VISUAL ART

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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Artist Deborah Horrell, 1953-2018

The longtime Portland artist dies after a long battle with cancer. A celebration of her life has been set.

Deborah Horrell, 1953-2018. Photo courtesy Elizabeth Leach Gallery

Word has arrived that the longtime Portland artist Deborah Horrell died on August 24 after a six-year battle with lung cancer. She was 65. Her obituary is here.

“It is with heavy hearts that we inform you that our dear friend and gallery artist, Deborah Horrell, recently passed away after several years battling cancer,” her Portland gallery, Elizabeth Leach, announced. “Deborah was a beloved member of the gallery family and larger arts community, known for her dynamic and meticulously crafted works in glass, wood and ceramics, as well as her masterfully drafted drawings and paintings.

“Many of you may know that during the last 18 years Deborah had several periods fighting cancer. She always brought tenacity, immense strength and dignity to this herculean task. During those challenging years, Deborah deepened her infectious love for life, boundless affection for friends, colleagues and collaborators, expanded her witty sense of humor, and her passion for imaginative and creative fashion. Deborah dedicated her time to her family (husband Kit and dog Kenai), her studio art practice and giving back to her community. She served on the board of PICA: Portland Institute for Contemporary Art, participated in art residencies and major exhibitions around the country and was an ever-present and engaged patron and attendee of art and dance events throughout our community.”

A celebration of her life will be held October 6 at PICA, 15 N.E. Hancock Street. Details are here.

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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Beyond the walls: A social practice project goes global

Answers Without Words, a photography project, fosters creative dialogue between incarcerated artists in Oregon and photographers from around the world

I am watching a group of men set a scene to be photographed. Ben Turanski, one of the prisoners at Columbia River Correctional Institution, indicates I am witnessing “prison innovation” in the works. He and some others are turning one corner of a classroom space at CRCI into a faux hospice. He twists a long piece of plastic wrapper into a cord, like an IV, attaching it to the wrist of Joshua Wright, who is lying on a makeshift hospital bed. Now done setting the scene, Turanski sits beside Wright and takes his hand.

From several feet away, Ben Hall takes a photo with a digital camera. When I ask him about what is happening, he indicates that the scenario he is photographing is inspired by his time working hospice in prison.

“What changed you in prison and are you happy about that?” question by Sara Lamens from Belgium, answer by Ben Hall in collaboration with Ben Turanski and Joshua Wright, photographed by Ben Hall

Anke Schüttler stands outside the frame, making suggestions about photographic composition. Schüttler—a photographer by trade and an MFA candidate at Portland State University’s School of Art and Social Practice—is one of the facilitators of this art class at CRCI, a minimum security prison housing 595 *mostly* male prisoners in Northeast Portland, Oregon. (I add the caveat because, in my few hours visiting the facility, I was made aware of at least one female-identifying prisoner.)

Schüttler let me know that many of the incarcerated individuals participating in this PSU art class said they would prefer to be called prisoners, hence my use of the word here. Under the umbrella of PSU art class, these prisoners are also working artists-in-residence at CRCI.

For Wright, the patient in the hospice scenario, the title artist-in-residence felt generative. “You were in prison, yes, but you were also in residence,” he reflected. “You’re an artist. You took this time to pursue your craft. That’s a rare and brilliant idea, and to be able to utilize that in this space has been incredibly beneficial,” he continued, noting that the residency has helped keep him on track creatively while in prison, in addition to benefiting him upon his release. Wright is a published essayist and poet, living incarcerated with a terminal diagnosis of cystic fibrosis.

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“[If] someone is asking you a question, like, ‘What’s your favorite place?’, you just go there and take a photo of that place. But what happens if you cannot access that place?” asked Schüttler during the class lecture at CRCI that I attended. Before returning to Germany, her home country, Schüttler will be wrapping up her MFA thesis on a project she initiated at CRCI called “Answers Without Words,” developed in collaboration Roshani Thakore, another PSU Art and Social Practice student, along with the prisoners.

The name of the project is “pretty logical,” says Schüttler.

For the past several months, and with support from the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art’s Precipice Fund, Schüttler has facilitated an exchange of written questions and photographic responses between incarcerated artists-in-residence at CRCI and photographers from around the world.

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Schüttler originally started visiting CRCI out of intrigue when she and her colleagues were invited by Harrell Fletcher, founder of the PSU Art and Social Practice MFA concentration. “Often times, when Harrell gets an opportunity here in Portland, he invites his students in,” said Schüttler. Harrell, who had done creative work with a prison in the past, was curious about CRCI and had been extended an invitation to visit an ongoing arts-based class there.

“We went, and had such a deep experience,” Schüttler recalled. “I mean, you’ve seen it.”

