Bob Hicks

 

Art notes: Happy birthday, Hallie

Salem's Hallie Ford Museum turns 20, The Art Gym is unmoored again, Lommasson's "Stories of Survival," Portland Open Studios, Ogawa's kiln.

Salem’s Hallie Ford Museum of Art has had such an impact on art and artists in the Pacific Northwest that it’s a bit of a surprise to remember it’s only twenty years old. But that’s the case: Its official birthday was Wednesday, October 3, and to celebrate (modestly) it extended its hours for the day and served cake and refreshments to visitors.

Olbrantz

John Olbrantz, who’s directed the museum since it opened and set it on its course to becoming a model of a small art museum, gave a lecture on the museum’s birthday, looking back on its beginnings and forward to what’s ahead. In his twenty years in Salem he’s helped build the Hallie Ford into not just an art center for Willamette University, its parent institution, but also the museum for its city and a vital arts player in its region.

More talks are to come:

Dobkins

Rebecca Dobkins, the museum’s energetic and innovative curator of Native American art and an anthropology professor at Willamette, will lecture on Wednesday, October 10, on the museum’s longstanding relationship with contemporary indigenous artists, one of its great strengths: In addition to building an excellent small permanent collection of Native American art, Dobkins and the museum routinely assemble special exhibitions on indigenous art and artists.

Cuno

The following day – Thursday, the 11th – James Cuno, president and chief executive officer of the J. Paul Getty Trust in Los Angeles, will lecture on the role of university museums. For Cuno, it’s a homecoming of sorts: He’s a 1973 graduate from Willamette, with a degree in history.

Both lectures are free.

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Pilobolus family tree has Portland branch

BodyVox co-founder Jamey Hampton recalls his early days in Pilobolus as both companies prepare to stage local shows

When the dance and movement troupe Pilobolus comes to the Newmark Theatre Thursday through Saturday to kick off the White Bird dance season with its two-hour extravaganza Come to your senses, you’ll see a little bit of Portland dance history in the act – and, a week later, a little bit of Pilobolus history when BodyVox kicks off its new season with the latest version of its popular Halloween comedy horror show, BloodyVox.

Jamey Hampton is the connecting tissue. He and his wife, Ashley Roland, founded BodyVox in Portland twenty years ago, after putting together a successful dance collaboration with Portland Opera for its pairing of Pagliacci and Carmina Burana. But twenty years before that, Hampton was performing with Pilobolus and the original group of artists who famously formed the company at Dartmouth College, the Ivy League school in small-town Hanover, New Hampshire.

Pilobolus brings its “Come to your senses” repertory show to Portland this week. Photo courtesy White Bird

What Pilobolus was doing at the time was something new – not so much contemporary dance as choreographed athleticism, with an overlay of visual spectacle and playful anthropomorphism. (The company name comes from a fungus co-founder Jonathan Wolken’s father was studying that, as Wikipedia puts it, “grows on cow dung and propels itself with extraordinary strength, speed and accuracy.”) Pilobolus has evolved a lot over the years, and changed personnel, but a lot of its original vision remains in the current company.

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Comedy tussles with drama in NDP’s ‘Room 4,’ ‘Carmen’

Physical humor animates premiere and revival in the dance company's 15th season opener

The premise of Sarah Slipper’s new dance Room 4, which opened Thursday in the Newmark Theatre and is continuing its premiere production through Saturday night, is quirky and appealing, in a how’s-she-going-to-do-that? way: to cross the cryptic playwright Harold Pinter with the over-the-top comedy troupe Monty Python, translate both into the world of dance, and see what happens.

From left: Disenhof, Couture, Parson, and Nieto in the premiere of NW Dance Project artistic director Sarah Slipper’s “Room 4.” Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

In a way, it seems an impossible challenge. Pinter and Python are almost opposites of the British theater, Pinter with his minimalist pauses and impenetrable meanings, Python with its absurdist maximalist glee. Pinter can be humorous, but in a dank and baleful way. Python stares into the abyss and finds it an uproariously funny place, a droll minefield of jokiness. Yet both also share an ingrained suspicion of human nature and institutions, both rely on cleanliness and sharpness for their theatrical effects, and both are bent on upsetting the apple cart of convention. It’s here, in Pinter’s evasive precision, Python’s oddball physicality, and their shared jaundice, that Slipper and her Northwest Dance Project performers find a common vein. Cleanliness is next to godliness, not that either Pinter or Python holds a lot of truck with the Big Guy.

Room 4 is performed by four dancers, each named simply and cryptically by a color: William Couture (Mr. Brown), Katherine Disenhof (Ms. Green), Franco Nieto (Mr. Grey) and Andrea Parson (Ms. Blue). They are in an office, that enduring 20th and 21st century symbol of hell on earth, with desks and no windows, and are struggling for supremacy in quest of a rumored promotion for one of them to the much-desired “outer office,” which includes a window that actually opens. There’ll be a twist, and that’s really all you need to know about the plot. The dancers move in concert to text recorded by a quartet of actors and consisting of a string of repeated office-hell phrases: “Why bother?”; “We’re all in this together.”

