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Friday, December 8, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Visual Arts

Seattleites are standouts in otherwise flat CoCA Annual

Special to The Seattle Times

Portland Art Museum Northwest art curator Jennifer Gately, guest juror for the 2006 CoCA Annual, visited studios in addition to reviewing slides to select the artworks now on view at the Center on Contemporary Art. She chose 16 artists from Seattle, Portland and New York City from nearly 1,000 entries. Three artists split the meager prize money: Robert Yoder ($500); Lucas Blalock ($250); and Jennie Thwing ($250).

An artist-supported alternative space founded in 1980, CoCA in 1989 took over the duties of the venerable "Northwest Annual," which the Seattle Art Museum (originally Seattle Fine Arts Society) had hosted between 1914 and 1975. In 2002, CoCA's board decided to junk the regional focus and open up the competition nationwide. Was it worth forsaking the 74-year-old tradition?

Probably not, but this year's effort by Gately is a valiant, even charitable, effort. CoCA's annual can no longer be compared with the remaining Northwest juried shows (the biennials at Tacoma Art Museum and Gately's own Portland Art Museum), because it is much smaller, with a fraction of the prize money. But the CoCA Annual is the only annual competitive show held in the Greater Seattle area since the old Bellevue Art Museum closed. Maybe it's time to re-orient the CoCA Annual back toward Alaska, British Columbia, Idaho, Oregon and Washington exclusively.

Emphasis is put on the seamy, sleazy and ill-constructed in the works of Oregonians Alicia Eggert, Stephanie Robison and Sean Healy. As to the New Yorkers, Gately found Margarida Correia, Christine Gatti and Shen Wei. Photography plays an important role in their work but fails to reveal any original ideas. Were they and the Oregonians really worth including?

The Seattleites, on the other hand, leave the others in the dust. Elise Richman's paintings contain hundreds of tiny built-up strands of oil paint and are intensely physical, optical and abstract. Susanna Bluhm's quirky mixed-media paintings of awkward abstract shapes could lead somewhere I'd like to go. To be disappointed but to want to see more is always a good sign.

Like Bluhm, Tim Cross' work has a light touch. However, it has firmer, more easily identifiable imagery. "Heater Beach" and "Black Bridge Beach" (both 2006) mix trees, fire and metal pipes in landscape settings. All are drawn with ink, soot, liquid paper and, of course, coffee.

Ross Sawyers' computer prints of big beautiful empty rooms are also big, beautiful and empty. They're too similar to many other artists and demonstrate an awareness of trends more than an individual vision. (This is a frequent criticism of regional artists who are often unable to see originals and must make do with art magazines.)

Exhibition review


2006 CoCA Annual, noon-5 p.m. Wednesdays-Sundays, through Dec. 30, Center on Contemporary Art, 410 Dexter Ave. N., Seattle; free (206-728-1980 or www.cocaseattle.org).

Robert Yoder and Scott Foldesi are the stars of this year's Annual. Yoder's vinyl-and-metal-tape collages are colorful and highly structured. With several New York shows under his belt and a sterling reputation locally, Yoder should retire from competitive shows and leave them to the younger generation.

Foldesi has got to be the most talented young Seattle painter still without a gallery. His large photo-based scenes are part paint-by-number satire and part David Hockney. They are remarkable for how much they can convey with so little paint. Like Cross and Bluhm, he treats a blank white background like a big piece of paper. Included in last year's Annual, Foldesi raises another question: What happened to the CoCA tradition of giving the best of the Annual artists their own solo shows? Foldesi should be at the top of the list.

As to the Portlanders, Sean Healy is the one to watch. His circular relief of hundreds of cigarette butts is hilarious and timely. And don't miss "Egghead" (2006), his tribute to Melville Dewey, the founder of the Dewey Decimal System common to library-card catalogs. An upended library table has a likeness of Dewey rendered in hundreds of used chewing gum wads. Remember when you stuck your gum under the library table? Go see it.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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