Nim Wunnan

 

Beijing Dance Theater thinks big

Choreographer Wang Yuanyuan, a creative force behind the Beijing Olympics opening ceremonies, now runs her own show

On February 20, the globally recognized Beijing Dance Theater will make its Portland debut at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall with a hefty program of contemporary work. Choreographer Wang Yuanyuan directs the 13-member company and creates big, bold pieces that design director Tan Shaoyuan and lighting designer Han Jiang help shape. Although this is the company’s first local appearance, there’s a good chance you’ve already seen Wang’s work.

Beijing Dance Theater makes its Portland debut with striking work including “The Crossing.” Photo courtesy of KMP Artists.

A dancer who trained in China, earned an MFA from Cal Arts and served as the National Ballet of China’s resident choreographer, Wang founded Beijing Dance Theater at the end of 2008. As she recounted in a recent interview with Oregon ArtsWatch, she’d already had plenty of experience by then directing large-scale performances, after playing a prominent role in the famous opening ceremonies of the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing, the opening ceremony of the 1995 World Conference on Women in Beijing, and the 1997 celebration marking Hong Kong’s return to China. The Olympics opening ceremonies alone featured an estimated 15,000 performers; the other two events featured more than 5,000.

While she is rightly proud of her role in those events (the Olympics opener, especially, required “a lot of artists and people to work together to present the same result,” she said), starting Beijing Dance Theater felt even more significant than choreographing a performance that millions of people watched. “I prefer works that present my personal artistic ideas,” she said. “It is important to express myself. Starting Beijing Dance Theater gave me a more personal and professional sense of achievement.” Since it was founded, her company has toured far and wide, and she has earned best choreographer awards in Bulgaria, the U.S., Russia, and China. 

A section of “Wild Grass,” slated for the Portland show, demonstrates the company’s creative vision. Photo courtesy of KMP Artists.

The company’s Portland show will feature selections from three of her original pieces. The first of these, “Farewell, Shadows” is from Wild Grass, a piece the company tours frequently; it was inspired by the writings of 19th-century Chinese author Lu Xun. Though Wang called Lu Xun “one of the most important writers in the history of Chinese literature,” she doesn’t think audiences necessarily need to know his work to engage with the show: as she pointed out, “This is the international language of dance.” Themes of duality and its exploration within Eastern philosophy run through the work; some reviews have characterized “Farewell, Shadows” as the more playful movement portion of the whole.

The company will also stage The Crossing, the first piece Wang ever created for the company. It has, she said, the “action elements of traditional Chinese dance.” It opens as a single dancer, to the hum of white noise, enters a darkened empty stage divided by a single long paper streamer. Crossing “traces the struggles of the individual dancers to mark the emptiness,” according to the company description of the piece, as a progression of solos, duets, and trios pit the dancers’ lyricism against the spareness of the space and the weight of the sound that fills it.

The show ends with BDT’s interpretation of Hamlet, the most theatrical of the three pieces. It dates back to 2006, when director Feng Xiaogang invited Wang to choreograph dances for Daniel Wu and Zhou Xun, the leads in his film The Banquet, which was based on Shakespeare’s Hamlet. After The Banquet was released, the choreography received a great deal of attention, and Wang and Feng began talks of a stage adaptation. While inspired by the film, the adaptation departs on many points to become a new Chinese Hamlet. Extracting characters the Ghost, the New King, the Queen, the Prince, and the Floral Spirit from the original, this production focuses on Hamlet’s psychological struggles, his compassion, and his doubt. This take on the classic tale, which has both historical and contemporary elements, is surely unlike any other version of Hamlet out there.

This show looks to be ambitious and spectacular, as performances that can fill the Schnitzer often are. Behind the blazing marquee lights, however, the company tries to root itself in something more personal and earnest. Of her approach, Wang said, “The most important point is that I think artists should be honest with their works. Only true emotions can lead to sincere works. Works represent the quality of your heart, and more or less represent the living environment you are affected by.” It’s high time that Portland gets to see the company’s vibrant mix of innovation and tradition.

Beijing Dance Theater performs 7:30 p.m. February 20 at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. Find tickets here

VizArts Monthly: from vandalism to valentines

There may be snow and ice but there is plenty to see in February in the Visual Arts

We’re looking a great month for painting, collage, and regional artists! Unexpected juxtapositions abound, whether it’s the group show of keepsakes at Adams and Ollman or Jayna Conkey’s photographs of vandalized library books. The Contemporary Northwest Art Awards are relaunched as a new triennial series at PAM, where you can still view the excellent American realism exhibition. Lucinda Parker has a major retrospective at the Hallie Ford museum in Salem, and photographer Leo Rubinfien returns to Reed to exhibit decades of photography.

In art world news, Butters gallery has announced that it will be an online-only gallery, effective February 1, and Converge 45 has announced Lisa Dent as their new director.

If you’re out for First Thursday you can catch the second-to-last Night Lights event downtown as part of RACC’s outdoor public art series. If you can’t get enough light at night, the Portland Winter Light Festival starts that night too.

