.

Also this Thursday at Joe Bar, Julia Hensley is installing a bunch of her own trash on the walls for an installation called BIO. Yes, it's trash, but it’s beautiful trash: clustered, taped, wrapped, nailed and sprawling like a rainbow made of recyclable materials the artist has been diligently hoarding for the past six months.

Saturday, March 16th, Dethbook Issue 2 Launch at Kaleidoscope Vision. Dethbook is a very cool, very collectable graphic publication filled with gorgeous, trippy collage and photographs, edited by Ozma Otacava. Put a little effort into dressing up for the party (really, channel your inner Leigh Bowery for this one).

Sunday, March 17: Saint Genet and Trench Art Records present Sorrows: The Music from Transports of Delirium at 1424 10th Ave. Crazy, dark, ecstatic music to be expected. First listens to new compositions created for Saint Genet’s upcoming “Paradisical Rites” at On the Boards.


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