VizArts Monthly: December edition, signs and whispers

The arts exhibitions in Portland are full of wonders and portents, never before seen in these parts.

We have reached the threshold of the December First Thursday/First Friday matrix of arts openings. You may enter, restoreth your sanity and perhaps purchase an item or two or three for special people on your holiday list. Or you can return to the soulless clicking of online shopping! For my money (what little there is of it), I’d prefer to give those special people arts experiences (tickets, memberships, actual art, music) or the means to make them themselves (paints, instruments, dance class) than participate in the random circulation of consumer goods I know are close to obsolescence even as I fork over the cash. And that’s just a small part of the problem with them—though I’m in danger of arguing myself out of the ho-ho-ho spirit if I dive into this particular rabbit hole.

Anyway, I’m better off bundling up and hitting the galleries. Below, a few of the gallery openings that caught my eye, then a list of shows at a few institutions that you might want to see before they come tumbling down, and finally some ArtsWatch stories in the visual arts realm that are worth some attention, at least in my book and I hope in yours.

Upfor Gallery: Michelle Grabner curated last year’s Oregon Biennial at Disjecta, and she’s also an artist, deeply involved in using domestic fabrics as source materials. Anne Crumpacker also uses traditional materials and traditions, in this case bamboo and the Japanese art and crafts tradition. Does freedom await us inside the “empty” areas of those patterns and designs?

Blackfish Gallery: Ellen Goldschmidt’s new paintings explore the past, via family photo albums. “These pictures ponder the inner life of a child sensitive to her perilous environment and the lingering echoes of emotional trauma experienced in the shadows. It’s not the whole story, but it is my attempt to create, in the language of paint, a partial memoir of my emotional life.”

Ellen Goldschmidt, “Essential Male”, acrylic on board in birch frame, 23.5 x 23.5″/Blackfish Gallery

Froelick Gallery: Speaking of memories and images of the past, Micah Hearn turns to his Southern roots in his first solo show at Froelick Gallery.

Micah Hearn, “Mantle and Sink”, acrylic, oil stick on canvas /Photo Mario Gallucci

Charles A. Hartman Fine Art: For the past year, Rachel Davis has been keeping a visual notebook, a “Book of Days,” to record her responses to the tumult around us—political and environmental. She writes, “…this new US political landscape and its ripple effect around the world required its own visual language. With how rapidly events have changed from day to day, it necessitated working on something small to respond to with immediacy. The equivalent of a painted tweet.”

Rachel Davis, “May 1”, Watercolor on paper,
5″ x 5″

*****

Somehow Wayne Coyne’s King’s Mouth has the perverse effect of showing us how capitalism ends—inside a big, shiny installation with a foam tongue to lounge on as a light show synchronized to Flaming Lips songs fills the cavity around you. Or maybe that’s just me. Coyne is the frontman for the rock band Flaming Lips, but he’s also followed other artistic pursuits. This installation, which also includes Coyne drawings completed on the road, continues at PNCA’s Center for Contemporary Art & Culture through January 6 in the 511 Gallery. PNCA’s public art spaces will be filled with lots of other cool stuff this month, too.

Wayne Coyne’s “King’s Mouth” is at PNCA, for your edification/Courtesy of PNCA

Is Cloud of Petals an invitation into a “safe” future, where roses are stripped of their thorns? Is it a warning? Or is it a strange environment that you make sense of in your own way? Maybe it depends on your mood. The second exhibition by Disjecta’s curator-in-Residence Julia Greenway is an installation by Sarah Meyohas, and we’ll let them explain:

“…the artist organized a crew of 16 men to pluck the petals off 10,000 roses. These performers selected and photographed each petal according to the artist’s stringent guidelines. The images were then uploaded to a cloud server, where they became “inputs for an artificial neural network”, an algorithm that builds, connects, and intertwines to create a system that is self-learning, rather than programmed.

Upon entering the exhibition, the viewer is lead into Disjecta’s darkened and cavernous gallery space. Headsets are suspended from the ceiling, displaying the virtual environments created from Meyohas’s network of petals. Also on view is Meyohas’s 30-minute highly saturated 16mm film, documenting and contextualizing the scope of the artist’s unique process at Bell Labs.”

