Sense of Place, Scott Fife

Once again, I've been to Tacoma Art Museum to see one show only to be seduced by another. The touring exhibit "Hudson River School" now on display is an OK collection of landscapes from 19th-century American artists including Albert Bierstadt, Thomas Cole, and Frederic Church: heaps of pretty sunsets, waterfalls and over-the-top sublimity for all you nature lovers out there. But you should really go for two other shows: "Sense of Place" and a retrospective from Seattle sculptor Scott Fife. "Place" is really all over the place but filled with rewards: a collage of memory by Randy Hayes, a lovely little Edward Hopper watercolor, and Merrill Wagner's magnificent Rustoleum-on-steel abstraction, Estuary, among others. You also shouldn't miss the one painting by Victoria Adams, whose fake landscapes owe much to the Hudson River School and make it clear that these Arcadias are imagined, unreal places. Then wander over to Scott Fife's show for something totally different. Working almost exclusively in cardboard, Fife's early pieces are moderately interesting surreal assemblages. But it's his recent monumental heads and figures that really astonish. Leroy the Big Pup is an uncanny, monstrous dog that manages to look simultaneously goofy and sphinx-like. Fife's "The Idaho Project" is a superb assortment of a dozen large, realist heads tossed about like a passel of neglected Roman busts. Fife's subject is the infamous 1905 Boise trial of labor leaders for the assassination of union- busting governor Frank Steunenberg. The trial was an early media circus, and the rough-hewn gray visages of those involved, including Clarence Darrow, Theodore Roosevelt (pictured above) and Ethel Barrymore, offer a complex intersection of history, celebrity, and organized labor. Tacoma Art Museum, 1701 Pacific Ave., Tacoma, 253-272-4258. Every third Thursday free. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tues.-Sat.; 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Thurs.; noon-5 p.m. Sun. "Sense of Place" through Jan. 16; "Scott

Fife" through Jan. 2.

 
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