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A new art venue for T-town

For Tacoma at Alma Mater

“Old City Hall” performance piece by Gabriel Brown. Photo credit: Travis Pranger

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There's a new art venue in Tacoma that has the wonderful advantage of being easily accessible to the public, and open from early morning to late at night seven days a week. A collaboration between Tacoma Gallery, LLC (Jane and Jason Sobottka) and Alma Mater, the gallery space is the foyer area between Honey and Matriarch Lounge at Alma Mater.

The Sobottkas curated the opening show with help from Spaceworks' 950 Gallery. Jason Sobottka said his aim in choosing artists for the show was to include a wide variety of media and style, and to show ?emerging and mid-career artists from the Tacoma area who "look like Tacoma" and ?"who may be underrepresented in the local (or national) arts scene."

My initial impression upon walking into the foyer was that I was seeing representative works from freshman art majors -- some clever, well-meaning and exciting ideas showing lots of heart but amateurish in execution, with a handful of exceptions, most noticeably works by Gabriel Brown and Becky Frehse, both of whom may be a little too successful to fit the stated criteria for this show.

Brown's "Old City Hall" sits in the middle of the space and dominates in every conceivable way. It is a sculptural installation that once served as a performance piece. The central figure is a mannequin placed inside a large replica of the tower on the old City Hall with arm, leg and head holes. On the floor in front of this is a sandwich board advertising "Hard Times Shoe Shines," and scattered about this are tools of the shoe-shine trade plus photographs and a video played on a cell phone of ?the time ?when this piece was used as performance art?? with a live person ?shining shoes ?inside the tower. It is funny and inventive, an insightful commentary on the imbalance of power between rich and poor.

Frehse's "A Rooster's Crow," acrylic and collage on canvas, is a striking picture of a coal-black rooster in an abstracted urban landscape. The bird itself looks like it is made from tar ladled on the surface. The surrounding imagery is a swirl of bright colors made from a twining wire and a scrap of sheet music and multi-colored ovals that float in and over the background. The texture is rough and gritty, and the swirling wire is a lyrical line that holds everything in place. ?

A few other pieces worthy of note are: Kris Crews' dramatic photo of street musicians and a juggler and a bicyclist riding up the wall of a building; Chandler Woodfin's "Heatwave," in intricate and delicate watercolor with a flowing floral design; a group of four little twisted-wire sculptures of dancing figures by Chris Wooten called "Manic Dance"; and a portrait by Adika Bell of the writer James Baldwin painted in bright colors in a slap dash ??pop style with quotes from Baldwin's writings?,? such as "Our crown has already been bought and paid for. All we have to do is wear it."

FOR TACOMA, 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., Monday-Wednesday; 7 a.m. to midnight, Thursday-Friday; 8 a.m. to midnight, Saturday; 9 a.m. to 10 p.m., Sunday, through Feb. 28, closing reception Feb. 21, 6-9 p.m., Alma Mater, 1322 S. Fawcett Ave., Tacoma,

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