VISUAL ART

By SAMUEL EISEN-MEYERS

In March of 2016, President Obama lifted restrictions on travel to Cuba by individuals for “people to people” educational trips. I quickly started planning a way to take advantage of this sudden crack in the wall separating us from the island and its people. For the past decade, I had dreamed of going to Cuba and tried to imagine what it was like. And in April I landed in Havana, intending to spend a month observing and documenting Cuban art and artists.

After a week in Havana, my path finally emerged from a series of chance encounters with Cuban artists and their friends—I was going to Galeria Taller, an artists workshop in Matanzas, a city of around 150,000 on the north coast of the island, less than 60 miles from Havana. The taxi ride to Matanzas is close to an hour-and-a-half long, I found, but once I arrived there, things started moving quickly.

Outside the Galeria Taller,
Matanzas, Cuba/Photo by Ernst Kluge

The building that houses Galeria Taller seemed like a museum that had come from the leftover materials used to build the foundation and interior of one of Gaudi’s churches. The vast 100-foot pastel walls, softened by the prevailing weather, charred bricks and the obvious hard labor of restoration, gave a sense of dignity to the 160-year-old structure. Birds guarded the roofless walls from the sky, and the echoes of the streets provided a soundtrack for Matanzas’s finest sculptors, painters and creatives.

“We are open.”

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Black art: a neverending story

The Portland Art Museum's survey of African American art "Constructing Identity" tells a sprawling and many-sided tale

Wandering through Constructing Identity, the lavish exhibition of African-American art from the Petrucci Family Foundation Collection that sprawls across several upstairs galleries at the Portland Art Museum through June 18, I found myself looking for a unifying theme.

With work by more than eighty artists ranging in time from an 1885 landscape by Edward M. Bannister and Grafton Tyler Brown’s 1891 painting of a geyser in Yellowstone National Park to very contemporary pieces, it wasn’t easy.

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As I moved slowly from room to room I began gathering impressions and testing ideas.

Might the theme be the dominance of figurativism in 20th and early 21st century African American art?

Plenty of evidence for that, including Frederick D. Jones’s probing ca. 1945-50 oil portrait of a downcast woman holding a platter of fish, and Charles White’s black-and-white 1965 etching Missouri C., which stretches more than four feet wide and fairly leaps to life with the arresting image of a capacious black woman in profile staring toward a wide-angle emptiness of striations and spots.

Frederick D. Jones (American, 1914–2004), Untitled (Woman with a Fish), ca. 1945–1950, oil on canvas, 12 x 10 in. © Frederick Jones

Then again, might it be the depiction of community, of a people overcoming?

Good evidence here, too. Palmer Hayden’s small oil painting Madonna of the Stoop, for instance, from about 1940, captures in vivid folkish shapes and colors a quiet urban domestic scene, a moment of small happiness: a mother and baby sitting on the stairs of a brownstone building; a bigger girl smiling and playing with the baby, reaching out to touch it; a boy on the lower step reading a book; another boy sliding down the wide stair railings; a dog and the lower half of a second woman standing in the doorway at the top of the frame; a couple of cherub faces with wings floating in little clouds. The mother and the baby are the glue of it all, and their heads are circled, almost as afterthoughts, with thin halos.

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Well-worn Oregon, refugee dreams

K.B. Dixon's Oregon photos at Parsons and Friderike Heuer's photomontages at Camerawork strip back the veil of the ordinary

I caught up not long ago with the Portland novelist and photographer K.B. Dixon, who wrote good gallery reviews for me years ago at a once-daily newspaper where we both worked, and whose fascinating portraiture project I wrote about a year ago in Face to Face: K.B. Dixon photographs Oregon artists.

K.B. Dixon, “Stars and Stripes,” 2014, silver gelatin, 8 x 12 inches.

