A show of work by Amie Siegel includes the consumption-focused “Provenance” video, detailing the fate of the furnishings of Le Corbusier’s planned city of Chandigarh, India.
Value is in the eye of the beholder — or so the fastidious video installations of American artist Amie Siegel suggest.
“Interiors,” at the Frye Art Museum, consists of five works, with the 40-minute “Provenance” being the show’s clear centerpiece. Its focus: the fate of the furnishings of Le Corbusier’s planned city of Chandigarh, India.
Built in the 1950s, Chandigarh’s complex of government buildings was deemed a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 2016. In recent years, its custom-designed furniture has become a hot item at auction houses in New York, London and Paris.
‘Amie Siegel: Interiors’
11 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays, 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Thursdays, through Sept. 3. Frye Art Museum, 704 Terry Ave., Seattle; free (206-622-9250 or fryemuseum.org).
Siegel, wielding an HD camera, follows the “production line” for these pricey collector’s items in reverse order. First she shows them in their ultimate destination: the stylishly Spartan homes of the rich on two continents.
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Next, we eavesdrop as they’re auctioned off for close to six figures in some cases. The “restoration” of them (more like a full-scale rebuilding) follows. After catching a glimpse of them aboard the container ships that bring them to the U.S. and Europe from India, we finally see them in Chandigarh itself — which, 60-odd years after its glorious pristine concrete start, is a rain-stained, monkey-haunted dump. Siegel’s steady tracking shots reveal whole floors full of junked chairs, tables and bookcases.
How are they transformed into something so outlandishly expensive?
Well, it helps that each individual piece is numbered, with those numbers carefully preserved in the restoration process. Still, that doesn’t diminish the shock of seeing how Third World discards become First World collector’s items.
As a final twist, “Provenance” is shown back-to-back with “Lot 248,” a six-minute video in which “Provenance” is auctioned for £42,000 (about $67,830 U.S. at the time) at Christie’s in London. Like a serpent swallowing its own tail, Siegel subjects her video work to the same chancy assignment of value that “Provenance” examines.
Another fascinating piece, “Fetish,” documents the nighttime cleaning of the Freud Museum in London. Archaeological artifacts — Egyptian, Asian, Greco-Roman — are delicately brushed, the original Freudian couch is vacuumed, and a whole world of history, mythology and interior exploration is conjured without a single word of text (Siegel’s method in all the works here).
Also at the Frye: “Between the Frames: The Frye Art Museum Collection after 1952” (through July 23). It’s a selection of 40 artworks added to the museum’s founding collection by its first six directors.
“Between the Frames” is wildly uneven and stylistically all over the place — felicitously so, because that means there are some real surprises in it. They include minor works by big names (Winslow Homer, Edward Hopper, Grant Wood), fine pieces by big names (Andrew Wyeth’s “Noon Nap” and Philip Pearlstein’s “Girl in Striped Robe” would be highlights in any museum collection) and some genuine masterpieces by lesser-known artists.
Far from being gimmicky, David McGranaghan’s circular oil-on-cotton “Self-Portrait” (1984) is a meticulous exploration of mirror-ball reflections in which you can see McGranaghan’s paintbrush-equipped hand conveying his wall-mirror image to an easel-mounted canvas-within-a-canvas. The distortions he plays with are delectable.
Robert James Baxter’s oil-on-linen “The Argument” (1971) is another gem — a Hockneyesque study of a couple who form a single monumental unit, even if they’re petulantly turned away from each other.
A few paintings, including Baxter’s, have never been publicly displayed before. That alone makes “Between the Frames” worth a look. The show also doubles as a sly informal history of the Frye.