George Clooney does some sleuthing behind the shrubbery in "The Descendants."/Fox Searchlight Pictures

Two movies opened this week that I had an interest in seeing — “The Descendants” with George Clooney and “My Week With Marilyn,” starring Michelle Williams, each an early contender for Oscar nominations — primarily because I thought they had a chance to be good. That makes me different from “sanctioned movie critics.” They see everything.

I had a few stints in the movie critic’s chair at The Oregonian, and it nearly killed off my love of movies, because just about every day I gulped and forced myself through the door and into the dark to see a movie I knew I wouldn’t like, or worse, something that repulsed me. I tried to keep an open mind, to locate the reasons other people might enjoy it so I could let them know that, yes, those parts were in there. But it wasn’t my idea of fun. I tended to write very long reviews of movies that interested me and award them multitudes of stars and give short shrift to everything else.

I loved Robert Altman (still do) and in a fit of insanity, I gave what may be his worst film, “Pret-a-Porter,” the maximum four stars.  I was so beguiled by “Howards End,” the baroque Merchant-Ivory film, that I gave it FIVE stars out of four. I was a drowning man, grasping at any sign of intelligent life to buoy me for a moment.

I still like “Howards End,” but maybe not five stars worth, though in truth I find the very idea of stars ridiculous. Here’s John Dewey in“Art as Experience,” published in 1934: “Criticism is thought of as if its business were not explication of the content of an object as to substance and form, but a process of acquittal or condemnation on the basis of merits and demerits.”  The “process of acquittal or condemnation” is the primary mode of popular criticism, now more than ever, defended as “consumer advice,” whenever anyone raises a question about it.

Just for the record: Weekend Wrap does not pronounce guilt or innocence, rap its gavel and declare that the case is closed. In art, the case is always open and paintings, plays, dances, movies and concerts you find ridiculous may occupy the very center of my aesthetic world. And I like it that way!

“My Week With Marilyn,” The Weinstein Company: I have no idea how Michelle Williams ended up in “My Week With Marilyn.” Scarlett Johansson and Naomi Watts were both linked to another Marilyn Monroe movie in development, “Blonde,” and they are a little more obvious because of their star power, plus Johansson’s figure is more Marilyn-esque. Angelina Jolie was linked to yet another Marilyn project, “The Life and Times of Maf the Dog,” and I guess I get that along with maybe Charlize Theron?  I don’t know: The more I thought about it, the more I realized what a monumental casting problem any Marilyn biopic has. We know (or think we know) her so well.

Michelle Williams' Marilyn Monroe enjoys swimming in the buff./The Weinstein Company

Anyway, I wanted to see what Williams would do with the role, primarily because she’s been so good in little movies with Oregon connections, “Wendy and Lucy” and “Meek’s Cutoff.” I thought she couldn’t possibly project the real Marilyn’s sheer primate magnetism or the sense of “sexy fun” that she generated, but still I was interested.

She’s terrific as it turns out. Give her that Marilyn hair-do and a little judicious padding, and she resembles Marilyn enough to get by, but more importantly, she creates a palpable vulnerability or  neediness or whatever it is that we associate with Monroe, exaggerated by her stardom, her celebrity, into a character we’d ordinarily think could only be imaginary, a creature from a science fiction novel, whose sensitivities are so acute that the slightest perturbation in her environment splinters her into a million pieces, which then streak toward the nearest hiding place.

Manohla Dargis in the New York Times complained in her review that the miss in the movie belonged to the screenwriter: “Instead of the complex woman familiar from the better books about her, the film offers a catalog of Monroe stereotypes: child, woman, smiling exhibitionist, shrieking neurotic, the barefooted free spirit and, lamentably, the martyr teetering in heels toward her doom.” I take her point, though I haven’t read “the better books” about Monroe, I suppose. I’m not Marilyn-obsessed, after all. I think we never have a very firm idea about another person, though we’re more likely to with a celebrity than anyone else, because their parts, their lives,  ARE stereotypes to one degree or another. That’s the price they pay, I think.

