Tacoma Street Theatre

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Tacoma Needs More Galleries Like the Helm

The New Juried Show at the Helm oozes with colourful wonder. A stunningly expressionistic glob of plastic bubble wrap hangs in the middle of the space, brightly coloured housepaint conglomerated in a pool at its base. Another sculptural installation made of chicken wire and bunched-up plastic bags adorns the middle of the room. Boldly painted upon the gallery wall glares a defiant turtle-eagle? of some kind; Holistic ForgeWorks brazenly proclaimed its existence underneath Tacomic excerpts. The highlight of the somehow-retro, seemingly almost unfinished illustration is an immortalization of Daniel Blue and his famous stump-poem "Okay Tacoma". These illustrations present a bold subject matter; the icons of Tacoma, those people that the denizens of GlitterTown hungrily look up to for guidance and public heroics. Not so sure about the big checkered quilt. Seems like it took up a lot of space and that part must have suited someone's purpose. I did like the pastel colours, I just never understood the whole quilt-on-a-wall thing, except, it was too warm in the gallery, otherwise I might have wrapped myself up in it, it sure did look warm, but then, as a piece of art on- the-wall, would anyone dare do such a thing?
A strangely out of place, too-random photo-montage featuring snapshots of a swimming pool, buffalo, some trucks, and an ocean really lost me in nebulousness. I tried to figure out how they were all related but my head started to hurt so I moved on...Of course, the same can be said for the totally random photos I've included in this critique, and anyone reading this should feel totally free to rip into me. I just thought reading a bunch of words is boring on a blog unless there are pretty colors, shiny things, or photos. Anyway, I like random things. The more I think about those photos the more I am inclined to say they are the best thing in the show, just cause I was so confused by them. Actually, the best piece in the show MUST BE the plastic bubble wrap paint splash gob, that is totally my style and I love it forever, I can't imagine someone buying it but I hope someone does. The hunk of grass sod lounging against the wall was a nice touch, reminding one of something someone did sometime in New York probably, but with the added happy sunflower I was totally won over with charm. The bold, inked illustrations of trees and roots spoke of a symbolic, poetical lyricism, echoing the comic-era seen earlier.
The second room of the tiny gallery held a fantastically colourful found-woodstrip collage, harkening back to the days of post-abstract expressionistic post-minimalistic post-modern modernism. With some kind of lacquer lathered all over, making it shiny. I like shiny things. The Patron Saint of Tacoma, Mr. Glass Homogeneity Himself, Dale Chihuly is shiny in a sculptural tryptic with Exit 133 and the Lady of the Port; once again, celebrating Tacoman icons. I can't think of anything to say about the other paintings. No, Yes, I can: obviously the painter(s) were trying very hard to accomplish something but I was lost in the deeply symbolic nonsense of fish and other things. This is perhaps a complex I have, that same issue appeared with those confusing photographs. Oh yes, I did like how two paintings were smooshed up against that column. It was Almost-Dada.
I was immediately struck by the fact that the artist's names were not attached to the art or the wall. At first I thought, " WOW, cool, an anonymous juried show..." Then I noticed the little red dots that automatically make one think "SOLD!!" But no, they were not sold, just numbered, very quietly. Then I noticed everyone was holding pieces of green paper, sized 8.5" x 11" and realized that aha, that is where the artist name, media, blah blah would be presented. Why waste all that paper? Of course, I'm sure the Helm recycles, and every person who visited the gallery and was touched to their very soul by the show could take home the list of artists as souvenirs, to admire as they eat their breakfast in the morning, but, What a Waste of Paper. Well, there are only so many ways to get the information across, I understand.
It seems to me there could have been more artists featured if the curator had truly wanted to showcase Tacoma's diversity, and present one piece by each artist. Not one but three of the wood collages, not one but three plastic bag and chicken wire abstract constructions. The music selection was excellent, a modest alcoholic refreshment choice of red or white wine was offered as well. It was especially nice to hear Radiohead. Not much to complain about. Darn. All in all, I am continually impressed with the offerings of the Helm, outshining every other wanna-be gallery in Tacoma by far. The Helm would fit in quite cozily in downtown Portland's Everett Station Lofts where a multitude of galleries and performance spaces occupy a square block. Wouldn't it be nice to see more galleries on Antique Row? Probably wishful thinking, and I'm sure the Helm likes it the way it is. In fact, I get the distinct feeling that Tacomans like everything just the way it is, but I must say, this 'Renaissance' that started 4 years ago is still moving at a snail's pace and it's time for some of you artsy people to raise the stakes.
Don't get me wrong, or, get me wrong if you think you're right cause you might be; I love art no matter what kind, I happen to know what I like and have formed an opinion of what's nice and what's not. Artists, I don't mean to hurt your feelings. I just want to stick you in the ribs with my paintbrush and get you out there making more art, performing more, writing more, creating, creating, acting, doing. Feel free to critique my critique. I want more dialogue. That's why I started this foolish blog in the first place and making surprise, discreet appearances at gallery openings disguised as a critic in disguise.
