VISUAL ART

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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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″

*****

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.

*****

 

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!

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.

 

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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Eye to Eye

The artist/photographer Friderike Heuer poses for the painter Henk Pander. What transpires is a double portrait, a gift of being seen.

Photo essay by FRIDERIKE HEUER

It is an act of sheer defiance. It just is.

The plan to shed half of your clothes, allowing someone not your lover to peruse your scarred, dilapidated body, simply has no other explanation.

Defiance, then, of what? Rules of decorum that forbid old women from sitting naked for a painter? The public’s needs to keep substantive evidence of harsh disease forever out of sight, or else? Some urging of your timid soul that vanity and privacy should be protected? Demands of feminism not to yield to the male gaze, whatever that might be?

Artist and subject, subject and artist: the mutual gaze.

An educated guess: it is defying all of the above.

I like experiments; I always did. Not just as a psychologist researching memory, or as an artist translating my thoughts to visual image. Since early days I have perceived the world as something meant to be explored. That probing, experimental, sometimes even reckless interaction tells me who I am. The gifts of education, intellect, curiosity and extroversion made risking possible. The challenges of life in post-war Germany as well as lifelong bouts of illness made it a must.

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How to create community with art, and other lessons from Field of View

An artist residency program for people with developmental disabilities rethinks the value of creative labor

Most stories are more complicated than they seem. To really understand why we–individually and collectively–have ended up at this particular moment in time under the often baffling conditions that inform day-to-day life, the simple story just won’t suffice.

This particular story, which looks at how five Portland-based artists ended up at a very special artist residency called Field of View, is far from simple. To understand how this program came to be begs for a brief glimpse into the ongoing public policy debate over how the State of Oregon should support individuals who experience developmental disabilities, for example. And all the nuances, twists, turns and triumphs in this story illuminate the Field of View resident artists’ resilience and creative capacity–as well as the possibility that art-making could play a vital role in the movement toward a more holistic, integrated city, state, and society.

My journey into this story began on a Sunday evening late this past August. Carissa Burkett, the artist who initiated Field of View, a program of the nonprofit Public Annex, invited me over to her home for dinner, where I met five of the program’s resident artists, along with Lauren Moran, Burkett’s co-organizer. Thanks to funding from the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art’s Precipice Fund, Field of View was able to place these artists, all of whom experience developmental disabilities*, in three-month-long artist residencies around the community in Portland, at sites including King School, Performance Works Northwest, and the Independent Publishing Resource Center.

We sat on Burkett’s back patio that warm night and chatted for a couple of hours about the artists’ experience in their residencies. At the gathering, I met Dawn Westover, a visual artists who makes drawings; Sonya Hamilton, a painter and ceramicist; David Lechner, a visual and dance artist; and Olga Shchepina, a painter and sculptor. I also reconnected with Larry Supnet, a prolific visual artist whom I had met earlier in the year.

What made this gathering of artists especially interesting, in my eyes, was their familiarity with one another–the way they cracked jokes and smiled knowingly. I could tell there was a lot more to their stories as colleagues. “How do you all know each other?” I asked…

Dawn Westover’s Instagram @dawn_westover_art

*****

As it turns out, the story of these artists coming together goes way back–so far back that it required a detour into the history of the Oregon state legislature’s attempts to improve its services for Oregonians with developmental disabilities. Burkett filled me in on some of the details.

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