Lucinda Parker, “Star (in the Winner’s Circle),” (1979) acrylic on canvas, 44 x 48 in., collection of the Hallie Ford Museum of Art, Willamette University, Salem, OR, Gift of Marilyn and Robert Shotola, 2008.047. Photo: Dale Peterson.

Force Fields: Lucinda Parker

Through March 31
Hallie Ford Museum of Art
Willamette University
700 State Street
Salem, Oregon

Don’t miss this 50+ year retrospective by the “premier Portland painter of her generation” according to Artswatch’s Paul Sutinen. Roughly 40 paintings span more than 50 years of her career, starting with a self-portrait painted when she was 16. Read Sutinen’s review for full comments on this vibrant show by an important local figure.

 

Elliott Erwitt, West Germany, Sylt, 1968

Withdrawn: Jayna Conkey

Through February 23
Roll Up Gallery
1715 SE Spokane Street
Portland OR

Jayna Conkey turned a page of “The New Color Photography” by Sally Eauclaire in 1999 at the Multnomah County Library only to discover a vandalized image. A previous reader had cut a very particular section out of photo of a nude figure reclining on a bed. Below the window, which revealed the text on the following page, the words “Can’t Believe it!” were written in red ink. Since then, Conkey has documented mutilated books from around the country in great detail using a large-format camera. This exhibition is the first time she’s shown this series in Portland, and looks to be full of unexpected and entertaining accidental compositions.

Maria de Los Angeles In the-Garden of Hope and Freedom

From Ignorance to Wisdom

Through March 16
Schneider Museum of Art
555 Indiana Street
Ashland, OR 97520

A vibrant and eclectic group show curated by Disjecta’s executive director Blake Shell. Each artist is reacting, in their own way, to the theme of exploration – “through their practice–instead of exploring expansion and personal gain, they explore ideas, materials, and new approaches to art-making. America’s land is beautiful and vast but now overused, damaged, and known as sites for past and current atrocities,” according to Shell. Artists include Robert Arellano, David Bithell, Cody Bustamante, Miles Inada, Robin Strangfeld, Ryan Kitson, Maria de Los Angeles, Adam Batemen.

Ryan Kitson – sculpture

Suds Ur Duds: Ryan Kitson

Through March 16
Schneider Museum of Art
555 Indiana Street
Ashland, OR 97520

While you’re at the Schneider Museum of Art, check out this show by Kitson, currently participating in the Visiting Artist and Scholar in Teaching (VAST) program at Southern Oregon University. This exhibition is Kitson’s direct reaction to the experience of returning to the Rogue Valley after living on the East Coast for 17 years. Operating on the principle “absorb all aspects of the experience and react almost passively, letting every day be your guide”, Kitson has created fun, lively assemblages from materials and images gathered from the activity of the SOU campus. Gathering unused clay from students, he threw slabs onto the buildings and trees on campus. These impressions were supplemented with materials “according to the ensuing adventure,” including aluminum, lead, resin, harvested redwood, a tie-dye t-shirt, commercial kombucha bottles, a vacuum sealed cast of a locally harvested blacktail buck heart, and maps of Oregon.

 

Leo Rubinfien, On Nathan Road, Hong Kong, 1995

Eyehold to Eyehold: Leo Rubinfien

Feb 7 – April 28
Cooley Gallery
Reed College
3203 SE Woodstock

Accomplished American photographer Leo Rubinfien grew up in Japan, coming to Reed College from Tokyo in 1970. While at school, he continually traveled back and forth for the holidays. The constant shifts instilled in him a strong awareness of the differences and similarities between post-war Japan and America. After a stint in New York in the early 1980s he returned to Asia, where he spent eight years photographing his way through Japan and many other countries including Thailand, Vietnam, and the Philippines. This exhibition is a happy return to Reed for Rubinfien and is a look back across his extensive catalogue. Curated by Cooley director Stephanie Snyder from the extensive archive of photos that have come out of his many travels, several of which have never been published or exhibited before.

 

New Work by Holly Osborne

Human Nature: Holly Osborne

February 7 – March 4
Erickson Gallery
9 NW 2nd Avenue

New paintings by Portland artist Holly Osborne explore human relationships – between each other and the environment. Osborne’s arresting paintings shift abruptly between delicate, skillful representative portraiture, abstraction, and empty space. A realistic hand reaches out with a hose to spray water, represented by bare canvas, into a garden of heavy blobs of paint. A clear-cut forest is depicted by a pink emptiness that fades in to the far mountains and the flatness of the panel. This show looks to be filled with satisfying yet haunting imagery.

Keepsake by anonymous 19th century artist

Think of me

Feb 8, 2019 – March 16
Adams and Ollman
209 SW 9th Ave

The visual and traditional styles of keepsakes and mementos runs through this charming group exhibition. The body – both as a physical and a social concept – is explored through collage and assemblages. The work on display crosses the boundaries between two-dimensional and sculptural work. The artists featured range from an anonymous 19th century sailor to contemporary artists. The show’s title is borrowed from the sailor’s valentine: composed of many different kinds of seashells arranged in a radiating pattern, the keepsake implores the viewer, or perhaps a long-forgotten recipient, to “Think of Me.” Joining it are Anthony Campuzano’s abstract compositions made from newspaper headlines, novels and song lyrics to make abstract compositions that function like rhythmic mantras or stutters. Cuban-American artist and cigar-roller, Felipe Jesus Consalvos, contributes a personal body of work based on the tradition of cigar band collage. Other work includes Paul Lee wall-mounted assemblages, Em Rooney’s embellished photographs, and Dennis Witkin’s relief sculptures.

