$10 million for the Portland Art Museum

Arlene Schnitzer makes a major donation to the Rothko Pavilion project

For weeks the Portland Art Museum has been teasing a “Historic Announcement” that will “mark a historic moment” on January 21st at 11 a.m.. The news is in: Arlene Schnitzer has donated 10 million dollars to the the Museum’s fund for the Rothko Pavilion and gallery redesign, the Connections Campaign. Though billed as an announcement, this morning’s event was more accurately a celebration of Schnitzer and included speeches about her many contributions to the Museum and arts community from her son Jordan Schnitzer, Museum Director Brian Ferriso, and Governor Kate Brown. The Lincoln High School Chamber Choir performed and Jordan Schnitzer provided lunch for the crowd of nearly 250 people. 

Though the dollar amount doesn’t approach the same heights, U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici announced a second major donation to the Museum’s Connections Campaign, $750,000 from the National Endowment for the Humanities. This is an especially large grant from the NEH.

There was no mention this morning of how much money the Connections Campaign needed to raise in order to fund the construction of the Rothko Pavilion and planned renovations. A note on the Museum’s website from January 2018 indicates that the museum had raised $30.3 million of an intended $50 million but that figure was not mentioned and several comments in this morning’s remarks indicated that fundraising for the project is ongoing.

A cello, a violin, a final grace note

At a North Portland school, a lifelong music lover and students in the BRAVO music program meet and learn in the circle of life


PHOTOGRAPHS BY JOE CANTRELL
STORY BY BOB HICKS


On a busy musical afternoon at Sitton Elementary School in Portland’s St. Johns district earlier this month, a woman arrived at after-school music rehearsals bearing gifts: a cello in a hard case, and a half-size violin.

As it turns out, the cello and violin – as welcome as they were for the BRAVO Youth Orchestras program, in a school where the price of instruments is often beyond the means of the young musicians’ families – were emblematic of a larger gift: a gift of love and legacy; a passing-on, from generation to generation, of joy and encouragement. A going-away gift; a final grace note.

Sara Waddell and BRAVO’s Seth Truby, passing the torch.

The students are part of BRAVO, a program fashioned after the El Sistema movement that began in 1975 on the outskirts of Caracas, Venezuela, to bring the love and challenge of music to children in the barrios. Portland’s program began in 2013, and also concentrates on areas with higher than average poverty rates.

The woman is Sara Waddell, a 52-year-old mother of two teens from Beaverton who set aside her own musical studies and teaching career years ago to raise her sons. “I had sold my wonderful cello with its rich, beautiful tone from my younger years of trying to learn in college when my kids were very small and my little family needed the money,” she said. “Then I did without and believed I had given up learning to play forever.”

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Unwound and unbound

Ko Kirk Yamahira's intriguing painting/sculptural/fiber hybrids at Russo Lee Gallery defy easy categorization and interpretation

By RACHEL ROSENFIELD LAFO

In the 1970s and 1980s, fiber arts—weaving, textiles, tapestry, embroidery, knitting, crocheting, sewing, quilting, etc.—along with other “craft” media such as ceramics, glass, and wood—were usually classified as a separate category of art and were shown primarily in craft and design museums. As a result, artists who worked exclusively in fiber, such as Lenore Tawney, Claire Zeisler, and Sheila Hicks were often excluded from the critical discourse within the “mainstream” contemporary art world.

There were notable exceptions to this exclusion. Artists such as Faith Ringgold, Magdalena Abakanowicz, and Alan Shields, among others, despite their embrace of fiber as an artistic material, achieved critical attention and inclusion in “fine art” exhibitions during those decades. By the 1990s, however, the wall that separated “art” from “craft” had begun to crumble. By the time the Whitney Museum of American Art exhibited The Quilts of Gee’s Bend in 2002, the show’s critical success and popularity further erased any remaining boundaries. Today there has been a dramatic increase in the number of artists working either exclusively in fiber or incorporating it into their work in other media. 

One such artist is Seattle-based Ko Kirk Yamahira whose exhibition Fractions is on view at Russo Lee Gallery through February 1. A self-taught artist who moved to Seattle from New York City in 2015, he is a founder of the artist collective Art Beasties and a member of the Seattle collective SOIL. His elegant, reductive, and tactile artworks hover somewhere between paintings, fiber art, and sculptural installation and reflect modernist principles in their emphasis on materials, techniques, and processes.

