Feb - March 2000 Selected Previews

Showing preview 5 of 8

Martha Benzing: New Paintings

James Harris Gallery, Seattle
2/3/00 - 2/26/00

(detail) Untitled (Mars Series)(1999),
mixed media

Martha Benzingís newest work refers to recent photographic images, made possible by the Hubble Space Telescope, that depict stars in different stages of formation. To a viewer not provided with this reference, Benzingís formulations may also be seen as abstract works full of enviable rigour and seriousness ñ and at the same time as permitting associations with both a macro- and micro-cosmos. Her rich colour is deep and mysterious. The pieces are additionally "shrink-wrapped" in a coating of clear resin, as if to fix the volatile supernovae in fathomless dark space. All this, before reading the exhibition labels. Benzing creates this universe with water-soluble dyes derived from Kool-Aid and from candies that (in this case) bear celestial names, such as Mars Bars, Milky Ways Bars and Starbursts. She peppers her compositions on damp silk with M&Ms, which yield their various stains and sometimes register their backward initials. Questions arise. Benzing wants questions to arise. She wants to explore with us not only the conditions that provide an esthetic experience ñ the experience we might have been having before we read the labels ñ but also the nature of painting itself, the characteristics of "legitimate" artistsí materials and the degree to which they make an artwork "art." Most of all, she wants to question the way we "see" and how conditional our seeing is on received information (the difference in our attitudes before and after reading the labels). Benzing is a serious artist who draws on her own sense of humour to perhaps test ours, as well as any lingering esthetic smugness.

© Ted Lindberg