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Thursday, January 21, 1999 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Small Is Beautiful -- 1999'S Northwest Annual Show At Coca Has Fewer Works Than In Previous Years

Special To The Seattle Times

------------------------------- "1999 Northwest Annual," Center on Contemporary Art, 65 Cedar St., Seattle, through March 13. Tuesdays through Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Info: 206 728-1980. -------------------------------

Founded at the Seattle Art Museum in 1932, the Northwest Annual was revived at the Center on Contemporary Art in 1989 after the venture was abandoned by SAM in 1975. Twenty-four years later, the mother of all juried Northwest shows is alive and well at CoCA at its Belltown headquarters. With 1,200 entries, 33 acceptances and two $1,000 prizes, this year's Northwest Annual is the smallest in history.

Chicago painter Kerry James Marshall left no clue as to why he chose the artworks on view. Although repeatedly asked by CoCA for a juror's statement or rationale, Marshall refused. All the work was selected from slides. While the artist was in town last month, he gave a talk at SAM. He never saw any of the work in person.

That pleasure is left up to the viewers, who will have to create their own reasons as to why this mixture of artists was selected. In lieu of the juror's statement, visitors are free to ramble through this tiny, quiet exhibition. They can share in the delights of the chosen paintings, sculptures and photographs.

Painter Yvette Franz ("Transubstantiation") and sculptor Patrick Holderfield ("Untitled, 1999") each won a $1,000 prize. Franz's painting of a pearl necklace is delicate but unadventurous, and Holderfield's auto head lamp filled with plastic goo at least evokes a few uncomfortable laughs. He's a young sculptor worth watching, however, and he was also a prize winner at the Bellevue Art Museum annual last summer.

By virtue of its small size, this year's Northwest Annual almost looks more like a curated, rather than a juried, show. That is, there's none of the bombastic inclusiveness of former annuals. The uncrowded installation takes on a dignified quality; there's plenty of space and superb lighting for everybody. Everything somehow looks like it was put there for a reason. But lacking Marshall's explanations, it also appears that he just chose whatever struck his fancy.

Given Marshall's own narrative bent - he is known for his large paintings evoking African-American history and culture - it is no surprise that narrative painting is strong in this show.

Stefan Knorr's large mixed-media paintings are embarrassingly reminiscent of Robert Rauschenberg but are actually a lot funnier. Gourmet food, high fashion and travel are all satirized in his three large works.

James Burger's "Who's Next?" combines images of cows, turkeys and chickens into a brittle orange-and-pink painting about suburban life and supermarket consumption. Erik Geschke's oval medallions of hooded figures and chickens wearing teddy-bear outfits are comparably funny and creepy.

There's an appreciation of small scale throughout the show. Elizabeth Jameson's "Dissemble Garment" is a charcoal sketch of a woman in a hooded robe that is haunting and enigmatic.

Abstract art gets its due. Senior painter Jacqueline Barnett's "The Sound and the Fury," is one of her better gestural, thickly painted efforts. It contrasts well with hard-edge pictures by Sean Downey ("Untitled," 1999) and Mike Shea ("Burning"). Matt Wainwright's "Crowd" must be Marshall's idea of a Mark Tobey, all black curves instead of Tobey's signature white writing. It adds a gentle note.

Last year's prize winners, Randy McCoy and Amy Middleton, are honored with a selection of work on the east wall. McCoy is coming into his own with his waxy, custom-car images painted on plywood. Middleton assembled 50 mixed-media drawings of clothes from her closet at home. "Girl art" compared to McCoy's "guy art," her dresses, blouses and skirts are the perfect counterpoint to his richly colored, souped-up automotive icons.

Using photography like a few of the other artists in this year's annual, Lyn McCracken placed 12 photos of a mental patient on clipboards with altered, see-through copies of medical records. "1962, Woman," is my favorite piece. McCracken reminds us that art can find subjects in the least likely places.

Copyright (c) 1999 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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