Williams herself isn’t a celebrity exactly, not a Big Star, though she was the partner of one, the late Heath Ledger. Which maybe allows her performance to describe for us something vivid and original, something hiding behind behind the words we use about Marilyn, including “stereotypes.” That’s what good acting does; it shows us the limits of adjectives and metaphors to describe another human. We get to see it. “Shrieking neurotic”? There’s not a moment in “My Week With Marilyn” I’d describe that way, though Williams occasional does something close to shriek and is undoubtedly playing a character who was “neurotic.” I’m just saying that the reduction doesn’t hold up. These words are such paltry things, the way, really, that we construct stereotypes, including the stereotype of the film that traffics in stereotypes.

Somewhere, Dargis implies, there’s a deeper depiction of Marilyn awaiting discovery. I’d say, following Dewey, that somewhere there’s an alternate description that will be more useful to us, one way or another.

David Denby in the New Yorker is far kinder in his judgment, if you want to read his take and get a good idea of the movie as a whole: “In ‘My Week with Marilyn,’ Williams makes the star come alive. She has Monroe’s walk, the easy, swivelling neck, the face that responds to everything like a flower swaying in the breeze. Most important, she has the sexual sweetness and the hurt, lost look that shifts, in a flash, into resistance and tears.”

In Dargis’s defense, I’d suggest that she’s more restless about the Myth of Marilyn than Denby is (or maybe than I am). She wants more, new iterations and interpretations. This particular description comes by way of someone who was there — the movie is based on the memoirs of  Colin Clark, a young man working on the 1957 set of “The Prince and the Showgirl,” which starred Monroe and Laurence Olivier. I haven’t read the source material and compared it to the script, let alone do any sleuthing to verify his account. Did he REALLY go skinny-dipping with Marilyn? Is his view of her smothered by stereotype, too? I’m sure it is, to some extent. But to me, in this film with this “Marilyn” it felt fresh and true, and I thought it brought me a little closer to someone, Marilyn Monroe, who has been more of a symbol to me than someone “actual.”

George Clooney, Shailene Woodely and Amara Miller in “The Descendants”/Fox Searchlight Pictures

“The Descendants,” Fox Searchlight Pictures: Whew! We got Marilyn out of the way! Now on to the less contentious ground of “The Descendants,” a curious, shifting little movie (if any movie with George Clooney can be defined as “little” at this point) that heads toward a conventional narrative conclusion via a meandering, amusing route, not that it doesn’t sink into some sentimental moments, too.

The move ties together two narrative threads. In one, Clooney as Matt King is making a decision about whether to develop a beautiful, untouched bay on Kauai and which of two developers he’s going to tap to do the developing. The half a billion bucks he gets will go to the “Descendants,” the tribe of cousins (to which he belongs) who have a stake in the property, left to them through the generations from the marriage of an American to a native princess.

As the film begins, Clooney has pretty much made up his mind which developer he’s going to choose, but then the other plot thread gets in the way. His wife is in a coma. Sad, and at her bedside he confesses that he’s been a neglectful, absent husband and father, more concerned with his lawyering business than anything else. He knows he’s been remote, and if she just pulls through this, he promises he’ll do better.

But then, he gets the news from his older daughter that his loving wife has had a very recent and ongoing dalliance. Oops. Who is he? How did this happen? What does it mean? Suddenly, he’s in the middle of the odyssey that makes up the bulk of “The Descendants.”

I figured I’d like “The Descendants” for two reasons. Clooney “gets” the reasonably competent and psychologically integrated modern American male really well, his boyishness verging on his shallowness, his regret so easily channeled into anger, his love so often misplaced, misdirected and intermittent, his principles prey to his impulses. But despite all the stretching, he usually snaps back into place just fine. This is the Clooney of “Up in the Air” and “Michael Clayton” and parts of other characters in his other films.

