Better than the Beyond: Bed Bath & Between at SOIL Gallery
When I think of a Bed Bath & Beyond store, all I can see are things: things lining the walls, filling the floor space, packed onto shelves, coating the store in all forms of home goods. The section filled with informercial gadgets is my favorite, for the way it makes real the items that seem particularly made up, giving the store a mildly utopic element: here, you can buy bizarre, useless things that are supposed to only live on TV. When Seattle artists Julie Alexander, Nicholas Nyland and Matthew Offenbacher announced they were curating a group show, called Bed Bath & Between, at Seattle’s SOIL Gallery, it was hard to know what to expect, given the store reference. And, what would be the outcome of changing the “beyond” into the “between?” - Erin Langner, Seattle contributor
Installation view, including work by Julie Alexander, Maria Britton, and Nicholas Nyland. Wallpapers by Julie Alexander, Nicholas Nyland and Matthew Offenbacher. Photo by Julie Alexander.
The artists promised a “hand-painted wallpaper environment,” which in the context of domestic goods, I feared might bring the exhibition to a literal place. However, their wallpaper turned out to be actual paper, drenched in pastel watercolor plumes; knotty, oversized brushstrokes; and an orange forest of evergreens. Pulling away from the plastic, mass-produced sensibility at the heart of real Bed Bath & Beyonds, the papers made the gallery more studio-like than store-like, the intimate scent of paint lingering in the air as though work were still being made, somewhere in the room.
Installation view, including work by Matthew Offenbacher, Terry Green and Maria Britton. Wallpapers by Julie Alexander, Nicholas Nyland and Matthew Offenbacher. Photo by Julie Alexander.
Installation view, including work by Matthew Offenbacher, Nicholas Nyland, Maria Britton, Julie Alexander. Wallpapers by Julie Alexander, Nicholas Nyland and Matthew Offenbacher. Photo by Julie Alexander.
The paintings that had been hung on the walls in frames and on canvases behaved more like adornments affixed to the papers—the brooch that makes the dress, the tie that turns the suit into something memorable. Most objects seamlessly shared their collective space. The contorted fabrics of Maria Britton’s works felt as though they were trying to extend and reconfigure the patterns from the wallpaper behind them into a tangible, material dimension. Dawn Cerny’s striped screen-print A Mary or Marie instigated a back-and-forth conversation with the echoing spray of dashes behind it.
Maria Britton | Fret, acrylic on hand sewn and stretched bed sheets, 2014. Image courtesy of the artist.
Julie Alexander | Clara, 2014, Oil and waist band on canvas, 16 x 20." Image courtesy of the artist.
Uninterrupted by wall text and titles (these were only found on a checklist) the usual hard lines and divisions that construct the smaller spaces we usually find inside a gallery—between artists, between individual pieces, between mediums, between times—were eschewed for a deeply saturated experience of the present, for a heightened awareness of the interactions catalyzing in the room. There was no need go beyond. This between-space the curators created was where things were not merely existing but very much happening.
Installation view, including work by Dawn Cerny. Wallpapers by Julie Alexander, Nicholas Nyland and Matthew Offenbacher. Photo by Julie Alexander.
Bed Bath & Between is on view at SOIL Gallery in Seattle, WA through February 28.
Erin Langner is an arts writer and a program associate at Seattle Arts & Lectures.