Laurel Reed Pavic

 

A new curator of Native American Art named by the Portland Art Museum

Kathleen Ash-Milby joins the museum's staff in a role that's become increasingly important

The Portland Art Museum has just announced the hiring of a new curator of Native American Art, Kathleen Ash-Milby. Ash-Milby comes to Portland from New York where she has been an associate curator at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) for nearly 20 years. She is a member of the Navajo Nation and replaces previous curator Deana Darrt, who stepped down in 2016.

At NMAI, Ash-Milby organized, curated, and co-curated many important exhibitions including: Transformer: Native Art in Light and Sound (2017), Kay WalkingStick: An American Artist (2015), C. Maxx Stevens: House of Memory (2012), HIDE: Skin as Material and Metaphor (2010), and Off the Map: Landscape in the Native Imagination (2007). In addition to her work at NMAI, Ash-Milby has curated projects internationally and served on the boards of the Aboriginal Curatorial Collective (2007-2012) and the American Indian Community House (2005-2007).

Kathleen Ash-Milby, the new curator of Native American Art at the Portland Art Museum

Ash-Milby was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and received her M.A. in Native American art history from the University of New Mexico. However, she does have connections to the Northwest as her undergraduate degree is from the University of Washington. She says she is “thrilled to be returning to the Northwest and joining the Portland Art Museum at such an important time in its growth. Portland has such a vibrant community of Native artists and community members, and I’m looking forward to being part of it.”

The Portland community is equally thrilled. Portland artist Lillian Pitt and member of the Native Advisory Board says, “I have known Kathleen since she started working at the National Museum of the American Indian…while the hiring process was lengthy, I am so pleased that Kathleen accepted the job. She will make us all proud.”

The position of curator for Native American Art has been vacant since Deana Dartt left the position in 2016, but the department has remained active. It has received several important grants from, among others, the Mellon Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities, and has continued to add new works to its collection. And it recently opened CCNA: Not Fragile, a show of glass art by contemporary Native artists.

Ash-Milby will start at the Portland Art Museum in July 2019.

Cheney Cowles: Collecting Japanese art like a samurai

A review of Poetic Imagination in Japanese Art: Selections from the Collection of Mary and Cheney Cowles at the Portland Art Museum

Forty years ago, Cheney Cowles bought his first Japanese painting. The work is a charming illustration of a samurai accompanied by a poem by the 19th century nun, Ōtagaki Rengetsu. The samurai charges forth toward the viewer, caught mid-stride. His enthusiasm and drive are palpable; his momentum, unstoppable. The same can be said for Cowles’s enthusiasm and drive for collecting. Only four decades later, Maribeth Graybill, the Curator of Asian Art at the Portland Art Museum, calls the collection “without question one of the finest collections of Japanese art in private hands.”

Ōtagaki Rengetsu (Japanese, 1791–1875), Samurai Footman with Poem, 1867, hanging scroll; ink and light color on paper, 12 13/16 x 17 1/2 in., Collection of Mary and Cheney Cowles.

Selections from Cowles’s collection are on display, many for the first time, at Portland Art Museum’s new exhibition, Poetic Imagination in Japanese Art which runs now through January 13, 2019. The theme “poetic imagination” was formulated by Graybill specifically in response to the Cowles collection. The heading is expansive as the show incorporates calligraphic texts, imaginary portraits of poets, monochrome ink paintings, and landscapes from the eighth through the twentieth century. Graybill defines poetry as something “illusive or fragmentary that requires you to emotionally and intellectually respond,” and all of the works in the exhibition bear some connection to this concept.

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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.

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Prints on demand: Want to see my etchings?

Portland Art Museum, Michael Parsons Fine Art, and Augen Gallery offer a summer course in print appreciation

By LAUREL REED PAVIC

The question “Do you want to see my etchings?” was the Victorian version of the mid-twentieth-century “Would you like to come up for a nightcap?” which somehow has been supplanted by “Netflix and chill?” in the twenty-first century. Prints may have lost their footing as the go-to euphemism for sex, but the many examples and varieties of printmaking on view right now at the Portland Art Museum, Michael Parsons Fine Art, and Augen Gallery prove that they haven’t lost their allure.

