From Tacoma News Tribune. Dec 9:
Tacoma’s vacant spaces are full of storefront art surprises
This time of year, Tacoma needs all the brightness it can get. Nights are long, days are dark, the recession isn’t over, and increasing numbers of businesses are closing shop. But at least we have public art – while it’s still part of Tacoma’s budget, at any rate.
A great example of why public art dollars are well spent is visible right now in vacant storefronts along Broadway and down South 11th Street in downtown Tacoma, where the latest Artscapes installations offer intricate new worlds and sculptures of light to brighten our winter darkness.
Part of the Spaceworks program to fill empty commercial spaces with art, the three-block stretch of Artscapes installations makes an easy walk. Beginning on Broadway just south of Ninth Street, opposite the Pantages, are two tiny worlds as intricate as they are different. In one window is Kelly June Mitchell’s forest: paper scrolls screenprinted with trees, a scattering of leaves and twigs, a gorgeous fall leaf rosette hanging like a dark sun and a little shrine of concrete Buddha, deer and rabbits. The forest occupies its urban space with a Zen calm, inviting contemplation; it is empty yet satisfying.
Next door is a completely different world, this one made of the scraps of everyday life, both literally and figuratively. In “An Atlas of Here and There,” Laura McCleary and Mary Rothlisberger have made a three-dimensional landscape out of two-dimensional layers. You’ll pass by painted mountains, forests of cardboard leaves, waterfalls of map pages, waves of blue and green yarn, red flowers of yarn pompoms, flying paper boats and horses, and cardboard cities. Like a Maurice Sendak illustration made real, the installation chronicles the journey of a childlike imagination; it speaks eloquently of how the little things in life make up our personal world.
Stretching 35 feet through the next few windows is a dragon made of fabric and cardboard by more than 100 Eastside kids through Metro Parks. The beast is made to be worn and covered in “scales” of fabric painted with glitter glue designs. It will be featured at New Year’s Eve First Night celebrations to honor the new Asian Year of the Dragon.
Down by South Ninth Street, the Woolworth Windows are filled with three very differently scaled views of the real world. In the first, Diane Hansen – best known as the co-creator of the exquisite hand-blown glass Bella Balls – sculpts two enormous replicas of Ethiopian necklaces. The first is a 2-foot-by-2-foot Coptic cross, stately and superbly molded in metal; the other is an amulet about 3 feet wide that’s strung with huge coils and bells and floating from a 9-foot chain below a painting of black-haired, bemused-looking cherubs. Like Roman statues in Africa with only a giant toe or hand remaining, these necklaces speak powerfully of the ancient civilization behind them.
Next up is Janette Ryan’s long-exposed black-and-white photographs of Puget Sound: painterly in their misty, emotional clouds, turning water to a smooth desert-like surface in an interesting reversal. On the corner is a fun mustache gallery by Brian Hutcheson: Inspired by a Christmas stocking gag, he’s stuck black-painted tape cut-outs of various mustache shapes at different heights on the window. Find the one you like and admire your new look in the array of Victorian mirrors behind. (My favorite: the Hitler caterpillar, viewable in a vintage child’s mirror of cartoon cats). Something strewn on the window’s floor would have added to the atmosphere and whimsy.
At 11th and Commerce streets is one of those installations that deserves permanent residence in a downtown window. The RSVR research team has installed thousands of custom-dyed cords in two sweeping curves – one rose-pink, one lime – that fill the space perfectly. Up close, the cords look like yarn; from a distance, they become an ethereal sculpture. In the dark, they shine like an unearthly, purple-and-green alien. Made to absorb the emanate UV light, it fills the dingy street corner with a haunting presence.
Finally, on Pacific Avenue in the Chamber of Commerce building is an exhibit of Greater Tacoma Community Foundation art award winners and nominees. It’s far from an ideal space to see this mostly small, two-dimensional work, but it’s a fun “who’s who” of Tacoma art. There’s Lynn DiNino with her comically rotund papier-mché Americans, corn-fed on too many Doritos with rather surprised expressions (“How did I get this fat?”); Elise Richman’s thickly bubbled paint landscapes, such as Neptune and Uranus, and a rather uninspiring pencil-and-ink tribute to Paul Newman by Ellen Ito; Oliver Doriss embeds a delicately chunky glass vessel with gold fern and leaf; Nicholas Nyland splatters primary paint over a sci-fi sheet metal object; and Kristin Giordano explores the bizarreness of the Middle East – this time a scattering of rolled up Turkish carpets lying in the dust in front of some Space Age architecture made surreal by the burning white light.
Peter Serko prints a photograph on aluminum and ends up with an astonishingly paint-like landscape, sky blurring into water in a greeny-yellow haze, with shadows of buildings and dock pilings. Jessica Spring – this year’s winner – creates a beautiful wood-bound book with its letterpress pages hanging like windows.
Among the small works buried beneath the rising grade of the sidewalk are two disturbing paintings. Nick Butler, whose African retellings of Greek myths usually are not particularly emotive, fills a huge canvas with a sea of naked bodies. Rising amid them is a clothed man passionately kissing one of the nudes. With the blue-and-ochre shadows and Butler’s Ernst-like expressionism, it comes across as a room full of corpses, including the one being kissed.
Next to it, not nearly so well-painted, is Rick Lawson’s “It Does Happen,” of what looks like a gang rape: three dark-skinned, robot-faced men grinning down at a lifeless white figure. Unlike the Butler, it’s not big enough to catch your eye. However, one reader called The News Tribune to point out how disturbing art like this is to rape victims like herself and her daughter, who walk past them every day to catch the bus. While you could argue art is valuable because it dares to remind us of controversial issues, you also could argue art in public places is hard to avoid, so the artist should think carefully about how he or she frames subjects.
City funding for Artscapes does more than just make the street look prettier. It offers a vision for Tacoma that’s otherwise hard to come by in the darkness of a winter recession, and I hope that funding continues.
The article above is a perfect example of art and gentrification going hand-in-hand. Don’t get it twisted.
Tacoma is a gentrification playground. The state is interested in art only so far as it is used to further economic interests. If there’s a bunch of vacant lots, and artists want free canvas, sure, they’ll “lease” them to the artists. Art creates a nexus of young people, ideas, and art (oh my), and to city managers this is the intellectual capital they need to exploit it all over again, and package it up for resell. When investors want these sub-prime locations back again, they’ll take it back from the artists. The corporate media all along just pimps out the vacant lots. Watch Tacoma – they think they got it all figured out from watching Detroit. So watch Detroit – they think they got it all figured out from watching New York City. Watch New York City – they got it all figured out from watching themselves.
Who should we watch? Berlin, Amsterdam, or Copenhagen most likely. Anarchists and artists have kept squats and liberated spaces all over Berlin since The Wall fell, and before most people had pinpointed or identified gentrification, in Berlin they were slowing down the gentrification from creeping further east since the early 1990s.