Thursday, August 20, 2015

The Aloha Club Collection exhibition at Tacoma Art Museum

 Published in the Weekly Volcano, Aug. 20, 2015

“Burnt Offering,” pastel by Randy Hayes, courtesy of Tacoma Art Museum, gift of the Aloha Club

Selections from the Aloha Club Collection now showing at the Tacoma Art Museum includes 21 diverse works in painting, printmaking, ceramics, photography, jewelry and textiles by well-known regional artists described in the press release as “emerging artists in new media” and “historically important yet overlooked Northwest artists.”
The Aloha Club is a women’s club formed in 1892 to support Northwest culture. They began collecting regional artists in 1948, and gifted their collection to TAM in 1971. A little less than half their collection is represented in this show. Included are such regional luminaries as Randy Hayes, Merrill Wagner, Marie Watt and Matika Wilbur. (In the collection but sadly not included in this show are photos by Mary Randlett and at least one painting by Michael Spafford; perhaps TAM decided these have been shown too often, but that didn’t stop them from including William Ivy’s “Blues and Whites,” which has been shown multiple times over the past three years and is one of my favorite works in the museum’s collection.)
Watt is the artist responsible for the wonderful curved spire of blue blankets in front of the museum. In this show she has a wall-hanging piece (I’ll call it a quilt for lack of a better descriptor) titled “Tear This Wall Down.” It is made of reclaimed blankets, satin binding and thread. Does the title refer to the Berlin Wall and Reagan’s famous admonition to tear it down? Probably. The image is an architectonic structure of multicolored bands of wool that looks like a craggy wall or two mountain peaks. There is much to contemplate in this work, culturally and aesthetically.
Perhaps the most striking painting in the collection is Hayes’s “Burnt Offering,” a brilliantly colored pastel of two figures in the dark of night with faces and hands lighted as if by holding flashlights under their chins — dramatic, Halloween-like imagery. This is a powerful painting that verges on melodrama without crossing that line.
There are also three photos from Wilbur’s Project 562, an ambitious photographic study of Native American culture that TAM showed in its entirety a year ago.
Boyer Gonzales is unknown to me, but seeing his oil painting “Ancient Site-Delphi” makes me want to see more of his work. It is a dark and ominous abstract landscape that pictures a stream running through a canyon. In its solid, bulky structure it seems like a cross between a Cezanne and a Marsden Hartley.
I was intrigued by a series of four etchings by Thomas Handford, a Tacoma artist from the early 20th century most known as an illustrator of children’s books. I liked his “Cherry Street New York,” 1920, and his “Merry-Go-Round” with severe foreshortening that makes the riders seem to be tipping over.
I was also impressed with Vanessa Helder’s simple little watercolor “Water Tower” from 1939, which looks a lot like paintings by the early modernists Charles Demuth and Charles Sheeler.
Patty Warashina’s “Amazed” is a wall sculpture in porcelain and Plexiglas that is inventive, funny and horrifying, depending on your point of view; and technically flawless. Porcelain female nudes—every one of them bald headed and with identical figures — are trapped in a maze and trying to help each other out. Also trapped in the maze are giant rats as large as the women. It gives new meaning to the phrase “trapped like rats in a maze.”
Tacoma Art Museum, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesdays–Sundays, $14; Student (6-17), Military, Senior (65+) $12; Family $35 (2 adults and up to 4 children under 18).
Children 5 and under and members free. Third Thursdays free from 5-8 p.m., 1701 Pacific Avenue, Tacoma, 253-272-4258,

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