Something's Fishy

The Museum of Contemporary Art lays out a postmodern fish story.

Later, after Fudge had moved to Portland, Payton called her and asked if she'd like to be a guest curator. Recalled Fudge, "I thought about the wonderful fact that this place used to be the Granada Fish Market -- do you remember when the museum first opened, you could still smell the fish? -- and I realized this is the place to do Go Fish!"

As it was finally realized, the show isn't so much a cogent philosophical statement on the relationship of water and humanity with fish as it is a cluster of postulates inspired by humans, water and fish.

Because of the many issues raised by the disparate photographs, it is organized purely on visual grounds. Fudge described her specific photo choices as being based alternately on psychology or religion, or on the way fish stand in as a symbol of female sexuality. "The form of the fish suggests the female sexual organ, and the odor of fish is similar to female fluids," she explained. "It reminds me of the cartoon about the blind man who passes the fish market, tips his hat and says, 'Good morning, ladies.'"

"Kokonee Salmon, Taylor Creek, Lake Tahoe," by John Matlack, cibachrome print.
"Kokonee Salmon, Taylor Creek, Lake Tahoe," by John Matlack, cibachrome print.
"El Nadador/Nacimiento," by Patrick Nagatani, chromogentic print.
"El Nadador/Nacimiento," by Patrick Nagatani, chromogentic print.

Details

Through January 6, 303-298-7554
Museum of Contemporary Art, 1275 19th Street

Three difficult-to-look-at photos by Nell Angelo represent this visual nexus of female sexuality and fish. All three show a nude Angelo cavorting with a very large, gutted fish. For Fudge, these photos are pivotal to the show, and she sees them as being expressive of "the human condition and the fragility of life." That may be true, but for me, the gross-out quotient overshadows any other meaning the photographer may have intended.

Happily, Angelo's photos are the edgiest objects in the show, and there are lots of other things that are, if not exactly lyrical, at least not stomach-churning. Especially nice and folksy -- the perfect antidote to those Angelos -- are the selection of nineteenth-century postcards depicting fishing as a sport, as well as the mid-twentieth-century Soviet photos in the same line. Local collectors Paul and Teresa Harbaugh lent these antique photos. "They have such a profound collection," Fudge said. "I just said, 'I'm doing a show about this,' and they just started whipping things out of boxes."

In addition to being a collector, Paul Harbaugh is also a photographer, and the show includes a handsome and ironic (given the combination of natural beauty and real-estate speculation) photo of his, the 1999 gelatin silver print "Lake Front Lots, Angel Fire, North of Questa, New Mexico."

Also picturesque is Mary Alice Johnston's "Quay de Bourbon," a 1956 gelatin silver print of boats and fishermen taken from above, and the romantic "Fisherwoman, Schuylkill River, Philadelphia," by Don Donaghy, a 1990 gelatin silver print of a woman with a fishing pole sitting on a wall.

Harbaugh, Johnston and Donaghy, all Colorado photographers, are among a strong showing from around here that includes Joy Wolf Binder, James Balog, Barry O'Neill, Teri O'Neill, Karen McClean, Steven Nickerson and John Matlack. "Kokonee Salmon, Taylor Creek, Lake Tahoe," a cibachrome print by Matlack, is very elegant. In this color photo, the artist juxtaposes water teeming with fish with the vertical bars of a grate set at a diagonal. It was obviously taken at some kind of hatchery or holding area.

Fudge has also included a number of big-time photographers from across the country, and a few from around the world. There are three color photos by Patrick Nagatani, the most compelling of which is "El Nadador/ Nacimiento," a chromogentic print done in 1993. This print has been tinted a deep red, so that the otherwise peaceful scene of a man swimming above a school of fish takes on a surprisingly ominous character.

There are also a pair of unexpected Arthur Tress color photographs depicting staged still-life scenes of aquariums filled with found objects (medical waste and medical symbols in one). More traditional for him is "Boy in Wheelchair With Sister," a 1975 gelatin silver print from his famous "Theatre of the Mind" series.

Although Fudge has tried to get us thinking about fish, she did say something so obvious that it's easy to forget: "The ordinary place most people encounter fish is on their dinner plate."

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