Rock Formations, Study 2, Yoichi, Hokkaido, Japan, 2004. By Michael Kenna

Ice & Stone: Suiseki Viewing Stones from the Huntington & Hokkaido Photographs by Michael Kenna

February 9 – March 24
(Extended display in Tanabe Gallery through April 7)
Portland Japanese Garden
611 SW Kingston Road

“Viewing stones” are small, naturally occurring rock formations that encourage a sustained gaze. Variously known as Suiseki (水石) in Japan, “scholar’s rocks” in China or “suseok” in Korea, this is a robust, traditional, and ancient art of appreciation. The Japanese tradition is distinguished by carefully-considered presentation – usually mounted on a diaza, (a hand-carved wooden base) or set in a suiban, a sand-filled tray. On loan from the the prestigious Huntington Library and Gardens, this elegant exhibition features a selection of suiseki viewing stones from the collection of James Greaves, curated by the Huntington Cultural Curator, Robert Hori. Joining the stones are gorgeous black and white photographs of Hokkaido landscapes by Seattle photographer Michael Kenna – included as part of the Portland Japanese Garden’s celebration of 2019 as The Year of Hokkaido.

 

Fernanda D’Agostino (American, b. 1950), Borderline, 2018, Still from video projection, 2 projectors, 13 scenes set up in a software to combine imagery in a 169 combinations, Courtesy of the artist, Photo: Brian Foulkes.

the map is not the territory

February 9 – May 5, 2019
Portland Art Museum
1219 SW Park Avenue

Organized by Grace Kook-Anderson in in collaboration with the Museum’s Education Department, this will be the first exhibition in a triennial series that PAM is calling “a reconsidered format to the biennial, previously known as the Contemporary Northwest Art Awards.” By including Alaska and Vancouver, B.C. for the first time as part of the museum’s Northwest Art program, the series hopes to offer a fresh take on how we think of the boundaries and history of the Northwest. The themes of the show center on our connection to the land, the effort of decolonization. It foregrounds indigenous values and is “a celebration of the region’s kinship.” Artists include Annette Bellamy, Fernanda D’Agostino, Jenny Irene Miller, Mary Ann Peters, Ryan Pierce, Rob Rhee, Henry Tsang, and Charlene Vickers.

Viz Arts Monthly: The post-holiday edition

The gears are grinding as the arts world shifts into 2019

Well, we made it. Hello, 2019. While some galleries are still shaking off their holiday hangover, there’s still good stuff to see. If you’re making new year’s resolutions, why not resolve to see more art in person! Some good shows are closing soon, so take this chance to see them before they go. Besides the ones listed here, make sure to check out the closing events at PICA’s Abigail DeVille show—two film screenings feature a local documentary about police violence and independent films from houseless youth. And if you haven’t had your fill of New Year’s celebrations, the Portland Japanese Garden will host an evening of music, games, tea, dancing, and performance for Japanese new year on the 13th. Also worth celebrating: five Portland artists have received the prestigious Painters and Sculptors grants from the Joan Mitchell Foundation. Congratulations to Addoley Dzegede, Lisa Jarrett, Elizabeth Malaska, Wendy Red Star, and Blair Saxon-Hill.

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.

Poetic Imagination in Japanese Art
Through January 13
Portland Art Museum, 1219 SW Park Avenue

There’s still time to catch this exhibition of, as Laurel Reed Pavic noted in her ArtsWatch review, “calligraphic texts, imaginary portraits of poets, monochrome ink paintings, and landscapes from the eighth through the twentieth century,” all drawn from the collection of Mary and Cheney Cowles. 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.”

Print by Christoph Ruckhäberle

Paradise Lost: Christoph Ruckhäberle
Through January 13
Ampersand, 2916 NE Alberta Street

Bursting with color, these collages, photogravures, and wood prints by German artist Christoph Ruckhäberle evoke a bustling world of shapes and figures. Many of the prints come from some process of recycling, whether it’s taking material from paintings made by Ruckhäberle or creating collages from makulatur, a German word that refers to wastepaper from test prints. This small, lively show should be a nice shot of color in the midwinter months.


Member Show
Through January 30
Blackfish Gallery, 420 NW 9th Ave

Stalwart of the Portland art scene since 1979, Blackfish Gallery is member-owned and operated by artists representing a broad spectrum of the local art community. This annual show highlights recent work by each current member, and kicks off the 40th anniversary of this community hub for countless regional artists.

Photo By Rebecca Reeve

Sun Breathing: Rebecca Reeve
January 3 – March 2, 2019
UpFor, 929 NW Flanders St

UK artist Rebecca Reeve brings a show of photographs of eerie, beautiful landscape interventions to Portland for her first solo exhibition at Upfor. Painting directly onto portions of the landscape or elements within it. Reeve returns to the same sites over and over, describing it as “watching the change in seasons and the earth breathe.” This allows her to develop a relationship with the area that informs her final photos, which represent a patient collaboration between Reeve and the light, flora, and natural elements of the landscape.

