ArtSEA: Fall Arts return to Seattle — fingers crossed

Plus: Bellwether arts festival returns to Bellevue, alongside a vivid retrospective of NW painter Alden Mason.

“Happy Future,” by Seattle glass artist Nao Yamamoto is a stained-glass flying doughnut portal to positivity. Its part of the ‘Expansive’ show at Bellevue Arts Museum, which is in turn part of the Bellwether arts festival. (Brangien Davis/Crosscut)

Yesterday, Seattle Symphony announced a last-minute change in plans: Music Director Thomas Dausgaard, known for his electric and highly physical conducting style, will not be reporting to Benaroya Hall for the orchestra’s opening night festivities on September 18.

Based in Denmark, Dausgaard was expected to kick off the in-person season with a rousing return to the Seattle concert hall, including Stravinsky’s Firebird suite and a much-anticipated world premiere by composer in residence Reena Esmail. But, the press release explained, “his work visa process is severely stalled due to COVID-19-related travel issues.” (Acclaimed conductor Xian Zhang will step in.)

ArtSEA: Notes on Northwest Culture is Crosscut’s weekly arts & culture newsletter.

We’d better get used to sudden shifts this season — that’s the way the COVID crumbles. Last weekend, Dave Matthews had to quickly improvise the lineup for his concert run at the Gorge Amphitheatre, after his band’s drummer and bassist tested positive for COVID-19. And at the Day In Day Out Festival, Aminé and Big Wild — two of the four national acts slated to play at Seattle Center — canceled because of positive COVID tests. On the plus side, local acts Sol and Tomo Nakayama got to shine as pinch hitters.

As our pandemic lingo continues to evolve (“boosters,” “breakthroughs” and have you met “mu”?), so does the schedule for fall arts happenings.

Crosscut interviewed 14 artists for our Fall Arts Preview, including (top row, left to right): Anthony White, Louie Gong, Tomo Nakayama; (bottom row, left to right): Kira Jane Buxton, Bao Tran, Sara Porkalob.

Nevertheless! My arts and culture colleague Margo Vansynghel and I have pulled together a big, bountiful Fall Arts Preview. It was pretty exciting to sort through all the artful plans, especially after COVID crushed 2020’s fall arts season. Live theater hasn’t quite yet bounced back (many playhouses will start opening in December/January), but there are plenty of gallery shows, museum exhibits, concerts and dance performances to add to your calendar.

I’m eager to see Seattle’s own Barbara Earl Thomas with Derrick Adams at Henry Art Gallery, a new musical by local powerhouse duo Justin Huertas and Rheanna Atendido at ArtsWest, recycled humanoid creations by Leo Berk and Claire Cowie at MadArt, Alejandro Cerrudo at Pacific Northwest Ballet, the Imogen Cunningham retrospective at Seattle Art Museum … the list goes on!

More of the local artists Crosscut interviewed for our Fall Arts Preview. Top row, left to right: Vivian Hua, RYAN! Feddersen, Justin Huertas. Bottom row, left to right: Clyde Petersen Eva Walker, Olivier Wevers.

And, despite delta’s attempts to squelch our spirits, 15 new arts and culture spaces plan to kick into high gear this season, including Café Racer, which will reopen in its new Capitol Hill home this weekend (Sept. 11).

In one of my favorite parts of the preview, we checked in with 14 local artists to see how they’re feeling this fall — about artmaking over the past year, what they’re looking forward to, what they’ve been binge watching and what pandemic hobbies they picked up (growing mushrooms, playing accordion, unskilled haircutting …). In the face of an uncertain season, these funny and heartfelt answers made me excited all over again.

“Untitled Burpee #1,” by Northwest painter Alden Mason, one of 70 works in the first-ever comprehensive retrospective of his work, at Bellevue Arts Museum. (Brangien Davis/Crosscut)

Our Fall Arts Preview is all about looking forward. But sometimes moving ahead requires a glance in the rearview mirror. (See above re: Imogen Cunningham.) That’s also the case with Alden Mason: Fly Your Own Thing at Bellevue Arts Museum (through Oct. 10).

