Dreamy Eastside exhibits upstage Seattle arts scene

A set of dreamy exhibits at The Bellevue Arts Museum and Kirkland Art Center are taking over the Eastside this fall. Kascha Semonovitch critiques their highs and lows.

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Margarita Cabrera's Vocho at the Bellevue Art Museum.

A set of dreamy exhibits at The Bellevue Arts Museum and Kirkland Art Center are taking over the Eastside this fall. Kascha Semonovitch critiques their highs and lows.

If you think that everything hip and artsy happens on the west side of Lake Washington, you are mistaken ... at least this month. The Bellevue Arts Museum and Kirkland Art Center are showing up SAM in October with two dreamy shows.

Visitors to the Bellevue Arts Museum’s “Travelers: Objects of Dream and Revelation,” enter the cultural subconscious under the lacey shadow of Timothy Horn’s oversized chandelier of burnt sugar. Upstairs, you can pick up a magnifying glass to peer into the faces of eerie, tiny figures trapped in the snow globes of Walter Martin & Paloma Muñoz’s “Travelers.” Defeating expectations of merry Christmas scenes, the globes’ characters play out quirky and even tragic tales.

Nearby, Horn’s “Motherload,” a Cinderella-worthy carriage — also of sugar — fills an entire room. “Motherload” alludes to the rags-to-riches life of Alma de Brettville Spreckels, a San Francisco philanthropist whose husband, millionaire Adolph B. Spreckels, earned his fortune through sugar. Nearby Cal Lane’s “Filigree Car Bombing” converts an ordinary automotive wreck into an ornate, metal snowflake.

Margarita Cabrera reproduces several trademark, taxi-like cars and bicycles, commonly used by Mexican immigrants, in vinyl and embroidery. In Cabrera’s vision, these vehicles of transport bend, as if melting in their tracks and preventing travel and border-crossing. Like the other pieces in the show, Cabrera’s work seems to capture snapshots of magical transformations in-progress in another realm.

This exhibit, on view till December 31st, continues themes from the on-going “Midway,” a collection of work by sculptor Cathy McClure, who hacks and transforms mechanical toys into dreamy and even nightmarish versions of themselves. “Midway” opened May 26th and continues till January 22.

If you hurry, you also can still catch Michael Cooper’s solo retrospective, on view until Oct 9. This widely-praised exhibit contains dozens of Cooper’s trademark wood laminate sculptures. Somewhere between organism, vehicle, and machine, each sculpture tempts you to touch it, ride it, or play with it. If Da Vinci had a taste for steam-punk, laminated wood, and race cars, he might have generated something like Cooper’s creations. On the same floor — on view till Oct 16 — “Think Twice: New Latin American Jewelry” contains forms as fanciful as those in BAM's other shows, but on a micro-scale.

You can extend your journey through memory and oneiric imagery at the Kirkland Art Center, where Ted Hiebert’s “Excerpts from the Library of Babel” fills both floors with photograph reproductions and actual printed copies of Argentinean writer Jorge Louis Borges’ short story, The Library of Babel. Hiebert collected nearly identical paperbacks of one edition of Borges’ book from used bookstores around the country and then reproduced pages at a large scale, using a special technique called Kirlian photography, which passes electricity instead of light over the subjects.

In conversation, Hiebert explained that he made his own Kirlian “camera”  based on an early twentieth century Russian book about accessing the spiritual realm. Apparently, the authors thought that electricity somehow represented the spirits who had touched the objects. Hiebert, himself, merely enjoys the way the medium highlights traces of use – fingerprints, markings, etc. – in the otherwise identical books.

The Center took a risk by presenting a solo show for an entire season, but they chose well. Hiebert’s work is conceptual and, in that sense, perhaps challenging for a community where many galleries offer primarily representational oil paintings or blown glass objects. Luckily the exhibition labels explain Hiebert’s philosophy and method clearly enough for even a skeptical or confused visitor.

If there is one downside to the exhibit, it is the show's repetitiveness: Twenty identically sized flat digital photos line the walls, one after the other. Once I had studied a few images carefully, I passed quickly over the rest of the exhibit. That repetition is part of Hiebert’s concept and even of Borges text, but the curator might have thematically paired Hiebert's work with someone else working on memory, literature, or digital photography. That said, I still enjoyed Hiebert’s work and plan to make a return visit for the next artist.

The Center also offers art classes at an adjoining studio, so if you enjoy the show, you might head back to make some art of your own. "Excerpts from the Library of Babel" runs through December 3rd.

If you go:

“Travelers: Objects of Dream and Revelation,” at the Bellevue Arts Musem, through Dec 31, 2011. Tuesday - Sunday, 11am - 5pm. Tickets $10 for individuals, $7 for seniors and students.

"Excerpts from the Library of Babel," at the Kirkland Art Center, through Dec 3, 2011. Weekdays 11 am - 6 pm, Saturday 11 am - 5 pm.


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