Sculpture by Joanna Bloom

Exaggerated Stories: Joanna Bloom
January 4-February 2
Adams and Ollman, 209 SW 9th Avenue

Regional artist Joanna Bloom’s first exhibition at Adams and Ollman “elaborates upon her experiments with the ritual forms of the trophy and the bowl.” These chunky, enigmatic ceramic sculptures draw on the right history of self taught art, ceremonial objects, and the landscape of the Pacific Northwest. Crowns, bowls, floral shapes, and other loose and lovingly-sculpted forms play with associations of achievement, glory, and recognition while reveling in imperfection and rough-edged personability.

Altar installation view

Altar: Lynn Yarne
January 16-March 1
Open Signal, 2766 NE Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard

This vibrant mixed-media installation weaves the real-life stories of “nine elders from Portland’s Chinatown/Japantown” from a collection audio recordings, images, and animations. Yarne explores representation, local history, and community memory in the second- and third-hand stories that she’s pieced together in this altar to local mythology. A very long list of contributors and collaborator helped produce the three video pieces in the show Don’t Forget Who You Are Or Where You Are From, Digital Collage Power Portraits, and Power Shirts.

Visual Magic: An Oregon Invitational
January 19-May 12
Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art
University of Oregon Campus, 1420 Johnson Lane, Eugene

The Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art in collaboration with the George D. Green Art Institute presents a smorgasbord of beloved Oregon artists. Including recent work by 45 artists who emerged in Oregon during the 1960s and ’70s, the show features paintings, sketchbooks, ceramics, and mixed-media work from an influential generation of Oregon artists. Featured artists include Rob Bibler, Sharon Bronzan, Jon Jay Cruson, Humberto Gonzalez, George Johanson, Connie Kiener, Nancy Lindburg, Lucinda Parker, Isaka Shamsud-Din, Richard Thompson, and Phyllis Yes.

The Bridge by Amy Bernstein

Entre chien et loup: Amy Bernstein
Through January 22
Downtown Stumptown
128 SW 3rd Avenue

The newest recipient of the Stumptown Artist Fellowship, Bernstein is known in Portland for her ebullient, spare and gestural abstract paintings. The title of her exhibition comes from a French expression meaning “between the dog and the wolf.” While it usually refers to the time of day between dusk and night, Bernstein employs it here to describe our current era, which she calls a “divided time of possible selves.” To her it symbolizes “an investigation of an indiscernible time of light and darkness, a time of unimaginable metamorphosis and imminent revolution whose direction is not totally clear.”

 


 

Correction: An earlier version of this story reported that an exhibition of work by Hank Willis Thomas is at the Portland Art Museum. In fact, that show will open October 5.

 

 

VizArts Monthly: December rules

This month's Portland visual arts exhibitions jump through the centuries and land firmly in the here and now

The year may be winding down, but the art scene sure isn’t. This month, you can visit the Japanese Garden to catch the only US stop of an international exhibition of Hokusai’s Manga, or see Japanese art from twelve centuries under one roof at the Portland Art Museum. For something more local, there’s the opening of a big new gallery project by Albertina Kerr, The Portland Art and Learning Studios. Also of note, PICA will be hosting the Precipice Fund awards and winter social not far down the street. Heading further north, you can catch a good show at Disjecta and its newer tenant, Carnation Contemporary. If you’re a fan of independent galleries, you can catch the last-ever show at Grapefruits, or enjoy the reliably engaging programming at Ori or Nationale. Whatever you’re in the mood for, brave the cold and the rain and you should be able to find something good out there this month.

Yosa Buson: Thatched Retreat on Cold Mountain – detail

Poetic Imagination in Japanese Art: Selections from the Collection of Mary and Cheney Cowles
Through January 13, 2019
Portland Art Museum,1219 SW Park Avenue
PAM is ending the year with a bang – in addition to the knockout American realism exhibit, you can still catch this gorgeous exhibition spanning 12 centuries of Japanese art. Selected from the collection of Mary and Cheney Cowles, this exhibit highlights one of the strongest themes in this remarkable private collection – art closely related to poetic traditions in Japan.

  • Waka and the Courtly Tradition, featuring work rooted in the poetry and culture of the waka traditions of the ninth through 12th centuries
  • Ink Painting and the Zen Milieu, tracing the adoption and flowering of Zen Buddhism in Japan and the monochrome ink painting style that emerged with it
  • Literati Culture, showcasing the lyrical, romantic landscapes from the 18th and 19th century turn to Neo-Confucian philosophy
  • Modern Innovations, surveying 20th-century innovations of 20th-century artists in Japan as they engaged with traditional techniques in a modern, often highly personal style

Worth noting: the exhibition includes an installation of a traditional Japanese teahouse and newly-commissioned, fully-illustrated catalogue.