During a recent gallery talk the artist described his works as paintings while acknowledging that they could also be considered drawings or sculptures. Yet they also present as fiber art, due to the artist’s unusual technique of deconstructing the canvas support into individual strands of fiber. Ultimately what is important is not how we categorize Yamahira’s artworks but how we perceive them. As the artist Alan Shields once said in an interview about his own hybrid artworks, “It doesn’t really matter what you call them. It’s the experience you’re looking for.”

Ko Kirk Yamahira. Untitled (Pink and Blue Intersection) (2019). acrylic, graphite, partially unwoven canvas, wood.

Yamahira begins by applying a coat of acrylic paint, graphite or transferring a silkscreen image to the surface of the canvas. Then, with a process that is the obverse of weaving, he deconstructs all or part of the canvas, meticulously and painstakingly removing individual threads from the weave of the canvas using an X-Acto knife, unweaving and exposing the warp (vertical) and weft (horizontal) components, so that the strands of cotton fiber drape loosely or stretch tautly across the wood stretcher bars. He then progressively disrupts the rectangularity of the grid by dividing the canvas into sections, deconstructing all or part of the canvas, hanging panels off kilter on a diagonal, allowing loose fibers to drape towards the floor, projecting part of an artwork off the wall, or suspending one piece from the ceiling. 

The artworks are all untitled, distinguished by their formal properties of shape, color, and surface treatment. The viewers are left to deduce their own interpretations. The exhibition title, Fractions, refers to the relational measurements of one part of each painting to another. With the exception of one work that has an image silkscreened on the canvas, the paintings are non-referential and elude specific meaning, focusing attention instead on material and process. 

Ko Kirk Yamahira, Untitled (Silkscreen Sculpture) (2019) acrylic, silkscreen, unwoven canvas, wood

The varied permutations of these conceptually based artworks range from formal, geometrically centered compositions to those with skewed edges and draping fibers. For an off-white square painting hanging over the gallery desk Yamahira unwove the fibers of the canvas, tightly stretching them horizontally and vertically to form a cross with arms of equal length. In another square painting the geometry is relaxed so that the unraveled cotton threads sag organically across the surface, resembling a belly with a slight bulge. There are many variations on this theme, as each artwork assumes a different shape, color, relationship to the wall, and level of surface deconstruction. Motion is both implied and actual – implied by the hanging fibers, tilted panels, and resulting shadows cast on the wall, actual when air currents activate the loosened threads. This sense of motion is notable in a large black-gray painting in which approximately three-quarters of the middle section has been unwoven resulting in a sweeping swoosh of fibers that move from left to right. 

Ko Kirk Yamahira, Untitled (Black Horizontal) (2019). acrylic, graphite, partially unwoven canvas, wood.

The most sculptural piece in the exhibition hangs suspended from the ceiling. Originally a triangular canvas painted pink, it has been completely deconstructed and then folded so that the fibers descend in straight vertical lines from the wood support, causing them to sway gently as visitors pass.

Yamahira poetically alludes to the characteristics of the unwoven fibers in an accompanying wall text:  

Vibrations.
They are just purely captivating.
Wavering and trembling.
Continuous, sustained, and momentary.
Sensual and Sensory.
Ripples that are static or dynamic.
Sound and voice.

Ko Kirk Yamahira

For Yamahira the meaning of his art comes from the process of making: “There is no specific aim to find a meaning,” he writes on his website, “neither in the creative act itself, nor through the creative process. The totality of the meaning can be found in the continuation of the process.” 

The artist begins with small geometric drawings made in his sketchbook. Since the process is more important to him than the final outcome, he is not fixed on a specific configuration for each work. Instead he is open to working with art installers to arrive at the appropriate hanging arrangement for each piece depending on the exhibition space. He also encourages collectors who purchase his artworks to find an installation arrangement that is most to their liking. Adhering to the premise from conceptual art that the artwork isn’t finished until the viewer completes it, he writes:  “The moment of Now that exists as the Artist creates their work looks toward the future when it will be encountered by the viewer, at which point that future becomes the Past, producing a sort of index of time in the work.”

Ko Kirk Yamahira, Untitled (Suspended Pink Triangle) (2019) graphite, partially unwoven canvas, wood

Ko Kirk Yamahira’s intriguing painting/sculptural/fiber hybrids defy easy categorization and interpretation. One progresses from wondering how they are made to realizing that for the artist the canvas is not only a support, but a material that can be manipulated like any other. Through a process of deconstruction and reconstruction he transforms flat monochromatic surfaces into areas that are organic and textured. Intellectually and formally satisfying, Yamahira’s artworks retain a sense of mystery and a meditative quality that is deeply engaging.


