Grand Openings

A mystery installation, SAM's new acquisitions, and a controversial Maya Lin retrospective.

Clusters of white orchids, candlelit ice sculptures, tasty food, and an open bar, all in the lovely art moderne building, made the Seattle Asian Art Museum’s January reopening gala quite the affair. Evening highlights included Tooba, Iranian artist Shirin Neshat‘s haunting film about a woman who merges with a tree; discussing public art with newlyweds City Council member Nick Licata and Andrea Okomski; and watching the large ice sculpture of Buddha at the entrance serenely melt.

For the avant-scenesters, the event of the year was the June grand opening of Scott Lawrimore‘s space on the industrial edge of town. Artfully designed by accolade-gathering team Lead Pencil Studio (Annie Han and Daniel Mihalyo), Lawrimore Project was the scene of the latest shenanigans of performance art trio SuttonBeresCuller, who built a mysterious installation in a giant box, unveiled three weeks later as a Chinese restaurant. Lawrimore’s willingness to champion challenging artists like SBC, Susie Lee, Tivon Rice, and Sami Ben Larbi makes his space the place to go for bold expressions, and expands the perimeter of the city’s artscape both geographically and psychologically.

Another promising new art space is Charlie and Amanda Kitchings’ OKOK Gallery in old Ballard, a classic brick and garage-door building updated by Zac Culler (of SuttonBeresCuller), with a boutique of odd toys in the front and big walls in the back for interesting, atypical artwork.

While SAM‘s most recent acquisition is American painter John Singleton Copley‘s rare Sylvester Gardiner (1708–1786) portrait, more exciting is its acquisition of explosive Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang‘s Inopportune: Stage One (pictured)—nine somersaulting Ford Tauruses suspended from the ceiling shooting colored laser beams. With this engineering feat, SAM plans to in-augurate the entrance to its new museum next spring, hopefully an indication of more adventurous things to come from this sometimes timid institution.

The big show at the Henry this year was ostensibly “Systematic Landscapes,” Maya Lin‘s array of wire, wood, and shadow sculptures. Though it was a thrill to see the vast galleries full of Lin’s work, and hear her describe the thought behind it, I agree with fellow artphile Jim Demetre that Lin’s work is better suited to the wild and nuanced outdoors (though not with his claim that it was the “worst show ever”!). But you’ve got to respect this visionary woman who designed one of the country’s most significant memorials, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in D.C., as a student of 21. The Henry’s chockablock schedule offered more engaging shows, like Byron Kim‘s poignant abstract paintings exploring race and memory, Lichtenstein‘s splashy prints, inspired work by MFA students, and collaborative new video and sculptural pieces by Robert Campbell and Yuki Nakamura.

Meanwhile, the Frye’s “Swallow Harder” sampler from Ben and Aileen Krohn‘s private collection, though intentionally provocative, had a serious ick factor to it. Jason Salavon‘s blurry composite photo, 76 Blowjobs, for example, would be more effective if you weren’t immediately told what you were looking at. Work like Scott Fife‘s fabulous cardboard head of Mies Van der Rohe redeemed the show a little. And the Frye’s current Erwin Wurm show is a wryly intelligent counterpoint.

Over at Western Bridge, Bill and Ruth True offered quieter shows from their private collection this year. “Boys and Flowers” didn’t live up to its insinuating gender-twisting title, while the quiet “Into Black” at least featured the clever Um . . . —a film projected through a lightbulb—by another local team to watch, Hadley + Maxwell.

As the year closes, I have to admit I’m a little Chihuly-ed out and have a touch of Trimpin fatigue. Though the inventive sound sculptor may have deserved his yearlong retrospective, I’m not so sure the glass whiz and his lawsuit woes merited a mega–multipart article in a local daily. The real action artwise this year was in UW‘s galleries, the far reaches of Ballard, the Kirkland Arts Center, Gallery4Culture, unexpected places like Capitol Hill’s Joe Bar, and the buzzing hive of the Tashiro Kaplan Building. It was in the work by people like Dawn Cerny, Bootsy Holler, Tra Selhtrow, Etsuko Ichikawa, Chris Crites, Keith Tilford, Chris Jordan, and way too many more talented local artists to fit here.