Page from Hokusai Manga

Page from Hokusai Manga

Manga Hokusai Manga
December 1, 2018 – January 13, 2019
Portland Japanese Garden, 611 SW Kingston Road

Sure to be a crowd-pleaser, one of the most famous Japanese artists of all time, Katsushika Hokusai, meets modern Japanese manga. Prints and illustrations by the world-famous artist of the iconic print the Great Wave off Kanagawa will be juxtaposed by with work by top contemporary manga artists. A traveling exhibition this will be the only chance to see this show in the Us. Hokusai Manga refers to an 800-page edition of prints, released between 1814 and 1878 in 15 hand-bound volumes, which was the origin of the term that is still in use today to refer to Japanese comics and animation. Materials accompanying the show provide wealth of historical and cultural context, thanks to a curatorial team including many prominent Japanese scholars and art directors.

alienated rhy thm

Alien ate d Rhy thm

Alien ate d Rhy thm
Through December 22
Ori Gallery, 4038 N Mississippi Avenue

If you’re not into the white-cube aesthetic, artists Hiba Ali and Jonathan Chacón have got a show for you. Noticing the prominence of a particular shade of orange in the branding and marketing of a variety of gig-economy services such as Caviar, Ali has literally painted the gallery orange, maintaining that “contemporary color of labor and danger, it is racialized and classed.” Ali engages Amazon’s “customer obsessed” mascot, Peccy in her video Abra to further discuss these issues, and has brought soap bubbles into the discussion of economic bubbles. Chacón’s installation is a text piece using the medium of foam puzzle tiles, adorned with objects and laid out throughout the gallery floor. This engaging, inventive show brings diverse methods and materials to focus on the question “How do queer people of color, repetitively move through environments designed to work against them?”

Holiday Sale - Installation view with chandelier

Holiday Sale – Installation view with chandelier

Exhibit 1 – Holiday Sale
Through January 30
Portland Art and Learning Studio
4852 NE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd

Portland Art and Learning Studio is a new, 10,000 square-foot outsider art gallery established by the Albertina Kerr foundation. Serving nearly 200 artists, the mission of the studio is to “achieve fulfillment by reframing perceptions around intellectual and developmental disabilities through creative practice and community building.” The inaugural exhibition features a mural and large canvases by Studio member Sakari Muhommad, and a “a series of richly textured and experimental weavings” by Native American textile artist Ricky Bearghost. Hanging from a chandelier in the center of the gallery, his weavings include found materials such as sticks and bottle caps, as well as handmade ceramic beads. As many of that artists served by the Studio experience disability and are members of vulnerable populations, gallery director Daniel Rolnik maintains the importance of creating space in the arts for their voices. “Our artists are proud of who they are and we feel fortunate to be able to support their desires to have their works shown to the art world,” says Rolnik.

Object with drawing from Provender

Object with drawing from Provender

Provender: Georgina Lewis and Sarah Rushford
Through December 23
Grapefruits,211 N Kerby Ste D

An exhibition of experimental drawings and process-related prints and photographs that represent current work by Boston artist Georgina Lewis and Portland artist Sarah Rushford. Former co-director of Ortega y Gasset Projects in Brooklyn, Rushford has recently returned to drawing after establishing herself as a video artist. Both artists use experimental drawing “as a means of coping with anxiety, fear, and paralysis that they feel emotionally, in their careers, in their art processes, and especially in their civic lives…” If that sounds heavy, you will appreciate the unexpected thread of play and happenstance that carries through the laregly-monochrome installation. Process-based graphite drawings, small sculptures and assemblages, and other materials have been thoughtfully installed in various ways that play well with the rough-hewn charm of Grapefruits.

This, sadly, is the final show by this scrappy gallery known for hosting innovative shows by emerging artists and creating a comprehensive resource guide for artists in Portland. However, former members of Grapefruits are in talks to start a new project in the same space, a small warehouse unit with a loading dock down the same dead-end alley in Portland’s North Industrial district where PNCA recently opened studios in the former Ouroboros glass factory. Look for further developments in 2019.

Netta Fornario by Ty Ennis

Netta Fornario by Ty Ennis

The Marble Fountain: Ty Ennis
Through December 30
Nationale, 3360 SE Division

In this solo show by Nationale favorite Ty Ennis, “melancholic dreams” mix with holiday lore and art historical references in this dreamy show of half-remembered figures, scenes, and moods. “When we are young, the world appears full of magic,” Nationale says in the press release. “We are the center of our universe—we know of little beyond our guided travels. Time equals now.” Ennis’s loose brushwork evokes this less-rationalized, perhaps more-lived way of seeing the world with a steady intensity.

A puzzling light and moving - installation view

A puzzling light and moving – installation view

A puzzling light and moving: Kate Newby
Ongoing
Lumber Room, 419 Northwest 9th Avenue

A meditative, eclectic show that collects found materials, handmade objects, and site-specific constructions to reflect on a process of “prolonged engagement” by New Zealand and New York-based artist Kate Newby’s prolonged engagement. Through site visits, conversations, and exploring our city, Newby has been making and thinking about items in this show for the last two years, and it is likely to continue for some time. Walking among the objects hanging in groups from the ceiling and stacked in corners of Lumber Room’s Pearl-district loft hopefully can spark that that sense of quiet, ongoing thoughtfulness within the viewer.

