Nationale art gallery sums up its year

At the Southeast Portland gallery the smells are good and the dirty jokes are funny

As of this recent solstice, Nationale is 5 years old. In 2008, the gallery and shop opened on East Burnside and 28th Ave. in a tiny barber shop, then in 2010 moved to the north-facing side of the complex of boutiques, galleries, and salons at SE 8th and Burnside, before relocating o the sunnier, easier-to-find side facing Burnside in 2011.

In this time, owner/director May Barruel, (who also curates some of Stumptown’s exhibitions) has developed a stable of eight represented artists, a handsome catalogue of past exhibitions that includes some of Portland’s most interesting young artists (some of whom even still live here), and an always charming store full of a curated collection of books and objects that, according to Barruel’s longtime friend Jon Van Oast, “is what May’s brain would look like if you could walk into it, which you can now”.

Examples of wares from their holiday newsletter:

“lots of stocking stuffers from France (cute candy, La Peruche sugar cubes, harissa cans, good mayo, etc.), art books on everyone’s wish list (Mike Kelley, Peter Doig, Marcel Dzama, Wes Anderson, David Shrigley, etc.), braille greeting cards by Amber W. Smith, 2014 lunar calendars, and Nationale’s favorite store staples: OLO perfumes, Apartamento magazine, and Marseille soaps…”

(Those perfumes and soaps seem to play a sort of aromatherapy-optical-illusion within the space of the small shop, somehow making it feel much breezier and expansive.)

For the past few years, Barruel has picked a  selection of work from that year’s artists (sometimes leaving out favorites that have been sold). This year’s selection is on view now through December 31, with extended holiday hours on the 23rd and 24th (closed the 25th).

Inside Nationale: A wall featuring work by Delaney Allen/Nim Wunnan

Inside Nationale: A wall featuring work by Delaney Allen/Nim Wunnan

Curated loosely and fondly, restricted to what can fit in the corner and what will hang well together, this year’s selection features photos by Delaney Allen, paintings by Brandon Chuesy, Ty Ennis, Jaik Faulk, and Lindsay Kennedy, and sculptures by Aidan Koch. The show is a sort of incidental cross-section of the last year. These pieces in particular seem to have come from a mostly-purple-and-pink chunk of 2013, but the accidentally matched palette is close enough to work and tempered enough not to be cloying.

Kennedy’s “Wave Tempo” radiates from the back wall, its lavender glow visible from the burger joint across the street. Inside, you can see that it’s flanked by her smallest piece and one of Chuesy’s paintings, which—and I do mean this as a compliment—is what I would imagine Francis Bacon would produce had he been a character on the “Muppet Babies.” These two pieces echo each other with patches of pink so close that you’d think the two shared a studio.  The darker-purple, “Autumnal II / Fred Miller’s Hat” by Ty Ennis balances the lightness of the wall and contributes its own careful hand to a conversation started by the hundreds of precise, distinct brush strokes of “Wave Tempo.”

Koch’s small, ceramic sculptures sit on a low corner shelf, pink and white and grey, possibly grumbling over what they will do to the store when they come alive at night, which they obviously do. You can follow a sort of arc that carries their same irreverence, scale, and humor across the other wall, connecting the dots between Chuesy’s layered color-blots and Ennis’s cartoonishly pornographic watercolors, ending with a small diptych by Kennedy. Dense, small, collected, and thickly painted, the two page-sized canvases balance each other like entangled particles—the light one is so springlike and pastel and the dark one spikily dark. Easy to imagine them spinning off and wreaking eccentric havoc on the room if their bond was severed through some kind of nuclear studio-physics.

The wave of these smaller paintings routes around three of Delaney’s most devious photos from his last show at Nationale. All studio works, they’re charged with a glossiness that plays well against their otherworldliness. One of the eight artists Nationale represents, Allen’s images from his current and past series are also available in three books published by Publication Studio, stacked near fellow Nationale-alum Carson Ellis’s “Dillwood’s Revenge”.

A wall at Nationale featuring work by Lindsay Kennedy./Nim Wunnan

A wall at Nationale featuring work by Lindsay Kennedy./Nim Wunnan

On the opposite wall, Jaik Faulk’s “The Girl Who Drank Gold” broods by itself. Like Allen, Faulk’s last few years have been very productive, each marked by an excellent solo show at Nationale. Barruel’s very engaged curation of regular shows by the artists in the orbit of Nationale gives Portlanders an opportunity to follow the development of emerging artists with uncommon focus—even if you just stop in for a magazine or some soap. Having followed both Faulk and Allen’s shows, I was interested to see them hung with their alumni when I heard about the end-of-year collection.

It’s not meant to be as intense or considered as the solo shows that the collection draws on (Nationale only shows solo artists otherwise). Since it’s not meant as a retrospective, some strong work from 2013 is missing (notably Marie Koetje), but it’s a good chance to see or re-see some highlights from a growing, extended family of artists. It’s like an impossible holiday party—everyone is charming or interesting or both, it’s full but not crowded, the dirty jokes are funny, and it still feels relaxed even though everyone there is sharp as a tack.  Also the shop smells really good.

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