One of Slipper’s great strengths as a choreographer is her knowledge of what her dancers’ bodies can do and her ability to shape their motions in surprising ways. The four dancers in Room 4 move fluidly yet somehow also haltingly together, reaching, bumping, stacking, stretching against one another and the desks onstage, creating a bumptious action that at once goes all over the place and nowhere at all. And in spite of the forced conformity of the office atmosphere, the dancers’ individual personalities find their space, from Nieto’s swagger to Disenhof’s sly sass. The piece begins with a paper bag stuck over one of the office workers’ heads, and the whole thing’s carried out in a blind and empty routine that seems to want to be both comic and harrowing. The miming’s terrific – stylized large-gesture movement that surely owes something to Monty Python’s exaggerated physical storytelling, although in one of the funniest sequences the modus operandi seems closer to the Three Stooges.

The color-coded costumes are by Alexa Stark, the excellent lighting by Jeff Forbes, and the suitably foreboding found-sound score by Owen Belton. In the end, the unstable balance between comedy and drama tips toward the dramatic, which lands the comedy a square one on the jaw. That would be Pinter, winning over Python in a TKO.

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The company in Ihsan Rustem’s “Carmen.” Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

The humor comes out to play more clearly in the second, longer portion of the program, the return of resident choreographer Ihsan Rustem’s Carmen, which is updated to the 1950s, complete with rockabilly impressions and a concentration on hair: a beauty shop for the woman dancers, a barber shop for the men. This Carmen was a delight when it premiered in 2017, and it’s a delight now: Rustem’s taken a story almost as familiar as the tale of Santa’s visits down the chimney, and made it his own. This program marks the beginning of NDP’s 15th season and reflects a natural evolution. The company began with a commitment to perform only original works, and has done them by the dozens. It’s an adventurous mission, by its nature something of an unpredictable joy ride. Some of the dances, of course, stand out from the pack, and the company has gradually begun to build a repertory of such pieces that it keeps and repeats. Now, all of NDP’s dances are original, but not all of them are new.

Three of the four main dancers from 2017 return to their roles here: Andrea Parson as the cool-temperature, nouveau-riche seductress Carmen; Franco Nieto as DJ (for Don José), who falls intemperately for Carmen’s charms; and Lindsey McGill as the sweet but forlorn Micaëla, who was engaged to DJ until Carmen slinked into town. A late injury sidelined Elijah Labay, who is replaced quite swimmingly by Anthony Pucci as Eli, the sideburned, swiveling new guy in town, who plays Carmen’s game possibly better than she does herself.

Nieto hoists Parson in “Carmen.” Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

Rustem knows how to shape a narrative beautifully, creating something of a contemporary riff on the classic story ballet, and his wit is always present but never overpowering. Once again the dancing is crisp and superb, with the Wolf Pack women’s corps of Disenhof, Samantha Campbell, Colleen Loverde, and Julia Radick matching the men’s corps of Kevin Pajarillaga, Couture, Kody Jauron, and the slyly named “Hair Dryer” like socks to a hop.

As Jamuna Chiarini reported a few days ago, four long-time company members are leaving after this production. Labay and Radick, who recently married, are moving to his native Quebec. McGill is going home to Texas, and Campbell wants to move into arts administration. All four will be missed. Newcomers Loverde and Pajarillaga are stepping in, and look to be good additions.

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Northwest Dance Project’s Room 4 and Carmen have their final performance at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 29, in the Newmark Theatre of Portand’5 Centers for the Arts. Ticket information here.

 

 

Witnesses in a churning world

The artists speak out in the Hallie Ford Museum's big new exhibition on social justice and art. Here's what they have to say.

The idea of art as a pristine thing, separated from the hurly-burly of the everyday world and somehow above it all, is a popular notion. But a much stronger case exists for the idea of art as the expression of the roil of life, in all its messiness and cruelty and prejudices and passions and pleasures and occasional outbursts of joy. Art comes from somewhere, and that somewhere is the world in which we live.

With that world huddled suspiciously against itself, afraid of its own moving parts, gathered defensively in closed tribes, angry over what large fragments of its inhabitants still believe to be a lost paradise, how can art not reflect the political and cultural realities that surround and help define the artists themselves? Artists are our witnesses, the ones who watch and experience and tell the tale.

Witness: Themes of Social Justice in Contemporary Printmaking and Photography grabs our current cultural condition by the collar and gives it a good bracing shake. An expansive exhibition that is helping the Hallie Ford Museum of Art celebrate its twentieth anniversary in Salem, it features a sterling lineup of artists of color who look at the world through both a personal and a cultural lens, demanding each in their particular way that their stories be heard. All of the works are drawn from the collections of Jordan Schnitzer and his Family Foundation, and they’ve been smartly selected and arranged by guest curator Elizabeth Anne Bilyeu. The show she’s put together, which continues through December 20, is bold and revealing and aesthetically accomplished and reflective of a world that is richer and more complex than we can individually comprehend.

