HIGH ART: Show fuses Northwest contemporary scene

By on March 26, 2013

What is contemporary art? More specifically, what does contemporary art in the Northwest look like? This week, The Art Association addresses these questions in its Northwest Contemporary exhibition on display through April 21.

In their book, “Contemporary Art: 1989 to the Present,” authors Alexander Dumbadze and Suzanne Hudson write: “The contemporary art world has expanded – in size and complexity – over the last two decades, precipitating a general uncertainty as to what matters and why, much less how we should look at, write about and historicize these recent practices. … No matter the importance of such cities as New York, Berlin or Beijing, the contemporary art world has experienced not just a multiplication of centers, but a deep constitutional adjustment regarding the nature of borders, travel and global economy.”

Many important questions come to mind regarding this statement. How is Wyoming, and more broadly, the Northwest, transgressing borders of isolation to participate in a contemporary art dialogue? Given that contemporary art is burgeoning and often on the edge of undefined or new practices, how do we as an audience gain insight into these new ideas and forms?

The main point I’d like to make is that when viewing contemporary art (and I may argue all works of art), start with questions about material, form and process. How do these elements synthesize to create meaning? Eschew any urges you may have to like or dislike the art on an intuitive, visceral level. It only takes one round through SOHO to know that appreciating contemporary art is not about “liking” it.

Rather the challenge (and most contemporary art is challenging) is to reside in that vague territory of the unknown. This idea was embodied wonderfully in The “Uncertainty of Objects and Ideas: Recent Sculpture,” a 2006 exhibition at the Hirshorn Museum in Washington, D.C. The exhibition title exemplifies not only the complex abstract nature of the objects, but also the willingness of the artists to create using intuition, questions and allowing themselves to reside in a place of uncertainty.

Photo cutline: Northwest Contemporary’ showcases artwork from the region. Photo credit: Courtesy

Photo cutline: Northwest Contemporary’ showcases artwork from the region.
Photo by Thomas Macker, art by Jeanne Loitta and Alison Reintjes

What I find exciting about “Northwest Contemporary” is that it geographically gathers contemporary art in the same way the Hirshorn gathered objects of uncertainty. Exhibition coordinator Thomas Macker asked four museum curators from Utah, Montana, Wyoming and Idaho to choose two artists whom they felt were at the forefront of contemporary art in their respective states. This displacement of opinion and nomination creates for a broad sense of subjectivity. While I wish Macker had a bigger space to work with (secretly I am dying for a contemporary Northwest expo) this show has both variance and continuity.

Macker has assembled informative writing from the curators that can be read on both the website and in packets at the show that aptly describes their selections. While you may be taken aback by the lack of signage and artist information on the gallery walls, relax. Get comfortable not knowing right away and assume the position of sleuth. Perhaps the most interesting relationships you can try to make are how and why are these forms coming out of our Northwest region.

About Abbie Miller

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