The show at the Museum of Northwest Art features works by 28 artist couples, including Jacob Lawrence and Gwendolyn Knight, Sheila Klein and Ries Niemi, and Michael Bray and Anya Kivarkis.
Perhaps the most interesting interactions are between those creators whose work bears strong affinities for that of their mate, like Ronna Neuenschwander and Baba Wagué Diakité, a ceramicist couple from Portland who met in Mali. Both are represented by striking clay works with intense colors and an exotic flavor. Neuenschwander’s spectacular East-meets-West figurine is an African queen with a giant Louis XIV hooped skirt, but she’s also Eve, with apple headdress and a very discreet snake underfoot. Wagué Diakité’s eye-catching dinner plate is an upbeat look at immigration, with fantastically patterned frogs crowding onto the pink polka-dotted back of a smiling turtle, like a page from a children’s book — for me, a bit too sunny a look at mass migration, given current realities.
Another partnership with obvious commonalities is that of Sheila Klein and Ries Niemi, longtime residents of the Skagit Valley, who have been given an entire room for their side-by-side display of fiber art, much of which involve transformations of the built into the sewn. Klein translates non-Western architectural details into full-sized crocheted replicas, the most impressive being an enormous doorway-sized Sufi screen, its complex knots and textures creating a rich cotton homage to the cut-stone original. Niemi’s deadpan machine-embroidered portraits are a needlework catalog of the various vehicles he has owned, dozens of them in two long rows, with name, model year and helpful multiple views, just silly enough to take the macho edge off all those cars and trucks.
The exhibition also includes art couples who are no longer with us, like Jacob Lawrence and Gwendolyn Knight, and those where one partner is far more well-known, several of whom (like Knight) are quoted as saying the difference in professional standing was not a problem in their relationship. It’s a shame that several of the still-active artists are represented by much older works, but the curatorial eye is strong and the exhibition is diverse and engaging.
And for those with an extra hour, I recommend a stop at nearby Edison to indulge in the apocalyptic surrealism of local art icon David Kane at the i.e. gallery (5800 Cains Court; open 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Fridays-Sundays); space invaders never seemed quite so painterly.