Printmaking may not be the flashiest of art forms, even for connoisseurs of Victorian art. It rewards slow, close looking and an appreciation of technical processes. Prints are realized through an intermediary: The artist doesn’t manipulate the product directly but instead acts upon a matrix be this a plate, a stone, or a screen. The print is the product of the transfer of the matrix to a substrate, traditionally paper. The matrix can be used multiple times resulting in multiple impressions, and this potential for multiplicity makes printmaking so powerful, socially. Artists exchange prints. Prints enable the circulation of ideas, forms, and styles. Prints provide artists the opportunity to explore themes and ideas in a different format; many painters are also printmakers. Because prints are often conceived of as forming groups or suites, an artist can offer multiple ruminations on a single topic. Prints are for collectors. It is rare for someone to have just one: like humans they exist in relationship to one another, defined by the company kept and enriched by one another. In short, prints fuel art.

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Morehshin Allahyari at Upfor: Flux, ambiguity, the unknown

Morehshin Allahyari exhibition at Upfor Gallery explores the jinn tradition for help in understanding the present

By LAUREL REED PAVIC

Female figures in the Western mythological tradition tend to end up filling one of two roles: either they are benevolent earth mothers or they are evil seductresses who exist only to trip up male heroes. There doesn’t seem to be much middle ground or even the possibility of duality. Through video and sculpture, Morehshin Allahyari introduces two jinn that defy this dichotomy in She Who Sees the Unknown at Upfor Gallery through June 24. While the jinn, Huma and Ya’Jooj Ma’Jooj, are fearful monsters, they are necessary to survival. Allahyari proposes the rejection of easy notions of “good” or “evil” in favor of flux, ambiguity, and the unknown. Contemporary maladies demand reimagined spirits.

In the pre-Islamic and Islamic traditions, jinn are non-human spirits who have the power to affect both humans and the earth. Jinn can be invoked through talismans—written and figurative supplications. Allahyari has included reproductions of three talismans from historical texts in the gallery: one to summon jinn, another to “treat fever” and a third to “treat hallucination and madness”.

Morehshin Allahyari’s ‘Huma’, 3D printed resin/Courtesy of Upfor Gallery, photograph by Mario Gallucci

Huma is the namesake jinn of the exhibition. Immediately opposite the gallery entrance is a figure of Huma and three abbreviated talismans. All are products of a 3D printer. The three-headed female figure is made of black resin; she looks menacing and dangerous. The talismans are clear resin arched shapes with intertwined symbols and script: an alpaca of sorts, a figure with a magic square body, a head with outstretched arms.

Two video works help to explain Huma: one shows Allahyari’s formulation of the figure, and the other the digital construction that resulted in the physical object in the gallery. The video She Who Sees the Unknown: Huma incorporates images of the figure with a spoken account of Huma’s appearance, raison d’etre, and areas of expertise. Allahyari’s version of Huma is an anti-earth mother. She is responsible for fever and madness, both of humans and of the planet. To the left of the narrative video is a 3d Scanning Screen Capture Performance of the technical process Allahyari used to model and digitally manifest the figure. This is identified as a performance because it is a record of the digital scanning process.

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Photography review: Photographs from the cold and wet

Corey Arnold's depictions of life at sea and Aleksey Kondratyev's ice fishermen contain a sublime shiver

By LAUREL REED PAVIC

Cold and ice were not the first things that I wanted to ponder mid-May, especially not this one, coming after a cold and rainy spring. But Blue Sky Gallery and Charles A. Hartman Fine Art both scheduled “cold and ice” shows before they could have known what we would be facing, so the perception of mockery with a late-arriving spring is probably unintentional. Neither Aleksey Kondratyev’s Ice Fishers (Blue Sky) nor Corey Arnold’s Aleutian Dreams (Charles A. Hartman) indulges springtime escapism. Instead they demand begrudging weather optimism: There’s always someplace colder than here.

