It’s up — and it’s running.
Since the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art (BIMA) opened its doors in June, more than 10,800 people have visited it — an average of about 150 per day.
The museum’s attractions are obvious. It’s free. It offers a vivid, eclectic sampling of the visual arts in Puget Sound. And it’s within walking distance from the Winslow ferry, making it an easy destination for locals and tourists to reach from Seattle.
Three noteworthy exhibits are on display through late September.
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“Selections from the Permanent Collection” will be of interest to anyone trying to gauge the museum’s emerging character. The show is highly varied and follows no particular school or fashion. Abstract work, figurative work, experimental sorties in unusual media, exquisite craft … they’re all here.
Among the big names is painter Roger Shimomura, represented by two choice items: “American Alien #2,” an acrylic-on-canvas of a small, wary Japanese-American boy behind internment-camp barbed wire, and “Night Watch #4,” a voyeuristic look at apartment-building activities. The matching of a cartoon-derived style with sobering or provocative subject matter works particularly well here.
The most poignant piece may be Christopher Martin Hoff’s oil-on-linen, “Breezeway,” an unfinished painting of an unfinished building. Hoff died at 36 last year, and this piece — which doesn’t appear unfinished in the least — is a potent reminder of what a talent the local art scene lost.
Sculptors Philip McCracken and Phillip Levine enjoy pride of place. McCracken’s small, subtle wood carving, “Owl,” barely incises the creature’s features into the grain of the wood, while his multimedia “Silver Bow” is paradoxically both primal and sleek in its design.
Levine’s “An Imagined Past” — a female figure in bronze with her arms half-stretched out toward the viewer in surprise or even alarm — exudes an unsettling mystery. Other sculptures include appealing abstract works by Jan Hoy and Gerard Tsutakawa.
A few works fall into unidentifiable categories. Karen Hackenberg’s use of matchsticks and tiny plastic figures in “Nest” and “American Pie” creates surreal worlds with a folk-art touch. Cameron Ann Mason’s two unusual pieces are, technically, textile works. But they take the form of a torquing sculpture (“Parchment”) and a bas-relief “painting” (“Heartwood”).
Handsome or fanciful woodworking craft is mixed in with the fine art: Frank Renlie’s “Cat Table,” in which a feline painted on pine wood follows the contours of the furniture, is a special treat.
Upstairs is a different sort of Puget Sound survey, “First Light.” Curated by BIMA’s executive curator-director Greg Robinson and half a dozen local artists and collectors, it’s an eye-grabbing assortment of work in every possible media. Some big local names are here: Patti Warashina, Marita Dingus, Fay Jones, Leo Kenney and Mary Randlett, among them.
But there are out-of-left-field surprises too. One of them: Michael Paul Miller’s oil-on-canvas, “The Promise,” which bristles with psychological tension. In its foreground a bare-chested boy stands, looking emotionally cratered, while behind him a semitransparent man (his father?) almost blends into a mountain landscape singed here and there by flames. You can’t help wondering what the story is behind it.
BIMA will be hosting solo shows as well, including two artists from the permanent collection: landscape painter Gayle Bard (fall 2013) and ceramic sculptor Jenny Andersen (spring 2014).
On display now: “Barbara Helen Berger: Vision Revealed,” a survey of the Bainbridge children’s book author’s career that isn’t limited to her book illustrations but includes some surreal acrylics on canvas from the late 1970s. “Enigma,” with its anonymous hands trying to find their way out from behind a heavily brocaded golden stage curtain, is particularly eerie.
All three exhibits need better introductory panels to the works on display. Individual pieces are under-labeled too. Chris Jordan’s photograph “Oil Barrels,” for instance, is a digital composite of the 28,000 barrels of oil the U.S. consumes every two minutes. But you’d never know that from the label.
The museum itself is a gem — pleasant in ambience, thoughtful in layout. Best of all, its agenda is simplicity itself: Robinson and his collaborators merely want to highlight all the excellent work being done in our region. Not everything will be to every taste. But there’s bound to be something that delights, surprises or perturbs you.
Michael Upchurch: email@example.com