Modern Amazons, the Simpsons Test, and Lost & Found at Savage Gallery, 416 NW 10th
First Wednesday is always my favorite day of the month--ripe with artistic possibility and potential. Like a recurring Christmas Eve, I lie awake, wondering what goodies will be waiting for me the next day at art galleries across the city. In preparation, this past First Wednesday, I spent almost an hour looking at a new picture book called Modern Amazons, with a visiting artist friend from California and my wife. Truly the most fascinating book I have seen in ages, we sat wide-eyed around each image of glistening, swollen, and stretched (and in some areas, shrunken) female bodies that pushed the limits of what any of us thought our bodies were about. Engrossed, we talked about gender, eroticism, body politics, cultural display, and how these were the strangest and most beautiful images we had witnessed in some time. Later that day, the library sent over a box set of recordings from the National Lampoon Radio Hour. As we drank in the early work of Bill Murray and Christopher Guest, we discussed the role of youth in upsetting previous generation's social standards, and the capsular strategies of subversive humor.
In short, we were preparing to talk about art. At its best, art encapsulates all of these possibilities and discursive routes we sought out in these not-officially-art vehicles. The three of us were jacked to see some art and wasn't nothing going to stop us. Well, I never miss WWF Smackdown on Thursdays, but after that... wasn't nothing going to stop us. We pounded the pavement all of First Friday, and I can't lie and say that we saw everything, but we saw a lot of brand new shows. Yards and yards of art. And by lunch, I was wishing we shelled out the fifty bucks for Modern Amazons.
Does anybody remember the toothpaste commercial where the guy is ashamed of his tobacco-brown teeth in an art gallery? And it looks like the same art gallery in that Starburst commercial? There's a white, twisty metal-disc sculpture in the middle of the floor, and a black-and-purple paisley painting in the background, and you think, "Oh my God, do people think that's what art is?" I felt like we stepped into that commercial on First Friday. Ceramic plates with giraffes on them, over-wrought black-and-white photos with hand-scribbled diary entries scrawled across the surfaces, "emotive" ab-ex paintings where it looks like the artist just used the color straight out the tube. We also checked out some DI(nk)Y shows and decided they needed professional help. One critic I know uses a Simpsons test on the artwork he views: does the work that he saw stand up to one episode of The Simpsons? I was trying to compare these hamburger paintings to an episode of Girlfriends, and I'll just say that one of those doesn't require money for the parking meter. It didn't help matters that PICA was closed for the Luca Buvoli installation and that Elizabeth Leach is hanging on to that group show until December.
Mercifully, a truly bright spot appeared on the gallery radar Saturday: Lost and Found at Savage Gallery. Savage is a beautiful space, and everybody fawns over the owner, but this is the first show I've seen there that I have really enjoyed. It's a something-for-everyone show, with a cute, gimmicky twist. The artists of Savage Gallery were asked to pick one piece of art by any other artist, and these "finds" made up the exhibit. That was a risky and gracious gesture by Tracy Savage that paid off in spades. "Her" artists chose some excellent pieces, with tendencies toward geometric splotches of color and a trickled-down influence of Richard Tuttle, but the show was too enjoyable to generalize so broadly. Hiraki Sawa contributed a digital video, "Dwelling," which featured small airplanes lifting off, circling, and landing in a small apartment, alluding to the airspace in our closets, passengers in our beds, and the traffic control of domestic life. Rebecca Smith's "Pendulums 4, 5, & 6" were poignant abstractions made of rag paper and colored masking tape. The inverted rainbow shapes were both sad and beautiful, as was Sharon Harper's sublime (I don't use that word often) photograph of a cloud that looked more like a graphite rubbing than anything. The subtlety and grace of her print reminded me of Roni Horn's strongest work. Lost & Found saved the First Weekend for me; it's an adventurous group show in a professional setting. And if you're looking for a perfect follow-up to Lost & Found, but are too broke to see the PaineWebber show at PAM, stroll over to Powell's to check out Modern Amazons and shake things up in your head a bit. CHAS BOWIE