Between Here and The Machine

Between Here and The Machine

Carnation Contemporary
November 30-December 23
Carnation, 8371 N Interstate Avenue
In this show, three prominent West Coast artists utilize a variety of analog and digital forms to interrogate what Carnation calls “the ubiquity of mediated images.” Bean Gilsdorf, Rhonda Holberton, and Anthony Discenza negotiate different arenas in which we create, share, and consume images in the age of Instagram and increasingly powerful smartphones. Each artist uses a variety of tools to draw attention to and disrupt the many layers of processing and interpretation that modern images go through. Archival news photos, low-fi 3D modeling, hand-sewn soft sculptures, and image composites are all fair game in this show.

One of Portland’s newer independent galleries, Carnation Contemporary occupies space in the  Disjecta building.

Still from "Dislocation Blues"

Still from “Dislocation Blues”

I’ve known rivers: I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow of human blood in human veins
December 2 – 30
Disjecta, 8371 N Interstate Avenue

This exhibition is presented as a dialogue between the artistic practices of Carolina Caycedo and Sky Hopinka. Caycedo’s video work pays homage to Langston Hughe’s poem The Negro Speaks of Rivers and emphasizes the political and cultural roots of ecological destruction and the populations that suffer its effects most in our current society. Hopinka’s work addresses “considerations around homeland, the preservation of language, and the undefinable spaces between the known, the sought after, and the unknowable.” His film, Dislocation Blues, refutes the broader narratives of the protests at Standing Rock with individual stories from members of the resistance. Drawings, sculptures, and found objects as well as more video work from both artists further probe the conversation around these pressing issues.

Unexpected, sad news rocked Portland’s art world last month with the tragic passing of the Yale Union’s executive director, Yoko Ott. A tireless supporter of the arts, Ott made lasting contributions at many institutions including the Frye Art Museum, Seattle University, and the Honolulu Biennial. Yale Union has not announced a successor, but continues its existing schedule of shows. Elsewhere in the visual arts in Portland, some exciting shows are up this month, including a blockbuster painting exhibition at PAM. While you’re there, make sure to check out the Sun Ra exhibit which concludes the ambitious, powerful series We. Construct. Marvels. Between. Monuments.

Edward Hopper — Cape Cod Morning

Modern American Realism: Highlights from the Smithsonian’s Sara Roby Foundation Collection
Through April 28, 2019
Portland Art Museum, 1219 SW Park Avenue
This who’s who of post-WWII American representational painting features big names like Edward Hopper, Louise Nevelson, Nancy Grossman, and Paul Cadmus. Some Northwest favorites are included in the long roster of artists, including Mark Tobey and Morris Graves. Sara Roby, a major collector in the post-WWII period, was known for hewing to realism despite the growing popularity of Abstract Expressionism. For more than 30 years, her foundation has maintained a premiere collection of leading American figurative painters, and we’re lucky to be able to see some of the highlights in our own art museum.

Coliseum 11 – Avantika Bawa

Avantika Bawa
Through February 10, 2019
Apex Gallery at the Portland Art Museum, 1219 SW Park Avenue
Through November 25
Ampersand, 2916 NE Alberta Street
Avantika Bawa’s new body of work focuses on the stark modernist architecture of the Veteran’s Memorial Coliseum. A dual-venue show, the main body of work occupies the APEX gallery in the Portland Art, while Alberta Arts district gallery and bookstore Ampersand features more prints from the series. Bawa’s images may bring to mind the founding abstract and minimalist artists of the same era when the architecture firm of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill designed the Coliseum. The repeating geometric shapes in Bawa’s work reveal shades of Agnes Martin and Ellsworth Kelly as much as they refer to the construction of the Coliseum itself.

Pretty Teacher – Jeffry Mitchell

Tyger Tyger: Jeffry Mitchell
October 30 – December 1
PDX Contemporary
925 NW Flanders
In attempting to describe the “tragicomic universe” of Jeffry Mitchell’s off-kilter figurative ceramic sculptures, PDX Contemporary’s meaty show description is peppered with terms such as “exuberant pathos” and “folkloric lingua franca.” No wonder, as it’s quite a task to try to capture the strange world of elephants, bears, tigers, bunnies, roosters, flowers, and alluring male figures that occupy his off-kilter figurative ceramic sculptures. They’re as off-putting as they are charming. The show also features drawings, prints, assemblages. With shades of art star Grayson Perry’s groundbreaking, often-ribald ceramic work, this ceramic show is sure to be unique and fun.

Ralph Pugay working during a residency

RALPH PUGAY: A Spiritual Guide to Brute Force
November 1 – December 22
Upfor Gallery, 929 NW Flanders
One of Portland’s most productive and inventive artists, Pugay will be opening his second solo show at Upfor this First Thursday. This new set of work was created or conceived at a series of residencies Pugay attended across North America this past summer—from Florida to Montreal to New Orleans. Known for wild, colorful narrative paintings full of humor and strange happenings, Pugay has turned to black and white work on paper for this show.

