"Couplings," a juried exhibition at Gallery 110 in Seattle, is not just for lovers. The artwork selected also depicts the joy of familial love and the pain of separation.
In anticipation of Valentine’s Day, Gallery 110 is showing art about two becoming one. “Couplings,” the title of the show, suggests romance, hooking up and forming unions. And indeed the show is full of photographs, paintings, prints, and sculptures of couples who seem to be romantically involved. But Rock Hushka, curator of contemporary and Northwest art at the Tacoma Art Museum, who was invited by the gallery to select the art for this show, has done something clever here.
He has fully acknowledged the amorous potential of the concept, which is supported by the small or medium size of most of the works; they draw you in and create intimate looking experiences. But he has also allowed other kinds of couples to seep in around the edges; here and there we’ll see a mother and son, a pair of professional figure skaters, or a grandson and grandmother with look-alike eyeglasses and smiles.
Among the hundreds of submissions to this open-call juried exhibition (a successful and unusual departure for the cooperative gallery which generally shows art by its members), Hushka says there were plenty of images of sexual and romantic coupling, but also many works that were about “familial or collegial coupling or works that opened up ideas of loss and separation.”
While most of the works are representational, even hyper-realistic, images of people, there also some abstract, sculptural works that suggest physical or emotional bonds through subtle plays of form and material.
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Sun Kyoung Kim’s “Between Two” is a small silver sculpture that fuses two tubular forms. It’s a playful and graceful bit of abstraction that takes on further meanings of bonding, and bondage, when you realize the forms can be worn like rings, perfectly composed to connect the fingers of two people together.
Ultimately, the works that drew Hushka’s attention conveyed “a kind of clarity and a distillation of different themes of intimacy.” This clarity comes through in the many representational, figurative works — the show is heavily laced with photographs that offer frank, lucid views of different pairs. One of the most striking and touching images shows a young couple. He is in a Coast Guard uniform; she wears heavy eyeliner and a lip ring. They stand close together, looking confident and unified, but they look oh-so-young and vulnerable against the misty Oregon backdrop.
Documentary-art photography that offers almost heartbreaking insight into the lives of its subjects has been around for decades; the works on view here show that this tradition is still going strong and is beautifully suited to this subject matter. According to Hushka, this work is so engaging because it draws on our “need to connect to other people’s stories, for validation of our own lives and experiences.
“To remind us that we’re not alone out there.”