Thursday, July 17, 1997 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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`They Came Here First!' -- Weird Science Has Nothing Over Weird Art In Memorial To Mount Rainier Ufos

Special To The Seattle Times

Fifty years ago, a private plane spotted nine flying saucers over Mount Rainier. Days later, in July 1947, a rancher reported a UFO crash on his Roswell, N.M., property. A resulting military investigation deemed the "crash" insignificant. Yet these events snowballed into a cultural invasion of historic proportions.

Seattle curator and artist David Kane has gathered at the Center on Contemporary Art works by 40 local and national artists with aliens on the brain. Some are playful, toylike paintings of dancing little green men and cast urethane saucers that look like hard candies. Some derive minimal abstract works from space imagery; others use the wildfire spread of the Roswell legend and accompanying conspiracy theories for text-based conceptual, political and parodic themes.

The profusion of alien paraphernalia is great fun. The exhibition includes a huge cache of movie posters, '50s space toys - ray guns, lunch boxes, beanies - and such campy illustrated publications as "Other Worlds" and "Fate Magazine." Portland's Alex Schomburg, 90, contributes a terrific original gouache illustration for a long-ago pulp-fiction novel cover. Abduction images

But the most compelling works are by true believers. New York's Ionel Talpazon's primitive mixed-media drawings of UFOs are as structured as a Boeing engineer's sketch. He relives what he believes to have been his abduction by aliens through obsessive studies of the craft that took him. His bright, primary-colored works recall cross-sectioned shapes of children's metal spinning tops, replete with notations, arrows and funneling current that bring to mind Leonardo da Vinci's studies of how water works. Though rendered in a childlike manner, they are immensely sophisticated, with the economy of means and absolute conviction fundamental to the best art. These are works of exuberant imagination.

A Wall Street graphic designer by day, New York artist David Huggins claims he first met aliens at age 7 and later fathered more than 200 half-alien babies in forced sexual experiments. "Weirdly," notes CoCA director Susan Purves, "the abductees' stories, using 12-step lingo, closely parallel those of recovered-memory ritual-abuse victims we've lately heard so much about." Haunting images, odd vulnerability

Though Huggins' paintings are technically amateurish, by no means conventionally "good" art, they are powerful statements about a disturbed psyche, and some of the most haunting images from the exhibition. In a blandly furnished bedroom, a boyish man lies inert and rigid in bed. A fragile, praying mantis-like phallic figure enters the room through a black doorway. In the foreground is an alien with cavernous, gaping insect eyes in a naked human female body. The ordinariness of the scene, its Edward Hopper-like emptiness, plus its sheer odd vulnerability, is broodingly disturbing.

The pinhole photograph reconstructions of saucer landings by nonbeliever Markus Tracy are especially beautiful and romantic. In sepia tones, these slightly blurred silhouettes of saucers touching down in backlit grass fields have a sweet, storybook nostalgia.

Like many group shows of this scale, CoCA's would have benefited by grouping artists thematically. Some work depends on its preoccupation with aliens to justify its presence; other work is visually strong in its own right. Written material to help the viewer sort through the rather overwhelming collection would have been welcome.

But if you can't stand the sensory overload, stay away from CoCA - it's been taken over by UFOs. The truth may be out there, but the art is in here.

----------------------------------------------------------------- "They Came Here First!" Exhibition commemorating the 50th anniversary of the first sighting of the flying saucer, through Aug. 16 at the Center on Contemporary Art, 65 Cedar St.; 206-728-1980. ----------------------------------------------------------------- Are we alone?

On Tuesday, the Center on Contemporary Art presents "An Evening With the Experts," a panel discussion "on the millenarian meaning of aliens." Shedding light on the matter will be Tony Nugent, University of Washington professor of religion; Dale Goudie of the UFO Reporting and Information Service; Peter Davenport of the National UFO Reporting Center; and Dr. Susan Lepselter, an ethno-anthropologist from Austin, Texas. It's 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at CoCA, 65 Cedar St.; $3 (CoCA members free); 206-728-1980.

Copyright (c) 1997 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.


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