I have seen it. In spite of so many constraints, the four walls of the classroom contained an environment remarkable to enter into and be present within—at least, to my sensibilities.

“There’s something about these people…They have so much wisdom, and so much talent,” Schüttler continued. “Something that really stood out for me was also this vulnerability. When does that ever happen? A big group of men being vulnerable with each other? And it’s like, the last place you would expect that to happen is a prison.”

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America, from inside out

Inspired by conceptualist Joseph Beuys, a show at the Linfield gallery explores the nation's history, identity, and legacy of trauma

In 1974, nearly a year after Sacheen Littlefeather spoke at the Oscars on behalf of indigenous people, the German Conceptual artist Joseph Beuys flew into New York City and was met at the airport by assistants who wrapped him in felt and drove him to a gallery in SoHo. There, he spent the next three days in an enclosed space with a coyote and a supply of newspapers — the Wall Street Journal, no less, the journalistic flagship for American finance capitalism.

Beuys’ iconic piece of postmodern performance art, entitled I Like America and America Likes Me, isn’t as well-known as Littlefeather’s speech, which she cut short before being escorted off-stage past a furious John Wayne, who was in the wings. But both had the same goal of highlighting the inconvenient truth of the genocide of indigenous peoples.

Right-hand section of Daniel Duford’s John Brown triptych: “The General and the Supermax,” 2018; Watercolor and graphite on paper.

The numbers are horrifying. Hard numbers are difficult to come by, of course, but when Columbus landed in the “new” world in 1492, there’s a consensus that the Western Hemisphere had an indigenous population of anywhere from 50 to 100 million. Two centuries later, that population had been slashed by as much as 90 percent. It’s that historical context within which the current exhibit at Linfield College’s art gallery in McMinnville finds itself: America Likes Me, organized by gallery curator Josephine Zarkovich, was inspired by and “is in conversation with” Beuys’ seminal 1974 show. The exhibition runs through Oct. 5 and features work by six Oregon-based artists “whose work explores ideas of shared histories, American identity, and the legacy of trauma.”

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High Tide in Astoria

Can extremely thoughtful, attentive urban design be art? The Tidal Rock project in Astoria may have some answers.

Tidal Rock—a green space in Astoria, Oregon, formerly overgrown and obscured from the public eye—has received a makeover courtesy of three artists, Agnes Field, Brenda Harper, and Jessica Schleif, who have rallied their community to create a space for public art in an unlikely spot. Known for its role in marking the water level for its coastal community, Tidal Rock is officially designated as a historic site. Since late 2017, the three artists have been hard at work cultivating the space as a place for temporary public art installations and community gatherings. A public art event at the site, taking place Saturday evening, September 8, is the sort of thing they have in mind.

Oddfellows dance collective at Tidal Rock; photo by Brenda Harper

When I connected with the artists to speak about Tidal Rock, I was shocked to learn that Field had severely broken her leg less than two weeks before this big event. “It’s just one of those crazy things that happens when you don’t expect it,” she said. “I was helping my friends with their new roller skates.” At this point, I let an unseemly pun slip out about rolling with the situation, to which she kindly replied, “I think that the truth. It’s the only choice you have.”

“I’m like, ‘gosh, how is she doing this?’” Schleif remarked of Field’s predicament. “She’s chipper and looks great.”

Field’s high spirits bodes well for Saturday’s event, and this pervasive positivity has likely had an impact on the progress of the project thus far. The artists talked me through some of the details surrounding how they were able to convince Astoria City Council to allow them to adopt the Tidal Rock site.

“I don’t think they had experienced anything like this before,” said Schleif. “It was a leap for them to start picturing what might happen.”

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VizArts Monthly: The past lingers, the future beckons

A month's worth of possibilities at local galleries and museums

September is upon us, with programs for TBA descending like early, unusually chunky autumn leaves. This year’s lineup looks as exciting as ever, but don’t forget the visual arts, whether they’ve snuck into TBA or not. Of note this month, new independent gallery Carnation Contemporary opens its inaugural exhibition in one of the small street-facing spaces in Disjecta. Besides these new events, the last days of a few good shows linger on like the occasional remaining warm days. Ann Hamilton’s Habitus will be open through September 16, as the final part of Converge 45. Amy Bay’s lovely painting show will be hanging at Melanie Flood Projects until September 8, and while you’re downtown you can still catch or Richard Diebenkorn at PAM until the 23rd and R.B. Kitaj at the Oregon Jewish Museum until the 30th.

 

Joe Feddersen, Aggressive Attitude, 2018. Image Courtesy of Froelick Gallery; Photo by Rebekah Johnson

 

CCNA: Not Fragile

September 1-June 9, 2019
Portland Art Museum, 1219 SW Park Avenue

Presented by the Center for Contemporary Native Art at the Portland Art Museum, a fantastic range of glass work by contemporary Native artists. The Northwest is lucky to have such a thriving scene of glass art. Artists such as Joe Feddersen and Dan Friday are distinctive employ innovative techniques and Native imagery in their glass objects that, far from the fragile associations most of us have with glass, radiate strength, resilience and resistance.

