Watching the Walls

Imaginary maps, ephemeral portraits, and a zoomorphic trailer.

Francesca Berrini: The Artful Cartographer

Viveza, 2604 Western Ave., 206-956-3584, www.viveza.com. Noon–5 p.m. Wed.–Sun. (Reception: 6–10 p.m. Fri., Nov. 10.) Through Dec. 24.

Americans are notoriously geographically challenged. As if to take advantage of this ignorance, local artist Francesca Berrini creates maps that will only reinforce viewers' misplaced concepts or else orient them to the vivid terrain of Berrini's own imagination, fantastic places that exist only figuratively or not at all. (Or maybe are yet to be discovered.) In "Terraform: Traversing the Imaginary Landscape," Berrini adeptly tears vintage maps into tiny pieces and rearranges them according to a playful logic. Finely and colorfully wrought, these paper and resin collages look almost genuine, until you study them up close—then Berrini's keen sense of irony pops out. Some of her maps are wonderfully imprecise, like Swampy Regions; others are entirely made up, like the (Greek? Siberian?) region of Illupi. Still others slyly comment more on mind-sets than on geopolitical boundaries; in Us vs. Them or Good & Evil, the continents are marked declaratively thus, as if these titles somehow represent a geographic truth. Berrini has coyly explained her work as "a pointless precision beautifully mirroring nothing"; in fact she cleverly illustrates the reductive simplicity of politically blinkered notions and their potentially charming idiocy. SUE PETERS

Vik Muniz: Portraits in Peanut Butter & Caviar

Seattle Asian Art Museum, Volunteer Park, 1400 E. Prospect St., 206-654-3100, www.seattleart museum.org. Opens Thurs., Nov. 9. 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Tues.–Sun., 10 a.m.–9 p.m. Thurs. $5. Through Jan. 15, 2007.

The Mona Lisa finger-painted in peanut butter and jelly. Dracula depicted in caviar. Marlene Dietrich laid out in diamonds. Portraits of kids made of sugar. When you realize these are the children of Caribbean sugar-cane workers, you see that these images by Brazilian-born photographer Vik Muniz are not simply more Serrano-style Piss Christ–like provocations but astute plays on perspective and expectation. In "Reflex," a 20-year survey of Muniz's work, SAM presents 100 photos by the 45-year-old artist, who uses an inspired array of materials in his wry, fastidiously rendered tableaux: dirt, jewels, cigarette butts, hole-punch holes.

Muniz makes the medium challenge the subject for control of the message. In his junk-art series, he fills a room with detritus and then clears out space in the shape of forms from Goya and Caravaggio. He replicates the work of old masters in colored thread or paint chips. By messing with masters, Muniz effectively forces viewers to redefine their understanding of the work, tweaking their expectations. A bit punk in spirit, his talent is wide ranging and insightful, demonstrating that it doesn't take much to turn a dusty icon into something unintended and new. A sticky Mona Lisa is rather silly and very accessible, while the sugary faces of underpaid field laborers' children are not in fact the stuff of fairy tales. As an added twist, Muniz's works exist solely in memory, preserved in photographs alone—perhaps a further comment about the often futile quest to hold on to ephemeral glimpses and moments. SUE PETERS

Whiting Tennis: The Mild, Mild West

Greg Kucera, 212 Third Ave. S., 206-624-0770, www.gregkucera.com. 10:30 a.m.–5:30 p.m. Tues.–Sat. Through Nov. 11.

Westward expansion conjures up dynamic images of whizzing arrows, wild horses, and freely roaming herds of buffalo. With "Bovine: The Oregon Trail Reversed," closing this weekend at Greg Kucera Gallery, Whiting Tennis uses modes of transport and architectural form to hint at past and present American ideologies. Collages, drawings, and found-object sculptures that seem to reference the dwellings and lifestyles of man and beast orbit around Tennis' supersized trailer Bovine, in sorry need of a hitch. The dilapidated weathered-wood structure appears to have traveled a long and winding road—a former bucking bronco now ready for the glue factory. Tennis contrasts dynamic early American expansionism with contemporary couch potato syndrome: Herds that we once moved have morphed into trailers that now move us. The exhibit offers a fascinating traipse through what pioneer forefathers once deemed greener pastures. SUZANNE BEAL

 
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