The show at the Museum of Northwest Art features works by 28 artist couples, including Jacob Lawrence and Gwendolyn Knight, Sheila Klein and Ries Niemi, and Michael Bray and Anya Kivarkis.
Cops who marry cops, like cinema stars who couple with other stars, often make the case that only another member of their profession can fully understand and sympathize with the peculiarities of their job. A similar sentiment is expressed by artist Michael Bray, who says his conceptual jeweler partner Anya Kivarkis “understands the risks and lack of rewards for the risks” in what he does.
Bray and Kivarkis, as it happens, are part of an exhibit of artist couples titled “Matched Makers,” a group show organized by curator Vicki Halper, and currently on view at the Museum of Northwest Art, which includes 28 such pairs, with extensive gallery texts explaining each pair’s particular version of living and working. There are artists who have spent their entire careers as collaborators, their individual identities submerged in a joint enterprise (Lead Pencil Studios), while other couples do work that seems the polar opposite of their partner (Sherry Markovitz and Peter Millet).
Perhaps the most interesting interactions are between those creators whose work bears strong affinities for that of their mate, like Ronna Neuenschwander and Baba Wagué Diakité, a ceramicist couple from Portland who met in Mali. Both are represented by striking clay works with intense colors and an exotic flavor. Neuenschwander’s spectacular East-meets-West figurine is an African queen with a giant Louis XIV hooped skirt, but she’s also Eve, with apple headdress and a very discreet snake underfoot. Wagué Diakité’s eye-catching dinner plate is an upbeat look at immigration, with fantastically patterned frogs crowding onto the pink polka-dotted back of a smiling turtle, like a page from a children’s book — for me, a bit too sunny a look at mass migration, given current realities.
‘Matched Makers: Northwest Artist Couples’
Through Jan. 1, 2017, Museum of Northwest Art, 121 S. First St., La Conner; free (360-466-4446 or monamuseum.org).
Another partnership with obvious commonalities is that of Sheila Klein and Ries Niemi, longtime residents of the Skagit Valley, who have been given an entire room for their side-by-side display of fiber art, much of which involve transformations of the built into the sewn. Klein translates non-Western architectural details into full-sized crocheted replicas, the most impressive being an enormous doorway-sized Sufi screen, its complex knots and textures creating a rich cotton homage to the cut-stone original. Niemi’s deadpan machine-embroidered portraits are a needlework catalog of the various vehicles he has owned, dozens of them in two long rows, with name, model year and helpful multiple views, just silly enough to take the macho edge off all those cars and trucks.
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The exhibition also includes art couples who are no longer with us, like Jacob Lawrence and Gwendolyn Knight, and those where one partner is far more well-known, several of whom (like Knight) are quoted as saying the difference in professional standing was not a problem in their relationship. It’s a shame that several of the still-active artists are represented by much older works, but the curatorial eye is strong and the exhibition is diverse and engaging.
And for those with an extra hour, I recommend a stop at nearby Edison to indulge in the apocalyptic surrealism of local art icon David Kane at the i.e. gallery (5800 Cains Court; open 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Fridays-Sundays); space invaders never seemed quite so painterly.