The exhibition continues through January 13.

Cloud of Petals Teaser from Sarah Meyohas on Vimeo.

This is the last weekend to see Bill Will: Fun House at Lewis & Clark College’s Ronna and Eric Hoffman Gallery of Contemporary Art. Maybe think of it as a very large, 3-D, experiential political cartoon aimed directly at our times. “In the context of state terror and mystification, clinging to the primacy of the concept of truth can be a powerful and necessary form of resistance,” Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri argue in their analysis of the post-modern condition, Empire. Laurel Pavic reviewed Will’s show for ArtsWatch.

Bill Will, “Bloat”/Photo by Robert M. Reynolds

The show closes on December 10.

Ai Weiwei’s Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads is back in the state of Oregon—it last showed here in 2015, and I happened to rub a few words together about it, including these:

“So, a consideration of Ai Weiwei is going to be messy, a mixture of art, history, politics, and cold, hard cash. He’s responsible directly for some of the confusion—I’d even say it’s part of the point of what he does. But a lot of it is indirect, the world’s interpretation of Ai, how it deals with the freedom of artists (and other citizens) and entangles them in its self-defense mechanisms.”

The installation continues at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art on the campus of the University of Oregon through June 24, 2018.

Ai Weiwei, Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads: Gold, 2010, Bronze with gold patina, Dimensions variable. Private Collection. Images courtesy of Ai Weiwei.

*****

 

Recent ArtsWatch stories with a visual arts bent that you might want to consider?

What is the artistic gaze? How is it shared? Artist friends Friderike Heuer and Henk Pander go eye to eye in the studio—he with his paintbrush, she with her camera—and produce a deep double portrait. Heuer tells the story in words and photos.

Hannah Krafcik reports on the extraordinary artists at Field of View, a program of Public Annex that places developmentally disabled artists in artist residencies in the Portland area. The story of how Public Annex came to be winds around the complex history of the State of Oregon’s treatment of this particular community.

Paul Sutinen continues his series of interviews with prominent Portland artists, this time talking with Lucinda Parker.

Sutinen: I think that Frank Stella said something to the effect that you learn more from your fellow students than from the instructor.

Parker: You learn a lot from what they do. There’s no question about it, that you learn a tremendous amount by watching people make stuff—and it’s the making of it, the stroke-by-stroke, the changing of it—that’s why you have to be in a studio. If you go by yourself to your own studio and think you’re going to learn art, the echoing chamber of your isolation make it hard for you.

What Mel Katz says is true: it takes 10 years to learn how to use a studio.

You have to learn how to get in a groove, to provide your own criticism of yourself, you have to learn how to appreciate what you’re doing, and you have to learn how to look over your shoulder and it out front at the same time.

That’s all we have time for today, I’m afraid. But the comments section is open for your suggestions for upcoming or ongoing arts events. Don’t be shy!

DramaWatch Weekly: an ode to home-sewn sequins

On Portland stages, it's a week of home-packaged holiday shows, plus a little dramatic "Chang(e)"

Well, golly. It’s another week of holiday happenings.

For those who want to get out and mingle, PICA will announce its Precipice Fund Award winner at tomorrow’s Winter Social.

A.L. Adams

For those who prefer to stay home and snuggle, The Royal Shakespeare Company is now offering online subscriptions to watch their plays online.

And somewhere in between, in the many venerable halls and hovels of Portland dramatic arts…

CoHo Theatre launches Co Ho Ho!, a double-header of expert performers winkingly pa-rum-pa-pum pandering to the Christmas crowds. Susannah Mars (who’s thoroughly sugar-plumbed holiday songbooks in past years of her Mars on Life revue series) joins the ever-convivial Isaac Lamb (recently seen evangelizing all that is good in PCS’s Every Brilliant Thing) to deliver Holiday Shorts and Songs. They’ll be in character as Vixen the Reindeer and the Abominable Snowman, but even if the bill just said “Mars and Lamb,” we’d know the show was in capable hands.

Susannah Mars, unpacking the season with Isaac Lamb at CoHo.