The Earth Will Not Abide
November 1-January 12, 2019
The Center for Contemporary Art & Culture, PNCA, 511 NW Broadway
A rich group exhibition that focuses on the unsustainability of modern agriculture in different parts of the world. Featured artists include Ryan Griffis and Sarah Ross, Brian Holmes and Alejandro Meitin, Sarah Lewison and duskin! drum, Claire Pentecost, and Sara Siestreem. Each artist investigates, with their own particular methods, the “the rapid transformations in land use, biological diversity, and social structures” that result from large-scale, monocultural agriculture in ecosystems including the US, Brazil, Argentina, and China. Looking at existing and future land use, these projects hope to point “in the direction of viable responses.”

Disjecta annual art auction

Disjecta Art Auction
November 17
Disjecta, 8371 N Interstate Avenue
The Auction on November 17th is Disjecta’s annual invitation to the public to “have a drink, something to eat, and then to spend all of your discretionary income on something worthwhile.” Favorite local artists, more than we can count, have donated work to this annual auction that provides vital funding for the operations of one of Portland’s largest contemporary art centers. Artists featured will include Holly Andres, Corey Arnold, Pat Boas, Amy Bay, Srijon Chowdhury, Patrick Collier, Emily Counts, Tia Factor, Joel Fisher, Damien Gilley, Bean Gilsdorf, Ralph Pugay, Blair Saxon-Hill, Ryan Woodring, and many, many more. A ticketed event, “fine food and drink” will be served. Always a fun time.

Abagail Deville at PICA

The American Future: Abigail Deville
Nov. 3-Jan. 12, 2019
PICA, 15 NE Hancock Street
Known for monumental, vibrant assemblage work using found materials, DeVille’s new installation at PICA promises to be interesting. This accomplished artist foraged materials, printed matter, and really anything she can get her hands on to create a “model of reflection” on the fraught histories of American ambition. This site-specific installation examines 200 years of history, colonialism, and labor in America by focusing on Thomas Jefferson’s commission of the Lewis and Clark expedition and his obsessive work on his home, Monticello. Turning her inventive, incisive eye on the “paradox of Jeffersonian ideals” and how history relates to the “entropy of now,” DeVille will fill PICA with her unique, thoughtful vision

Tumbleweed – Nan Curtis

Numb: Nan Curtis
November 1 – December 15
Williamson | Knight Gallery,916 NW Flanders St.
Local artist Nan Curtis presents new work. A meditation on the words, sensations, and colors Curtis associates with Portland and the Pacific Northwest, Curtis draws on a remarkable range of materials for NUMB. Glass slag, industrial rubber, painted tumbleweeds, and pieces of steel share the small gallery space with a massage chair. All of these materials are meant to conjure what Curtis calls the “pinnacle of an emotional response” – tactile, sensory experiences. Appropriately, a masseuse will be present at the opening, performing massages for viewers on a first-come, first-served basis.

Acclaimed Australian choreographer Lucy Guerin has returned to Portland for the West Coast debut of her award-winning minimalist new duet, Split. Considering how often White Bird has featured projects involving Guerin over the years, the work she brings to our city still continues to surprise. In some ways, Split is unlike anything Guerin has done, but it bears the intense clarity of gesture, deep directorial collaboration, and carefully considered structure that viewers who were fortunate enough to catch her previous projects should expect.

Guerin was last in Portland in 2017 as part of the stunning collaborative production Attractor. This knockout of a show was one of Guerin’s rare collaborations with her partner, Gideon Obarzanek, the founding director of dance company Chunky Move. In the spirit of both companies, they shared directorial and choreographic duties with two more collaborators: the dancers of Dancenorth Australia and Senyawa, an intense, experimental two-person band from Java. The show was loud and intense. An imposing column of cables hung from the ceiling, powering Senyawa’s instruments as if from some energy source in the sky. The dancers managed to match the tempo and tone oSenyawa’s vocal acrobatics, giving the impression that they were linked to the musicians by the same arcane electricity.

Prior to that show, in 2012, Lucy Guerin Inc. came to Portland with Weather, in which elaborate set design and prop work were integral to the choreography. Using simple materials such as plastic bags and strips of paper, Guerin and her collaborators created a miniature weather system onstage for her dancers to inhabit. More than gimmicks or set dressing, the objects came to life and integrated sublimely with the movement of the piece.

Lilian Steiner and Melanie Lane grapple in Lucy Guerin’s “Split.” Photo by Gregory Lorenzutti

Using these shows as reference points for Split might seem to highlight the differences in tone, scope, and structure among Guerin’s various projects. However, if we look more deeply, we can see a few conceptual threads running through the fabric of her choreography. Each piece is grown rather than planned, created collaboratively with every member of the production—the dancers, the musicians, the lighting and stage designers. Each show manages to feel dense yet highly considered—every component serves its role and seems to be there for a reason. The complex and intense symmetry and synchronization seem to serve that purpose directly. What does and does not happen at the same time, or what does or does not have the same tone, are fundamental to each of these performances, from the smallest movements of the dancers to major structural decisions.