Corey Arnold’s photographs are mesmerizing in their figuration of another life, one far more dramatic and dangerous than my own. Arnold spent eight seasons as a commercial fisherman in the Bering Sea. Though he no longer works in the industry directly, the current body of work was shot in Dutch Harbor, Alaska, in the Aleutian Islands. Aleutian Dreams returns to the subject of fishing and the sea while also chronicling life in a place with little division between “civilization” and the “wild.” Bald eagles rummage through garbage bins or patriotically adorn flagpoles (Dumpster Diver and Bald Freedom) and foxes roam the streets (Roadside Friend).

Corey Arnold, “Tad and Octopus”, 2017, Archival pigment print/Courtesy Charles A. Hartman Fine Art

Arnold’s approach to human subjects has changed in this series. Earlier photographs confirmed stereotypical expectations: the bearded man in waders (Ben and King (2009)) or the sea-hardened, turtlenecked figure in The Irish Skipper, Rossaveal, Ireland (2010). Aleutian Dreams includes no faces. In Rob and Skate, Rob’s face is entirely blocked by the fish, and in Tad and Octopus Tad’s head is covered by his orange hood so that all we see is his apparently gentle cradling of a limp octopus: an awkward pieta for the ocean set. In Pedro Mending, the hood of his outerwear shadows his face so the figure becomes an apparition in yellow against black net. People are named but faceless, subsumed by the enormity of the sea life and gritty necessities of the task at hand.

The experience is beautified and sanitized, expunged of visceral realities such as biting wind or stench of fish. The way dreams should be—all of the nice parts, the adventure without the discomfort: The Deadliest Catch translated from reality television to the art gallery, more beautiful and poignant and without the foul language or acerbic personalities.

*****

Aleksey Kondratyev’s photographs have less apparent drama. All are untitled. Most are single figures in billowing plastic bags against a snowy backdrop. Honestly, my first thought was the parental injunction against putting plastic bags over one’s head. This only confirms my coddled and well-mitttened upbringing. The Ishim River is in Kazakhstan, where it is cold. Not Portland “when is the snow going to melt” cold, but horrifically, brutally cold, up to 40 degrees below Fahrenheit cold. These makeshift plastic shelters are the only protection from these temperatures as the figures bend to the business of ice fishing.

Aleksey Kondratyev, Untitled, 2016, archival pigment print, 24″ x 30″/
image © Aleksey Kondratyev/Courtesy of Blue Sky Gallery

The shelters have a strange geometry, some are human-shaped ovoids while others are more directly reminiscent of their rectangular bag origins. Some appear sturdier than others, a blessing in the form of thicker-ply or even woven plastic. A few are patched with yellow tape. All are ingenious adaptations of the idea of “shelter.”
The figures inside the bags are vague forms hunched over unseen portals to the river below. Far more visible are the necessary tools: a plastic bucket, a hand-cranked drill, a can of Nescafe, a folding chair (at least some nod to comfort?). Particularly curious are the images of two or three fishermen right next to one another, but in their own shelters: a telling depiction of isolation in community.

Kondratyev includes several close-up images through the plastic. These are enigmatic. Condensation and ice mar the undulating plastic surface. Without the context of the shelter images, I would have no idea how to read these smaller works and yet their intimacy and draw is undeniable.

*****

Both Arnold and Kondratyev make photographs dealing with fish and ice, but the real parallel here is the venerable artistic tradition of the sublime. The sublime has many meanings in philosophy, but the one most familiar in art is Edmund Burke’s 18th century definition: the sublime is equal parts awe and terror. The sea has always been a favored subject in the consideration of the sublime, beautiful and dangerous. It was especially popular subject when people were dependent on it for transportation, trade, military protection, even light. Caspar David Friedrich and Joseph Mallord William Turner both painted several churning sea images. Arnold’s Dark Sea and Shifting Sea link directly to these predecessors.