Co Ho Ho’s other offering, A Liberace and Liza Christmas, features another pair of characters you can guess from the name. David Saffert’s and Jillian Snow-Harris’s lounge act is no midwinter whim; they’ve been honing these impersonations for years. When his idea was a mere seedling at a past Fertile Ground Festival, Saffert memorably went full “method,” showing up to the event’s press junket in character as Liberace. Go kiss one of Mr. Showmanship’s many rings.

Boom Arts hosts a three-day-only run of Chang(e)a docu-drama honoring radical performance activist Kathy Change, who self-immolated in the mid-’90s to protest a lack of democracy in the U.S. government. Soomi Kim, a former Beavertonian now based in New York, plays Kathy in a solo show she co-devised with director Suki Takahashi. The New York Times says the work creates “…[a] visual and aural environment that’s so alluring you want to bathe in it …” and in the context of Boom Arts’ current season theme of resistance, this sounds like it might prove the peak of a larger dramatic arc.

Boom Arts brings Chang(e). Photo: Benjamin Heller

What is with the persistence of vintage performance forms—vaudeville, burlesque, jug band, soft shoe? Why do these things keep getting done, and what is the nature of that particular nostalgia? After ruminating through a couple of episodes of Call the Midwife, I think I know: these arts are what “DIY” did back when that mode was the only option. Before there was even a TV to turn on (let alone Pandora to open), your portable device for entertainment was just your own personal package of jokes and talents and parlor tricks. Some stranger might actually ask you, whilst waiting for some train, if you knew a jig or a tale or a song to pass the time. In Portland Present, nobody has a better grasp on the can-do stand-and-deliver spirit of old-time talent than variety show madam Miz Kitty, whose Winter Wingding happens this Saturday. Any sequins you see, they probably sewed on themselves.

Following this train of thought, did anyone else wonder, “Is that stripper Christmas opera happening this year?” If so, I have sad news: no. Though indie producer Cult of Orpheus would like to make Viva’s Holiday an every-year thing, it didn’t happen this time around. Viva Las Vegas is (don’t let the name fool you) a Portland cult-arts fixture, both muse and creator of various works beyond the very-small stage. Maybe put this opera on your Christmas list for next year?

Speaking of that list, what am I missing? Are there more shows opening that demand ArtsWatch readers’ attention, or shows mid-run that you feel compelled to recommend? Please do. Or at least tell us a joke, Stranger.

 

PSU Opera’s ‘Cinderella’: sweet and silly in the salon

University’s production of Pauline Viardot’s operetta is a fairy tale within a play, set to music

by ANGELA ALLEN

Cinderella is no stranger to the stage. Portland State University’s Cinderella is far from Gioachino Rossini’s 1817 Cenerentola or Jules Massenet’s 1899 version. Neither is it a by-the-book replica of the childhood fairy tale where a pretty downtrodden girl seeks her step-family’s love and that of a prince – and lucks out because the shoe fits!

Instead, Pauline Viardot’s 1904 Cinderella, an operetta not an opera, is a bit of a spoof on that fairy tale, a story within a story. PSU Opera’s production, which runs through Dec. 10 at Lincoln Studio Theater in PSU’s Lincoln Hall, is set in the flamboyant Viardot’s illustrious Parisian cultural salon.

Maeve Stier and Luke Smith sing a heartfelt duet in PSU’s production of Pauline Viardot’s operetta, “Cinderella.”

Viardot, by the way, was a real person, though relatively unknown for her musical work. She entertained such cultural heavyweights as Frederic Chopin, Clara Schumann and Henry James, and was the muse and likely lover of Ivan Turgenev.

Pauline Viardot

Sung in English, with translation by Rachel Harris, Viardot’s chamber operatta is intentionally light, frothy and funny. It has enough roles for this new crop of PSU singers to keep us amused through the 90-minute one-act performance, preceded by a salon-like “greeting” where the cast ushers the audience to their seats in the intimate, 84-seat Lincoln Studio Theater and chats up some of them. Viardot wrote the operetta to be performed by her students at her music salon, and PSU’s crew added a further warm-up of “opera charades,” musical chairs, a dance and songs by Viardot and other women composers of the time like Clara Schumann and Nadia Boulanger, as they might have at the salon.

