Barry Johnson

 

VizArts Monthly: Revolving by degree

A new year opens, inch by inch, and lines of flight are revealed

The Earth inches around the sun a fraction less than one degree between December 31 and January 1, and yet somehow I still believe that something momentous has occurred. “Thank the far-flung heavens that 2017 is over,” I exclaim aloud to myself and anyone within hearing distance. People roll their eyes in agreement, make the universal gesture of disgust (raising the index and middle fingers toward the mouth), even snarl audibly—these are the times we live in. We are hoping for better, or at least no worse, a psychological imperative, maybe.

I resolve, I resolve, I resolve. And for some minutes, hours, days, under the spell of those resolutions, I may feel a new lightness in my step. All the same, I know that the environment that produced those universal gestures of disgust hasn’t changed very much during that one degree of revolution (will someone out there check my math?).

Fortunately, the culture itself, our local culture, still has the elements that offered me support during 2017, no matter how grotesque it seemed. I’ll paraphrase Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari in “A Thousand Plateaus” (and pardon me if it’s wildly inappropriate here): In 2017 there were “lines of articulation or segmentarity, strata and territories”; but I also found “lines of flight, movements of deterritorialization and destratification.” Mostly I found them manifest and represented in the creative acts of art I bumped into during the year, and even in the society itself occasionally, often prompted by a state of mind initiated by the arts.

Lines of flight. Movements of deterritorialization and destratification. Deleuze and Guattari’s book was published in 1987. And yet…I’m sifting through the experiences the culture offers looking for those same things some 30 years later. Degree by degree, as the Earth revolves. Which maybe itself is a line of flight.

Some art exhibitions opening in January that may destratify your consciousness?

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The ArtsWatch year in Visual Arts

This year the arts fought back by finding space for everyone and creating spiky work that reminded us where we are

We live in the best of times—at least measured by the profusion of visual arts in Portland and the state. The number of artists and the places they have found and created have both continued to grow. The thin infrastructure of existing institutions and galleries hasn’t been able to keep up, and so 2017 found us in the middle of a boomlet of new alternative organizations, cooperatives, groups and galleries. Many of these had a social and/or political bent to them, which makes perfect sense in this year of political tumult. The best form of resistance, both to the short-term national political condition and to the long-term drift away from democracy, is to develop new ways and platforms to share art-making, which itself can be a call to reflection and an appeal to shared experience and values. We will get out of this together, and when we do, we want to bring everyone with us.

As I wandered through the ArtsWatch visual arts stories of 2017, I was struck by two things. The first was that our resources were entirely insufficient to keep up with all that was going on. The second? The stories that our arts writers—all freelancers—created in response to what they encountered still managed to sketch an outline, an abstract, of what was going on. Hannah Krafcik, Paul Maziar and Nim Wunnan wrote about new galleries, new organizations and new artists showing in alternative locations. Paul Sutinen produced a series of interviews with some of our most decorated artists. Bob Hicks wrote compelling stories about the Portland Art Museum’s programming and the reimagining of the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education in its new Pearl District digs. And we had several one-shot reports—about an artist collective in Cuba, art made from the detritus washed ashore in Bandon, Oregon, and the back-and-forth between a model-photographer and the painter recreating her on canvas.

If you scroll through our visual arts category, you can find these and lots of other posts, most of them longer-form, all of them committed to grappling with art, artists and the culture in which they operate. The list that follows isn’t my peculiar assessment of the “best” visual arts stories of 2017. It just illustrates what I’ve been talking about, in one way or another.

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Love and taxes: Solving the contradiction

How to support the arts and thumb your nose at the new tax bill

Today’s subject is the contradiction between Oregon’s obvious love for the arts, and our tepid support for them at the state level. Well, actually the subject is how you and I, dear reader, can help solve that contradiction.

It’s especially important this year, given the tax bill that was signed into law last week. That bill will eventually double the standard deduction that most Americans take, and that will make it less likely that we will itemize. You know where I’m going with this: Unless you itemize, you don’t have the tax incentive to give to charities. And the only taxpayers who will now itemize, especially now that the deduction for state income taxes and property taxes have been limited, are very high-income earners. “The biggest change is expected to be among households earning $75,000 to $200,000 a year — a bracket in which more than half of filers itemized their taxes under the old code,” according to a Washington Post analysis.

The bottom line: If you itemize now, but probably won’t itemize in 2018, then this is the last year to take a charitable deduction of any kind. You can keep giving—no one expects private philanthropy to dry up completely—but your tax incentive will disappear. And an Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy study, cited by the Post, is predicting a 4.5 percent drop in giving in 2018, which would be about $13 billion.

Albert Robida, “A night at the opera in the year 2000,” cartoon, 1882

Most arts organizations in Oregon are nonprofits, and they depend on philanthropy for their existence (either direct giving or through foundations), along with ticket sales and government support. This solution to the problem of supporting the arts starts with the Oregon Cultural Trust, and then, for this year at least, involves a change in giving patterns by individuals. Stick with me: We can do this!

