VISUAL ART

Art on the Road: Kollwitz in L.A.

At the Fortress on the Hill that is the Getty, an expansive overview exhibit gets to the grit of the great German modernist's life and work


STORY AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY FRIDERIKE HEUER


Husband: “You really are drawn to dark art, aren’t you? Who is she?”
Me: “What do you mean? We have a print of hers hanging on your side of the bed.”
Husband: “Print? What print? ”

Thus I offer you a slice of typical conversation overheard in our household, while dragging my beloved to a striking exhibition of works by Käthe Kollwitz (1867–1945), one of the icons of German modern art, at The Getty in Los Angeles.

Entry to the Exhibition with an enlarged excerpt from Charge (between 1902 and 1903).

While he was muttering about the absence of visual memory, my brain was frantically searching for a translation of an untranslatable German term that is often – and mistakenly, oh so mistakenly – cited in connection with Kollwitz’ art: Betroffenheitskitsch. Betroffenheit can be translated as shock, dismay, consternation, sadness. But in this context it is probably meant to describe too much empathy verging into kitschiness.

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‘No Human Involved’: Art by sex workers tells a complex story

The "No Human Involved: The Fifth Annual Sex Workers’ Art Show" turns the tables on a dehumanizing term

By KYLE COHLMIA

“No Human Involved” is a slang term coined by Los Angeles police in the 1980s to signify the murder of sex workers, drug users, gang members and transients, the majority of those from Black and Brown populations. The term, while inherently used to dehumanize the violence inflicted upon these marginalized communities, has been turned around by artists in No Human Involved: The Fifth Annual Sex Workers’ Art Show to bring awareness to specific issues of oppression.

Spearheaded by STROLL PDX, a sex worker-led activist organization, this year’s exhibition is at Portland Institute of Contemporary Art (PICA), running through December 14. The exhibit features work by 16 artists, a selection curated from a competitive international open call by Kat Salas and Matilda Bickers of STROLL PDX and Roya Amirsoleymani, artistic director and curator at PICA.

Installation view of No Human Involved: The Fifth Annual Sex Workers’ Art Show/Photo courtesy of PICA

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Memories of Michael Bowley

Paul Sutinen remembers his friend artist Michael Bowley, who died in November

High on my living room wall, above and left of the TV, is a drawing depicting three rectilinear shapes distributed randomly on the white paper. Below them is, handwritten, “These are not birds flying, nor are they boomerangs.” It’s a work by Michael Bowley from 1977. I first saw it on his apartment wall when it was brand new, and we lived a few blocks apart in Northwest Portland. I was immediately intrigued by the piece because of the caption. It first made me think of folks who look at non-representational art and ask, “What’s that supposed to be?” And Michael was saying what wasn’t depicted. A few years later Michael saw a small simple found object sculpture of mine and suggested that we trade artworks. I immediately knew what I wanted and I’ve had These are not birds flying, nor are they boomerangs for about 40 years now. It still makes me think and it makes me smile.


Michael Bowley,  These Are Not Birds Flying Nor Are They Boomerangs, 1977/Photo by Paul Sutinen.

It was Wednesday morning before Thanksgiving that I learned of Michael’s passing at age 72. I appreciate the invitation to remember him here. We met in 1975—both young artists, he 28, me 26. Only a few seeds of the now burgeoning Portland art community had sprouted. Portland Center for the Visual Arts was founded in 1972. Blue Sky Gallery would open in the fall of 1975. There were a couple interesting commercial galleries, and a few college spaces. It was Michael who initiated two-person shows for us at the Wentz Gallery at the Museum Art School (now PNCA, 1977) and Buckley Center at the University of Portland (1979). We made artworks especially for those spaces. It was the thing to do back then.

In 1976 a new “artists’ space” non-profit gallery opened, kind of a local art version of PCVA. It was the Northwest Artists Workshop. It was founded by a handful of young artists fresh from the Portland State University art program. Michael was one of them. 

