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Thursday, August 7, 2008

I Had A Dream

posted by on August 7 at 11:00 AM

Back in November, I had a simple dream, when I heard that Seattle Art Museum curator Michael Darling was putting together a survey of Northwest video to be shown at Art Basel Miami Beach: My dream was to see the show of Northwest artists in the Northwest.

My first step in realizing this dream was to ask Darling whether he’d considered showing the art in its home. No, he hadn’t, but yes, he would. I rejoiced.

Then, in April, I heard the glorious news that the survey would be shown at SAM itself, in that otherwise weird little space off the main lobby on the third floor. Sure, the lighting is not perfect. But walls can be built! And this is a FREE ZONE. No admission charged. Yes. You can imagine my happiness.

Yesterday morning I received an email from SAM spokeswoman Cara Egan about my dream. It said that the show I’d been waiting for all this time had opened Tuesday. Nevermind that this meant that I couldn’t put the information in print because this week’s paper had already gone to bed. I was prepared to overlook such trifles. For the good of the dream.

This morning I mounted my bike. I rode to Pioneer Square, where I saw several other shows. Then I hustled up to SAM for the big event.

The screen was blank. The guitar part to “Stairway to Heaven” was playing in the speakers, but nothing showed. Crazy artists, I thought—giving me audio when I expect video. Those wild-eyed mind-bogglers!

Except that this went on for at least 15 minutes, way past the end of “Stairway to Heaven.” I began calling SAM staffers. The first one I got on the phone told me the show wasn’t opening until next week. The next one told me the show had been working fine yesterday. The curator told me he’d noticed it hadn’t been working earlier in the day, but apparently, he hadn’t mentioned it to anyone. I was starting to feel like I should be on the SAM payroll: I’d asked for the show, I was scrambling to let people know about it because SAM didn’t, and now I was motivating the AV department?

Two hours and 20 minutes after I arrived at the museum, the blown bulb in the projector was fixed, and I—and everyone else—could see the new show! (I did other things in the interim.)

Everything went so well for about 80 minutes. Then, at 5, the projector, on a timer set to shut off when the museum closes, shut off. By the time someone was called and got it back on, the last segment of the penultimate video, Shannon Oksanen’s little boat (2007), and the entire final video, Terry Chatkupt’s First Snow (2006), were scrambled beyond comprehension, and finally, the DVD just gave up and froze.

I’ve never had such a strong desire to look at paintings.

No, neither I nor anybody else at SAM yesterday got to see the complete new video survey at SAM.

But I have to say that what I saw is worth seeing. A few of the pieces are even instant classics.

I can also report that I had a serendipitous interaction with a fellow named Kevin Schwarz during those golden 80 minutes when I was actually viewing video.

Schwarz is an 18-year-old Marylander here on vacation, and he sat down right as one of the aforementioned instant classics was starting. The video was Kevin Schmidt’s Long Beach Led Zep (2002), which involves the artist on a beach at sunset with a Marshall stack hooked up to a generator on a cart—playing the entire guitar part of “Stairway to Heaven,” down to every note, to the last thrashing chords.


Schwarz happened to be wearing a Led Zeppelin t-shirt with the lyrics of “Stairway to Heaven” on the back. He was very deadpan, and very moved. “I’m feeling quite special,” he announced, as someone else pointed out his shirt. “I was not expecting this.”

When it was over, he said, “It was quite epic. The sunset, the beach—he brought the generator. I want an encore.”

At which point Hadley + Maxwell’s video 1+1+1 (2007), including footage from the studio recording of the Rolling Stones’s “Sympathy for the Devil,” started up. “‘Sympathy for the Devil’ is my favorite song by them,” Schwarz said. “I’m having a good day.”

The video after that one, Ron Tran’s The Peckers (2004), involved a recording and video of pigeons pecking at musical instruments set down on a pier. Schwarz said: “My dad hates pigeons. He got a super-soaker, because they always eat out of his bird feeder.” He reported that he did not like this video as well as the others. I had to agree that it went on a little long.

As I said, more later. But for now: THERMOSTAT: VIDEO AND THE PACIFIC NORTHWEST IS UP, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD* (*except for about 7 minutes at the end). AND IT’S FREE. (I’m trying to help you out here, SAM.)


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unfortunately you're not the first person who had to coerce an art museum into actually showing art...


Posted by boxofbirds | August 7, 2008 11:31 AM

Think anyone who went to the beach that day was thrilled to find an asswipe with a huge generator and amplifiers enacting the most embarrassing guitar-shop ritual of all time?

Posted by Fnarf | August 7, 2008 3:05 PM

Kevin just happens to be a great artist if you would just do some research.
You idiot!


Posted by -B- | August 7, 2008 7:49 PM

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