“Travelers: Objects of Dream and Revelation,” Bellevue Arts Museum’s newest exhibition brings together nine international contemporary artists who explore the ambiguous theme of travel and the objects associated with it. Featured artists include Janice Arnold, Margarita Cabrera, Marc Dombrosky, Erika Harrsch, Timothy Horn, Cal Lane, Walter Martin, Paloma Muñoz and Robb Putnam. “While each of the works in the exhibition is loosely associated with travel, they also become a point of departure for a larger investigation,” says Stefano Catalani, BAM’s artistic director and curator of the show. “Familiar icons like the VW Beetle or a snow globe are transformed into sculptural works and installations that tell stories that are unexpected and revelatory.”
The artists delve into the reinvention of such objects, moving back and forth between their cultural associations and practical use. They give them a deeper dimension of reality, which generates new perspectives regarding their social, economic and cultural contexts. In the process, truths are disclosed that emphasize both the beauty and the uncertainty of the dream of a better life in a better place.
Margarita Cabrera’s work with traditional Mexican sewing and embroidery techniques, can be viewed as an exploration of the economic and cultural exchange between the U.S. and Mexico. Her series of soft foam and vinyl sculptures – bicycles and a potted cactus – depict the struggles of Mexican immigrants bent on crossing the border. The life-size bicycles are in fact modeled after actual bikes used by immigrants who risked their lives in such an endeavor.
They are shown in a dilapidated state, with flat tires and broken handlebars, and appear as confiscated items or ones found discarded in the desert. A wild Nopal cactus made from border patrol uniforms sits nearby. Native to both countries, this species is ignorant of political boundaries. Also on display is a full-scale reproduction of a VW Beetle, a car that has seen many uses, from a taxi cab to an ambulance.
Another eye-catching piece is Timothy Horn’s “Mother-Load,” a Cinderella-like half-scale carriage inspired by San Francisco socialite Alma de Bretteville Spreckels, wife of millionaire Adolph B. Spreckels, who made his fortune from sugar. The carriage is covered with encrusted, amber-colored sugar crystals. It appears to have come directly out of some storybook tale which evokes the essences of beauty and opulent decay.
Consumer waste is the focus of Robb Putnam’s work.
This artist is known for his life size animal forms created with castoff materials such as used blankets, shirts, rags, plastic garbage bags, leather scraps and faux fur. The sculptures initially evoke playful characters found in children’s books and appear cuddly from a distance. Up close, though, they are something quite different. Each of the pieces, “Mutt,” “Mongrel” and “Mascot,” are actually wounded dogs or “outcasts of the dog world,” as the artist describes them. The abandoned creatures, all which hang suspended from the ceiling, wear sad looks and are torn and crudely bandaged with the detritus and remnants Putnam collected.
These materials, though once worthy, have outlived their usefulness and no longer have any value. The artist has transformed them, giving them rebirth, and shedding new light on the unwanted and overlooked.
One of the more disturbing works in the exhibit is Cal Lane’s “Filigree Car Bombing.” A crushed car, obviously the result of a bomb, has intricate lacy patterns cut into what’s left of its steel body. The feminine floral patterns are in direct contrast to the rawness of the decimated steel, resulting in the collision of beauty and horror.
“My work,” says the artist, “has become more political, the consequence of living in a time of war and feeling the guilt of a bystander. With ‘Filigree Car Bombing’ I focused on creating a tasteless relationship of images.
The crushed steel of the car is cut into fine lace creating a drapery of disruption and sadness, a conflict of attraction to fancy work and the attraction to a horrific image.”
“Travelers: Objects of Dream and Revelation” runs through December 31st at Bellevue Arts Museum. For more information: (425) 519-0770 or www.bellevuearts.org.