 

Unwalking the West

September 6-October 20
Pacific Northwest College of Art, Center for Contemporary Art & Culture, 511 NW Broadway

Curated by Signal Fire co-director Ka’ila Farrell-Smith, this annual project is based on “the symbolic act of retracing segments of European settler exploration and conquest in the reverse direction, as a way of interrogating assumed histories and connecting the legacy of colonialism to the present day challenges in the American West,” including climate Change. Signal Fire is a non-profit organization that connects artists with wildlands through programs like expeditions and residencies, which this exhibition draws from. Artists include Sarah Farahat, Tanja Geis, Joe Hedges, Garrick Imatani, Emmy Lingscheit, Rachelle Reichert, Rick Silva, and Ilvs Strauss.

 

Render capture from 3D environment

Utopia Without You – Tabitha Nikolai

September 6 – October 13
Williamson Knight, 916 NW Flanders St

This solo show by local artist and curator Tabitha Nikolai promises futuristic visions as disquieting as they are beguiling. Nikolai, who describes herself as a “trashgender gutter elf and low-level cybermage” will show a variety of new sculptural works including a custom gaming PC with a custom controller made in collaboration with Matt Leavitt, a wargaming diorama borrowing materials from the show at Killjoy that Nikolai curated earlier this year, and digital 3d environments with original score by Rook. Nikolai will also lead a conversation about the exhibition at the closing on October 13 at 1:00 pm.

 

RiverRouge, Christian Mickovic

Summer forever

Through October 7, 2018
Dust to Dust, 3636 N Mississippi Ave

A colorfully-intense group show that takes a close look at the complexity of that thing we love so much in Portland, summer. The show combines love, escapism, dread, freedom, and malaise “in a celebration of summer’s excess and the collective fear of a future, smoke-filled, everlasting summer,” according to the press release. Local painter Bruce Conkle’s painting of skeletons on a boat hangs in counterpoint to the 3D renderings of LA artist Paul Rosas and the sculptural recreations of party drugs by Beverly Fishman (Bloomfield Hills, Michigan). Also from Bloomfield Hills, Christian Mickovic’s optically-dizzying paintings are the stars of the show, rewarding however much time you can spend staring into them.

Gregg Bordowitz: I Wanna Be Well
Through October 21
Reed College, Douglas F. Cooley Memorial Art Gallery, 3203 SE Woodstock Boulevard

This exhibition marks the first retrospective of American artist, activist, writer, and educator Gregg Bordowitz. An early survivor of the HIV virus, Bordowitz created important films in the early days of AIDS activism, working with the direct action group ACT UP and the video collective, Testing the Limits. These films will join rarely-seen sculptures and drawings in this retrospective, as well a books, essays, poetry, personal ephemera, and films of recent performances by Bordowitz.

TBA Picks

Film still from Cocteau’s Beauty and the Best

Fin de Cinema—Jean Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast

Mon Sept 10, 10 pm
The Works, 15 NE Hancock, $5–15

Returning for a second year after its popular TBA debut in 2017, this ongoing series curated by Holocene’s Gina Altamura hand-picks local musicians to compose and perform a newly imagined score to a classic movie. If TBA feels a little overwhelming to you, Fin de Cinema is guaranteed to be a satisfying, soothing break in all the intensity. Cinephiles and experimental music lovers alike can relax and enjoy the combination of an old, subtitled film and live performance of new compositions by local musicians. Well-known improvisors Like a Villain, John Niekrasz, Jonathan Sielaff (the bass clarinet in Golden Retriever), Patricia Wolf (of Soft Metals), Amenta Abioto, and Noah Bernstein perform a new score to Cocteau’s classic, highly-influential masterpiece.

Utopian Visions Art Fair

Friday, September 14 2018, 5:00 PM – 8:00 PM
Saturday and Sunday September 15 2018, from 11:00 AM – 4:00 PM

Initiated by Srijon Chowdhury, alternative art fair that provides a platform for artists, gallerists, and curators to present projects that work towards possible, alternative futures. Dozens of artists collaborate in an intimate setting, with visual art, performance, installation, and facilitated conversations around the themes of accessibility, community, and the art world’s reliance on capitalist systems. Collaborators include Institute for Interspecies Art and Relations, Chicken Coop Contemporary, Shawn Creeden, Lisa Schonberg, Institute for Queer Ecology, Lila de Magalhaes and Harley Hollenstein, Williamson + Knight, Midori Hirose & Mia Ferm, and many more.