Friday, October 5, 2007


Opening show at the Helm not so kind to strangers

published Oct. 4, 2007 in the Weekly Volcano

Tacoma’s newest gallery, The Helm, opened with a burst of adolescent bravado in a show the gallery owners admit includes a lot of “crappy” art. You see, they didn’t pick the work. They didn’t eliminate submissions they thought were bad. They sent out invitations to artists from all over the world contacted via social networking sites such as MySpace.

“The result is a hodgepodge of a show that pairs young artists together in a manner that no curator in their right mind ever would. Featuring the work of Daniel Johnston, Michael Sieben, Erik Otto, Matthew Feyld, Zachary Marvick, Nicholas Nyland, Ellen Ito and a boatload of others,” writes gallery co-owner Sean Alexander.

The show is called “The Kindness of Strangers.”

At least two of the artists listed in the quote above, Nyland and Ito, are established local artists. Both of them were recently seen in a show at Gallery Madera. But I wasn’t even able to find their works among the many works on the wall — all of which were hung in a random manner to reflect the democratic nature of the show.

My personal opinion? The whole show was juvenile and sloppy, and although the concept is interesting, most of the work isn’t. Admittedly, some people might think I’m just old-fashioned. I’ll confess that I may not be the hippest cat in the litter box. But this stuff is not cutting-edge. There is nothing original about it. Jim Nutt and Gladys Nilsson and the Hairy Who were doing the same kind of stuff way back in 1960. So were Robert Crumb and a slew of artists who published works in 1960s underground commix, the forerunners of today’s zines. Not to mention two decades of college freshmen art students and all of The Evergreen State College students who have filled the back page of the Cooper Point Journal with bad cartoons for more than 20 years.

A lot of the imagery is violent and sexy and ironic. A lot of it looks like psychedelic art from days gone by. The presentation is slap-dash. On the upside, there is a lot of work here that shows tremendous promise. Viewing this work sends me back to the days when I was a college art teacher. All of the freshmen showed up with skillfully executed but unoriginal fantasy drawings inspired by graphic novels. Their passion and their skill was obvious, but man, oh man, did they have a long way to go!

Among the more interesting works are some nicely executed drawings from Jen Tong that look like illustrations for children’s books, some fairly strong abstracts by Ashlynn Browning, and a Cristo-esque wrapped telephone booth by British artist Stuart Robinson. Sadly, a lot of these artists are much better than the work here indicates. The gallery chose them from their Flickr and MySpace sites, and I visited a number of these sites and saw work that is much better than what is seen in the show. It seems they dug stuff out of their garbage cans for this show. The Helm has provided links to many of the artists’ sites on its Web site.

The next show at The Helm promises to be much better. It will be a show by Seattle artists Chauney Peck and Whiting Tennis. Tacomans may remember Peck from work going back as far as the old Commencement Art Gallery and her most recent installations at the now-defunct Ice Box Gallery. Her most recent work consists of painted wood sculptures that play with perspective and actual depth in a deceptive manner. Tennis, a sculptor whose work is handled by Greg Kucera Gallery, is a recent Neddy Award recipient whose work was recently seen at Tacoma Art Museum. The Peck and Tennis show opens Oct. 18.

[The Helm, “The Kindness of Strangers,” Wednesday-Saturday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., through Oct. 10, 760 Broadway, Tacoma, 253.627.8845,]

No comments: