If ever an art show didn’t need a subtitle, it’s “Bare.” Sure, there’s a lot of flesh in B2 Gallery’s latest group show, but it’s not all straight out of the boudoir, in the traditional, lace negligee sense of the word. Cerebral adoration, doughy sadness, mystical shadows, fierce athleticism, even ironic porn, yes — but if you go looking for cheap thrills, you’ll get your expectations blown out of the water by artists of the caliber of Guy Anderson, Paul Dahlquist and Francisco Zuniga, who use nudity to bare the human soul.
Which is not to say that there aren’t some surprises tucked away into B2’s corners. It does need to be said: If nudity and sex offend you, don’t go. You should also probably leave your 10-year-old at home. It’s also not a particularly well-grouped show, with a lot of missed pairing opportunities, artists clumped with their own work, and occasionally ugly backdrops. But the great strength of “Bare” is in the sheer quality of the work, and the range of human emotion therein.
The biggest drawcard is half-dozen works by Anderson — yes, that Guy Anderson, one of the four Northwest Mystic painters of the 20th century. Three large works dominate the front gallery, three more hover behind the reception desk; oils and sketches, they portray the same male figure (in one title, a dancer) reading Proust. Seemingly ignoring his own chunky nakedness, he’s poised to interpret the text in movement, the long thick brush strokes creating shadows of deep red and gold-hued indigo. In another, he reclines on a puce floor — this time the lines of his muscles lovingly detailed — but in all he’s studiously avoiding our gaze, turning the voyeurism into cerebral adoration.
In the next tiny room, though, comes Dahlquist like a face-splash of mojito. The Northwest photographer, now in his 80s, offers up the male figure with an eroticism that goes from classical hedonism to self-aware irony. Two men balance bum-to-bum to create a strange, headless beast; another buries his face between butt cheeks as if in a trance; another poses like a still life, his curves echoing those of pottery vessels on the table behind him. A collage of male backsides and groins with nearly-gone white underwear echoes pornographic ads with in-your-face irony.
But this is a big show, and there are many more layers to the nudity. Marianne Hanson explores the human figure in a variety of media: her “Silhouette” is a delicate, inky dip into blue-black, waiting patiently until your eyes adjust to pick out its lines, while the pencil sketch “Thinking” hides a man’s torso self-consciously behind crossed arms and legs. “Waking” bathes a female torso in orange-pink pastel smudges, relaxed and warm, while “Forgetting” is sharply etched and sad.
Some nudes are less complex, like the Mexican-realism of Shinzaburo Takeda or Robert J. Massey, celebrating female curves and lush olive skin with a Gauguin-like flatness. Some are more complex, like Zuniega, the Mexican sculptor who imbues his charcoal women with a subdued, doughy mood. Schmitt and Hall, the Northwest painter duo, have a series of intriguing pastels of Picasso-like bodies intertwined in a darkly iridescent palette; Marsha Glaziere creates a fiercely thin yoga goddess (life-size) from metal mesh and gold-black paint. There’s even a vagina diptych, Chuck Smart’s digital photos spun into fuzzy black-pink cotton candy.
It’s not all wonderful: Alec Clayton’s oils are smudgy and unfinished-looking, the faceless bodies disturbingly like corpses, and a beautiful marble bas-relief by Georgeanna Malloff of an alabaster nude surrounded by flowers, fish and mermaids is unfortunately displayed in front of an ugly emergency exit door. Hanging art on windows also makes for difficult visual experiences.
But overall, “Bare” is one of those shows that surprises you with its depth, breadth and quality. Don’t miss it.