This must-see show has been up all summer, but you have a few more weeks to get in there — which I highly recommend. A big, bold biography in gallery form, this expansive exhibit traces the artistic evolution of Mason (1919-2013), who was born in Everett, earned an MFA at the University of Washington (after abandoning plans to major in entomology) and became a highly influential Northwest painter.

Moving chronologically through the show feels like walking through a time lapse of Mason’s drastically shifting styles, as he continued to make work into his 90s. His 1940s watercolors of local landscapes (“Deception Pass,” “Darrington Rain”) are all moody blues and leaky borders. In the 1950s and ’60s, he moved to a larger scale, with greater abstraction, and then in the 1970s — kapow! — his huge canvases turned explosive with the “Burpee Garden” series.

“Seed Shaker,” by Northwest painter Alden Mason, whose 60-year career is explored at Bellevue Arts Museum. (Brangien Davis/Crosscut)

These are the works that brought Mason national acclaim, and it’s clear why. Using diluted oil pigments in the same manner as watercolors, he created softly glowing shapes in a frenzy of bleeding color — an homage to the promise of the Burpee seed catalogs he was familiar with from his Skagit Valley youth. “The paintings are kind of personal gardens,” he said. I could live in these gardens.

In the 1980s, Mason took a fancy to squeeze bottles — of the ketchup and mustard variety — and used them to cover canvases with squiggles of vivid acrylic color. The vibrating, hypnotic nature of these works recalls Aboriginal dot paintings, and also reminded me of contemporary Seattle painter Anthony White, who employs a similarly intricate and comprehensive technique (with vastly different subject matter) using tiny lines of liquid plastic.

Continuing along Mason’s timeline, the thick squiggles smooth out, as he moved on to another, more cartoony style featuring heads, flowers and human figures. At BAM you can see the thread that connects all these distinct developments — and better understand this life of evolving art.

Hiromi Takizawa’s “Shipment from California” is just as advertised — a rainbow-bubbly box of promise. Behind: Sarah Blood’s “When I’m Shining.” On view at Bellevue Arts Museum as part of the Bellwether arts festival. (Brangien Davis/Crosscut)

BAM is also host to the bountiful Bellwether Arts Festival, which includes multiple events across Bellevue locations throughout the month — including a live performance of Anida Yoeu Ali’s striking outdoor piece “The Red Chador, Genesis I” (Sept. 11, 1-3 p.m.).

I became smitten with Expansive, a show of wonderfully lively neon and glass forms installed near BAM’s gift shop. These luminous and largely lighthearted works include Jeremy Bert’s rainbow lasso loop-de-loop, Hiromi Takizawa’s bubbling and translucent “Shipment from California,” Pilchuck artistic director Ben Wright’s ominous “Migrations” collage and Nao Yamamoto’s floating stained-glass doughnut portal, “Happy Future,” to which I say, yes, please.

A few more things to do this weekend:

Recent Acquisitions in Contemporary Art, a new exhibit at Frye Art Museum (Sept. 11, 2021 – Jan. 23, 2022), includes works by Northwest artists Anthony White, Juventino Aranda, Mary Ann Peters and Ko Kirk Yamahira.

• The long running Short Run Comix and Arts Festival has had to forgo its superfun festivals the last two years, but this weekend the group celebrates the release of a retrospective book with an art show and party at Fantagraphics in Georgetown (Sept. 11, 5-8 p.m.), part of the monthly Georgetown Art Attack.

• Seattle-made kung fu comedy The Paper Tigers has made the leap to Netflix, but this funny, fight-scene studded flick was born to be seen with a rowdy crowd. This weekend you can watch it on the big screen at Northwest Film Forum, where writer/director Bao Tran will do in-person Q&As after the screenings (Sept. 10-12). Loud cheering for the good guys encouraged.

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