Bellevue Arts Museum’s latest biennial showcases regional artworks.
The medium of metal has a weird relationship with the arts. It’s weighed down by history, from classical bronze statues to medieval armor to modernist sculptures. It’s been looted, melted down and left alone to gather patina. Meanwhile, its contemporary associations are all over the place, from delicate jewelry to kitschy wall décor.
The latest biennial at the Bellevue Arts Museum expands the territory for metal — showing new possibilities — while winking at some of its histories and stereotypes.
BAM focuses on a specific material for its once-every-two-years showcase of regional work. Beginning with clay in 2010, these juried exhibitions moved on to fiber and then wood. This year’s choice of metal proved appealing for our local artists and craftspeople, attracting a record-breaking 330 applications from Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Alaska, Montana and British Columbia.
‘BAM Biennial 2016: Metalmorphosis’
11 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays, 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Free First Fridays, through Feb. 5, Bellevue Arts Museum, 510 Bellevue Way NE, Bellevue; $10-$12 (425-519-0770 or www.bellevuearts.org).
For the most part, it’s easy to see why the final 49 artists were selected. Their skills are on full display, from Bruno Hervieux’s stunning wood credenza faced with splayed bullet casings to Ruth Beer’s woven copper wire that acts as an antenna. That’s right, her sculpture functions as an antenna, picking up shortwave transmissions to broadcast into the museum.
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Casey Curran’s “Bequeth These Seeds to Ruin” is a visitor favorite, according to a BAM volunteer I spoke with. (Full disclosure: Curran also works at Cornish College of the Arts, where I teach). Ominous plants, made of brassy wire and black plastic, sprout from a wood structure like a post-apocalyptic fantasy. The overtaken structure houses mechanisms that drive the plants’ mesmerizing movements. Leaves furl and unfurl. Petals open and close like Venus fly traps.
Kinetic sculptures are well represented in the show, evoking ruminations about machinery and humanity’s use of technology. Even with non-moving pieces, there’s a frequent emphasis on the way metal moves and behaves.
Garri Dadyan and Bob Kramer draw on their deep knowledge of different metalsmith traditions. Dadyan explores ideas of beauty, strength and Armenian heritage in his silver and copper pieces created from techniques such as repoussé, where the image is hammered into relief from the reverse side.
Kramer, on the other hand, forge-welded three metals to create a dagger that points to a Northwest First Nation concept of fusing heavenly and earthly planes.
On top of being part of a prestigious art exhibition that attracts emerging artists and long established locals such as Deborah Butterfield, all the artists are eligible for two $5,000 prizes. When you visit, be sure to vote for your favorite for the Samuel and Patricia Smith People’s Choice Award.
Maria Phillips has already won the John and Joyce Price Award of Excellence with her large-scale installation. Brushy tufts and spilling swirls, all made of dark steel wire, emerge from a white wall, hinting at growth and hair and sketches and nature.
While the exhibition is strong on big installations, there are some smaller pieces worth seeking out.
Even without knowing the poignant story behind her work, Micki Lippe’s jewelry is riveting in its dark poetry. A blackened twig and burned glass, minimally embraced by sterling silver, hold stories of loss and destruction. The artist gathered these artifacts from her dear friends’ cabin that had just burned in a forest fire that ravaged North Central Washington in 2015.
Destruction and construction are prevalent themes in the exhibition, understandably, given that the medium is often manipulated through hammering, piercing, melting and fusing.
There are many other themes — pop culture, modernism, and artifact — that aren’t spelled out but can be discovered as you wander from room to room. This is a mark of thoughtful curating and no easy feat, with so many artists working with such varied forms and ideas.
While the exhibition focuses on transformation, it doesn’t signal a huge shift for the institution, and that’s OK. The Bellevue Arts Museum continues to impress with its commitment to producing ambitious, original exhibitions that celebrate craftsmanship and local artists.