Articles

Seattle Injects Some Excitement into Public Installation Art

by Howard Hurst on August 5, 2011

Troy Gua's "Chrysalis" (2011) (all photos by Hilary Gray and courtesy Mad Art)

So, its  summer and its hot, I’ve been complaining all week in real life so it makes sense that a bit of that leaks out onto here. Fortunately, it’s been a little bit more temperate than last week’s summergeddon. What that means is that like many of you I’ve been doing some solid walking. Do more than a little of that in New York and you are bound to see some art. Whether it’s some giant red Keith Haring sculptures in the financial district or the much talked about Will Ryman rose sculptures that used to don Fifth avenue there’s no arguing that this city loves public art. What’s most annoying to me is that, despite the funding and access to artists organizations like The Public Art Fund seem a bit hamstrung by their own political correctness. Sure, I love Sol Lewitt as much as the next guy, but come on. I don’t think its too much to ask for a little public engagement. Isn’t the point after all to provoke thought and public discussion? I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, I just wish that New York’s public spaces were used with a little more ambition and imagination.

SuttonBeresCuller work for Mad Homes. (click to enlarge)

In stark contrast, Mad Homes, an installation by the Non Profit Mad Art in Seattle is a relatively lo-fi, community approach to public installation. The exhibition is open until this Sunday, August 7 and takes place in and around three soon to be demolished houses in the suburban residential neighborhood of the city’s Capitol Hill. Fourteen local artists were invited to descend upon the houses, which are being demolished to make room for condos by development company Point 32.

The result is a mixture of installations that consume, infiltrate and surround the soon to be doomed and still perfectly well kept and usable houses. It seems silly and a bit sad that these perfectly good homes are being knocked down in order to build new, albeit more expensive ones. All the same its encouraging that the currently vacant space is being put to good use. These kind of pre-destruction architectural exhibitions are not without precedent, and a (probably all too predictable) mention to Gordon Matta Clarke’s “Anarchitecture” projects seems unavoidable.

A view of Allyce Wood's three-dimensional yard drawings. (click to enlarge)

Allan Packer’s installation "The Fulcrum of Prescience" (click to enlarge)

Artist Troy Gua has wrapped on of the houses entirely in Saran Wrap. The large faux bar code stuck to the back of the house gives it that all too familiar twinge of bitter sweet nostalgia associated with moving. Next door the collective SuttonBeresCuller has created an expansive kinetic drawing using thousands of feet of red plastic straps. Their straps cling with determination joining two of the buildings in a ramshackle embrace. Inside, the resulting maze of red appears both exciting and claustrophobic. Allyce Wood’s three-dimensional yarn drawings of ghost like previous residents feel peaceful if not downright melancholy in comparison.

Allan Packer’s installation “The Fulcrum of Prescience” feels like a cartoon riff on Matta Clarke’s building cut outs from the 1970s. Painted sculpture canvasses of birds, dogs and ocean waves bob mechanically in rhythm from room to room or floor to floor.

Though the pieces on view are varied, and too many to list here, the combined affect is somewhere between a raucous celebration and premeditated nostalgia. It is certainly a breath of fresh air to see public art programming executed with such imagination.

For more great local coverage of the exhibition check out the Seattle Times and The Stranger.

 

 

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