Laurel Reed Pavic

 

Parisian glamour at the Portland Art Museum

All glitz and no grit at the summer show Paris 1900: City of Entertainment

Paris 1900: City of Entertainment, which runs at the Portland Art Museum through September 8, is a confection, a pastel-shaded macaron that looks great on display and encourages fantasies of sunny afternoons frequenting chic patisseries and warm evenings spent promenade strolling. The exhibition focuses on visual culture in the Belle Époque, the era in France that runs from the end of the Franco-Prussian War in 1871 until the beginning of World War I in 1914.

Gaston Roux. Nighttime festivities at the International Exposition of 1889 under the Eiffel Tower, 1889. Oil on canvas, 25 5/8 x 37 3/8 in., Musée Carnavalet. © Musée Carnavalet / Roger-Viollet

The stories we choose to tell about the past reveal our present interests and fascinations. Paris, especially during the Belle Époque, is a subject that generates great enthusiasm: everyone loves Paris. A focus on the glamour, glitz, fashion of the French capital is bound to be well received by museum audiences in Portland. Portland Art Museum Curator of Prints and Drawings Mary Weaver Chapin delivered the opening lecture about Paris 1900 to a packed house, and the Museum held a Paris 1900 Gala at the end of June.

The objects in the show tell an alluring story introduced in several themes that together lend a richer understanding of the period in question. However, the picture presented is incomplete. In part, this is due to the exhibition’s origins as a packaged exhibition from the Paris Musées consortium. The Portland Art Museum has acknowledged some lapses, including mounting the companion exhibition Color Line: Black Excellence on the World Stage, but the overall presentation is inconsistent with the Museum’s stated mission to “reveal the beauty and complexities of the world.” Paris during the Belle Époque was more complex than Paris 1900 suggests.

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“the map is not the territory”: Whose border is it?

The Portland Art Museum starts a discussion that involves regionalism, authority, and curatorial process.

Appropriately, there is no transition to ease one into the Portland Art Museum’s exhibition the map is not the territory. The viewer is thrown directly into Fernanda D’Agostino’s video installation, Borderline.

The central sculpture court of the museum is often used as a gathering or transitional space to help prepare the viewer for what is to come inside the galleries. Here it is a gallery itself. Multiple projections flash simultaneously on walls, the floor, and suspended screens: entangled bodies and graceful forms present as peaceful or pleasing but then are overshadowed by columns of of trudging figures, showers of red dots, and engulfing flames. Attention is then divided between the rotating bodies and the encroaching calamities—identified as mass migration, government surveillance, and climate change. D’Agostino’s installation sets the tone for the show and confirms that while compelling, it doesn’t shy away from difficult topics.

Fernanda D'Agostino Borderline

Fernanda D’Agostino, Borderline. (2018) video projection, 2 projectors, 13 scenes set up in a software to combine imagery in a 169 combinations.

The title of the show, the map is not the territory, was inspired by a remark by the philosopher Alfred Korzybski and addresses the idea that what is “solidified” in a word or a map is never the full expression of the thing. This may not be the most poetic application of the theory but in the interest of a succinct explanation: you—with your personal history, your anxieties, hopes, and dreams for the present and future—you are more than your driver’s license. Identity is more complex than that, and in the same way, a region is more complicated than its borders and topographic elevations.

Installation View of the map is not the territory, Portland Art Museum (2019)

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Visual Arts 2018: The big picture

2018 in Review, Part 7: From museums to studios to brave new spaces, a recap of some of ArtsWatch's views and reviews from a year in art

The visual arts stories at ArtsWatch this year ranged far and wide and – as usual – didn’t even come close to covering all that went on in the world of Oregon art. While some may see that as a failure, we choose to see it as a windfall. We are fortunate to live in such an active arts community. If we could cover everything, it would mean a much smaller everything, and that doesn’t benefit anyone. Here is a neat (and incomplete) encapsulation of visual vrts stories in 2018.

We took you behind the scenes with interviews with Oregon artists that explored origins, processes, interests, and other machinations of established and emerging artists. Paul Sutinen interviewed, among others, Judy Cooke on the occasion of her fall show at Elizabeth Leach and Tom Prochaska on the occasion of his spring show at Froelick. Hannah Krafcik interviewed kiki nicole, and ariella tai about their work with the first and the last, an experimental film/video and new media arts project in Portland. Krafcik was then able to follow up in another interview with Jaleesa Johnston about her screening and workshop at the first and the last.

Judy Cooke, “Pink”, 2018, oil, aluminum, 14” x 10” x 1.5”

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Processing Loss at Lewis & Clark

Mark R. Smith and Maria T.D. Inocencio's Loss of Material Evidence

Mark R. Smith and Maria T.D. Inocencio’s exhibition, Loss of Material Evidence, closed on Sunday, December 9th. The works in the show successfully take on one of art’s highest callings: to make visible the unspeakable, here an exploration of grief. The irony of course is that this exhibition about loss also marks the end of an era for the Ronna and Eric Hoffman Gallery of Contemporary Art at Lewis & Clark. Only a few days prior to the closing of this exhibition, it was announced that the long-time gallery director and curator, Linda Tesner, had been let go. So the end of the show coincides with the end of the gallery, one loss merging with the other.

