Sunday was shirtsleeve weather in Portland. The torrents returned on Monday, but the temperature’s been inching above 55. The hellebores and daffodils are pushing up. And if you want a sure sign that it’s almost spring (the calendar says it starts next Monday, the 20th) here it is: Maryhill Museum of Art opens for the season on Wednesday, with a big celebration on Saturday.
The museum, in a concrete castle that stands above the Columbia Gorge about a hundred miles east of Portland on the Washington side of the river, battens its hatches every winter when the storms grow fierce, and its reopening every March is a true regional reawakening.
The 2017 season, which runs through November 15, appears to be focusing on the museum’s own eclectic collections, with a new installation of its international chess sets, a show of ancient Greek ceramics from the permanent collection, some spruced-up dioramas from it weird and wonderful Théatre de la Mode models of post-World War II French fashion (including the Jean Cocteau design), and an exhibition of recent works added to the permanent collection, including pieces by, among others, Lillian Pitt, Rick Bartow, Betty LaDuke, Fritz Scholder, and R.H. Ives Gammell, the American realist whose symbolic/mythological series of large paintings The Hound of Heaven has long been in the permanent collection.
Visiting the esoteric blend of passions and aesthetic compulsions that make up the museum – they range from brawny Rodins to furniture designed by Queen Marie of Romania to celebrations of the iconic dancer Loie Fuller to American realist paintings of the 19th century to a significant collection of Native American and Western art – is almost always a blast, and getting there on a nice spring day is half the fun. You can plan your own route and take as much time as you like. I’m partial to a coffee stop in Mosier, then winding through the hills on the old highway into The Dalles, maybe stopping for lunch, and getting back on the freeway for the final lap. The Gorge beckons. Heed its call.
Meanwhile, Louis Bunce: Dialogue with Modernism, the landmark exhibition of works by the crucial and protean Portland painter who died in 1983, closes March 26 at the Hallie Ford Museum of Art in Salem, which gives you a week and a half to catch it (which you should if you can) before it disappears. With his essay Louis Bunce: Catalyst for Making Portland a City of Modern Art, Paul Sutinen reviewed the show perceptively in January for ArtsWatch.
The Hallie Ford also has a fine permanent collection of work by Pacific Northwest artists that’s always worth a revisit, and a small but excellent collection of historic and contemporary Native American art that deserves your time. And while wandering through the upstairs galleries of European, African, Asian, and American art, which sprawls across 4,500 years and a range of art from Egyptian reliefs to Greek icons to a nice Corot and some good Jacob Lawrence, I spied a trio of relatively recent additions: a series of fine engavings, from about 1594, by the great Dutch printmaker and painter Hendrick Goltzius. Each is a double full-length portrait of mythological figures: Jupiter and Juno, Neptune and Amphitrite, Pluto and Persephone. There they sat, little gifts, just waiting to be discovered. Maybe you’ll spot them, too.
Art Passport PDX, the innovative program hatched by artist and writer Jennifer Rabin to get people inside the city’s galleries and engaging with art, launches officially with a party 6-8 p.m. Thursday at Blue Sky Gallery. After seeing nine galleries and one museum – the invaluable Museum of Contemporary Craft – close in 2016, Rabin decided to do something to counteract the trend.
Her goal is to demystify the art world and help develop a new generation of collectors. Her plan is deceptively simple: hand out passports to be stamped by visiting eight participating galleries between March 16 and June 15. Fill ’em in and you get a chance to win $1,600 to spend on art. Rabin chose her eight galleries – Blackfish, Blue Sky, Froelick, Jeffrey Thomas Fine Art, Nationale, Stephanie Chefas Projects, Upfor, Wolff – because she knew they “would welcome newcomers with open arms, answer questions, and share what they love about art.” You can pick up a passport at the launch party or any of the participating galleries. To get it stamped, Rabin says, you simply need to “have a conversation with someone at the gallery about the art that’s showing. Participants need only be curious and trust that their observations and questions will be meet with encouragement and enthusiasm.”
So go get ’em. And keep up with what’s happening on the Art Passport PDX Facebook page. Oregon ArtsWatch is one of several partners in the project.
Another last call: Mother, the dual show of sculptures by Roxanne Jackson and drawings and videos by Julia Oldham in The Art Gym at Marylhurst University, closes on Saturday. Monsters and other mythical creatures lurk among the work, which deals with “the dualities of creation and destruction, beauty and the grotesque, and transfiguration and deformation.” If you show up between 4 and 6 p.m. on the exhibition’s final day Saturday, you’ll be there for the catalog release and a conversation with the artists and curator Blake Shell.
Meanwhile, Portland Open Studios’ third annual PDX-CSA is off and running. Based on the concept of agricultural CSAs, or Community Supported Agriculture plans, in which you pay for your veggies at the beginning of the season and get them delivered as they ripen, the art version gives you a chance, on a low-cost basis, to act like an old-fashioned patron of the arts – a Peter the Great or Henry the Eighth or Louis Quatorze.
Here’s the deal: You choose an artist (or two), commission a work of art (or two), then wait for the artist to deliver the goods. The artist, prepaid by you, then gets to work knowing what she creates will have a home. It’s open until April 16, and artworks will be delivered in late June. Most works will sell for about 150 bucks. The artist gets some work, and you get the excitement (and surprise) of commissioning something from an artist whose work you like. Ten artists have been chosen, working in teams, and if you like you can commission work by both members of a team. Go get ’em, aspiring lords of the realm. The art’s in your court now.