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Picturing Oregon: wide open space

In the collections: The Portland Art Museum's survey of Oregon landscapes gives a history of the shifting territory as artists imagine it

On a recent Saturday afternoon I dropped in to the Portland Art Museum and immediately encountered a crowd at the entrance, lined up waiting to get in. That’s odd, I thought. Nice, but odd. Then I heard a bit of chatter in line, and remembered: the cars. It was prime visiting time for the museum’s megashow of slick beauties, The Shape of Speed: Streamlined Automobiles and Motorcycles, 1930-1942, and the traffic was still lively and thick.

It wasn’t quite like working your way around a pileup of tourists snapping selfies with the Mona Lisa, but once I threaded through the Bugattis and Talbot-Lago Teardrop Coupes and Chrysler Imperial Airflows things thinned out a bit to a nice steady pace. It was the first weekend day after the August heat wave had broken and the forest-fire smoke had begun to lift, and people were beginning to get out and about again: It felt as if a good chunk of the car crowd had peeled off to see what else there was to discover in the museum.

There are at least a couple of ways to go about visiting a museum. If it’s a new museum to you, sometimes the best thing to do is just to wander around and see what you find: Let serendipity be your guide, at least at the start. If it’s a museum you’re familiar with, your visits are probably more targeted: to see a special exhibition, for instance. At the Portland Art Museum right now, that might mean taking a last whack at the splendid show of early Richard Diebenkorns, arranged by the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento and hanging around Portland through Sept. 23. (The door-busting Shape of Speed ended Sunday.)

Philip Guston, Untitled, 1969, acrylic on panel, bequest of Musa Guston. Portland Art Museum

Or you might go to check in on some old favorites in the permanent collections. Special exhibitions serve a lot of purposes besides selling tickets. They can fill in gaps in a museum’s collection, or capture an important social or historic moment, or expand on strengths a museum already has. And they can get people interested in a museum, and its art, and encourage them to become regular visitors. But you can find the soul of most museums in their permanent collections, and how they’re displayed and rotated, and the way they allow people to visit over and over again, getting to know specific pieces or collections, or finding something new they hadn’t noticed before. This is where the Deep Museum exists.

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Rothko: a tunnel runs through it

Art notes: Portland Art Museum's new pavilion proposal adds a pedestrian walkway; a Forain and a Gorky on loan at the museum

The journey of the embattled Rothko Pavilion has taken a short cut – straight through the Portland Art Museum’s proposed link between its poorly connected north and south buildings. When the project went public in 2016 the glassing-in of what is now an open plaza drew swift objection from pedestrian and bicycle advocates, as well as from critics of what would be a “super-block” on the museum’s South Park Blocks campus.

The super-block dissent never seemed to make much sense. Portland’s downtown city blocks are famously only 200 feet long – miniatures compared to the blocks in most cities – and both museum buildings, plus the proposed connector, are low-rise structures, which further diminishes the sense of mass. The pavilion’s glass exterior lightens the visual effect even more: the museum would be long but low, with far less sense of bulk than, say, Big Pink, which fits its block’s footprint yet seems massive.

Refined Rothko Pavilion design, with open passageway. Illustration: Vinci Hamp Architects & Hennebery Eddy Architects

The objections of pedestrian advocates are more persuasive, especially since so many older people live in the apartments and condominiums in the museum district. For many of them, having to walk around the museum rather than cutting through the courtyard would represent a true hardship.

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Labor Day: The Art of Work

From Oregon artists and museums, a look at the world of work and the varieties of labor

Today is Labor Day, the day we celebrate the American labor movement and its drive to guarantee living wages and safe, decent working conditions for all workers. It’s been an official federal holiday since 1894, through boom times and hard times, strikes and strike-busting, and massive shifts in technology and public/private economic strategies that have weakened the labor movement that inspired the holiday. A historic transfer of wealth away from the working and middle classes and into the bank accounts of the superrich threatens much of what the labor movement has accomplished in the past century and more. Nevertheless, the movement persists.

Art is skilled labor, and quite naturally, artists often depict work and workers in their art. Here’s a selection of Oregon pieces that celebrate labor in its many forms. The second and sixth images are from the exhibition Strength and Dignity: Images of the Worker from the Permanent Collection, at the Hallie Ford Museum of Art in Salem through October 21.

IN THE FACTORIES, where the labor movement took root: Joseph Stella, Factories at Night, ca. 1936/1943, oil on canvas, 36 x 36 inches, allocated by the U.S. government, commissioned through New Deal art projects, Portland Art Museum.

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