Good Job, Whatshertits (Victoria Haven, TONIGHT)
by Jen Graves
on Wed, Dec 12, 2012 at 12:14 PM
The vinyl lettering on Seattle Art Museum's northern exterior window says "PROPOSED LAND USE ACTION." It's just coincidence—and a nice one—that the word "city," with the Target target, is at the center of where the arrow-shaped letters point.
Victoria Haven is the only Seattle-based artist that Seattle Art Museum featured in its version of Elles. Of course, this is nonsense. Just to get that out of the way. But it shouldn't detract from the fact that Haven has strung up a handsome web of objects that connects both to Agnes Martin, Helen Frankenthaler, and Yayoi Kusama in the surrounding galleries and also to the city outside—a feat when you consider how different each of those forces really is. Haven's contribution to Elles: SAM is to draw it together, and locate it, in fact, in the city of Seattle.
Her show is called Proposed Land Use Action, containing paintings, drawings, and sculptures that refer to her history of having had to move studios more than 10 times in Seattle when buildings were demolished for development.
One piece is a painting she made directly on her studio wall, of the sleeve of a mix tape she was given in 1986. To exhibit it here, she had to cut it out of her wall before the wall was torn down.
You can see the history just by looking at the side of the piece (click to enlarge).
The major visual rhyme in the show is two arrow shapes pointing at one another. They manifest in the vinyl letters applied directly to SAM's windows reading "PROPOSED LAND USE ACTION"—with the "city" Target sign glowing red in the gap (look, another red-neon art moment like Roy McMakin's ampersand on the waterfront!).
And the arrows are also at the heart, literally, of an austere corner metal sculpture. For this piece, Haven actually had to seal the museum's corner gap herself, since the walls in SAM's galleries do not join. (This is why SAM's Flavin installation struggles when it's in these galleries.)
An arrow pointing back on itself is reflective, introspective, Möbius-strip-like, anti-heroic, implicitly referencing (as curator Catharina Manchanda has pointed out) Barnett Newman's Vietnam-era Broken Obelisk, one of which stands in Red Square at UW.
Click to enlarge.
For this, Haven had to build her own corner, because the two walls of the gallery have a gap between them.
Tonight at SAM, Haven's giving a talk on what she calls her "portable monuments." The talk is for members of the museum only, which is also nonsense. (The only Seattle artist featured in Elles has a talk and it's not open to the public?) When I raised this with the PR office, I was told that you can get in by convincing a member to vouch for you to buy your ticket. Members: vouch for the hoi polloi, please.