Corey Arnold, “Colliding Sea”, 2015,
Archival pigment print/Courtesy Charles A. Hartman Fine Art

Kondratyev’s embrace of the sublime is less obvious but offers a fitting commentary for the contemporary world. Ice fishing is a traditional and historic practice on the Kazakh steppe. Plastic bags are a modern invention. The shelters represent a marriage of tradition and convenience: they lend a modicum of control in an unforgiving landscape.

Control, however, is an illusion. A plastic bag doesn’t protect against sub-freezing temperatures. The way we talk about climate change implies that we have some control over nature. We made the mess; we can fix the mess. But nature doesn’t care about us. Weather isn’t benevolent or malevolent. We are always outmatched. Our best efforts and most fervent attention, while urgently necessary, amount to little more than a film of plastic held together with some yellow tape.

Be in awe. Be terrified.

And be glad that it isn’t actually that cold.

NOTES

Corey Arnold’s Aleutian Dreams continues through May 27, 2017, at Charles A. Hartman Fine Art, 134 NW Eighth Ave.

Aleksey Kondratyev’s exhibition continues through May 28, 2017, at Blue Sky Gallery, 122 NW Eighth Ave.

By LAUREL REED PAVIC

I have been thinking about Costumes, Reverence, and Forms currently at the Center for Contemporary Art and Culture for the better part of a week. When I first saw the show, I was perplexed. Partially, the reaction can be chalked up to the gallery map provided at the entrance that identified the artist and title for each work. The map was based on a building blueprint with confounding layout features—a hidden staircase, an unseen office, a set of what look like four stove-top burners nowhere to be found. But beyond the map, I felt intimidated by the work, concerned that I just didn’t get it.

But once I made peace with my spatial inadequacies and considered the show further, my initial hesitation faded. So what I want to tell you is what I wish I had known going into gallery and what has helped me move beyond my initial “huh?” reaction.

Tabitha Nikolai’s “Sick Transex Gloria,” part of “Costumes, Reverence, and Forms” at the Center for Contemporary Art and Culture/Photo by Mario Gallucci

The exhibition is a curatorial exchange between CCAC in Portland and Vox Populi in Philadelphia. Vox Populi is an artist-run space and the curatorial group that participated in the exchange included Mark Stockton, Bree Pickering, Chad States, and Suzanne Seesman. CCAC is part of the Pacific Northwest College of Art. The Center’s director, Mack McFarland, and assistant director, Ashley Gibson, were the curators from Portland.

The Portland and Philadelphia curators each generated a list of about 100 artists in their respective cities to give to their counterparts in the other city. The curators then looked through the artists’ websites and culled the field to about 20 artists they wanted to do studio visits with on a visit to the other city. From the “semi-final” group of studio-visit artists, each set of curators selected four artists to be in the show. This all took the better part of a year and involved many conversations between the curators and artists. The “guiding principle” terms—costumes, reverence, and forms—were chosen after the roster of artists had been determined. There was an iteration of the show in Philadelphia in January of 2017 and the show opened in Portland in April.

The curators didn’t select individual works but instead selected the artists whose practices they were most struck by. Both sides were surprised by some of the other’s finalists. The selection of works for the shows was much more fluid and artist-directed. Some of the artists wanted to show newer work than the curators had seen in the studio visits, and others wanted to respond specifically to the exhibition space. While the shows in both locations included all of the same artists, the roster of works included is not identical.

The Vox Populi show had an entry archway that clearly identified which artists were from which city. The CCAC version didn’t indicate this except in the gallery brochure. Portland artists were identified with a small blue arch and Philadelphia artists with a small pink arch. There was no “key” for these symbols though (and I actually just figured it out now, leaving me again feeling a little slow). Marianne Dages, Beth Heinly, Anna Neighbor, and Kristen Neville Taylor are the artists from Philadelphia. Avantika Bawa, Tabitha Nikolai, Jess Perlitz and Ralph Pugay are the artists from Portland.

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