Clooney’s ability with that sort of role made him a good choice to work with director Alexander Payne, who directed “Sideways” “About Schmidt” and “Election,” with their “careful dissection of the beached male” in the words of the New Yorker’s Anthony Lane. So, yes, I was confident that I’d enjoy “The Descendants,” and I did, mostly because it was funny in a wry way. Clooney can be an excellent comedian (I loved him in “O Brother Where Art Thou?” and he’s good in the “Ocean’s” movies), and here he’s aided by three cute kids. Sometimes he’s the straight man, and sometimes he provides the funny “reaction” shot.

I didn’t just love “The Descendants” because of the sentimentality I mentioned. There’s some wallowing, at least to me, and I’m not big on those tear-jerker scenes, though I totally understand how cathartic they can be for others. Maybe I’m just too repressed.

I’m worried about that because I find myself in partial agreement with the hanging judge of Sentimental Soaps, the Voice’s J. Hoberman, who called “The Descendants” “insistently sincere and positively sudsy” at the top of his review and then concluded: “… it left me cold. The pathos is as unearned as the protagonist’s privilege.” Ouch!

But then A.O. Scott of the New York Times saw it completely differently: “To call ‘The Descendants’ perfect would be a kind of insult, a betrayal of its commitment to, and celebration of, human imperfection. Its flaws are impossible to distinguish from its pleasures.” So there. I’m much closer to Scott, but I have some of Hoberman’s reservations maybe. Does that help?

Whether you like “My Week With Marilyn” or “The Descendants” or not, maybe you’ll agree with me that watching Michelle Williams and George Clooney in action has pleasures of its own, layers of them actually. And those pleasures are a big reason that for heading to the movies for that afternoon matinee.


This story appeared originally as a post on Oregon Public Broadcasting’s Arts & Life page.

Maggie Rupp dances Titania in Portland Ballet's A Midsummer Night's Dream this weekend at Portland State University. Photo credit: Blaine Covert

Last weekend’s concerts showed that artistic assets like beauty and virtuosity can make for some splendid experiences — but they’re not always enough. The Consonare Chorale’s program last weekend at Portland’s First Congregational Church comprised almost entirely music by contemporary composers, including attractive works by Portland-born Morten Lauridsen and Portland based Joan Szymko. The singers sailed smoothly through the show, which was enhanced by contributions from violinist Cecilia Archuleta and Consonare founder Georgina Philippson’s enthusiastic and engaging between-song remarks, which punctured the formality that can creep in when several dozen people in tuxes and formal dresses stand in front of an audience.

That audience seemed well satisfied by Consonare’s uniformly pretty, soothing sounds — like an evening of warm apple cider that was an ideal antidote for what immediately preceded them on my way to the concert: chilly squalls and the first 2/3 of what then appeared to be a total dismantlement of my Oregon Ducks by USC.

And yet after one relentlessly pretty, slow-to mid-tempo song after another, my ears craved something spicier, edgier. But expecting that at many American choral concerts is like going to the Rose Garden and being disappointed that the Yankees weren’t playing.  Such simple, pretty, homophonic sounds are easy for amateur groups to learn, which encourages composers to fill that demand. Over-emphasis on textural and melodic beauty has been a characteristic of a lot of American choral music over the past couple of generations, and the attendant lack of innovation and diversity is one reason there’s so little overlap between audiences for it and more exciting, experimental instrumental new music (which is also why the latter tends to get a lot more attention in the media). In particular, I missed audible evidence of the 20th century’s greatest contributions to music — the African influences that pervaded blues, jazz and the century’s great pop music explosions beginning in the 1920s; the music of other cultures that energized so many American composers; and the harmonic and rhythmic innovations that avant grade-to- progressive American composers from Charles Ives on down added to the nation’s musical palette.