Then “Madame Viardot” hands out parts to her students to perform her Cinderella. Viardot gives herself the Fairy Godmother role, and Megan Uhrinak, a graduate student, sings the part convincingly. Her solid acting and singing help to hold the show together.

Continues…

Rothko alley: a walk to the park?

Portland Art Museum heads to City Hall on Thursday with a new plan to build its pavilion and give public access to the park

A little over a year ago the Portland Art Museum proudly announced plans for a $50 million addition – the Rothko Pavilion, an elegant tall glass passageway that would connect the museum’s two major buildings, the original 1932 Belluschi Building to the south and the Mark Building, a refurbished Masonic Temple, to the north.

Almost immediately, the protests began.

Artist’s rendering of the Portland Art Museum’s new Rothko Pavilion, from Southwest Park Avenue.

The main point of contention was that the pavilion, which would fill in the space of the current plaza between the two buildings, would cut off the public passageway between Southwest 10th Avenue, on the museum’s west side, and Southwest Park Avenue, to the east. The plaza has been used by bicyclists, pedestrians, and neighborhood residents, and although the museum’s plans called for keeping the pavilion open to passers-through for free use during the day, opponents argued that that wasn’t enough, and that the plan constituted a hardship in particular for older people and people with movement disabilities, who would be forced to go around the block to get to the park. Others objected to the idea of an unbroken long museum campus along the Southwest Park Blocks, arguing that the resulting mass would be out of character with downtown’s intimate 200-foot city block scale.

A lot of talking and replanning and negotiation has been going on in the months since, and on Thursday, Dec. 7, the museum will take a revised plan to the Portland City Council, hoping to gain approval for a compromise that would be acceptable to all sides. Museum director Brian Ferriso will present the museum’s proposal to the council at 2 p.m. in a meeting that, as always, is open to the public. The main point he’ll deliver: The museum would keep the pavilion open for free public passage from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily. Keeping the doorways open would cost the museum about $100,000 annually in security costs, a museum spokesman estimated.

Artist’s rendering of the Rothko Pavilion connection and passageway, seen from Southwest 10th Avenue.

In a letter to museum members on Tuesday, Ferriso announced a long-term plan to make the museum itself more accessible to people with disabilities. “There’s no question that we have a long way to go,” he wrote, “but I know we can create a Museum that is a national model for accessibility. The proposed Rothko Pavilion is key to that effort. It will not only become an open and accessible welcoming center for visitors, school tours and the community, it will enable more extensive renovations that will open galleries and create barrier-free connections on all three floors.”

From an internal point of view, the Rothko Pavilion is a sorely needed addition. Its 30,000 square feet of new space would create new public spaces, room for sculptures now located in the plaza’s sculpture court, and add nearly 10,000 square feet of gallery space to the museum’s current 30,000. It would establish a vital link between the museum, which has almost no work by pavilion namesake Mark Rothko, who grew up in Portland, and the Rothko family, with a promise of rotating artworks to display. Most importantly, the pavilion is designed to truly link the two buildings and create sense and flow out of their hodgepodge of gallery spaces, making it vastly easier for visitors to find their way around.

Museum staff have created a Frequently Asked Questions page that gives the museum’s views on what the project will or won’t accomplish. Funding for the pavilion project is expected to come mostly from private sources, with $1 million from the State of Oregon.

In the meantime, it’s up to the City Council to decide whether a public passageway open most of the time but closed in the late night and early morning hours is in the public’s best interest. Stay tuned. And go to the council meeting if you have something to say.

 

Cascadia Composers & Delgani Quartet: performance matters

Fall concerts show the value of prepared, skilled musicians to new music showcases

When it comes to covering music, ArtsWatch tends to focus on composition more than performance. That’s not only because two of our regular music writers are themselves composers, but also because we want to tell Oregonians the story of Oregon creativity, which is really part of the larger story of what makes us what we are here in the 21st century. It’s a main reason I created our Oregon ComposersWatch resource, to make it easier for ArtsWatch readers to hear the fruits of our homegrown musical creators. And thanks to Cascadia Composers and others, Oregon contemporary classical music is an increasingly rich bounty.

