Bumbershoot Visual Arts: The Triumph of Crowd-Sourcing

The lines aren't long at the Seattle Center Pavilion--in fact, there aren't any lines at all--to see the festival's visual-arts offerings. After two days, what's working and what isn't? Simply wandering around and looking at wall-mounted art doesn't really fit the mood at Bumbershoot (especially on gloriously sunny weekend, when you want to be outside). Just as children demand face paint and adults feel hungry for waffles at noon during the festival, Bumbergoers want to be a part of the art, to interact with it. It's like dancing barefoot on the lawn to some Afro-Creole band you've never heard of: The moment of discovery should also be an invitation to lay on hands. This isn't SAM or the Frye, and the most successful artworks allow such haptic involvement. When I previewed Bumber by Numbers before the festival began (pictured), I wasn't sure how visitors would respond. Two days later, it's a very different picture...


Presented proscenium-style, the blank white canvas of Manet's 1862 The Picnic (Le Déjeuner sur l'Herbe, if you prefer) is presented by local artist Ryan Feddersen as a number-coded, participatory work where you (or your kids) can take a crayon and add the appropriate hue, almost like a jigsaw puzzle. From the image above, you'll see the project has been a huge success. Even if no children and few parents remember the Craft Master paint-by-numbers kits of the '50s, everyone loves to color with crayons.

Though this is the quote-unquote amateurish centerpiece to the exhibit (which also includes work by locals including Troy Gua, Jim Woodring, Charles Krafft, an a dozen others), it outshines everything on the periphery, whose LED-eyed kittens and Emmett Kelly clowns are simply too close to kitsch to be distinguished from kitsch. (Curators Marlow Harris and JoDavid have more such work on view at Cafe Racer in the U District, called the Official Bad Art Museum of Art.)

Sure, talented locals have been let loose on discredited schematics from the past, but where's the fun in that? It's a bit too conceptual, too meta for a popular weekend festival. Theory and good/bad critical distinctions are best left for later in the fall, when we're all trapped inside by rain and gloom. For Bumbershoot 2012, Fedderson's idea should be expanded elsewhere on the Seattle Center grounds, on bigger walls, on the pavement, on the lawns.

People want to be allowed to participate, as in the crank-powered wheeze machine/pipe organ PAS (Potentially Annoying Sound), created by Chris McMullen and Steve Withycombe, located just south of McCaw Hall on a little patch of lawn. It may not sound good or familiar or tonal, but you get to co-create the sound.

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