It would be a mistake, however, to let sadness over the loss of Tesner and concern over the future fate of the Hoffman Gallery to overshadow the achievements of Smith and Inocencio. The show was beautiful in concept and in execution. Inspired by the aging and inevitable loss of the artists’ parents, the works in the show are a meditation on death and the accumulation of things. The lament is tempered by a hopeful note of celebration of the power of family and community. Grief is felt and processed and then, ultimately, transformative.

Maria T.D. Inocencio and Mark R. Smith, “Time Tunnel” (2017). Reclaimed textiles, thread, glue, canvas.

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A new curator of Native American Art named by the Portland Art Museum

Kathleen Ash-Milby joins the museum's staff in a role that's become increasingly important

The Portland Art Museum has just announced the hiring of a new curator of Native American Art, Kathleen Ash-Milby. Ash-Milby comes to Portland from New York where she has been an associate curator at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) for nearly 20 years. She is a member of the Navajo Nation and replaces previous curator Deana Darrt, who stepped down in 2016.

At NMAI, Ash-Milby organized, curated, and co-curated many important exhibitions including: Transformer: Native Art in Light and Sound (2017), Kay WalkingStick: An American Artist (2015), C. Maxx Stevens: House of Memory (2012), HIDE: Skin as Material and Metaphor (2010), and Off the Map: Landscape in the Native Imagination (2007). In addition to her work at NMAI, Ash-Milby has curated projects internationally and served on the boards of the Aboriginal Curatorial Collective (2007-2012) and the American Indian Community House (2005-2007).

Kathleen Ash-Milby, the new curator of Native American Art at the Portland Art Museum

Ash-Milby was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and received her M.A. in Native American art history from the University of New Mexico. However, she does have connections to the Northwest as her undergraduate degree is from the University of Washington. She says she is “thrilled to be returning to the Northwest and joining the Portland Art Museum at such an important time in its growth. Portland has such a vibrant community of Native artists and community members, and I’m looking forward to being part of it.”

The Portland community is equally thrilled. Portland artist Lillian Pitt and member of the Native Advisory Board says, “I have known Kathleen since she started working at the National Museum of the American Indian…while the hiring process was lengthy, I am so pleased that Kathleen accepted the job. She will make us all proud.”

The position of curator for Native American Art has been vacant since Deana Dartt left the position in 2016, but the department has remained active. It has received several important grants from, among others, the Mellon Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities, and has continued to add new works to its collection. And it recently opened CCNA: Not Fragile, a show of glass art by contemporary Native artists.

Ash-Milby will start at the Portland Art Museum in July 2019.

Cheney Cowles: Collecting Japanese art like a samurai

A review of Poetic Imagination in Japanese Art: Selections from the Collection of Mary and Cheney Cowles at the Portland Art Museum

Forty years ago, Cheney Cowles bought his first Japanese painting. The work is a charming illustration of a samurai accompanied by a poem by the 19th century nun, Ōtagaki Rengetsu. The samurai charges forth toward the viewer, caught mid-stride. His enthusiasm and drive are palpable; his momentum, unstoppable. The same can be said for Cowles’s enthusiasm and drive for collecting. Only four decades later, Maribeth Graybill, the Curator of Asian Art at the Portland Art Museum, calls the collection “without question one of the finest collections of Japanese art in private hands.”

Ōtagaki Rengetsu (Japanese, 1791–1875), Samurai Footman with Poem, 1867, hanging scroll; ink and light color on paper, 12 13/16 x 17 1/2 in., Collection of Mary and Cheney Cowles.

Selections from Cowles’s collection are on display, many for the first time, at Portland Art Museum’s new exhibition, Poetic Imagination in Japanese Art which runs now through January 13, 2019. The theme “poetic imagination” was formulated by Graybill specifically in response to the Cowles collection. The heading is expansive as the show incorporates calligraphic texts, imaginary portraits of poets, monochrome ink paintings, and landscapes from the eighth through the twentieth century. Graybill defines poetry as something “illusive or fragmentary that requires you to emotionally and intellectually respond,” and all of the works in the exhibition bear some connection to this concept.

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Bill Will’s ‘Fun House’: The political cartoon meets the contraption

The longtime Portland tinkerer artist gets us up-to-date with his madcap political devices

The Thanksgiving leftovers are cleared out of the fridge and perhaps you’ve almost forgotten your awkward conversations with random relatives. Before the fog of holiday merrymaking fully settles in, take a dark December afternoon to contemplate the “state of the union” as presented in Bill Will’s exhibition Bill Will: Fun House at the Ronna and Eric Hoffman Gallery at Lewis & Clark College. The “fun” is short-lived, but the exhibition provides a clamoring commentary on the follies of contemporary American society.

Will is a long-time Portland artist. Though a painter by training, he is best known for his public art, sculpture, and installation work. Installations have allowed him to satisfy his attraction to small machines and contraptions. Sometimes they resemble Rube Goldberg-like devices, but Will’s often deliver a commentary on American life and times.

Bill Will, “War Machine”/Photo by Robert M. Reynolds

As suggested by the title, the exhibition is meant to hearken back to the tradition of the carnival attraction: an interactive exhibit in which the viewer activates the illusions. I’m not sure what it says about my upbringing, or me, but I’ve never been to a “funhouse.” I have an impression of distorted mirrors, menacing clowns, and squeaky mechanical projectiles. I associate the whole concept with a horror movie in which the (stupid) protagonist tries to escape a deranged killer by hiding in the carnival funhouse. Obviously, this ends with visions of knives and blood spatters. So perhaps I went into the exhibition with warped expectations.

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