The gallery on the University of Washington campus boasts a video installation, a giant flower arrangement designed to make your eyes water and a room full of big balloons that visitors are invited to battle their way through.

Share story

Call it the Summer of the Installations at the Henry Art Gallery.

You have your video installation: Michelle Handelman’s “Irma Vep, The Last Breath.” You have your floral installation: Willem de Rooij’s “Bouquet XI” (up through Aug. 14). And you have your balloon installation: Martin Creed’s “Work No. 360: Half the air in a given space.”

The artistic technique of “Irma Vep” is as elaborate as the concept. It’s a 33-minute-long four-channel video, crisply and inventively shot, featuring elaborate makeup and costumes, with an unsettling sound design to match.


■ Michelle Handelman: ‘Irma Vep, The Last Breath’ (through Oct. 11) ■ Willem de Rooij: ‘Bouquet XI’(through Aug. 16) ■ Martin Creed: ‘Work No. 360: Half the air in a given space’ (through Sept. 27)

11 a.m.-4 p.m. Wednesdays-Sundays; 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Thursdays-Fridays; Henry Art Gallery, University of Washington, Seattle; $6-$10 (206-543-6450 or

Handelman’s inspiration is French director Louis Feuillade’s silent-film serial, “Les vampires” (1915-16), whose central character, Irma Vep (an anagram for “vampire”), is part of a gang of slinky, violent thieves. The role of Irma made a celebrity of Musidora, the one-named actress playing her. But Musidora (1889-1957) didn’t weather the transition into the sound-film era well. She spent her last years as a ticket-taker at the Cinematheque Française.

Handelman puts a gender-bending spin on Irma/Musidora’s story by casting transgender performer Zackary Drucker as young Irma and drag artist Jack Doroshow (stage name: Mother Flawless Sabrina) as the elderly Musidora, who spends much of her time in a space-capsulelike ticket booth. Handelman’s other twist is to couch young Irma’s screen time as a psychiatric session.

The four-channel video is a visual treat, serving up multiple choreographed Irmas on Manhattan rooftops and bridge approaches. Images split into Rorschach-like symmetry. At one claustrophobic point, the psychiatric couch fills all four screens as if to insist, “You will open up to me.”

Doroshow is frowzily charismatic, and Drucker’s cosmetic get-up (artificial eyelashes as long and spiky as black feathers, closed eyelids painted with irises and pupils) is striking.

Where things fall short is in the script. This Irma is one mopey creature.

“I don’t ever think I’ve had a strong sense of self,” she laments, before going on to complain that she finds her partners in crime “miserable, glamorous, withholding.”

Ten minutes of this, and you wish Oscar Wilde could do a rewrite that had some wit to it while still preserving Handelman’s outsider sensibility.

Dutch artist Willem de Rooij’s “Bouquet XI” is a gigantic floral bouquet maintained by local florist Nisha Kelen under the artist’s supervision. The highly allergenic flowers are native to the Middle East, and the idea is to allude to the decades of (eye-watering?) conflict there. The bouquet itself makes for a nice photo opportunity — and not much more.

British artist Creed’s “Work No. 360” (2004) is on a much vaster scale. The entire lower floor of the Henry has been filled 14 feet deep with silvery latex balloons coated in powdered talcum. The installation aims to span the divide “between physical experience and sculptural construct.”

You could also just think of it as a slightly mislocated amusement-park attraction.

Visiting parties of schoolchildren, reportedly, have loved it. It’s definitely fun to stand on the stairwell overlooking it and see the top layers of balloons bob, rise and settle as people blindly push their way through below.

I thought I’d be fine checking it out. But 3 or 4 feet into it, with balloons closing over my head in a kind of stifling, rubbery gray overcast, I completely freaked out and quickly made my exit.

Sorry, folks — you’ll have to decide on this one for yourselves.

Note: Only 20 visitors are allowed to enter at a time, and visitors who suffer from eczema, asthma, hay fever, food allergies and claustrophobia are warned off entering it.