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Just for an update, the glorious State of Oregon ranks 35th in funding for the arts through its arts agencies, the Oregon Arts Commission and the Oregon Cultural Trust. That’s a little weird. The state always ranks near the very top in attendance at its arts events. You would think, all things being equal, that we’d be happier to support the arts than most other places.

That’s not the case. I’m going to focus on the states that start with the letter O for a moment, a universe of three states. According to the complex calculations of the National Association of State Arts Agencies, Oregon state government spends a grand total of 84 cents per state resident on the arts. Let that sink in a moment. Eighty-four cents. A grand total of $3,422,588.

Now, I hear people complain about government support for the arts a lot, but complaining about 84 cents is complaining about nickels and dimes. Actual nickels and dimes. And pennies. Even if you’re ideologically opposed to giving to the arts (and I’m sure those folks have clicked away from this story already), there are much bigger targets around for your slings and arrows. (For the record, I think the same thing about people who complain about the arts tax in Portland. That $35 is going directly toward something we actually voted for—arts education at the primary school level and support for our non-profit arts organizations. But that’s another story.)

Back to the O states. The other two are Ohio and Oklahoma. Ohio is a much bigger state, and during the 20th century, it was one of the nation’s richest, home to very large national corporations, from Procter & Gamble and Kroger in Cincinnati to Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company in Akron. It’s still an industrial center of major national importance, but its per capita income has slipped below Oregon’s. We’re 26th nationally, at $54,148 per household. They are 34th, at $51,075. Still, they are ahead of us in state funding for the arts: They spend $1.39 per capita, and a total of $16,173,750.

Oklahoma is more our size, and for much of its history, its wealth was built on an extractive industry, just like ours—oil in their case, timber in ours. The average household income in Oklahoma is $48,568, which ranks 39th nationally. So, they give less of their state budget to the arts than we do, surely? Uh, no. It’s close, but they contribute 99 cents per capita to their state arts agencies, which ranks 26th nationally. Among the O states, Oregon is last.

Some might say this is a brilliant economy of resources— we invest little and get a lot. Unfortunately for us, among the O states Oregon is most dependent on its creative economy—the design, tech, new knowledge companies that drive our economy now. And the arts are crucial for attracting the talent that sharpens the edge of those companies and for keeping them engaged with their creative side when they get here. We can’t afford to be pennywise and pound foolish.

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Fortunately, the Oregon Cultural Trust allows us to rectify an ongoing error of the state legislature—in this case its reluctance to fund the arts sufficiently. The beauty of it is, it doesn’t cost us any money. And though it’s been around for awhile now, many of us don’t take advantage of its unique provisions. Many do: Oregonians invested more than $4.55 million in the Oregon Cultural Trust in 2016, after all. For good reason: It distributes money to every corner of the state, and funds tribal and historical organizations as well. So, if you’re taking advantage already, this is just a refresher.

The process isn’t hard, but it does involve a few steps. And the subject of taxes makes my head swim, my eyes blurry and my knees weak. That’s why I’m sure that if I can do it, so can you.

  1. It starts with a gift to one or more of the 1,400 or so arts and cultural groups in the state. You can find the list of qualifying groups on the Trust’s website, though nearly anyone you can think of qualifies.
  2. Make a matching gift to the Cultural Trust. You can do it online. You will be provided with a confirmation screen you can print for your records to claim your tax credit. Or you can donate by telephone (503-986-0088).
  3. Claim your entire contribution to the Trust as a tax credit on your Oregon income tax—up to $500 for an individual, $1,000 for couples filing jointly, and $2,500 for corporations. Much of that money will be distributed to Oregon arts groups directly, and some will go to the Trust’s permanent fund.

Let’s compress that: You gift your favorite arts group(s), you give to the Cultural Trust, you take a tax credit for the gift to the Trust (and to the arts groups), you enjoy great art the rest of the year.

Not so hard, is it? Ohio and Oklahoma, we’re coming for you!

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OK, one more idea. Take a look at Step One: The original gifts to arts organizations. Although the limit on the Oregon Cultural Trust tax credit is $500 for individuals and $1,000 for couples filing jointly, you can still take the federal income tax deduction on any larger amount. At least you can take it THIS year, if you itemize. But let’s imagine next year. It’s entirely possible that you won’t be itemizing on your 2018 tax return, which means you won’t get a deduction for your charitable contributions (to arts groups or anyone else). Bummer.

That’s why it’s a good idea to give the money you WOULD have given in 2018 now, in 2017, so you can take the tax deduction now. Instead of giving Oregon ArtsWatch $100 this year—just an example!—you could give us $200, and take the full tax deduction this year. We would be much obliged to help in this way. And it would work the same way for any charitable contribution: This is the year to double up and guarantee that you get the deduction.

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So, right, this column is self-serving. Oregon ArtsWatch is one of the organizations on the Oregon Cultural Trust’s list. You can donate to us, then donate to the trust and get the money you gave to the trust back in the form of a tax credit.

