From Awfully Good To Just Awful, Northwest Annual Covers It All

----------------------------------------------------------------- Art review

The 64th Northwest Annual at the Center on Contemporary Art, 65 Cedar St., through May 4; 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday; $2, 728-1980. -----------------------------------------------------------------

Founded at the Seattle Art Museum in 1932, the Northwest Annual was revived at the Center on Contemporary Art in 1989 after the venture was junked by SAM in 1975. Twenty-one years later, the mother of all juried Northwest shows is alive and well at CoCA at its Belltown area headquarters. With 515 entries, 135 acceptances and two $1,000 prize winners (not yet announced), this year's Northwest Annual was juried by Surfside, Calif., curator Greg Escalante.

It is one of the largest in years. Paintings are double-stacked salon-style so viewers can witness the current pulse of local contemporary art. They will smile and laugh, wince and scowl, and come away moved and entertained by the energetic and often sloppy art on view.

Escalante claims no theme but expressed his taste as a leading popular culture guru and "curator" of "Juxtapoz," a widely read underground magazine. Thus, much of the imagery is scary and cartoony, sexy and shallow, with scathing rib-ticklers that heckle religious and political figures.

"Salman Barbeque" by William Ross is typical. The Anglo-Indian author Salman Rushdie, who is under a death sentence from Islamic

fundamentalists, is depicted as a wooden cutout figure on a make-believe rotisserie. His infamous novel, "Satanic Verses," is mounted below, about to catch fire.

With all the older, gallery-affiliated artists staying away in droves (or rejected), plenty of room is left for the city's new, unexposed, raw talent. They express an aesthetic somewhere between grunge and homeless art.

With "Salman Barbeque" as my best-of-show choice, other works deserving applause include paintings by Jacques Moitoret ("Charles XII of Sweden"), Jeffrey Simmons ("Ardorata"), Jena Scott ("Missing Unit") and Michael Finnegan ("Archetype").

My worst-of-show award goes to Tacoma artist Barbara Minas. Her oil painting, "Self-Portrait: Vanity Healing, Tram Flap Reconstruction," shows a seated nude displaying her unsuccessful breast cancer surgery scars. She is one of 17 semi-finalists considered for a special project show at CoCA next year.

The best sculpture is a 10-foot-high pile of shrink-wrapped auto tires and metal folding chairs ("Lifeproof") by another Tacoma artist, Chris Kirages. It's a steal at $450. Kirages breathes new life into the Northwest totem tradition. Angela Ware's "Dietrich," a metal birdcage with a videotape of a bird inside, is also strong.

Every imaginable type of photography is highlighted. "Demolition: Seattle Coliseum" by John Stamets is a stupendous image of destruction yet technically quite tame compared with all the rest of fancy photo techniques exploited elsewhere.

Allow plenty of time to take it all in before adjourning for an espresso to think it all over and discuss the state of art hereabouts. I guarantee you'll have plenty to talk about at this year's Northwest Annual.