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'The Beauty of a Shared Passion'

The Benaroya Collection preview show

“Three Faces Mirrored,” painting on carved glass and wood by Ulrica Hydman Vallien, promised gift of the Rebecca and Jack Benaroya Collection. Photo courtesy Tacoma Art Museum

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The latest exhibition at Tacoma Art Museum, "The Beauty of a Shared Passion: Highlights from the Rebecca and Jack Benaroya Collection," is but a small selection (65 major works of art, mostly from well-known Pacific Northwest artists) of the huge collection the Benaroya family has promised as a gift to TAM - a teaser, if you will.

The family began their collection with a single purchase, Dale Chihuly's blown glass "Tomato Red Basket Set." From there, they built one of the largest collections of Northwest glass art to be found anywhere, including works by Ginny Ruffner, Lino Tagliapiertra, Cappy Thompson, William Morris and others. But their collection is not just glass. Far from it. This exhibition also includes paintings, drawings, photographs and sculpture by such artists as Kenneth Callahan, Morris Graves, Guy Anderson, Mark Toby and others. By any standard, it is an impressive collection.

While nicely executed, many of the smaller glass vessels are either works or types of works that have been seen almost too much in the Northwest. Given that, there are still enough unusual and outstanding works to make this exhibition quite impressive.

One piece that caught my eye and stays with me is Mary Van Cline's "Fragment of Time," a larger-than-life photograph on photo-sensitive glass of a lone woman standing in a bleak desert landscape. The wall text indicates that the image is probably a self-portrait of the artist. It is printed black and white on clear glass and repeated, slightly out of sync, behind the surface image, thus creating a doubled image. This image has a mysterious, haunting quality.

Manuel Neri is an artist whose work I do not see enough of. His "Mujer Pegada Series I" (the title translates to "Sticky Woman" or "Woman Stuck") is a cut bronze sculpture of a female figure partially embedded in a heavy sheet of metal and painted with broad slathers of dripping paint. The contrast of the smoothly modeled figure with large swaths of abstract-expressionist painting creates an intriguing tension between figure and ground and density and openness.

There are several flower paintings by Graves and some drawings of birds by Callahan that are interesting because they are so atypical, but which are nowhere as interesting as their more signature works. More typical and outstanding in every way is an untitled oil painting by Callahan with large, energetic oval swipes of paint combined with more carefully painted rock-like formations.

There are two imposing and heavy-appearing minimalist glass sculptures by the Czechoslovakian team of Stanislav Libenský and Jaroslave Brychtová. Their "Green Eye of the Pyramid III," the first work of art to greet the visitor when walking into the gallery, is stately and evokes mystical symbols from ancient societies.

Morris' "Suspended Artifact" has a similar stateliness and mysticism with references to animals and Native American tribal art. I consider Morris the greatest of all the artists to emerge from the Northwest glass art movement centered around the Pilchuck school.

Ulrica Hydman Vallien was a ceramicist and an outstanding draftman before she turned to glass. Her "Three Faces Mirrored" is painting on carved glass and wood. The painting, loosely drawn and mystical, reminds me of Fay Jones, but it is not derivative. These distorted female faces are of Vallien's own invention.

The gift of the Benaroya collection to TAM is a great gift to all of Tacoma and the South Sound.

"The Beauty of a Shared Passion: Highlights from the Rebecca and Jack Benaroya Collection", Tuesday-Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., through April 23, 2017, $15, third Thursday free 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Tacoma Art Museum, 1701 Pacific Ave., tacomaartmuseum.org

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