It seems like it was in the late 70s that Michael was a studio assistant for Mel Katz. Mel was working on his “Post” series, tall wall-mounted fiberglass sculpture/paintings. I remember Michael talking about sanding the pieces. That was an insight for me—that Michael might just enjoy the monotonous meditative meticulousness of the sanding process.

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Spaces: At Shop La Familia hip hop digs in

Shop La Familia was started by Swiggle Mandela as an outpost for hip hop in a hostile city

By CHRISTEN McCURDY

It takes some effort to find Shop La Familia.

It’s on a stretch of North Lombard Avenue between the Interstate Fred Meyer and the much-loved King Burrito taqueria. It’s also a few blocks away from the kind of natural grocery store that’s often a harbinger of gentrification.

From the street, the spot looks like a row of quiet office buildings occupied mostly by union locals. But if you walk to the back of the building to the nondescript gravel parking lot, through propped-open industrial doors and and head down the stairs, you’ll find what local rapper Swiggle Mandela has planted underground.

The Art of Space
An occasional series on places and prices in the arts world. In an escalating real estate market, how and where do artists and arts groups find suitable and affordable places to make and show their work?

Shop La Familia is a retail space, an erstwhile music venue and a community space for a loose collective of artists connected with Portland’s hip-hop scene. In a city where rapidly escalating real estate prices have put a squeeze on cultural spaces in Portland, La Familia is creating a space of its own, in a historically black, but rapidly gentrifying part of town.

“Every show, every gathering that we’ve done there, it’s like, I get to say, ‘This is literally underground hip-hop,’” says Michael Gaines, who raps as Figure 8 and usually just goes by Fig. He moved to Portland from Detroit about five years ago.


Swiggle Mandela at his store and art space, Shop La Familia & the Coop, in North Portland/Photo by Christen McCurdy

“We’re doing hip-hop underground in Portland right now and no matter how good or bad this goes, this is what it’s about,” Figure 8 explains. “All those interviews where you see people talking about, ‘I went to every open mic, everything, we had to start our own thing, we had to start our own clubs, we had to give back,’ it just feels very reminiscent of what the good parts of hip-hop are and I think that’s why we keep doing it.”

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Hank Willis Thomas: How to unmake race

The Portland Art Museum has staged the first retrospective of Hank Willis Thomas, who addresses the complexity of race in America in "All Things Being Equal..."

The neon above the main entrance of the Portland Art Museum reads “LOVERULES.” Illuminated in different combinations, it reads both “love overules” and “love over rules.” The neon work, loaned by Jordan Schnitzer, sets the tone for Hank Willis Thomas’s show All Things Being Equal… that opened October 12 and will run through January 12, 2020. 

Hank Willis Thomas (American, born 1976), Loverules, 2019. Neon. Courtesy of Jordan D. Schnitzer. © Hank Willis Thomas, photo courtesy of Portland Art Museum

Thomas is a photographer and conceptual artist whose work explores race, the language of advertising, and the power of images to shape culture and historical narrative. All Things Being Equal… is his first major retrospective. It brings together 15 years of the artist’s work and cements Thomas’s role as an artist who asks questions and poses answers about American history and the American present.

The show is a big moment for the Portland Art Museum and co-curators Julia Dolan and Sara Krajewski. To host this sort of retrospective for an artist of this status establishes the museum as an important venue for contemporary art. The show has been written up in the New York Times, Artnet, and the Observer, which stated “this show unequivocally places the Portland Art Museum in Oregon on the contemporary art map.” It is the culmination of several years of work for Dolan and Krajewski, who, in addition to curating the show, secured funding from multiple prestigious sources and co-authored a handsome catalog with Aperture. It is equally an opportunity for viewers to consider images and race in a different way.

Though his work deals with race and Thomas contends that there is no stronger power in the universe than Black joy, he is equally adamant that race is an invention or myth designed to justify inequality and to propel stereotypes into widespread assumptions about how people are. Thomas says of race, “it is only real because we were taught to make it real.”