If you wanted warm and soothing, though, this concert delivered. Other Oregon choirs follow the same formula, if not always performed so adroitly. But the ultimate blandness and sameness of too much of the music made me appreciate all the more the fascinating, diverse, and daring programming I’ve heard recently at PSU and Lewis & Clark’s choral programs and in groups like Oregon Repertory Singers, Resonance Ensemble, Portland Vocal Consort and others, in Oregon and elsewhere. Other choruses around the country are infusing energetic elements from gospel and the new a capella sounds into the musical bloodstream. Even the choirs that focus entirely on pre-20th century music have more muscular, complex, diverse, and/ or transcendent (and often polyphonic) music to draw on. I’m encouraged to see increasing demand for those qualities among ambitious choirs around the country. It would be great to see local choral organizations programming and even commissioning such ambitious music from local composers. And I’m looking forward to hearing the skilled singers of Consonare taking on more diverse repertoire in their March concert, which promises a mariachi band, Brazilian guitarist, and more.


David Giuntoli and Russell Hornsby star in NBC’s “Grimm”/NBC

Yvonne Rainer was in town for a lecture at Pacific Northwest College of Art last Thursday, and she managed to change the way I looked at art all weekend. Such is the power of an interesting idea.

Way back in the 1960s, Rainer was part of the Judson Dance Theater, an informal group of choreographers who conducted far-reaching experiments into the nature of performance, specifically dance. Trisha Brown, Lucinda Childs, Steve Paxton, David Gordon, Meredith Monk, Deborah Hay and many others created dance/performance pieces that challenged just about all the existing performance conventions.

During that time, Rainer issued her famous “No Manifesto,” a radical reduction of the trappings around dance and an assertion of the “neutrality” or “objectivity” of the performer. Here it is:

No to spectacle.
No to virtuosity.
No to transformations and magic and make-believe.
No to the glamour and transcendency of the star image.
No to the heroic.
No to the anti-heroic.
No to trash imagery.
No to involvement of performer or spectator,
No to style.
No to camp.
No to seduction of spectator by the wiles of the performer.
No to eccentricity.
No to moving or being moved.

What was left? Dancing pure and simple — and an audience whose independence and intelligence were honored, without tricks or tickles or sugar-coating. And that’s what Rainer tried to make. I don’t think she was trying to make the case that ALL art should be this way, just that some of it should, and the part she made at the very least.

So, that was on my mind as I encountered the world of art and entertainment this weekend.


“Train Jumping,” Miles Cleveland Goodwin, Froelick Gallery

Saturday afternoon was a wet, chilly, blustery splash in the face, meaning just perfect for a little gallery hopping.  Once I hit the streets and adjusted the hood of my coat, everything was great. I even ran into some actual artists! George Johanson and I intersected after I’d left the Froelick Gallery, and we exchanged some recent news on the cave painting front, one of Johanson’s favorite subjects, and he said he was working on a big new government office commission in Salem and had a painting show coming up in May at Augen Gallery. A little later, I found Paul Missal tending the front desk at the Blackfish Gallery, but more about that later.

So yes, rain, wind, art, conversation, coffee — honestly, why don’t I do this every Saturday?

Laurie Danial and Miles Cleveland Goodwin, Froelick Gallery: I like the uncertainty of the space in Laurie Danial’s monographs and paintings. At first it seems so flat and unexceptional, and then it suggests depth and even layers, and I start to figure out the lay of her land, and then I’m derailed by tangled little “events” of color and line, get lost in tracing ideas that she’s overpainted and generally feel a little discombobulated, though not unpleasantly so.

Sometimes her lines and color are so delicate and exact, and at other times, they are thick and crude. Sometimes I think I’m in the middle of a very elaborate doodle, and then I shift to thinking that everything is very deliberate, purposeful.

“Between a Rock and a Hunk,” Laurie Danial, Froelick Gallery

In “Between a Rock and a Hunk,” she creates a sort of topographic grid describing something that looks like a mountain, which she  overpaints. The outline of that geographical feature repeats in a line drawing that floats close to the top of the picture, where it intertwines with lines from other non-geographical elements. I try to correlate the overpainted grid and the drawn mountain, and they don’t quite match up. My eye drifts to a stack of boxes and a bowl — I’m using these particular nouns very loosely — and then a tangle of lines that somehow suggest flowers or something. Pretty soon the highway of thick yellow lines leads me back to the mountain.