~~~~~~~~~Sincerely Not Seriously, Voronoff the GhostCritic

Friday, February 22, 2008


This city, with its fledgling, just-hatched arts scene is desperately in need of more than one artwalk, more surprise guerilla street performance, more public sculpture, and more critical art commentary. If Tacoma ever wants to rise up to become more than a hazy afterthought of Seattle, residents of the City of Destiny must make the effort to take a few more risks and support young and emerging, starving, under-and-non-represented creative folk. The most relevant, cutting-edge, thrilling, and challenging art of our times is very often disregarded because the artist does not have 'fine art' credentials, a mile-long resume full of high-end galleries and juried show awards.

Tacoma needs more free, non-juried group art shows that recognize and support new talent rather than accepting artists based on their show history or art education. Tacoma needs more challenging, critical visual arts-scene commentary; voices that aren't afraid to offend or pull punches but let it all hang out and throw the cards down. It's time for honesty that hurts. This is not out of any malicious attempt for self-glory. This is done with love. Tacoma needs some serious critique, with all kinds of praise and hate mixed in.
Tacoma needs more patrons like the late Steve Craig, who risked so much by opening his Broadway antique shop to a host of little-known artists who joined forces together to create a genuinely unique, affordable gallery space and a meeting ground for so many. Perhaps some of you remember the Summer of '04, the heyday of RampaMonica's, when the Artist Co-Op and the Restaurant/Gallery succeeded in kicking Tacoma's art-ass into a new era with bombastic Third Thursday art events and afterparties. Panamonica's continued the theme of featuring local undiscovered artists and hosting numerous events that celebrated Tacoma's unique position as a breeding ground for creativity. Unfortunately Panamonica's couldn't last, and with the passing of Steve Craig, you might as well say that an era of Tacoma's 'art renaissance' is OVER.

But that's no reason to cry in your hard-earned PBR, all you prideful underdog hipsters. There are plenty of descendants of that era that is dead. Look over there, 100 Monkeys are still jumpin', bringing the art community together every few months for nostalgic get-together reunions. And look over there, no wait, it's gone again, but I think that was an UrbanAut Party, so slyly secretive about it's location, with art, bands, and almost-naked ladies being painted by famous 'dead' artists. Ah, there's something interesting over at the Helm, a suitably tongue-in-cheek, avant-garde meets fine high-end postmodernist galleryspace that would fit right in at the Everett Street Lofts during Portland's First Thursday ArtWalk. I'm not sure where the new A.O.C. Gallery on Fawcett fits in, with its sleepy offerings of very nicely framed but forgettable photographs, drawings, paintings, and collages. I'm still not sure what the Tacoma Art Commission is doing for the community. Tacoma Art Place just off MLK has been born but as yet the community hasn't taken much notice of this fantastic community art studio. Wow, look at the Volcano, exploding out of its former skin into a weekly paper with some real meat to go with its eats, beats, and cultural treats.

Well, Citizens of Tacoma, I know you are trying, but you must try harder. I've
been all over the world twice and looking at Tacoma I must say there's a lot that's missing. Not to say that there are some things that aren't. You're off to a great start, but really, it's time to take some more risks and dare to stand out. Do something different. Take a leap or three, see what happens. Be BOLD. Don't wait for someone else to start doing something cool, be that person, and if you see something exciting and original happening, don't be afraid to add your voice to the mix.

Tacoma needs more collaborative art events, multimedia art orgies, carnivalistic Andy Warhol-Style Factory Freak Fests, Absurdist Dada Street Anarchy. Happenings happening in multiple locations at the same time for different, similar reasons. Tacoma needs an Anti-ArtWalk at the beginning of the month. Seattle has at LEAST a First Thursday, a Second Friday, and a Second Tuesday ArtWalk. Portland has at LEAST a First Thursday, First Friday, Second Thursday and a Last Thursday. Why can't Tacoma do this too? Why does Tacoma's art world bow down so low to Seattle? Why do Tacomans continue to keep as much as possible underground and hidden away, and then bitch about it?
Tacoma needs a new home for starving, low-income artists to hang their paintings and play their music among peers, supporters, patrons, and the unwitting public. Tacoma needs a new Art Co-Op that is two-to-four times bigger and better than anything else ever. A Co-Op with little or no monthly fee that follows the RampArt model of cramming as many artists as possible onto as many available walls. Not any kind of snooty high-end 'gallery' but an explosive, bombastic, interactive, 24-hour, 7-day, ongoing art happening, gritty and funky for the avant-garde anti-elite. A place that will open its arms to the underappreciated, carve new paths of opportunity for the unexposed, and above all things, be a fun place to kick it any time of day for all-ages.

Come on, patrons, I know you are out there.

Hey, business and building owners with those empty storefronts all over DownTown, MLK, and South Tacoma Way!! Why not take a risk like Steve Craig and invest in the arts for a change. I dare you to become a real patron and support the starving artists of your fair City of Destiny and help to transmute the urban decay.


This is just the beginning of the critique, Tacoma. I have a lot to say, and I'm just digging in. You never know when or where I will turn up to scavenge more dirt on what Tacoma needs or what Tacoma already has. If you are impressed, offended, inspired or incited by any of this, I encourage you to leave a comment; this contribution to the Blogosphere is meant to initiate a higher level of artistic discussion and if I don't get a reaction well I guess I've proved a sad point of how much Tacoma is lacking. Stay tuned for more rippings and ragings at the 'scene' or the lack of one here, and taste my venom with a little hit of honey drizzled on the side...........

~Voronoff the GhostCritic
{award-winning and critically acclaimed,
beware of my words}