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BAM’s ‘Push Play’ highlights innovators, visionaries working in clay

  • Written by Deborah Stone
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“Swan” by Adrian Arleo. Photo courtesy of BAM
Bellevue Arts Museum’s new exhibit, “Push Play: The 2012 NCECA Invitational,” showcases over 30 international artists who explore how the act of play expresses and expands human potential.

Held in conjunction with the 46th National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts (NCECA) Conference in Seattle in late March, the exhibit follows previous groundbreaking ceramics exhibitions at BAM including “Robert Sperry: Bright Abyss” in 2009 and the much celebrated BAM Biennial 2010: clay Throwdown!”

Stefano Catalani, BAM’s director of Curatorial Affairs/artistic director and co-curator of “Push Play,” is delighted and honored that the museum is the hosting venue for the Invitational.

He says, “Ceramic art, traditional or experimental, has deep roots in the Northwest. As a museum dedicated to the exploration of art, craft and design, it plays an integral role in our mission.”

Over 200 artists responded to the call for entries to participate in the exhibition, submitting approximately 2,000 works of art. Only 33 artists were selected for the final display, including such visionaries and innovators as Adrian Arleo, Beth Cavener Stichter, Judy Fox, Kiki Smith and Christina West, among others.

The show explores the place of play in society today and views the subject in a myriad of ways. It emphasizes the joy that comes from play and how it teaches us about ourselves, our bodies and the world around us. It also delves into play’s dark, exploitive side and looks at the stories that evolve from the act of playing, which can initiate role playing, fantasy and imagination.

In furthering the concept, the exhibit delves into the open nature of playthings and how they are equipped with the ability to help establish gender roles and identity.

Some pieces appear whimsical at first glance, but with deeper study they become unsettling.

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by Sam Scott Photo courtesy of BAM
Margaret Keelan’s “Hopscotch,” for example, depicts a child happily engaged in playing the traditional sidewalk game.

Look closely, however, and notice that the sculpture has the appearance of disintegrating paint over weathered wood.

This gives the impression of a wearing effect, bringing to mind the weight that life’s experiences have on the individual as he/she grows up and ages.

In Kelly Connole’s piece, “Scamper,” a group of very lifelike rabbits appears as if they are leaping out of the wall from their wooded environment. One wonders if they are they running for the sheer joy and freedom of the experience or fleeing from a predator. A description of the work acknowledges that humans’ interactions with wild things are often filled with questions and “contradictory emotions of fear and delight tempered by our desire to personify all that we encounter.”

Rabbits also figure prominently in “Gravitational Pull,” from Rebekah Bogard’s “Twilight” series. Here the creatures are lying on their backs in positions of utter contentment, amid a forest under a starlit sky.

The work evokes nostalgia for warm summer nights and that magical time when day turns into night.

In Clayton Keyes’ “Bougie Putti,” one dead and bloodied rabbit dangles from the hand of a male child, who is naked with the exception of lacy cuffs around his wrists and a powdered wig with a blue ribbon, a la Victorian style. One finger touches his lips staining them red with blood. It’s a disturbing image that explores the nature of play unchecked – without guidance of parents and society – and the possibility of the emergence of primal instincts.

Some of the pieces speak to the perspective of power structure and peer pressure within play, and the scrutiny and judgment that often comes among groups of playmates.

In “Nave,” artist Mark Chatterly writes that he pretended he was a kid again making a snow fort, rolling one ball at a time and stacking them in layers.

Instead of balls, however, he stacks large scale figures that sit one on top of each other in a tight semi-circle. They are all hunched over, leaning in, peering at one another, as if evaluating the individual worth of their teammates.

On the ground in front of them is a small rabbit, perhaps symbolizing the fear and discomfort that comes with being singled out and ostracized.

Anne Drew Potter’s “The Captains Congress” also alludes to this theme. Perched on wooden crates, a group of naked child people sit within a circle of judgment, posed in attitudes of derision and contempt for a passive defendant that is positioned outside of the circle with her back towards the group. The bullies wear silly paper hats which exaggerate their grotesque facial expressions.

Contemplation, another angle on play, is explored within Kiki Smith’s piece, “Sitting and Thinking.” With a pose reminiscent of “The Thinker” by Rodin, a young woman appears to be engaging in the mental process of play, directing the viewer’s attention inward to the realm of imaginative thoughts.

Arthur Gonzalez’s “Service at the Villa” is another contemplative-like work. Here, the Blue Haired Fairy from “Pinocchio” sits quietly, as she muses on her past with the puppet boy.

She is posed against the wall dressed in a long skirt that contains an etching of Pinocchio’s face on it, while holding her light wand. It’s a nostalgic piece that elicits emotional reactions directed towards childhood stories which immerse readers in their fantasy.

“Push Play” is a highly engaging exhibition that shines a light on the use of clay to explore the many perspectives of play and how it helps define us.

“Push Play: The 2012 NCECA Invitational” runs through June 17 at Bellevue Arts Museum.

For more information: (425) 519-0770 or www.bellevuearts.org.

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