VISUAL ART

Portland artists create space for galleries

Portland artists fight the rental crunch with Williamson Knight, Chicken Coop Contemporary and Grapefruit Juice

The changes in Portland’s population, zoning, and real estate have rippled through every aspect of our local culture. There’s more to come for sure, but as the dust settles on our nation-leading rental increases the arts community has been finding new places and new methods to carve out a space for their projects and their people. What follows is a brief overview of three of the more interesting spaces to emerge in the past year.

Chicken Coop Contemporary

As the name might suggest, Chicken Coop Contemporary is housed in a spacious, white chicken coop that stands next to the studio of painter Srijon Chowdhury in his backyard in deep Southeast Portland. An accomplished artist, Chowdhury splits his time between Portland and Los Angeles. In the tradition of apartment galleries and can-we-fit-a-gallery-heregalleries, Chowdhury used the space he has as an opportunity to engage the sometimes-diffuse art community of Portland, and as a place to have a dialogue with some of the artists he’s interested in. As his show at Upfor last year proves, he’s able to bring the rich and considered touch he shows in his paintings to curation and collaboration as well.

The Chicken Coop Contemporary stands next to the studio of painter Srijon Chowdhury in Southeast Portland.

Most of the shows so far have featured small, intense paintings such as the haunting work of Dustin Metz, but the last two shows have included multimedia and site-specific work. The current show directly addresses the venue with text and sculptural pieces reflecting on the lives and ways of chickens and other animals. “Collection Sites by Jesse Stecklow draws on writing about livestock handling, including the work of Temple Grandin, to focus consideration on the lives of the gallery residents—the chickens.

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Can Modernism be ‘new’ anymore?

A show of abstract work at Elizabeth Leach Gallery leads back to the history of Modernism

This sports anecdote is from the introduction to A Fine Disregard: What Makes Modern Art Modern by Kirk Varnedoe, the late American art historian who served as chief curator of painting and sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art from 1988 to 2001.

“Somewhere back in a rainy summer in the 1970s, I made a pilgrimage of sorts to a place in the north of England that it fascinated me for years; it’s a playing field that’s part of the Rugby School, and on the wall next to the field is fixed the marker I came to see. It reads: “This stone commemorates the exploit of William Webb Ellis, who with a fine disregard for the rules of football as played in his time, first took the ball in his arms and ran with it, thus originating the distinctive feature of the Rugby game. A. D. 1823.”… I was among [those who played rugby in the late 1960s] and as I moved back toward the bare essentials of the sport, I found my curiosity enduringly piqued by the tale of its origin. What possessed Webb Ellis, in the heat of a soccer game, to pick up the ball? And stranger still, why didn’t they just throw him out of the game?”

In 1823 a guy changes the game from what we call soccer, to the game of rugby. In the late 19th century another game changed, and Varnedoe’s question applies. When Cézanne painted Mont Sainte-Victoire with daubs of paint, or certainly when Pablo Picasso began showing analytical cubist paintings—why weren’t they thrown out of the art game? Why did the game change to accommodate them?

So “modern” art reflected an abrupt change from the way art was played in the past, and depending on the critic/historian it originated with Édouard Manet and the “frankness with which [his paintings] declared the flat surfaces on which they were painted,” according to critic Clement Greenberg, or maybe with Van Gogh and Gauguin, according to Arthur Danto—at least sometime before 1900.

Chris Gander,”Plug:Matrix,” 2017,oil on wood construction, 21 x 21 x18″/image courtesy of the artist and Elizabeth Leach Gallery

The idea of modern art also reflected the critical/historical concept of “progress” in art. The genealogy runs something like this: Renaissance begat Mannerism, which begat Baroque, which begat Neo-Classicism, which begat Romanticism, and so on to Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, Cubism, Dada, Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism—and then, according to Arthur Danto, in the early 1960s, with Pop Art, and for Danto with the example of Andy Warhol’s Brillo Box, 1964, which looked just like the mundane Brillo box in the grocery store, the historical idea of “progress” stopped. No longer is there an avant-garde. There is no “next step” in art evolution. As Danto said, “As far as appearances were concerned, anything could be a work of art, and it meant that if you were going to find out what art was you had to turn from sense experiences to thought.” It no longer had to look like art to be art.

Modernism in this reading was the last gasp of art “progress.” For a critic like Greenberg (by the way “modern art” is a critical/historical term—I’ve never heard of an artist saying, “I’m a modern artist”) modern painting (painting was the main vehicle for the progress in modernism) tended to strip away things that were not fundamental to painting. The best modern painting, according to Greenberg, would demonstrate recognition of the flatness of the canvas and emphasize color— attributes special to painting. Likewise, Greenberg would find sculpture that was painted with colors irritating, since color was an attribute of painting, not something like scale or form that was essential to sculpture. By the end of the 1960s these ideas were worn out, and nobody cares much about that puritan view now.

Joanna Pousette-Dart,
“Cañones #3,” 2007-08,
acrylic on canvas on shaped panels,
79 x 92″/image courtesy of the artist and Elizabeth Leach Gallery

Now there is an exhibition at the Elizabeth Leach Gallery entitled New Modernism that “presents seven artists whose innovative approaches to formalism link them to the modernist art movement of the 19th century.” I don’t buy this premise. All artists have their own formal approaches, and if they do interesting work, their approaches will be personally different (innovative) from those of others. Looking at the exhibition, I don’t see “modernism”—either in the sense of an abrupt break with the past (since there is no “progress” anymore) or in attitudes linked to refinement of the essences of painting or sculpture. The show could easily and more accurately be called Some Current Abstraction, or something like that.

Still, the current abstractions in New Modernism include some interesting artworks for us to consider.