After those strange figures and spaces, it’s a bit of a relief to head into Goodwin’s more familiar painted world, thought “relief” isn’t a word we’d usually associate with those bleak, wintry scenes, in which the state bird is the raven waiting its chance to peck at our innards. Well, he doesn’t get THAT graphic, but you get the idea.

In “Train Jumping” a young man and woman, teens perhaps, are dashing toward a train over some snowy barren fields, marked by broken fences and trees. They look determined or maybe frightened, as the train barrels toward them along a long curve of track, its smoke swirling with the thick clouds and general gloom.

“Chasing Deer, Miles Cleveland Goodwin, Froelick Gallery

“Chasing Deer” is more sedate at first glance, as two men, hunters presumably, climb down into a little valley dotted with frozen ponds and snow-covered fields. But those pesky ravens, the harsh conditions, the storm gathering in the hills on the other end of the valley — it’s not idyllic. They are both painted expressionistically, not carefully illustrated, perfect for the subject matter: You don’t need finely detailed fences when a series of fast strokes will do. And the general effect of cold is profound enough to make you zip up your jacket.

Andrej Krementschouk, Blue Sky Gallery: Blue Sky is always a good bet on a rainy day, because it generally has three exhibitions. This month the front gallery houses a show by the Russian-born Krementschouk, who now lives in Germany. Here he dives back into his homeland for a show called “No Direction Home,” exploring village life in Russia.  One of the photographs, “Landscape With Coachman,” looks as though it might have been taken a hundred years ago (if you overlook the whole color photography part), peaceful and nostalgic. In other images, there are apples and pigeons and landscapes, but mostly there are people, often older, embedded in their bedrooms or sitting rooms, sometimes so embedded they are asleep. My favorite is an image of four men, who look as though they are preparing for a religious ritual of some sort. One carries a Russian Orthodox cross, and if you look carefully, you can see that it also bears a skull and crossbones.

Andrej Krementschouk, Blue Sky Gallery

Fritz Liedtke is showing a collection of photogravures, small, golden and glowing. Called “Astra Velum (Veil of Stars),” the images are of women, mostly younger, who have freckles or scars on their faces, sometimes a sprinkle, sometimes many more. Usually, they face us head on, their eyes impossibly bright, which makes them seem like mythical creatures. Takeshi Shikama’s exhibition is just as delicately printed — platinum Palladium prints on Japanese handmade Gampi paper — though much darker images of woods, clearings, streams, individual trees. I didn’t find them gloomy at all, even on a rainy day — more calming, though occasionally a little mysterious.

Ellen George, PDX Contemporary Art: George’s exhibition is called “Sensing Place” and it recalls the wildflowers of Texas, where she grew up, but I thought of it in a different way. The assemblages made of polymer clay of different colors hang like beads or are attached in simple patterns on wall, and to me, they seemed like devices for detecting the vibrations of the places they were attached or hung, acute to sudden drops of emotional pressure or changes in thought directions. It’s hard to explain, actually, because yes, the individual elements look like petals (though sometimes more like pebbles) and they don’t move or change. As objects, they represent perfect little moments maybe, but somehow that impression of them as detectors caught in my mind and I couldn’t shake it.

Paul Missal, Blackfish Gallery: Actually, before I ducked into Blackfish, I stopped to look at the Elizabeth Leach show of work by Lee Kelly and Bonnie Bronson, about whom I’ve written recently. Kelly is mostly represented by models for larger sculpture, and in that state, they seem more like little interlocking puzzle pieces than they do on the scale at which he usually works. And the late Bronson’s early paintings and wall sculpture in an abstract expressionist vein have a rough, delectable beauty — well worth seeing.