But just as there’s more to a play than a script, more to a dance than choreography, there’s more to music than a score. A couple of fall Cascadia concerts showed — in both positive and negative ways — just how important performers are to the story of Oregon originality.

Dazzling Delgani

While the preponderance of Cascadia music is created by composers living in the Portland metro area, the group’s October concerts at Eugene’s First Christian Church and southeast Portland’s Community Music Center happened to feature music written by non Portlanders and even non Oregonians. And so it was appropriate that the performers, too, hailed from beyond Portland. Eugene’s Delgani String Quartet turned in one of the finest performances I’ve ever experienced at a Cascadia concert.

Delgani String Quartet played music by Cascadia Composers in Eugene. Photo: Gary Ferrington.

Some of the best Cascadia shows have relied on veteran ensembles (Portland Percussion Group, The Mousai, Choral Arts Ensemble) rather than pickup groups. That’s no surprise: you’d expect musicians that have been performing together for years to do a better job than those who might never have played together before, and who might have rehearsed together only a couple of times. The tradeoff for audiences, though: a program that features the same forces on every piece necessarily offers less instrumental variety. This one happily provided considerable stylistic variety to compensate.

Continues…

Bill Will’s ‘Fun House’: The political cartoon meets the contraption

The longtime Portland tinkerer artist gets us up-to-date with his madcap political devices

The Thanksgiving leftovers are cleared out of the fridge and perhaps you’ve almost forgotten your awkward conversations with random relatives. Before the fog of holiday merrymaking fully settles in, take a dark December afternoon to contemplate the “state of the union” as presented in Bill Will’s exhibition Bill Will: Fun House at the Ronna and Eric Hoffman Gallery at Lewis & Clark College. The “fun” is short-lived, but the exhibition provides a clamoring commentary on the follies of contemporary American society.

Will is a long-time Portland artist. Though a painter by training, he is best known for his public art, sculpture, and installation work. Installations have allowed him to satisfy his attraction to small machines and contraptions. Sometimes they resemble Rube Goldberg-like devices, but Will’s often deliver a commentary on American life and times.

Bill Will, “War Machine”/Photo by Robert M. Reynolds

As suggested by the title, the exhibition is meant to hearken back to the tradition of the carnival attraction: an interactive exhibit in which the viewer activates the illusions. I’m not sure what it says about my upbringing, or me, but I’ve never been to a “funhouse.” I have an impression of distorted mirrors, menacing clowns, and squeaky mechanical projectiles. I associate the whole concept with a horror movie in which the (stupid) protagonist tries to escape a deranged killer by hiding in the carnival funhouse. Obviously, this ends with visions of knives and blood spatters. So perhaps I went into the exhibition with warped expectations.

Continues…

“Soror Mystica” review: breaking the frame

ParaTheatrical ReSearch's ritualistic production is and isn't a performance

By MATTHEW ANDREWS

My invite says “please arrive no later than 7:45” for this 8 pm performance, but when I walk into the intimate little performance space at 7:44 they’ve already started. Five dancers—four in all white (The Chaos Sisters, embodied by Memorie Eden, Maple Holmes, Lindsay Reich, and Faye Dylan) and one in fuligin with matching mask (Aether, incarnated by Bryan Smith)—sprawl around the floor, stretching their bodies, doing breathing exercises, probably meditating and visualizing red triangles and whatnot. I remember seeing Grotowski’s indelible name in connection with Antero Alli, perpetrator of tonight’s performance, and my mind goes to Artaud and Brecht. I realize that I’ve been played. When does the show start? Hey man, it never ended. I’ll bet they started warming up on the dance floor before they even opened the doors. We join our story already in progress.

“Soror Mystica” runs through Sunday night in Portland. Photo: A. Alli.

I take a seat, then another. My boots squeak, the floor creaks, I feel terrible for interrupting the performance. Oops, there goes that pesky frame. What performance? They’re just warming up. A static image of some kind of medieval amphitheater enlivens the screen behind the dancers, bracketed by bare branches hanging over candles on columns at the edge of the dance floor. Music that sounds more or less like Hildegard’s plays over the speakers. People trickle in. They keep silent. They prepare themselves physically and spiritually— as I have—for the Work, which is about to commence.

Continues…