The trek down to the Marylhurst Art Gym gallery has never been more worth your time and gasoline. Two complementary shows throw into luscious relief the wryly romantic Northwest attitude toward nature. In the larger show, Wolves Urchins, photographer Wendy Given evokes the sexualized prolificacy of sylvan undergrowth and hollowed-out sea caves. Anne Mathern's immaculately composed prints walk the line between Earth-Mother earnestness and high goth drama, while Hayley Barker's drawings depict mutant catfish, spiders, and vagina-monsters that slither and coil like eels in primordial ooze.
But the Gym's smaller installation, Portlanders Marne Lucas and Bruce Conkle's Warlord Sun King: The Genesis of Eco-Baroque, steals the show. The duo reimagines Versailles' Hall of Mirrors as a monument to a new "Eco-Baroque" age, in which lowbrow, highbrow and eco-hippie aesthetics combine to critique Louis XIV's patriarchal imperialism—an ironic turn, given Louis' naturalistic nickname, "The Sun King." In Conkle and Lucas' hands, the Hall's famous mirrors and windows become aluminum-foil panels. Its chandeliers become an enormous tanning bed suspended from the ceiling, dripping unwieldy crystals and potted moss. A video projector, dangling by fishing nets, projects a loop of the artists into a plastic tidal pool filled with motor oil. On the wall, a fanciful, gold-painted shovel is filigreed with fleurs-de-lis, while an amethyst geode is transformed into a champagne bucket. These fetishized objects allow the artists ever so gently to condemn the things that desecrate the sea and land: oil spills, nets that ensnare marine animals, the shovel as a tool for disturbing the earth, and the excesses of human luxury. Photographs along the panels depict oddly shaped trees, a diorama of a Native American man and woman, and a cheeky reenactment of that diorama by Conkle and Lucas, both dressed in Stone Age garb. In another photo, a takeoff of a 17th-century portrait, Lucas brandishes a portrait of an arch, pencil-mustached Conkle as Louis XIV, looking for all the world like Richard Chamberlain in the campy 1977 classic The Man in the Iron Mask.
Both Lucas and Conkle have developed strong aesthetics over the last decade and a half, but neither, arguably, has exhibited a solo show quite as polished and mature as this collaborative effort. Lucas lends Conkle her style, energy, and accessibility, while Conkle focuses Lucas' talents like a conceptual laser beam. The team's synthesis of ramshackle opulence, ecological awareness, and absurdist humor is original and perversely spectacular.
Both shows take place at Marylhurst Art Gym, 17600 Pacific Highway (Oregon 43), 699-6243. Closes March 25.