Fractions by Ko Kirk Yamahira is at Russo Lee Gallery until February 1, 2020. The gallery is located at 805 NW 21st Ave in Portland is open Tuesday through Friday from 11-5:30, Saturday 11-5:00 and by appointment.

Rachel Rosenfield Lafo is an independent curator and arts writer.

Yamhill County calendar: From tea to ‘Tightrope’

Gallery shows focus on glasswork, the Rogue River Wars, and tea service; Linfield hosts a one-night play reading; and a native son is coming to town

Yamhill County’s lively gallery scene continues to intrigue this week with a couple of new openings, and we’ve also got a one-night theatrical affair at Linfield Theatre. Finally: Have you read Nicholas Kristof’s new book? There’s still time before he comes to town.

Let’s get to it:

“Ancient Cedars at Fort Orford Site,” by Rich Bergeman. The U.S. Army fort housed more than 200 men and more than 1,000 Indigenous prisoners during the peak of the Rogue River Wars in 1855-56. Nothing of the fort remains.

CHEHALEM CULTURAL Center has several shows ready for your viewing pleasure. Hanging River, an installation of glasswork by Takahiro Yamamoto and Andy Paiko, occupies the Parrish Gallery, visible to visitors as they enter the Newberg center. You’ll marvel at both the glass pieces themselves and the exquisite care it must have taken to install them. In the Founder’s Gallery at the rear of the building is a collection of Fretta Cravens’ stunning botanical photography, titled Intimate Conversations.

Down the hall to the right is a new exhibit that’s been traveling around Oregon: Rich Bergeman’s collection of photographs documenting the landscape of the mid-19th-century Rogue River Wars of Southern Oregon. The Land Remembers is both an exhibit and a handsome book (available for sale). Bergeman used infrared light for the images, which are mostly void of any sign of human presence. “I felt that the haunting quality of infrared would help transport viewers to another time,” he writes in the introduction to his book. “And because the infrared spectrum is invisible to the human eye, it seemed especially appropriate for photographs that follow in the footsteps of ghosts.” The show runs through Feb. 28. Highly recommended.

Tea is the theme of a show by ceramicist Jonathan Steele in George Fox University’s Minthorne Gallery. Photo courtesy: George Fox University

A FEW BLOCKS AWAY at George Fox University, we find … tea! I haven’t seen this one yet, but it looks inviting: In the Service of Tea features ceramic work by Jonathan Steele in  the university’s Minthorne Gallery in the Hoover Academic Building. A reception for the show, which opened last week, will be from 4 to 5:30 p.m. Monday, Jan. 27, in the gallery. Steele will perform a Chinese tea service at the free event. An artist’s talk follows from 6 to 7 p.m. in the Chehalem Cultural Center.

“Tea is a quiet joy – art is a fervid one,” Steele said of his exhibit in the press materials. “I make the tea to be still, to observe the present moment, to watch slowly unfurling leaves, feel the weight of the warm cup pressing against my fingertips, steam rising through my nostrils, the sweet, light astringency of the perfect steep welling on my tongue. I make the teapot, the cup, the tray and boat, the floral arrangement, the interior décor, the room and the house itself – all to the same end.”

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‘Nothing at all of this is fixed’

"It struck me as joyful": A visit to Dorothy Goode's studio reveals a merging, overlapping, playful kinship with Calder and Modersohn-Becker


STORY AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY FRIDERIKE HEUER


Was glänzt, ist für den Augenblick geboren, 
Das Echte bleibt der Nachwelt unverloren.

That which glitters is born for the moment;
The genuine remains intact for future days.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Faust eine Tragödie, Kapitel 2: Vorspiel auf dem Theater (1808)

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I WAS SO COLD WHEN I LEFT Dorothy Goode‘s studio after a visit last week that I could barely get the key into the car ignition. During our first-ever encounter we had huddled, both in down jackets and hats, in front of a little electric stove in her unheated warehouse abode. The space had beautiful views, brilliant light, and a damp iciness that crept into my arthritic bones. I could not help but think of Frans Hals, that radical observer of humanity, who was so impoverished at the end of his life that in the Dutch winter of 1664 he accepted three loads of peat on public charity, otherwise he would have frozen to death. (Of course, he then had to portray the administrators of said charity, the Governesses of an Alms House in 17th century Haarlem – those faces all-telling.)

Dorothy Goode, painter.

Not that Goode would accept alms. Ever. Fiercely independent, proud, accomplished and not at all risk-averse, she’ll probably persuade you that rheumatism is the price you pay for pursuing your art. Or so I wager. After all, I have to run on the impressions of two hours of conversation with an artist intensely protective of her inner life.

