VISUAL ART REVIEW: Jean Mandeberg at Bar Francis


Bar Francis is a tiny coffee shop on Franklin Street nestled between Dumpster Values and Old School Pizza. It’s a place that you could easily walk right past without knowing it is there. But if you walk right past this month you’ll miss some fascinating art.

Currently on display are wall-hanging sculptures, or what I prefer to think of as drawings in metal, cloth and enamel, by longtime Evergreen State College art faculty member Jean Mandeberg.

It’s a tiny space and a small show. The art, like the shop, can easily be overlooked. But don’t. Make the effort to study these pieces carefully.

Andy Warhol famously said, “If you want to know all about Andy Warhol, just look at the surface of my paintings and films and me, and there I am. There’s nothing behind it.” Equally famously, Frank Stella said of his paintings, “What you see is what you see.”

Mandeberg is no Warhol; she’s no Stella. There is a lot more to her art than appears on the surface.

There are seven small pieces in this show. The three on the back wall are all related to the piece to the far right called “Stained.” There are sculptural elements attached to a grid that looks like chickenwire. A smaller but similar grid can be seen in the center, with an even smaller grid behind it — square grid after square grid after square grid creating the illusion of wire squares receding to infinity and becoming increasingly dense as they go. In the center is a shelf with 16 compartments, and inside each compartment is a white enamel pendant. These form repetitive patterns, and on each pendant is something brown — splotches and blobs of color, delicate line drawings, and fingerprints. The depth, and the variety of shape and form within repeating patterns, makes this piece a joy to contemplate.

A similar piece on this back wall is “Tags, 2016.” Like “Stained,” it has multiple overlapping grids. In the center are rows and columns of white enamel tags, each with printed statements like those found in fortune cookies: “you will inherit money and jewelry,” “assert yourself, your ideas are worthwhile,” “failure teaches success” and other pithy sayings. Behind everything is a stack of paper tags that overlap and are placed in every imaginable direction. On each of these is printed the artist’s name. What Mandeberg sets up here is a dance of similar and opposite images and materials, some as precisely arranged as members of a marching band, and some haphazardly piled as if dropped.

On another wall hang a group of pieces featuring words such as “Cheats,” “Fix” and “Throw” cut into enamel and placed within square and rectangular frames of metal rods. These are intricately integrated with drawings and other words, including dictionary definitions of the words. The overall look is simplicity itself, but the parts within parts are exciting in their complexity.

Another piece features cut metal that looks like paper or cloth doilies — a fascinating dichotomy of material and image beautifully described in my friend Susan Christian’s review on Facebook from a few days ago.

What better way to enjoy a half hour or so than to sip a cup of coffee at Bar Francis while looking at Mandeberg’s art!

(This review appears courtesy The Weekly Volcano.)

WHAT Jean Mandeberg wall sculptures

WHEN 7 a.m. to 2 p.m., Monday-Friday, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., Saturday-Sunday, through March 27

WHERE Bar Francis, 110 Franklin St., NE, Olympia


LEARN MORE (360) 292-5446

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