Dixon’s most recent photographic show, Town & Country: Excerpts from an Oregon Journal, is entering its final week at Michael Parsons Fine Art, where it closes Saturday. As in Face to Face, all of the images are black and white, emphasizing the structure of things and the subtleties of light and dark. And while Dixon doesn’t expressly pick out the weird, in that amped-up Portlandia way, he has an eye for the offbeat and unusual, from his portraits of street characters to his evocations of Oregon architectural survivors from an earlier, more fiercely independent time. Dixon’s Oregon, urban and rural, is a place well-worn, from drive-in ice cream joints to murals on the walls of old cannery buildings to the studio of a fiercely focused glass blower to the wondrous time machine that is the Ringler’s Annex Bar building at Stark and Burnside in downtown Portland. Dixon quietly reveals an Oregon that is right in front of us, if we just stop and take the time to see.

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Rodin and the shape of dance

A dancer's tour through the Portland Art Museum's big Rodin exhibition reveals the movement in the metal

There are many ways to look at art, all kinds of art, depending on your experience, your history, your knowledge, your point of view and your passions. Personally, and professionally, I am always interested in the links between dance and visual art, which are many and varied and not always obvious.

So is Portland Art Museum docent Carol Shults, whose ballet expertise ranges from teaching it to lecturing on its history, and is a friend of mine. For several years she has been leading special tours of the museum’s collection, and when appropriate, visiting exhibitions, in a series titled “Dance and Movement in Art.” The most recent was the first Saturday in February, when she offered a glimpse – more than a glimpse – of the intersection of dance and sculpture, first with a piece in PAM’s permanent collection, then with a close look at several pieces in the exhibition Rodin: The Human Experience, selections from the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Collections, on view until April 16.

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Fujikasa Satoko, “Flow #1,” 2011, stoneware with matte white slip, Museum Purchase: Funds provided by The Asian Art Council, © Fujikasa Satoko, 2013.15.1

The tour began in the Schnitzer Family Gallery on the main floor, where modern choreographer Gregg Bielemeier performed his own fluid, meditative movement take on Flow #1. The abstract ceramic sculpture is part of a series of meticulously fashioned, delicately balanced pieces that Japanese contemporary sculptor Fujikasa Satoko conceived of when she was only thirty-one.

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Louis Bunce: Catalyst for making Portland a city of modern art

A retrospective of Louis Bunce's at the Hallie Ford Museum makes the case for the artist as the catalyst for modern art in Portland

There is a retrospective exhibition of paintings by Louis Bunce at the Hallie Ford Museum of Art in Salem, running through March 26. It is an important show. It is a great show. It is accompanied by a monograph on Bunce by Roger Hull. It is important. It is great.

The importance of Louis Bunce to the development of art in Portland (and Oregon) cannot be overstated. As Hull says in his introduction: “Arguably Louis Bunce was the major Oregon modern artist of the twentieth century—a claim that can be substantiated on the basis of his enormously skilled production in many styles and modes, his friendship with artists on the New York scene that provided links between the Big Apple and the Rose City, his imaginative will to make Portland, Oregon, a city of art as well as roses, and the sheer force of his amiable, extroverted personality.”

Gerald Robinson, “Portrait of Louis Bunce,” 1955, gelatin silver print//Courtesy Hallie Ford Museum of Art

The exhibition certainly demonstrates “his enormously skilled production in many styles and modes.” Born in Wyoming in 1907, Bunce graduated from Jefferson High School in Portland. He attended the School of the Portland Art Association (later called the Museum Art School and later the Pacific Northwest College of Art), and spent four years in his early 20s in New York attending classes at the Art Students League. Early on he was enthralled with the paintings of Paul Cézanne, and the early landscapes in the exhibition have hints of Cézanne.

He then seems to have been inspired by the surrealist Giorgio de Chirico in the 1930s, with works like Along the Waterfront, 1939-1940. Here is a view from the seawall along the Willamette, looking north. Two figures lean on the wall, gazing across the river, but the rest is a simplified still life of objects: timbers, post, wheel, bridge and the towers of the Portland Public Market Building (later the Oregon Journal Building, demolished in 1969 for the construction of Waterfront Park). It has the bleakness of de Chirico, but maybe that’s also the bleakness of the Great Depression.