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Raúl Gómez: Living in a world of optimism

The Metropolitan Youth Symphony director talks full STEAM ahead about the vital positive links among science, education, and the arts

[Editor’s note: Gómez, music director of the Metropolitan Youth Symphony, delivered a version of this essay as a speech to Intel employees in November 2019. It has been updated, and edited for length. See also Vision 2020: Raúl Gómez, Brett Campbell’s interview with Gómez in ArtsWatch’s Vision 2020 series.]

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By RAÚL GÓMEZ

I live in a world filled with optimism. The reason is that I work with young people in the arts. Every Saturday, more than 500 students come to Metropolitan Youth Symphony rehearsals in Portland and Hillsboro. I get to conduct two out of fifteen ensembles at MYS. One of these ensembles is our most advanced full orchestra: MYS Symphony Orchestra. These are highly gifted young musicians, playing near or at professional levels, many of whom have made their ways up the ranks at MYS,  from our youngest entry-level orchestra to our top group, which recently came back from touring Italy and Austria.

These young musicians fill me with optimism every Saturday, because they walk in the door, they say “hi” to their friends from different schools, chat a little bit, then they sit down, we tune, and then, for three hours, they’re laser-focused on slaying some of the most challenging and rewarding orchestral repertoire there is. This include masterworks like Beethoven Symphony No. 7 or Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite, and brand-new music by their peers: local, young composers from Oregon. 



THE ART OF LEARNING: an occasional series



My world is filled with optimism because after rehearsal, these kids go back home, hopefully rest and get some sleep, and then proceed to make it through their weeks at home, school, and their communities with the same focus, leadership, team spirit, and excellence that they exhibit in the orchestra. I go back home –exhausted and depleted of physical energy after rehearsing two ensembles for six hours – but on such a high. Five hundred-plus kids in Portland and Hillsboro just spent hours, under the leadership of an amazing team of conductors and coaches, doing what neuroscientists are calling “the brain equivalent of a full-body workout.” 

MUSIC & BRAIN DEVELOPMENT

As somebody who is a professional musician and as somebody who works in music education, I am very aware of the many benefits that music brings to anybody who engages in some kind of music-making on a regular basis. Music performance, music education, and the arts in general are good for the brain, and they are a booster for creativity and discipline. 

There are many studies, articles, scientific and scholarly publications about the correlation between music education and academic achievement. Students who participate in music score substantially higher on many standardized tests of math, reading, and writing, and in other measures of academic achievement and skill development.  

In the last few decades, neuroscientists have made great breakthroughs in understanding what music does to the human brain. A video publication by Dr. Anita Collins, a music educator in Australia, addresses this beautifully.

She explains that neuroscientists are able to monitor how our brains work with instruments like Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging and Positron Emission Tomography scanners. They monitor the brains of people who are doing activities like reading or solving math problems, and different areas of the brain are activated. However, when they monitor people listening to music (not even playing, just listening) multiple areas of the brain light up at once. The scientists compare it to fireworks.

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Vision 2020: Dañel Malán

Teatro Milagro's leader talks about bilingual arts, using theater to build community, and the joys and perils of taking the show on the road

Dañel Malán’s path from her planned career as a visual artist and toward her future as the co-founder of Milagro Theatre, the Pacific Northwest’s only Latino theater company, led through a grove of Eucalyptus trees.

“I was probably around 16 when I had my first visual arts exhibit and I thought that was going to be my destiny,” Malán says. That changed at the University of California San Diego, where a mentor suggested that she switch to theatre. “I went over to [the theatre department], crossed the divide—there’s a grove of Eucalyptus trees that you have to hike through—and never turned back,” she remembers.


VISION 2020: TWENTY VIEWS ON OREGON ARTS


It’s a decision that continues to define her. Since co-founding the non-profit Milagro Theatre in 1985 with her husband, Jose Eduardo Gonzalez, Malán has helped transform the company into a colossus of creativity. As the artistic director of Teatro Milagro, the company’s touring arm, she’s responsible for taking Milagro’s shows to schools, colleges and universities across the country.

During a lengthy conversation (which has been edited and condensed for clarity), Malán spoke about her achievements in the 2010s, her ambitions for the 2020s and how she plans to ensure that Milagro endures beyond its looming fiftieth anniversary.

Dañel Malan. Photo courtesy Milagro

Tell me about some of your earliest memories of theater and how you became interested in performing.

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