Missal talked to me a bit about his show at Blackfish, which includes two big paintings from years ago that were important to his development as a painter. In both, objects were suspended in the “air” of the canvas. In the older one, Missal explained that the Bic pen he’d painted had taught him how to paint fine edges, and when I looked closely, I understood exactly what he meant, the difficulty of holding that clean, sharp line in paint. And then he had carried that knowledge over to the canvas full of cups on the opposite wall, an amazing array which he had imagined suspended in a spiral. Now, looking at it, he sees little flaws, but for me, it looks perfect.

"Friends," Paul Missal, Blackfish Gallery

Missal’s deft touch is also on display in some whimsical drawings of pixies, leaves, birds and fruit (“I like the illogic of it,” he said), and the fruit carries over to a set of still life paintings of pears and potatoes, captured in twos, leaning against each other, again perfect expressions with pink ribbon and drapery. There’s also a portrait of a friend and a sketch of his sister, a couple of weeks before her death, each line so caring it almost hurts to look at it.

By the time I’d finished, the rain had mostly stopped, the Ducks game against Stanford had almost begun, the Pearl District’s Saturday night crowd had started to form, the coffee shop where I chose to wait for my wife to meet me was half full of young men hard at it on their laptops. Human life was percolating along as usual. Of course, I was seeing that train curving toward me in night and resolved to climb aboard.


This post originally appeared on Oregon Public Broadcasting’s Arts & Life page.

Chamber Music Amici play Baroque music in Springfield Monday

If it’s Baroque music you crave, Eugene’s the place to be this weekend. On Saturday and Sunday at First Christian Church, the Oregon Mozart Players chamber orchestra lights up the candles and goes Baroque in their annual intimate concert of 18th century music, this time featuring a J.S. Bach cantata and appealing concerti by Vivaldi, Handel, and Locatelli. On Monday, Springfield’s excellent Chamber Music Amici (consisting mostly of present and former Eugene Symphony players and/or UO faculty members) play the famous trio sonata from Bach’s magnificent Musical Offering and delicious works by three other Baroque masters:Telemann, Rameau, and Leclair. Both concerts will feature modern players using historical practices and in some cases authentic bows and even instruments.

Also in Eugene, former NBC TV anchorman Tom Brokaw joins the Eugene Symphony at the Hult Center’s Silva Hall Tuesday to narrate Aaron Copland’s A Lincoln Portrait, part of an excellent all-American program that also features Copland’s The Promise of Living (from his opera, The Tender Land), William Schuman’s New England Triptych, and most impressively, John Adams’s  moving commemoration of the victims of the September 11 attacks, On the Transmigration of Souls. And the University Symphony plays music by the greatest of film composers, Bernard Herrmann on Sunday at the UO’s Beall Concert Hall.

That Eugene Symphony concert is part of the orchestra’s multifaceted look at war and our responses to it. That’s also the theme of the Oregon Symphony’s new CD (review coming soon), which recorded last May’s program at the Schnitzer and Carnegie Hall. The concept continues this weekend at the Portland Columbia Symphony Orchestra’s Friday and Sunday concerts (at Portland’s First Methodist Church and Gresham’s Mt. Hood Community College Theater, respectively), featuring Samuel Barber’s powerful Violin Concerto, Beethoven’s Symphony #3, and Frank Bridge’s Lament for Strings — all composed in response to war or its approach.

Eugeneans and other Oregon Bach Festival patrons who enjoyed German cellist Alban Gerhardt’s performances this summer can see him take the solo spotlight in Sergey Prokofiev’s cello concerto-turned Symphony Concerto, composed for the great 20th century cellist Msistislav Rostropovich at the Oregon Symphony’s concerts Saturday, Sunday and Monday nights at Portland’s Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall.

Portland choral music fans face a difficult choice among very different yet all appealing programs. On Saturday, you could hear the great Cappella Romana perform the hellacious Byzantine liturgical drama The Service of the Three Children in the Fiery Furnace, at Northwest Portland’s St Mary’s Cathedral. Or you could soak in the sublime music of Renaissance composers Palestrina and Christopher Tye at Cantores in Ecclesia’s concert at St. Stephen’s church in SE Portland. Both are part of the Journey To Light festival comprising concerts, talks, tours and more, organized by an especially industrious high school student, Katherine Brafford.