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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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UNA Gallery and Y.G.B.: Asserting the community

Two Portland collectives are creating space for Black, Brown, queer and femme communities in the heart of oh-so-white Portland

By HANNAH KRAFCIK

Denizens of Portland’s nightlife have probably heard of Y.G.B. The name stands for Young Gifted and Black or Brown—depending on the identity of the person speaking about the work—and Y.G.B.’s events include some of the city’s most vibrant parties, known to attract lines around the block. The Y.G.B. collective identifies as “pro-Black, pro-Femme, pro-Queer,” and, as such, they explicitly make these identities the center of all events.

Anyone moving around in the visual art world might also have caught wind of UNA, a new gallery nestled in the Pearl District. This collective-run space has a mission similar to Y.G.B., and its name stands for “Uniendo a Nuestros Artistas” (Uniting Our Artists). As stated on UNA’s website, the gallery is “holding space for POC, Queer and Femme voices,” and its programming ranges from carefully curated exhibitions and performances to community happenings such as White Guilt Work Group and Tender Table. With such intersecting missions, it’s no surprise that Y.G.B and UNA are coming together for a collaboration.

Y.G.B. at Produce Row/ Photo by Rose Léon

Last month, Mercedes Orozco and Blair Crissman, who make up the UNA Gallery collective, and Natalie Figueroa, one of the founding visionaries of Y.G.B., sat down with me for separate conversations about their respective organizing work. The initial impetus for these interviews was to discuss the collaboration between UNA and Y.G.B. for Y.G.B’s 2 Year Anniversary Retrospective. This event will take shape as a gallery showing at UNA 6-10 pm July 6, featuring photography, short films, music, performance and a look back at Y.G.B.’s promotional art in celebration of “two years of Y.G.B community.”

These interviews also offered an opportunity take a deeper dive into the missions, visions, organizing, and creative work of both groups. Through our discussions, it became apparent that there is so much at play underneath UNA and Y.G.B.’s organizing work—so many rich and intersecting ideas, priorities, and messages that are resonant with one another, making their collaboration at this moment in time so intuitive.

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Art notes: new grads, old pros, big names, prison art

From Picasso to new college art grads, a quick guide to July's First Thursday and other gallery openings

First Thursday, the monthly walk of openings in the city’s art galleries, is this week, with a few holdovers and a few shows opening on slightly different dates. A few of the many new exhibits to watch for:

David Slader in the studio. His new exhibit opens Thursday at Gallery 114.

 

Erin Law, Lewis & Clark College, “Untitled 2,” 2017. Plywood, paint, plant, video loop. 84″ x 18″ x 36″. Blackfish Gallery.

Recent Graduates Exhibition 2017 at Blackfish. For the 22nd year, Blackfish presents its group showing of work by art school graduates from colleges and universities, private and public, throughout Oregon. With two each, selected by their respective schools’ art faculty at fifteen schools, that’s thirty artists. This is always a good opportunity to see the work of up-and-coming artists just entering the market. In the curious lingo of the art world, they’re known as “emerging artists,” a title that seems to be almost magically attached to young artists until at some point they mysteriously become “mid-career” artists and finally become … what? Veterans? Eminences grises? Old masters? Geezers? (Portland has, as you may know, a thriving Geezer Gallery.)

Miró and Picasso at Augen. Meanwhile, a couple of fully emerged artists – Pablo Picasso, a Spaniard who was active in France, and Barcelona-born Joan Miró, who worked in Paris and his native Spain – are showing prints and, in Picasso’s case, some ceramics, too. If you’re not familiar with them, they’re good artists to know. Paired nicely with a back room show of prints by the veteran Northwest artist Thomas Wood.

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Ampersand Gallery: Jason Silva’s furniture music

The New York artist's deceptively simple graphite drawings conceal odd depths and perspectives

By PAUL MAZIAR

A series of smallish pictures lines the wall as you enter the gallery space at Ampersand Gallery & Fine Books. They’re all graphite works done on paper by Jason Silva (NYC), part of Land Purchase, an exhibition on view till the end of this month. With the right amount of room for long standing looks, you can “read” the nine images from left to right—like a picture book, or stills from an old moving picture—and get a different story every time.

Silva has described the pictures as sets for films—with various interior-scene accoutrements like shutters, stovepipes, posts, stools, and billowy curtains—that will never, could never, be made. As in the unforgettable opening scene from Antonioni’s L’Eclisse, the viewer is dropped into an unaccountable frame, at 7 x 10 inches, to consider how to interact with and among strange objects and to ponder their effect. I might liken them to something out of a set for Les Six, the group of French composers guided by Erik Satie’s idea of music taken unseriously and a thing to take in without undue effort—“furniture music” is what Satie cheekily called it. Silva’s furniture music is the perfect setting for imagination. Like wordless background music, or Antonioni’s scene, we’re given enough clarity of detail and pictorial access, but aren’t handed any specific idea. Silva uses the device of surprise by letting various nuances of otherwise banal designs become something novel by their nearness.

Jason Silva, “3-23-17″/Courtesy Ampersand Gallery

Having only seen his works on Instagram (of all places), I found Silva’s drawings totally different in person. They’re simple black, white and gray, but their elements and settings baffle the eye. In 3-23-17, the interior-exterior dichotomy is on full display— a stick-house form stands out on a receding horizon backdropped by a stylized fire that emerges from behind the horizon line. A little striped pyramid and a large crater in the foreground command the far edges of the paper. Smoke funnels “underground,” from the distant flames and beneath the pyramid form, compressing the distance to reverse the shading that tricks the eye into seeing “distance.” Silva’s fitful tableaus are pretty out-there, but due to Silva’s clarity of detail and image rendering, they’re also eerily familiar.

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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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