Continuing until October 13, the Frye hosts the first major survey of work by longtime Seattle artist Buster Simpson. As the exhibit’s brochure puts it, Simpson has been a “pioneer of site-specific, process-driven, environmental art,” dating back to the 1960s. One example of this is a beautiful curvy ladder fashioned from a tree that Simpson tried to save from being cut down. The ladder is intended to let him climb into the next tree scheduled for destruction.
Simpson came to be known by a silhouette profile called the woodman which he would place at various spots in the city, often in a window of a building slated for demolition. Videos also show Simpson himself as the woodman, with a stack of wood strapped on his back, showing up at demolition sites. For the current exhibition, Simpson has reconstructed an installation that was once housed in a storefront on Capital Hill. Woodman silhouettes attached to weather vanes protruded above the building’s roof, and when the wind blew, they triggered another silhouette in the building to scoop a stack of empty beer bottles onto the floor. The glass was then recycled, and another set of bottles lined up.
The Frye also refers to Simpson’s “groundbreaking contribution to dialogues about civic responsibility, ecology, and the role of public art.” Two of the pieces that most strongly demonstrate this are the David and Goliath and the “limestone Rolaids.” The first features an enormous sling-shot which Simpson used to hurl stones carved with the word “purge” at the World Trade Center. Beside the sling-shot, there’s a video of a young naked Simpson launching the stones from a safe distance away from the twin towers. Another video in the same gallery shows him (clothed this time) throwing huge limestone disks into a polluted river so that the limestone can leach out the acids like a Rolaids tablet.
Though Simpson’s art is intended to stir discussion about serious issues, there is almost always an element of humor in its presentation, whether he’s installing illegal porta-potties or hanging laundry lines in the Public Market’s Post Alley. One of my favorite pieces takes its playfulness from a simple pun. Crow Bars features three crows fashioned from big black work gloves, each perched on its own crowbar which by some feat of electromagnetism swings back and forth, keeping the crows flapping.
The Frye Art Museum is located at 704 Terry Avenue, just off Boren. For more information on the show click on http://fryemuseum.org/