I gave myself a little treat over the weekend, I spent a couple of hours wandering through the latest exhibitions at the Bellevue Arts Museum and, as always, was delighted, surprised and drawn into the visual language of art. I went in to peruse one particular exhibit, and found myself spending time on all the floors, exploring everything, which is the best possible way to spend a day at the museum.

I initially went into BAM to check out the Maneki Neko exhibit, presenting all the different ways the "lucky cat" statue with the raised paw you often see at Japanese restaurants is portrayed.  It's a personal collection of maneki neko statues, along with interpretive pieces by Northwest artists. I grew up with the lucky, beckoning cat, either seeing it as decoration in homes, usually given as housewarming gifts, or given in the form of coin banks, since the figure is a representation of good fortune. It was a really beautiful and diverse collection, pieces that were unique from what we've seen before, but still the familiar cat with his same paw gesture.

The exhibitions that ended up taking most of my time were the Zoom. Italian design and photography of Aldo and Marirosa Ballo and Love Me Tender, which is a collection of multiple artists who used actual currency to create their two and three dimensional pieces. I was completely taken in by the Love Me Tender collection -- working with actual money, both paper and coins, plays with the notion of art with intrinsic value, but also a statement about the fluctuation of that currency, since its value is fleeting. The artwork ranges from humorous and whimsical, to serious political statements. I was particularly excited to see pieces by JSG Boggs, an artist who has been making hand-drawn depictions of US currency for years, but he doesn't pass them off as counterfeit notes. Boggs makes it clear they are works of art, which he trades for goods and services, which given his level of fame, the pieces are worth more than what he traded them for. His work is as much visual art as performance, in that the transaction becomes part of the realization of the piece -- I've been a longtime fan of his work, so it was wonderful to see his pieces up close and be able to examine them. All the pieces in Love Me Tender are striking -- it really deserves a good hour's worth of time to begin to absorb both the meaning and handiwork of all the artists' work. 

I took an equal amount of time admiring the design and photography of the Ballo exhibit. Sleek, modern and purposeful, you can't deny the aesthetic influence of Italian product and furniture design. The collection is a shuffling of beautiful prints, vintage magazine spreads featuring the Ballo pieces, and original furniture and objects shown individually or in beautifully simple room displays. I couldn't help but think about the series Mad Men. I realize the series is no longer in its sleek 60s-era aesthetic, but being surrounded by such clean, linear design, especially with so many magazine layouts on display, I kept expecting Don Draper would walk in at any second and light up a cigarette. Admiring all the beautifully functional pieces, it makes you more aware of your living space and how when aesthetic and function are in balance, it makes a place as beautiful as it is liveable. Even if we all can't live in a perfectly-designed home or office, it's a collection that inspires a level of consideration in the objects we place around us. 

Something else to consider -- I realized the next BAMignite art/afterhours party is coming up this Friday! The museum will stay open till midnight, there will be cocktails, music and a mingling atmosphere to explore the new exhibitions yourself. I've been to several of the BAMignite parties and it's a great way to experience the museum and the mood is energetic. Tickets are still available, so head to the website to make sure you have yours in time for Friday!

Jaunty Fine Print: images of art from the Bellevue Arts Museum

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