Louis Bunce, “Along the Waterfront”, 1939-1940. Oil on canvas. 34” x 30 ½” /Courtesy Hallie Ford Museum of Art

By the 1950s Bunce, in the spirit of the times, was making abstract expressionist style paintings. For me these are his most powerful works. Bunce combines freedom of form making with explorations of paint application—typical abstract expressionist attributes—with the feeling (not really “depiction”) of the land and sea of Oregon. Burned Land No. 2 relates directly to the series of massive wildfires known as the Tillamook Burn. Other titles such as Bay Composition No.2, Beach—Low Tide, Soft Rocks, Cliffside, or Lava Field, make it clear that Bunce was looking locally for (oh, I hate using this word, but…) “inspiration.”

Landscape-inspired-abstraction continued to be Bunce’s motif of choice through the end of his life, with a few side tracks into “pop”-inspired, paintings of enormous apples and roses, and a series of collages and serigraphs with strange furniture-like motifs (unfortunately not in this exhibition, but in a show of Bunce paper works that just closed at Hallie Ford).

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Interview: Tad Savinar on making theater, urban design and studio art

The Portland artist explains how he's sorted his multiple career paths

Tad Savinar has done a lot of interesting things in a career of 40-plus years.

In 1982 he organized an exhibition for Portland Center for the Visual Arts called A Few Good Men. One of those “men” was actor/writer Eric Bogosian who presented a monologue performance. Three years later the play Talk Radio co-created by Savinar and Bogosian premiered at PCVA. In 1987 it was produced by Joseph Papp at the New York Shakespeare Festival. Two years after that it was a feature film directed by Oliver Stone.

In the early 1990s he was a member of the Westside Light Rail Project Design Team. Since then he has participated in dozens of design teams and planning projects from Oregon and Washington to Arizona and New Jersey.

Now he is Vice Chair of the Portland Design Review Commission which “provides leadership and expertise on urban design and architecture and on maintaining and enhancing Portland’s historical and architectural heritage.”

But throughout his career he has been known as a studio artist with numerous exhibitions and public arts works to his credit.

Tad Savinar, THE NEW MAN,14 x 11.5 inches,
Digital print on paper,
2014

Currently at the Ronna and Eric Hoffman Gallery at Lewis and Clark College is an exhibition of
34 paintings, prints and sculptures he produced between 1994 and 2016 (along with 9 digital prints conceived during a sabbatical in Florence Italy in 2014). The show, “youniverse—past, present, future—Selected works from Jordan D. Schnitzer and His Family Foundation” runs from January 17-March 5.

This conversation happened last September.

You’ve said that to understand America you need to listen to talk radio and country music. Do you still think so?

I do—and talk to a 12-year-old.

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Appropriation, Information, and Cyborgs: An Interview with Michele Fiedler

Curator Michele Fiedler talks about the third show in her residency at Disjecta

By MACK CARLISLE

This past Sunday, January 15, amid Portland’s latest snowpocalypse, I had the pleasure walking through the current exhibition, “Oh Time Your Gilded Pages,” with Michele Fiedler, Disjecta’s sixth Curator-in-Residence. Fiedler is a curator and writer based in Mexico City, where she is the Curator at Sala de Arte Publico Siqueiros. Born in Puerto Rico, she received an MA in Curatorial Practice from California College of the Arts.

Guided by the artwork of Adriana Minoliti and Bobbi Woods in the exhibition, we discussed media representations, marketing, appropriation, posters, and porn. We also talked about the thread connecting Fiedler’s four Disjecta exhibitions, information, and what to expect from the remainder of her year in residence. Midway through our conversation, artist Adriana Minoliti walked in and topics turned toward installation, cyborgs, sex, and science fiction.

Exhibition: Oh Time Your Gilded Pages
(magazines, posters, adds, porn, interior design, perfume, jewels, movies, and cyborgs)
Disjecta: 8371 N Interstate Avenue
Artists: Adriana Minoliti and Bobbi Woods
Curator: Michele Fiedler
Showing: through February 26, 2017
Gallery Hours: Friday–Sunday, 12–5pm

The golden glow of the gilded works and the warmth of the rose-colored wall suffused our time together with a little special magic, perhaps felt most in contrast to the cold outside.

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