Bob Hicks

 

The Wyeths’ whys and why nots

The Portland Art Museum's look at three generations of the famous family's work isn't everything it might be. But what it is reveals a lot.

After spending some quality time with the animals in the print show Kingdom Animalia: Animals in Print from Dürer to Picasso one day last week, I moved up to the second floor of the Portland Art Museum’s main Belluschi building to take another look at The Wyeths: Three Generations, a traveling show that continues through Jan. 8. When I first saw it shortly after it opened in early October the special exhibition galleries were packed with visitors young and old, most seeming genuinely interested in the works of father N.C., son Andrew, and grandson Jamie. On a lazy Wednesday afternoon last week the crowd was much thinner, though still steady. But if the thrill wasn’t exactly gone, it had hit a lull.

Andrew Wyeth, “Morning at Kuerners,” n.d., watercolor, Collection of Melvin “Pete” Mark and Mary Kridel Mark. T2017.84.7. Oregon ArtsWatch photo

The Wyeths, which is from the Bank of America collection and came into being largely because this year is the centenary of Andrew Wyeth’s birth, is a curious show, genuinely interesting but in a much smaller way than the shouting makes it out to be. The works by Andrew are both the strongest and weakest part of the exhibit – strongest because he’s much the best artist of the three; weakest because he’s underrepresented, and his best work isn’t here. (A much deeper traveling show focusing on him alone, Andrew Wyeth: In Retrospect, is at the Seattle Art Museum through Jan. 15.)

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Animal kingdom: That’s a print

The Portland Art Museum's new "Kingdom Animalia" showcases five hundred years of prints of animals, from Dürer to Picasso and beyond

When I dropped into the Portland Art Museum a few days ago I slipped quickly past the giant robotic monstery thing looming over the entrance to the Animating Life exhibition of designs from the Laika movie studio, beyond earshot of the strange rumble of noise emanating from the animations like a troubled stomach under the influence of Alka-Seltzer. My destination was down the stairs to one of my favorite spots in the museum, the comforting and vastly quieter graphic arts galleries.

Albrecht Dürer (German, 1471-1528), “Die wunderbare Sau von Landser (The Monstrous Sow of Landser),” ca. 1496, engraving on antique laid paper, The Mark Adams and Beth Van Hoesen Art Collection, public domain, 2007.59.2

The exhibition Kingdom Animalia: Animals in Print from Dürer to Picasso had opened just a few days earlier, and a nice small crowd was wandering through, spending some quality time with the almost sixty prints on view. It’s a brisk stroll through five centuries of art, with explorations of the animal kingdom as disparate as Dürer’s grotesque The Monstrous Sow of Landser; Franz Marc’s placid yet quietly energetic Tierlegende (Animal Legend), a small woodcut of an idyllic, almost Eden-like gathering of harmonious beasts; and Adolf Dehn’s actual, if imaginary, scene from Eden, 1945’s Before the Fall, which shows a very hairy Adam holding a sly snake aloft, a flirty Eve discreetly hiding her privates with a showgirl’s fan, and a garden full of animals who seem to have a glancing kinship with Maurice Sendak’s wild things.

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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.

 

God speaks. You listen.

The Lord God Almighty, Creator of the Universe, lays it all on the line in the celestial comedy "An Act of God." Listen up, or be left behind.

Let it be known that the Lord God Almighty, Creator of the Universe, Incorporeal Presence Sometimes Taking on the Form of Flesh, is now appearing several nights a week and Sunday afternoons in Portland, Oregon, at Triangle Productions, whose home on Northeast Sandy Boulevard is fortuitously known as The Sanctuary.

His Awesome Holiness has taken the form of a local actor of some repute named Norman Wilson, and is playing Himself in a little comedy called An Act of God, which is purportedly written by a television funnyman named David Javerbaum, multiple winner of and nominee for Emmy Awards for his work as a writer and/or producer for Jon Stewart and David Letterman and others, but if you want to know The Truth the monologue seems to be coming Straight From the Mouth Of, if you know what I mean. No burning bushes or any of that old-style cosmic show-biz stuff. Just some jokey insider talk-show chat and the occasional reverberating roar when something gets under His temporal skin.

God on His couch, spreading the word. Triangle Productions photo

A few things are on The Divine One’s Mind, perhaps most pressingly the rule of law as interpreted by the overly adoring and literalist masses. “Yea, I have grown weary of the Ten Commandments,” He pronounces. “In the same way Don McLean has become weary of American Pie.” A hit like that defines and typecasts you: You can’t get away from it. G-d lets the audience in on a few puckish stretchings of the truth in the telling of original stories (the actual quote, it turns out, was “And Adam and Steve were naked and knew no shame”) and splits a Celestial Gut that anyone still takes that two-by-two thing seriously: He means, how many animals are there, and how much room was on that ark? And He announces a new Big Ten, keeping a couple of the old ones but in the main tossing the original list into the Heavenly trash bin. Among the newbies: Thou shalt not tell others when to fornicate, Thou shalt not kill in My name, Thou shalt separate Me and state. All very sensible, it seems, but who knows if these ones might take hold, or if the old ones might not hang around embarrassingly like Confederate Hero statues in Southern town squares, ruthlessly and rigorously defended by unbending believers in the Old Faith?