Why would you do that? Because we believe that a healthy, active, adaptive culture, something we all need, requires a healthy, active, adaptive and independent source for culture news, analysis and commentary. We’ve been talking about that this week on the site: The stories we’ve written that have had a big impact, the stories that our new writers have written, the in-depth stories that introduce you to important artists in the community, the reviews from informed writers we post. As other sources for the news, feature stories and interpretation of the arts dry up, we believe that our contribution becomes more and more important.

We hope you think the same way! And if you do, it’s very easy to get started. Thanks for considering us!

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″

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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.

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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!

Paul Taylor and White Bird, intertwined

The Paul Taylor Dance Company returns to Portland with sparkling versions of three mid-career Taylor dances

White Bird has brought the Paul Taylor Dance Company back to Portland for the sixth time this weekend, a remarkable dedication to the twisty elegance, dark undercurrents and sheer fun of Taylor’s work and the talent of his dancers. This particular visit touches all those bases with a program that spans a period in Taylor’s choreography after he’d moved past youthful exuberance toward a more layered, focused art. Arden Court (1981), Syzygy (1987) and Piazzolla Caldera (1997) are all well-made dances that retain Taylor’s playfulness and his darker side, on one hand, and integrate them into formal movement invention of the first order.

I’m going to talk a little about each of those pieces, but in the analytical process, I hope neither the delight of the visual spectacle nor the bone-deep communication of the dances gets forgotten. That experience is the most important aspect of a Taylor concert, after all, and the reason that the company’s many visits to Portland make sense.

Paul Taylor Dance Company, “Arden Court”/Photo by Paul B. Goode

Paul King and Walter Jaffe started White Bird 20 years ago, and the first company they brought to town was Taylor’s. I think of this decision as a sort of marker, a statement about how King and Jaffe thought then (and perhaps continue to think) about quality, creativity, importance. And it has served them—and their audience—well through those two decades.

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‘Human Noise’: Music in Carver Land

Imago Theatre's choreographed take on Raymond Carver short stories may activate your interpretive juices

“Bill and Arlene Miller were a happy couple. But now and then they felt they alone among their circle had been passed by somehow.”

That’s how Raymond Carver’s 1970 story “Neighbors” begins, and that’s exactly how Imago’s version of the story in “Human Noise” begins, too, with the narration. Also with Nathan Wonder, Danielle Vermette, Michael Streeter and Carol Triffle on stage, the bare outlines of two apartments, and a percussive score (Kyle Delamarter is the sound designer) in the background.

Michael Streeter and Carol Triffle in “Human Noise” at Imago Theatre/Photo by Jerry Mouawad

Streeter and Triffle take over the narration and dialogue after their neighbors in the story, Wonder and Vermette, leave on vacation, reciting Carver’s words, punctuated by the odd fling of the arm when a sudden, loud percussion cue demands it. The story turns weird: Bill goes over to his neighbors’ apartment to feed their cat, and alone in that space, he starts to explore. “The air was already heavy and it was vaguely sweet.” He tends to kitty, then opens the liquor cabinet and takes a couple of pulls from a bottle of Chivas Regal (an imaginary bottle, actually). When he returns to Arlene, he finds himself in an amorous mood.

“What kept you?” Arlene said. She sat with her legs turned under her, watching television.

“Nothing. Playing with Kitty,” he said, and went over to her and touched her breasts.

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The Oregon Visual Arts Ecology Project: Examining the culture

The Ford Family Foundation and the Oregon Arts Commission have founded a new website that focuses on art in the state

At this moment, any effort to preserve our shared culture is a noteworthy event. This is especially true of the arts parts of the culture. As Oregon Arts Commission’s Meagan Atiyeh noted at a symposium that introduced one such effort, the Oregon Visual Arts Ecology Project, the state’s media has abandoned its commitment to full-time critics writing about the arts. And that means that both contemporary conversations about the arts and future investigation of our culture are/will be limited. What happens to a culture that doesn’t understand its past or its present? We are perilously close to finding out.

Backed by the considerable resources of The Ford Family Foundation and the Oregon Arts Commission—more than $50,000 since early 2014, according to Atiyeh, not including lots of staff time—the project intends to be an informal archive and an online magazine that takes the measure of the visual arts in the state. “The partners’ shared wish is to create an accessible, permanent, virtual collection documenting Oregon’s visual arts landscape,” the mission statement says, “and, to continue the metaphor, the interconnected realms of artist, institution, patron, curator, arts writer… which become that ecology.”

Ryan Pierce, From the Pockets of the Wanderer, 2014. Flashe on canvas over panel. Courtesy of the artist and Elizabeth Leach Gallery, Portland

According to Atiyeh (in an email interview), the website hopes to reach a broad public. “We designed a site that I hope can be rewarding for a highly invested artist or a curator who is looking for research materials and also a casual arts viewer in Oregon (or any spot on the globe, honestly).”

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