3 Seattle-area Art Exhibits You Must Check Out Now, From Must-See to Weird and Wonderful


In sight

Welcome to On View, a feature exploring current visual arts offerings in our region.

There is nothing like seeing art in the flesh. It can awaken the senses, nourish the mind, and heal the soul. And with more people vaccinated, it’s a wonderful time to go see the art in person. Here are some exhibitions worth visiting, chosen because they contain great art, yes, but also because they remind us of how brick and mortar art spaces can play a role in sustaining communities, reflecting identities and expanding our understanding of history.

“Dark Refractions: Highlights from the Studio Museum in Harlem”

“Black Refractions” at the Frye Art Museum in Seattle is the must-see show right now. Not only does it bring together prominent works of art from very big names (Faith Ringgold, Mickalene Thomas, Kehinde Wiley and many more), it tells important stories. Over 100 works by nearly 80 artists – all selected from the collection of the Studio Museum in Harlem – tell us about art history, black history, and how a museum can help create a community.

You can just switch between jobs, marveling at the variety of media and messages. There are abstract paintings from the 1960s / 70s by key artists such as Norman Lewis and Alma Thomas; 80s / 90s concept photography by Lorna Simpson and Carrie Mae Weems; and more recent work in a wide range of media, including a large neon lighted sign by acclaimed artist Glenn Ligon.

You can also consider the nuanced curatorial groupings of works that reveal themes and stories, including the history of the Studio Museum itself, which was founded in 1968 by a diverse group of artists and activists who recognized the need to support artists of African descent. From the start, the museum offered a revolutionary artist-in-residence program, offering a workspace (hence the “Studio” in the name of the museum) for artists including sculptor Chakaia Booker; multimedia concept artist David Hammons; esteemed painters Jordan Casteel and Kerry James Marshall; and the always intriguing Wangechi Mutu, who works in painting, sculpture, film and performance.

The place and time of the museum’s founding was very significant: Harlem has a long history in black culture and 1968 was fraught with political and social trauma and activism, including the assassination of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr and the rise of the Black Power and Black Arts movements.

Several of the works in the current exhibition can be instantly contextualized to the founding era. The title of Barkley L. Hendricks’ iconic painting, “Lawdy Mama,” along with the subject’s halo of natural hair, proclaims its origins as a 1969 expression of black pride and identity. Fast forward to 2014 portraits of Titus Kaphar made of oil paint, gold leaf and tar: urgent calls for fairness and representation continue.

The Studio Museum, according to its mission statement, “advocates for black artists and diverse audiences and serves as a home for common causes, healing and celebration.” With the museum temporarily closed as its new building is constructed, these selections from its stellar permanent collection have hit the road, as a traveling showcase of its cause.

Until August 15; Frye Museum of Art, 704 Terry Ave., Seattle; 11 am-5pm Wednesday to Sunday; Free and timed entry ticket required; 206-622-9250, frymuseum.org

“Strange imagination”

On a smaller scale, some of the same questions of identity, healing, and social criticism can be seen in the “Queer Imagination” exhibit at the Jacob Lawrence Gallery at the University of Washington. But maybe saying “on a smaller scale” isn’t quite right. While this intimate group exhibition of lightly installed works occupies only three rooms, it draws on speculative fiction, critical theory, and a wide range of media to explore vast possibilities for self-realization and community building. It is a strange and wonderful sight.

Curator Brittney Frantece, who received the 2021 Gallery Curatorial Fellowship for BIPOC Graduate Students, has collected literary and visual works from herself and four other UW artists and scholars: The Writer Rasheena Fountain, poet Nanya Jhingran, photographer Berette S Macaulay and illustrator and painter Meshell Sturgis. An intricate tabletop installation from Portland-based set designer August Oaks is also included. About the group, Frantece writes: “We are working to build a world that can only be accessed through ecstatic means of imagining other existences. “

Indeed, the whole experience of traveling through the exhibition is exploratory and revealing. You travel from a crisp white gallery with fragmented works to a “portal” gallery with deep blue walls and beautiful drawings and photographs lit by luminous globes. Words about bodies and identities and new experiences fill the space. In the background, there is no more sound. Music draws you into a comfortable and stimulating space where a turntable plays catchy and moving tunes. Books and essays by Ralph Ellison, Octavia Butler and others are scattered across a table, ready to be contemplated. The entire exhibition invites you to take a break, reflect and explore.

Until July 8; Jacob Lawrence Gallery, University of Washington, Art Building, room 132; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday to Friday, 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday; Free and timed entry ticket required; art.washington.edu/jacob-lawrence-gallery

“Visions of a Makah”

The one-piece exhibit at the Sacred Circle Gallery within the Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center in Seattle’s Discovery Park is also related to self-expression and community ties, but as a small solo exhibit it is a precise example of how an artist mixes contemporary art with custom and heritage. “Visions of a Makah” are the visions of Frank Peterson – vivid paintings and sculpted masks that combine abstraction and figuration in surreal depictions of Indigenous figures, symbols and legends of the Northwest Coast.

Peterson, who lives in Seattle and is a registered member of the Makah Tribe, has painted since the 1970s. In his painterly hands, the traditional style of the form line with its flat ovoids and split U shapes is further stylized, layered or interspersed with naturalistic renderings of faces and scenes. It’s as if the boldly iconic Northwest style has absorbed Marc Chagall’s modern daydreaming through Peterson’s personal and cultural kaleidoscope.

Radical recomposition and adaptation are indeed part of Aboriginal history. Next to the Sacred Circle Gallery is a gift shop where a wall of archival photographs reminds us of the story of Daybreak Star, which grew out of the enduring activism of Indigenous communities. The peaceful occupation – organized by Bernie Whitebear (Colville) and others – of the disused Fort Lawton military base resulted in the reclamation of 20 acres of land to Indigenous peoples and the opening of Daybreak Star in 1977.

Be sure to stroll through Daybreak Star to admire its permanent collection of Indigenous art, which includes fantastic wall panels, masks, and baskets.

It should also be noted that Sacred Circle recently opened a new gallery and gift shop in Ballard, the goal of which, in addition to increasing revenue, is to raise awareness of Sacred Circle, Daybreak Star and their parent organization: the United Indians of All Foundation of the tribes. This growing network of activities demonstrates once again the vitality and importance of cultural spaces.

Until June 30; Sacred Circle Gallery, Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center, 5011 Bernie Whitebear Way, Discovery Park; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday to Sunday; free; unitedindians.org/arts-culture/sacred-circle-gallery


William E. Bennett