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Family fuss? It’s only human

In the comic drama "The Humans" at Artists Rep, Thanksgiving dinner with the Blakes just might knock the stuffing out of you

Maybe you missed it last year when that big musical about the Founding Fathers was the talk of the Tonys and just about anyplace else you turned. But while Hamilton was sweeping up most of the attention and a bunch of Tony Awards, including best new musical, a much smaller play was making its own mark: Stephen Karam’s family comedy-drama The Humans, which took the award for best new play, plus two more for best performers and one for best set design. If it never broke through as a pop-cultural phenomenon the way Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical hit has, The Humans has left its mark, and is likely to be produced many times for many years on many regional stages.

From left: Vana O’Brien (in wheelchair), Quinlan Fitzgerald (partially hidden), John San Nicolas, Luisa Sermol, Val Landrum (partially hidden), Robert Pescovitz. Photo: Russell J Young

On Saturday night it opened on Artists Repertory Theatre’s Morrison Stage after a week of preview performances, beating Hamilton to the Portland punch. (A few Portlanders got a first look at The Humans a little over a year ago, when The Reading Parlor performed an engaging and decidedly promising one-night staged reading of it in a little side room at Artists Rep.) The Hamilton road company will settle into Keller Auditorium for a run March 20-April 8 next year, and I can still hear the wails reverberating from frustrated potential ticket buyers who couldn’t get through on the phone lines when advance sales kicked off Nov. 17.

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Atticus, tried and all too true

Lakewood's sharp and moving "To Kill a Mockingbird" does justice to an American classic that reverberates in a curious time capsule

To Kill a Mockingbird is a cherished time capsule of American literature and culture, a concise and moving statement about childhood, innocence, courage, and race. Its main characters – feisty tomboy Scout Finch, her brother Jem and friend Dill, the mysterious and frightening Boo Radley (much talked about but rarely seen), and above all that towering figure of decency and strength, Atticus Finch – are genuine American icons, up there within shouting distance of Huckleberry Finn and Captain Ahab and poor besmirched Hester Prynne. Scout and Jem and Dill and Boo and Atticus, of course, are all white Southerners, and it’s telling that the novel’s major black characters – Scout’s substitute-mother cook and housekeeper, Calpurnia, and Tom Robinson, the honest laborer who is falsely but fatally accused of rape – are not nearly so well-etched in the public consciousness.

Mockingbird doubles, maybe triples, in time. Harper Lee’s novel was published to acclaim in 1960, in the midst of the civil rights movement, after Brown v. Board of Education and Rosa Parks’ bus rebellion and the Little Rock desegregation crisis, before the Selma marches and the rise of the Black Panther Party and the assassinations of Medgar Evers and Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. It was both a repressive and an exciting time, when liberal hopes and expectations, in spite and perhaps in part because of the naked resistance they faced, ran high.

Kate McLellan as Scout, Monica Fleetwood as Calpurnia, Bram Allahdadi as Jem in “Mockingbird.” Lakewood Theatre photo

The novel is set, however, in an earlier time – the early to middle 1930s, during the depths of the Great Depression, in small-town Alabama, a seat of rigid segregation and no small amount of mob violence. From that viewpoint the actions of Atticus and the lessons Scout learns are truly heroic: resolute stands against the corruption of the place and culture they knew and loved. Tom Robinson loses his life. Scout loses her innocence, but gains something much larger: an understanding of the moral universe, and an emerging ability to cope with its demands.

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Sitting in the packed audience at the Fremont Theater last Thursday night for Portland Story Theater’s latest Urban Tellers show was both exhilarating and disheartening. Exhilarating because this was the latest chapter in Urban Tellers’ illuminating series of tales told by immigrants in and around Portland. Disheartening because this was the next-to-last Urban Tellers show ever in this little jewel of a space on Northeast Fremont Avenue in the Sabin/Alameda/Irvington overlap.

The following night’s repeat performance would be the end. Both houses were sold out. That made no difference: The Fremont is shutting down Nov. 12, and for Portland Story Theater, this was the abrupt end of a regular monthly gig. Matthew Singer wrote about the shutdown in Willamette Week, telling an all too familiar tale. “The basic circumstances are that we just ran out of money,” co-owner David Shur told him. Shur also noted that attempts to soundproof the space to appease other tenants of the building proved too costly.

Rodrigo Aguirre, Ruiyuan Gao (center) and Marisol Batioja-Kreuzer in the final Urban Tellers at the Fremont Theater. Photo: Kelly Nissl

The Fremont was used mainly as a music space, becoming one of several halls that helped fill the gap for jazz shows after the legendary Jimmy Mak’s shut down early this year. But it was home to Portland Story Theater and a few other more theatrical presenters, too, including puppeteer Penny Walter’s daytime Penny’s Puppets family shows and the old-time radio theatrics of Tesla City Stories, whose live shows are presented as if in a radio studio, sound effects included. Penny’s Puppets has its final show at the Fremont this Friday, Nov. 10. Tesla bids its adieu to the Fremont with a show the following evening, Nov. 11.

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