For its 35th birthday, Seattle’s Center on Contemporary Art occupies new spaces and shows work featuring snakes, marijuana and “Star Wars” Stormtroopers.
Seattle’s Center on Contemporary Art (CoCA) has a scrappy, whack-a-mole vitality. Just when you think it might have retreated underground permanently, it pops up again — in not one, but three places.
Its latest venue, CoCA PS35, is near the heart of Pioneer Square in the Scheuermann Building. Good Arts LLC, a newly formed partnership, purchased the building in December. Its stated mission: “To preserve and expand the presence of the creative class in Pioneer Square.”
The building’s second floor already accommodates artist studios, and CoCA PS35 — though its lease only runs through late August — is a sign of things to come. A permanent street-level commercial art gallery, a public performance space and a cafe run by Cherry Street Coffee House are all in the cards.
Center on Contemporary Art: ‘35 Live: CoCA Members’ Show 2016’
1 p.m.-7 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays through April 23, CoCA PS35, 106 Cherry St., Seattle; free (206-728-1980 or cocaseattle.org).
In CoCA’s press statement about the gallery opening, executive director Nichole DeMent noted the challenges posed in renovating the venue, a former restaurant untenanted for seven years: “The smell was gag-worthy when we first toured the space. It has been a ton of hard work from many volunteers, staff and board, but we are delighted to clean it up and be a part of this community.”
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“35 Live: CoCA Members’ Show 2016” celebrates the organization’s 35th anniversary and gathers nearly 90 paintings, photographs, sculptures, installations and videos in three locations. (CoCA at Rubix on Capitol Hill, at 515 Harvard Ave. E., and CoCA UN[contained] in Georgetown, at 6555 Fifth Ave. S., are the other two venues.)
From the street, CoCA PS35 looks like a small storefront, but it’s actually somewhat labyrinthine at the back. It includes a basement gallery and small basement theater, along with a fair-sized mezzanine.
Video works are shown on a loop in the theater; pieces by Terese Cuff, Jeff Mihalyo and Jonathan Womack are especially impressive.
In Cuff’s short films, she alchemizes her paintings into animated action. In Mihalyo’s “Beard Video (chapter 1),” the artist, in special-effects triplicate, projects home movies from his boyhood onto his Santa-like beard. Womack’s “Pattern Recognition” fuses captivating light-show psychedelia with fluid distortions of a human face.
On the installation front, Ray C. Freeman III’s illuminated sign “Bud Light” comes up with the perfect corporate logo for a marijuana-Budweiser corporate merger.
Ellen Hochberg’s “Eyes,” with its endless pairs of mismatched eyes blinking and staring on juxtaposed iPad-sized screens, initiates a tricky exchange in which the blinking and staring eyes communicate moods and feelings, while the viewer can’t help trying to determine the age and gender of the faces outside the video frame.
The paintings, photographs and sculptures are wildly uneven in quality, but there’s still striking work here.
Tobias Layman’s “A Friendly Squeeze,” in which a ceramic snake seems to be squeezing grooves into hard rock, and Zack Verde’s “Force for Good,” a glitter-rich and extravagantly antlered helmet, are standouts. Susan Gans’ photo composite “Past/Future/Past” enhances a black-and-white shot of the back of a man’s head with ghostly traces that hint at a life lived in more than one dimension. Gary Beeber’s digital color print, “Early Ross with black feather, NYC,” is a polished and seductive study of drag artifice.
“35 Live” is a show for CoCA members as much as by CoCA members, so the selection process wasn’t as rigorous as it could have been.
The organization’s next group show, “JuarezX, Dragged Across Borders,” should offer something more cohesive.
As CoCA’s DeMent explained, “JuarezX” will explore the U.S.-Mexican border as “a place in its own right, a dreamland, a laboratory, a labyrinthine maze,” in which artists and viewers alike can reflect on “intersections of race, class, gender, sexuality, migrant status and being.”