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Friday, July 14, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Visual Arts

A new dimension of young sculpture artists

Special to The Seattle Times

Exhibit review


"New Sculpture Survey," 10:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays, through Aug. 26, Howard House, 604 Second Ave., Seattle (206-256-6399 or www.howardhouse.net).

Sculpture is alive and well in a new group show this month at Howard House, a small contemporary art gallery in Pioneer Square. "New Sculpture Survey" is owner Billy Howard's selection of gallery-stable artists and others who are redefining sculpture for the early 21st century. Among the nine artists and 19 works on view, visitors can get a handle on how young people are reinterpreting art in three dimensions.

Mass, volume and density, along with form and shape are usually the factors we expect to find in sculpture. But in "New Sculpture Survey," line, image, surface, color and unexpected materials dominate.

For example, Diem Chau carves dozens of crayons, sets them upright on a shelf and creates a mini-installation of tiny totem poles from a familiar consumer product. Also borrowing from readily available elements, Jason Wood made a tour-de-force self-portrait in a bathing suit, completely comprised of stacked and lined-up yellow pencils. It's an oblique echo of Chau's use of writing implements if a bit of a one-line joke.

Recent University of Washington master of fine arts grad Sean Johnson explodes sculpture's myth of solidity and stability. "Scaling a Façade" and "Absence" are literal balancing acts in which the artist has delicately joined together a ladder, shingles and wood (in the former) and a table, suitcase and cutlery (in the latter), making sculptures that hover without visible joinery or support, sure to collapse if touched. This is a case where "Do Not Touch" signs are crucial to the work's existence. They form the centerpieces of the front and back displays.

Density is undermined in the see-through work of Michael O'Malley and Jenny Heishman. The former assembled a funky chandelier-like object using plywood, blue Styrofoam, steel and glue in one work, "Spark." O'Malley uses a corner of the gallery to support his other wacky piece, "Tatlin's Dream," an allusion to Russian constructivist artist Vladimir Tatlin (1885-1953) who made the first sculpture that fit into a corner and hung on a wall.

Heishman's open, empty metal cube, "Untitled (Goat)," is subtle in its manipulation of clear, cut-out Plexiglas, reflective vinyl tape and two beautiful blue and yellow metal "legs." Her other work, "Tunnel Vision" toys with the shelf idea, too, like Chau; the shelf turns out to be the main part of this remarkable, beautiful work. Be sure to look under the shelf to see the false eyelashes.

More imposing, Erik Geschke sent a giant white bulbous head of plastic, plaster, wood and acrylic. Quirky, with odd bumps all over its surface, "Idealized Explosion" redefines abstract sculpture in startling and unfamiliar ways.

Sometimes, video can capture a sculpture without becoming one. Austrian artist Hubert Dobler filmed a revved-up motorcycle without a rider as it bounces all over a warehouse interior. It's restrained by chains and wires as it wildly romps around a room like a bull. Indeed, "Bull" is completely mechanical. Only a few minutes long, its anarchic, out-of-control action is riveting.

With the least physical presence of all, four cut-paper wall hangings by Benjamin Chickadel resemble everything from a house to a runaway pickup and a pile of skeletons, each delicately sliced from a single, continuous piece of paper. Like the other works on view, they challenge our expectations and offer great hope for the future of sculpture in the capable hands of these talented, intelligent young artists.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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