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This December brings opportunities to engage with the arts community in Portland, past and present. Memorial exhibitions honor the lives and work of two prominent Oregon artists whose creativity left an impact on their many students as well as the galleries and collectors that supported them. Shows in Portland and Springfield reflect on the visions and reverberations of artist-run projects both within their close-knit circles and in the community at large. Artists in two innovative fellowship programs present work made possible by the financial and creative support of forward-thinking curators and patrons, and a big group show brings work from artists from across the country to an independent artist-run gallery.

Finally, a number of holiday art sales provide a tangible way to contribute to the arts, as proceeds from these sales in large part go directly to artists and allow them to continue to create, enriching our collective culture. Wherever your gallery-walking and holiday-shopping takes you, make sure to stop for a moment and find your own way to express your appreciation for the hard work that artists and arts professionals do all year round. 

A large woven tapestry in  dusty pastel colors of linen, depicting an empty room with a checkerboard tile floor, vaulted ceiling, and surrounded by arched windows with sheer curtains blowing in the wind.
Judith Poxson Fawkes, Scutching Floor (photo courtesy Russo Lee Gallery)

Jan Reaves 
Judith Poxson Fawkes
December 5 – 21
Russo Lee Gallery
805 NW 21st Ave
This month, Russo Lee Gallery will honor the work and memory of two Oregon artists who recently passed away: painter Jan Reaves and weaver Judith Poxson Fawkes. Reaves was a longtime faculty member at the University of Oregon whose career spanned thirty years and left an impact on many young art students. Her abstract acrylic and oil paintings glow with translucent washes and drips of color, their characteristic looping gestural forms dancing across the canvases. Poxson Fawkes mastered a variety of complex tapestry weaving techniques over her forty-plus year artistic career. Though terms like inlay and double-weave might be unfamiliar to the average viewer, the radiant and intricate geometric patterns they produce require no special knowledge to appreciate. Considering the recent resurgence of fibers and textiles among contemporary artists, Poxson’s beautifully crafted work may find new fans among the younger generation.

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The art of giving, large and small

It's not just an action but a process, as big as a sea lion and as small as a salmonberry

The act of giving can be so simple and yet so complex. Giving in a sense that is not just good cheer, but something deeper and nuanced and more layered. It’s not just a word, but an entire etiquette. It’s not just a formality, but a way of life.

It’s a matter of respect, a shared experience, an exchange of goodwill, a nod to humility, a deference, a show of appreciation, a payback, a responsibility, a form of courage, an act of selflessness. It’s what matters most and gives meaning. Go deeper. Go higher. A language unto itself. A conversation.

All these words are important, and each is different.

Sara Siestreem (Hanis Coos), aretha franklin (1942-2018) reins supreme dance cap, yellow cedar bark (Kodiak, AK): Vickie Era; black berry and beet dye (Columbia River, OR); red cedar bark (Kingcome, British Columbia): Marianne Nicolson; salmon vertebrae (Kingcome, B.C.); sweet grass: Theresa Secord; spruce root (North Spit of Jordan Cove, Coos Bay, OR); glass and shell beads: Amazon, the world.
Sara Siestreem (Hanis Coos), aretha franklin (1942-2018) reins supreme dance cap, yellow cedar bark (Kodiak, AK): Vickie Era; black berry and beet dye (Columbia River, OR); red cedar bark (Kingcome, British Columbia): Marianne Nicolson; salmon vertebrae (Kingcome, B.C.); sweet grass: Theresa Secord; spruce root (North Spit of Jordan Cove, Coos Bay, OR); glass and shell beads: Amazon, the world.

A trip to the Oregon Coast a while back got me thinking about all that, and has stayed with me for more than a year. What does it mean “to give?” It’s all about a balance in the universe, but it’s not simply to balance out “to get,” and certainly not “to take.” But what does it mean to give in a sense that achieves an equilibrium?

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