Or, you could join Portland’s Consonare Chorale, with violinist Cecilia Archuleta and pianist Jon Stuber, in contemporary settings of great poetry by Emerson, Frost, cummings, Yeats and more by current (Joan Syzmko) and former (Morten Lauridsen) Portlanders, hot choral composer and model Eric Whitacre, and others — including Adam Steele, who can’t be there because he’ll be singing across town with Cappella Romana! Or catch Satori Men’s Chorus at Portland’s Old Church, singing music by composers from Burt Bacharach to Randall Thompson. All these concerts look intriguing, but you can only make one of them. The choral scene in Portland is that rich.

Portland’s Peace Choir starts the Saturday singing off at 5 pm with a concert at St. David of Wales Episcopal Church, while The Julians, an all-star aggregation of female choristers from around the city, finish the weekend with Sunday afternoon’s concert at St Stephen’s Episcopal Parish in downtown Portland. They bring their classically trained voices to music by Joni Mitchell, Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard, Bjork, Brahms, John Lennon and more, all focused on the differing gender perspectives on relationships.

Contemporary music fans with jazz tendencies (or vice versa) might check out composer Art Resnick’s bimusical concert at Portland’s Community Music Center. The first half features his contemporary post classical compositions, played by classical musicians including pianist Maria Choban, while the second showcases the pianist/composer’s jazz trio performing improvised music you’d expect from a musician who played with jazz legends like Freddie Hubbard, George Coleman, Nat Adderley, and others. Proceeds benefit the valuable Cascadia Composers organization.

Chamber music aficionados in Portland can catch Portland State University’s great 35-year-old Florestan Trio and guests playing music by Dvorak, Mozart and Schumann, on Sunday afternoon at PSU’s Lincoln Hall. Or the 5Tet woodwind quintet playing Brahms, a world premiere and more Saturday at Tigard’s United Methodist Church. Or violinists Tatiana Kolchanova and Mary Rowell playing Prokofiev, Bartok and more Sunday afternoon in First Presbyterian Church’s always attractive Celebration Works series, now celebrating its first decade. Alas, Portland Piano International’s recommended Monday recital by Roman Rabinovitch is sold out, but there are plenty of other opportunities to satisfy your classical music jones this weekend.

And if the choices are so paralyzing that you just want stay home, and you missed Lara Downes’s excellent set of newly written (by a baker’s dozen of contemporary composers) variations on Bach’s Goldberg Variations  performed at Portland International Piano Festival this summer, Portland’s essential all classical radio station‘s unmissable Club Mod show will be playing Downes’s recently issued CD of that music Saturday night, along with music by the superb new music ensemble eighth blackbird. The shows are archived on the station website for two weeks.

They'll be reprising this Marina Abramovic piece in LA.

I love a good arts world dust-up. This edition of news and notes has a few of those, including one that involves naked bodies inside fake skeletons, and also some well-deserved awards!

Artist/provocateur Marina Abramovic has designed the “entertainment” for a fundraiser at the LA Museum of Contemporary Art. According to Art Info, its young “performers will spend three hours with their their heads protruding through the gala’s tabletops, kneeling on Lazy Susans below to slowly rotate in circles while maintaining eye contact with guests. Other performers will lay nude on tables with fake skeletons on top of them, recreating Abramovic’s famous “Nude With Skeleton” performance, as reperformers did at her MoMA retrospective. Participants will be paid $150 and receive a one-year MOCA membership.” Is Abramovic simply creating an “artistic” spectacle or is she commenting on the excess of the fundraiser itself? I have no idea, but eminent choreographer Yvonne Rainer calls it a “grotesque spectacle” in her letter to the museum’s Jeffrey Deitch: “An exhibition is one thing — again, this is not a critique of Abramovic’s work in general — but titillation for wealthy donor/diners as a means of raising money is another.”

