Across the Trailor Park

Read local art critic Regina Hackett's review of current curatoral trends at SAM[Art To Go], and found myself getting in the thick of it over a work that I'm excited the Seattle Art Museum purchased.

Regina's article follows...

"Contemporary art curators tend to leave the Seattle Art Museum before we can take them for granted. Once they're gone, we forget them. When they're back for a visit, they can say in the immortal words of Raymond Chandler that "nobody came, nobody called, nobody cared if I died or went to El Paso."
Michael Darling took the job last April. It's too soon to get a sense of him, as he's been busy behind the scenes working on exhibits for SAM's reopening in May and playing midwife to Lisa Corrin's baby, the art she chose for the Olympic Sculpture Park.
One of his local purchases, however, has raised both cheers and eyebrows: Whiting Tennis'
"Bovine." In the linked image, this sculptural hovel has a dusky glamour it lacks in life. Although Greg Kucera's website says its dimensions are 8.5 x 14 x 7.5 inches, make that feet. It's not a toy. Some hard-scrabble hermit might have built it from scraps and lived in it for decades, picking his nose and peeing out the door.
I'm in the raised eyebrows camp, among those who are not cheering. I doubt Corrin would have chosen this sculpture for SAM, not because it's challenging, but because it isn't. It reeks of frontier nostalgia and trades in wild West stereotypes. It's shabby chic without the chic.
Here's a sculpture Corrin liked, Claude Zervas'
"Nooksack," which Corrin's admirers purchased in her honor for SAM. It was a going away present, museum style. She went away, and we kept the present.
"Nooksack" is a river of light, a lean, latter-day Dan Flavin with landscape roots.

"Bovine" is one thing, but isn't Darling responsible for Pedro Reyes' "Evolving City Wall Mural" in the park's pavilion? Reyes sees it as a tribute to Mexican muralists early in the 20th century, but it lacks their passion, politics and point.
It's not fair to judge Darling on a few early choices, but I'll admit to being concerned. Another thing: He's nice, and nice curators finish last at SAM.
Trevor Fairbrother (before Corrin) is brilliant, but he's mild-mannered. Inside a year or two at SAM, he looked like St. Sebastian riddled with arrows.
Corrin is cheerfully insensitive. SAM's arrows might have had her name on them, but they bounced off. She went her merry way, confident that she was going over gangbusters even when she wasn't.
Before Fairbrother, Patterson Sims had the job. If his name comes up now, somebody is sure to say, What did he do, exactly, besides go to parties?
He lacks Fairbrother's visual brilliance and Corrin's unstoppable and savvy energy. And yet, he was the most important curator to hold that job. He inspired new generations of collectors and donors. When he got here, SAM's key supporters were in their late 60s. Sims saw need to build behind them. With his inspired encouragement, dozens of people became collectors or redoubled their efforts.
I'll mention three. Jon and Mary Shirley, and Bill True. Without the Shirleys, we might not have the
Olympic Sculpture Park. Without True and his wife Ruth, we wouldn't have Western Bridge.
Sims can take credit for the park and the bridge. Thank you, Patterson, for going to all those parties."

And my response...

"I suppose again I'm on the outs with current trends and ideas regarding artwork that merits in my realm, but I think that the purchase of Whiting Tennis's "Bovine" was a brilliant purchase. Whiting's Bovine was the center punch to what I still hold a one of the best shows in Seattle held by a gallery for 2006. It is a muscular, singular homage to all things Western and Suburban. Created from the leftover scraps of wood that the deceased owner of a house Whiting had just purchased, it was a dare. When offered by the Realator to have the wood taken away, Whiting kept it and made a beautiful symbol, a subtle icon of the "All American" backyard. I get it. To compare it to Zervas's work is to compare a runway model to construction worker. Zervas is cool, skeletal, anorexic, and yes very Flavin-esque; yawn. I part with many these days,I recognize it. I need that hands applied feel, a sense of a worked, crafted, skilled, yet original artwork. Bovine haunts me, probably will for quite sometime. I for one am glad it will be at the Museum, to visit, study, and dare me to take what is around me, and apply it."

It seems in keeping with something that Dennis Hollingsworth just wrote about...


Peter Gaucys said…
Regina certainly makes it clear that she prefers “Nooksack” to “Bovine,” but she’s not using Whiting’s work to evaluate Claude’s or vice-versa. In other words, she’s not “comparing” them as you state. But you’re doing so – and to what end?

The only comparison Regina makes is that of Claude Zervas to Dan Flavin. “Yawn,” as you say. Yes, but only because this is voicing the obvious and inevitable; “Nooksack,” the subject of which is the hydroelectrically manipulated Nooksack River, doesn’t rely on art historical reference to do its thing. The sculpture (which I wrote about in a mixed Zervas review at James Harris a while back) deserves to be discussed in open and more fruitful terms, including those of landscape.

If “Bovine” and “Nooksack” really are apples and oranges, as you imply – even though both works make imaginative use of found materials and are inextricably tied to their origins in Northwest places (for starters) – why compare a “construction worker” to a “runway model”?

Valorized for its macho bravura, Whiting’s work, created on a “dare,” is “muscular” and packs a “punch.” Banished to a wimpy netherworld of concept and reference (where originality, we are to understand, is impotent), Claude’s installation is “cool, skeletal, anorexic.” And dismissed out of hand. The vintage ab-ex setup is as impoverished as it is familiar. Yawn, indeed.
I appreciate the references that you point out that Zervas makes in his work, but if she wasn't comparing the two[Corrin's donors vs. Darling's choices], why bring them up at all in what seems to be a comparison? I still think in Zervas's case the idea of abstracting the natural landscape is more compelling than its execution, but then again, that's me, yawn indeed.