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Big Is Better

Alfred Jensen, Cheops Testament

Gail and I made it over to the Wright Exhibition Space this afternoon just in time to see the exhibit BIG IS BETTER (or so some claim) in its final day. The Wright Exhibition Space mounts small shows from time to time, each of which draws largely or entirely from the Virginia and Bagley Wright Collection, the largest collection of contemporary art in the Pacific Northwest. The galleries are open for limited hours (usually Thursdays and Fridays, 10:00 to 2:00) and entry is free.

The Big is Better exhibit consisted of thirteen paintings from the Wright collection, dating from 1964 to 1987. The gallery has three rooms, a larger central gallery and smaller rooms on each side. (See a description and photos of the space at the Olson Kundig Architects website.) Each of the side rooms has four walls. One long wall of the central room is divided in two by the entry door, yielding three full walls and two half walls on which to hang paintings. Summing, we come up with thirteen discrete spaces, on each of which hung one of the thirteen exhibited paintings. This arrangement allowed each painting to stand alone, while the intimacy of the space allowed them to converse with each other.

Jen Graves, who writes the Visual Art column at Seattle’s weekly paper The Stranger, has a blog post about the show that contains photos of several of the paintings. (See also Nancy Worssam’s article in the Seattle Times.)

Inevitably, the photos don’t do the paintings justice, for all the usual reasons: scale, color, texture, etc. But in particular, the two-dimensionality of the photos gives no sense of just how important the third dimension is to many of these works. The upper half of Robert Longo’s “Black Palms” juts out several feet. Julian Schnabel’s “End of Alphabet” embeds broken pottery and antlers. Frank Stella’s “Brzozdowce II” is built of layers of different materials; his “Jardim Botanico, II” has painted geometric shapes of different materials that are placed at assorted angles skew to the plane of the wall. Alfred Jensen’s “Cheops Testament” is more traditionally a painting, but the immensity of the scale, the vibrancy of the colors, and the varied textures of each of the small geometric units that make up the painting invite — indeed require — close-up, in-person examination.

A wonderful show. I wish we hadn’t waited until the last day. I would like to reflect further and then return for another look.

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