In their introduction to Split, which opens the 2018-19 Uncaged series, White Bird co-founders Paul King and Walter Jaffe mentioned that they rarely book duets, but felt that this was Guerin’s “masterwork.” What does that mean? The specifics of superlatives can blur into a vague sense of “really very good.” Mastery, however, is different from “exemplary” or “best.” It suggests a combination of total control and total freedom; masters know their work inside and out and can speak through it clearly and articulately. Mastery has nothing to prove and can cut through the dressing of a discipline to show us the nature of the work.

By that measure, “masterwork” seems like an appropriate description of Split. Plenty of shows seem fun or impressive enough to make us non-dancers wish we could perform the same feats. But this show made me want to be a dancer so I could better understand what the dancers were saying about dance itself. So much of dance defies written description—which is the main reason I haven’t yet tried to describe the actual movement in the piece. The show is made of a few simple components, but they add up to something complex.

The space Steiner and Lane share gradually shrinks in “Split.” Photo by Gregory Lorenzutti

As viewers finds their seats, a hypnotic beat pulses quietly from the speakers. This soundtrack, composed by British artist Scanner, serves as a sort of auditory armature throughout the whole piece. Its minimal, repetitive structure is influenced by contemporary minimal music, but stops short of the complex polyrhythms and phasing that composers such as Steve Reich or Terry Riley are known for. It’s a rhythm that feels both intellectual and visceral, beating at the rate of an endurance runner’s heart.

As the show opens, dancers Lilian Steiner and Melanie Lane stand on an empty stage, squared off by white tape outlining the perimeter. Steiner is completely naked, Lane wears a simple blue satin gown. The lighting is spare and directional—a broad spotlight that falls from the rafters, highlighting every edge and corner of Steiner’s body and every twist and fold in Lane’s gown.

The movement demonstrates Guerin’s minimalist bent. Starting in perfect sync, split by a distance of about five feet, the dancers work through individual positions combining everyday gestures with the simple movements that have been part of  modern dance vocabulary since choreographers including Trisha Brown began foregrounding components of human movement in the 1960s. Within the first few minutes, however, both dancers fling out their arms with the sort of speed we see in movies when editors drop a few frames to make action seem inhumanly fast. Later, some of the minimal lighting changes occur with the same snappiness, signaling significant transitions in the arc of the piece.

These intentionally startling moments split the otherwise steady rhythm supporting the movement throughout the whole show. Guerin’s decisions about how and when to break from a prevailing structure make her movement feel both tightly packed and carefully chosen. Split is so stripped down that every piece of it feels on view —it’s more sushi than soup—and we are invited to focus intensely on these pieces. Having Steiner perform entirely in the nude makes our scrutiny feel less analytical and more humane. When they dance in unison, Steiner feels like a living X-ray of Lane’s movement; when they move in opposition, Steiner serves as Lane’s counterpoint.

These tools of reduction, rupture and opposition are what move the show forward. Progress is marked by points where Steiner and Lane stop dancing, take a quick breather, and then split the working area of the stage in half with a roll of white tape. A quick burst of light from the side of the stage signals them to continue, and they re-engage in half the space they had before. These breaks come quicker and quicker, until the dancers barely have enough room to stand. They fight, they support each other, they cling to each other, and they drive each other out. Split is full of the things that make movement into dance, but it’s surprising for how few parts it needs to achieve that.

Split runs 8 p.m. Saturday at Portland State University’s Lincoln Hall, 1620 SW Park Ave. Find tickets here.

Finding humanity at the intersection of contemporary dance and circus

Circa stages West Coast debut of Humans in Portland

Circa, Australia’s leading contemporary circus dance company, has chosen Portland for the West Coast premiere of Humans, which runs through October 13 at the Newmark Theatre. This is a smart show with lots of audience appeal; it’s family-friendly enough that there’s even a Sunday matinee. Artistic director Yaron Lifschitz describes Humans as “a report on what it means to be human. How can you express the very essence of this experience with your body? Where are your limits, what extraordinary things can you achieve and how can you find grace in your inevitable defeat?” This show quickly reveals how contemporary circus arts can help answer these questions about the human experience.

According to dance critic and producer Cindy Sibilsky, contemporary circus performance was “born out of the desire to utilize the exceptional physical vocabulary of acrobats, aerialists, contortionists and other specialty-skilled performers, modernize them and update the expressions bodily, emotionally and visually and transform both audience and critical perception of what circus is and can be.” Circa just as effectively explores what contemporary dance is and can be.

Circa in “Humans.” Photo by Pedro Greig, courtesy White Bird.

Aesthetically, Humans is stripped down. Almost every trapping of traditional circus is missing: there’s no knife-thrower flinging sharp objects around an assistant’s body, no clowns, makeup, animals, ringmasters, juggling, or really any props at all, save the few that can support performers (trapeze and aerial straps do appear at points). There are touches of slapstick in some of the performers’ interactions, but no dedicated passages of physical humor, as would appear in a traditional variety-style circus performance. Acrobatic movement is the major part of circus heritage that Circa brings to the stage, along with intense collaboration, coordination, and trust among the performers as they display world-class acrobatic prowess. The physical stakes are high enough to elicit gasps from the audience many times throughout the evening.

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