Coincidentally, Rainer will speak at PNCA, 1241 NW Johnson, tomorrow (Thursday) night, 6:30-8:30 p.m. Her lecture: “Where’s the Passion? Where’s the Politics? or How I  Became Interested in Impersonating, Approximating, and End Running Around My Selves and Others’,  and Where Do I Look When You’re Looking At Me?”  On a personal note, I once had the opportunity to watch Rainer teach her famous “Trio A” to two dancers (one of them Linda K. Johnson), and the experience was incredible. Admission is free.

While I’m on the subject of dance, Oregon dance folk have received two dance awards in the past week or so. Paul King and Walter Jaffe of White Bird received the  2012 William Dawson Award for Programmatic Excellencef rom the national Association of Performing Arts Presenters, joining such previous winners as the 92nd Ave. Y, the Oregon Bach Festival and Mark Russell’s Under the Radar festival. And Northwest Dance Project and its commissioned work by Ihsan Rustem won the Sadler’s Wells Global Dance Competition.

It takes just a moment or two of informal reporting in the theater world to realize that one of its great economic contradictions is that actors, by and large, are the 99 percent of the art form. Diane Ragsdale addresses this situation in a post on her ArtsJournal blog, Jumper, that suggests several changes to business as usual. Here’s one of them: “What if investments in the buildings, administrative budgets, and salaries of full-time staff of theaters were matched with a relative increase in artistic budgets and, specifically, wages or fees paid to artists?”

Though I appreciate Michael Kaiser’s respect for arts criticism and his concern that the platforms that paid for it are disappearing and so the critics, his post on Huffington Post is pretty problematic, as the comment thread almost instantly reveals. It concludes: No one critic should be deemed the arbiter of good taste in any market and it is wonderful that people now have an opportunity to express their feelings about a work of art. But great art must not be measured by a popularity contest. Otherwise the art that appeals to the lowest common denominator will always be deemed the best.

Edward P. Davee, who works for the audio-visual department at Reed College, has received the 2012 Oregon Media Arts Fellowship, which involves a cash award of $15,000. That will help fund a film called “Lost Division,” about the return of thee soldiers to a World War II. Davee’s “How the Fire Fell,” about the Brides of Christ religious cult active in Corvallis in 1903, will screen at 7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 9, in Whitsell Auditorium as part of the Northwest Filmmakers’ Festival.

“Criticism is thought of as if its business were not explication of the content of an object as to substance and form, but a process of acquittal or condemnation on the basis of merits and demerits.” — John Dewey, “Art as Experience”

We are all critics and journalists, of course, but maybe you feel the call to respond to the arts in a more formal way. Maybe you’ve said,  “We need more arts writing, more criticism!”  and have decided that you want to get started. Or maybe you already write (using “write” in the broadest possible sense) about the arts and see the need to find a new way to approach it, one that’s more open-ended and creative than what you’ve been doing. Let’s say you belong to one of those two groups and are wondering, What next?!?”

Well, that’s where the ArtsWatch Arts Writing Workshop comes in. ArtsWatch executive editor Barry Johnson, who wrote and edited arts and culture stories both at The Oregonian and Willamette Week for more than 30 years, will conduct a free, two-day workshop  to help writers develop a pragmatic approach to what Dewey calls the “difficult process” of “learning to see and hear.”

The ArtsWatch Arts Writing Workshop takes place Saturday, December 3, and Saturday, December 10 from 11 AM to 2 PM at Museum of Contemporary Craft (724 NW Davis). The workshop is free, but space is limited. Please RSVP to lradon (at)

“I have forced myself to contradict myself in order to avoid conforming to my own taste.” — Marcel Duchamp


Barry Johnson

Barry Johnson has written about and edited arts and culture stories of various sorts since 1978, when he started writing about dance for the Seattle Sun. He edited the arts section of Willamette Week and wrote a general culture column in the early 1980s. He started at The Oregonian as arts editor in 1983, moving between editing and writing (visual arts, movies, theater, dance) until leaving in 2009. His thinking about arts writing has focused on ways to make it more creative for the writer and more useful to everyone concerned.