ArtSEA: For Independence Day, gather at Seattle group shows

Plus, celebrating 50 years of Seattle Pride, and more ways to get together for music and dance.

a photo of an art installation featuring a giant scary clown with very long arms

“Jesus in a Crowd (After Ensor)” by Seattle/Portland artist Jeffry Mitchell, at Seattle Art Museum. (Brangien Davis / Cascade PBS)

You may be reading this issue of the newsletter as a way to escape the presidential debate tonight, and I am fine with that. Speaking of decidedly American displays, we’re coming up on the Fourth of July holiday. But instead of independence, I recommend the benefits of banding together — firstly, in the form of some excellent new group exhibits.

At Seattle Art Museum, Poke in the Eye: Art of the West Coast Counterculture (through Sept. 2) is a lively show celebrating the irreverent, exuberant and often very funny art created by artists on our edge of the country during the 1960s and ’70s. In stark contrast to the Very Serious Minimalist Art populating East Coast galleries at this time, these works — pulled largely from SAM’s collection — strike a counternarrative in the form of funky figures and unconventional forms. 

Featuring more than 100 pieces, the exhibit feels like an underground art-school party, where freedom is sometimes found in what’s “ugly on purpose.” A special treat is seeing the work of so many prominent Seattle artists — including a radical clay faction at the UW ceramics department.

To wit: Howard Kottler’s set of dishes on which “American Gothic” has gone wild; Fred Bauer’s seething neon cereal bowl; and Patti Warashina’s purse birthing an egg, camera sprouting a trunk, and toaster licking its own red lips.

Some later works that share the spirit of this era are also included, such as 1980s paintings by acclaimed Seattle artists Fay Jones and Gaylen Hansen, a full room of remarkable crocheted works by Xenobia Bailey, and an insane clown posse by Jeffry Mitchell called “Jesus in a Crowd (After Ensor).” For me, this last work from 1991 radiates the absurdity of the political now.

Also just revealed at SAM: New director and CEO Scott Stulen, who previously spent eight years leading the Philbrook Museum of Art in Tulsa and was known for his community-minded approach. He’ll take the helm in August.

Malacarne is performing a five-hour dance piece at the 2+U building in downtown Seattle. (Allina Yang)

Earlier this week I visited MadArt Studio to bid the South Lake Union showroom a fond farewell. As mentioned in a previous newsletter, the innovative space is closing up shop after 15 years of supporting large-scale works by visual artists. “It’s not financial, not COVID-related, there’s no hidden agenda,” founder Alison Milliman told me, back in November. “It’s just time.”

The current and final exhibit, MAD STUDIO (through July 13), is a convivial retrospective featuring 50 pieces by 55 of the 84 artists who have created and contributed art over the years. If, like me, you’ve been a MadArt regular, seeing this show is like sifting through a box of old photos — glimpsing work that sends your mind back to the original sensory experience. But the dynamic mix makes for a treat even if you’ve never been before. 

See: George Rodriguez’s enormous ceramic guardians, Clayton Binkley’s swirling cedar light, Ellen Ziegler’s massive “Book of Knowledge,” Julie Alpert’s festive “Party Tassels,” W. Scott Trimble’s massive and masterfully suspended wooden “curio,” and an appropriately titled mural by Nikita Ares, “The Last Taste of Forever.” 

Also in great local group shows: Wild Life (through July 28) at new downtown venue Base Camp 2 (in the revamped Bergman Luggage building). On a recent visit I was especially blown away by several large stoneware works by local artist Bonnie Barker, a UW MFA student who is showing a highly realistic snake, intriguingly entwined black swans and a terrifyingly toothy eel. See also the lovely and less scary watercolors of birds by Madison Mayfield, and captivating underwater sketches (drawn while scuba diving) by Preston Graves.

But wait, there are more ways to get your group on!

The inaugural edition of the Tarboo: Pacific Northwest Music Fest (July 4-6) is happening at the Quilcene Lantern. Set amid 53 acres of farm fields on the Olympic Peninsula, the eclectic local lineup includes Tomo Nakayama, the Black Ends, Kate Davis, Pure Bathing Culture and the Wayne Horvitz Electric Circus.

Collide-O-Scope Seattle — dedicated to digging up found film footage and video reels from weird commercials to random B rolls — has a new screening celebrating the city’s past (July 8-9, in the Here-After space at the Crocodile in Belltown). In partnership with Vanishing Seattle, this curated collection of clips will inspire nostalgia for long-gone local gems, a wash of memories and maybe a lament or two regarding the olden days.

And tonight (June 27), Seattle dance collective Malacarne is performing a free, durational work that runs from 5-10 p.m. It’s called the sky is the same color everywhere or on the rapture of being alive and takes place in the 2+U Courtyard (1201 Second Ave. downtown). To answer your first question: No, you do not have to stay the whole time! Drop in and drop out and enjoy the strangely compelling sight of dancers in matching jumpsuits performing clustered formations on and around a public workplace.

A 2022 Pride celebration, as seen through a rainbow flag. (Genna Martin / Cascade PBS)

50th annual Seattle Pride celebration

This year marks a big anniversary for Pride: 50 years since Seattle’s first public gathering for what’s now summarized as LGBTQ+ rights. The poster for that 1974 week of events boasts the grand opening of the Gay Community Center, a Seattle Center celebration with “zany dress, frivolity and carousing” and also “the trashing of an oppressive institution.” 

You can see this and other posters from past Pride events at MOHAI, which is hosting the new exhibit 50 Years of Seattle Pride: Posters of Pride (through Aug. 11). See also MOHAI’s Objects of Pride digital collection, which is currently seeking your archival items. 

For another historical perspective on local Pride, check out the Seattle Public Library’s new exhibit Seattle Gay News Celebrates 50 Years! (through Aug. 25; opening event June 27, 5-7 p.m.). First displayed in March at the University of Washington’s Allen Library, this collection traces the trajectory of the SGN publication — one of the longest-running LGBTQ+ newspapers in the world — and 50 years of coverage from arts and culture to politics, including the AIDS crisis and fight for same-sex marriage. 

What’s that you say? Less Pride reading, more Pride partying? Never fear: There are a gazillion events on deck for the weekend, including PrideFest, featuring performances by Seattle Ladies Choir, Whim W’Him dance company and queer artist collective BeautyBoiz (on Capitol Hill June 29; at Seattle Center June 30) and the annual Pride Parade (June 30), which starts at Westlake Park and dances down Fourth Avenue to the Space Needle.

We’ve almost wrapped Black Arts Legacies: Season 3 (!), and will reveal the last of this year’s 10 featured artists tomorrow (June 28). Missed this week’s reveal? Watch and read our profile of Luther Hughes, the young Seattle poet who has built a powerful poetic community — and whose writing has earned a shout-out from The New Yorker. 

Sign up for the Black Arts Legacies newsletter to ensure you’re among the first to know which local artists will be honored next year in Season 4.

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