VISUAL ART

Catching up with art critic Chris Kraus in Portland

The local connections of the Los Angeles-based critic were on the surface during her January visit to PNCA

By SHAWNA LIPTON

Chris Kraus is a prolific Los Angeles-based writer, art critic, and editor, but her latest collection of writing published by Semiotext(e) in 2018, Social Practices, has an origin story linking it to Portland, Oregon.

The seed of the book was a piece called “Kelly Lake Store and Other Stories” composed when Stephanie Snyder, the curator of Reed College’s Douglas F. Cooley Memorial Art Gallery, asked Kraus to contribute a monograph to the gallery’s Companion Editions series. “Kelly Lake Store” includes a rejected application for a Guggenheim Fellowship requesting funds to operate a general store staffed by art students in a remote small town. Kraus was earnest in her desire to provide the town with such a store, but the application was also satirical, in that she does not really view such an undertaking as “social practice art.”

The title of Social Practices is similarly tongue in cheek. Kraus is skeptical of what is called social practice art, wondering why students would go to art school to pursue what might otherwise be considered hobbies or trades such as gardening or cooking. She is critical of the industry that has grown up around MFA programs and their centrality in the LA-art scene. She contends that not every occupation needs an art degree to grant it legitimacy.

Chris Kraus, Social Practices, Semiotext(e), 2018
ISBN: 9781635900392

However, I am not sure if this thesis truly comes through in the book, or if it has been imposed retroactively as a talking point in order to provide a through line for this eclectic mix of writings, mostly composed of catalogue essays and other short works of Kraus’s art criticism commissioned over the past 13 years. Some of the artworks and events she responds to took place even earlier, and she did not make editorial revisions to the pieces since their original publication, except in cases where they had been altered from her original intent.

Art critic Chris Kraus gave a public talk at PNCA earlier this month/Photograph by Matthew Bowers

Although “Kelly Lake Store and Other Stories” contains her personal joke about opening a rural general store on Guggenheim’s dime in the name of parodying social practice art, the book also contains many examples of socially-engaged and community-based art she finds profoundly meaningful. One example is the artist and “debt resistor” Thomas Gokey’s “Rolling Jubilee” established in the wake of the Occupy Wall Street Movement, which purchased defaulted debt on the secondary market and forgave it as a liberatory political act.

This is where Kraus’s art writing shines, in her intellectual excitement and enjoyment of subversive, politically engaged art and creative work. Kraus excels, not just at satirizing works she finds pretentious and self-important, but at writing about things she takes pleasure in, including work by her own friends, produced in communities she is a part of, proving a critic does not only need to “critique” but can also channel and communicate the spirit of the work using her own formidable literary talent.

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An academic conference for Schemers, Scammers, and Subverters

Artists Ralph Pugay and Roz Crews have designed a conference for our times

“I think a lot has changed for the project since we talked last,” says Ralph Pugay (he/him) as I caught up with him and Roz Crews (she/her) over coffee two weeks ago. I have been following these two artists as they have collaborated on the Schemers, Scammers, and Subverters Symposium , aka SSSS, since early last year.

“We’re not going to have Tonya Harding,” continued Pugay.

“Sadly,” added Crews.

Originally slated to take place in December 2018, SSSS was envisioned as an academic conference that would feature presentations by schemers, scammers, and subverters from a wide array of backgrounds. The aforementioned Olympian was high on the list of desirable presenters. However, Crews and Pugay have since shifted their timeline and programmatic vision, instead reaching out to locally-based artists, creatives, and cultural workers through their networks. The event will now take place February 23, from 10am-6pm at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Portland.

Living School of Art poster for the SSSS’s TOTALLY HONEST BARTER BAZAAR

The conceptual framework of the symposium carries layers of nuance underneath that sensationalist title. “The title of the project is a big part of the project…It’s totally critical, as is true with lots of conceptual art projects,” said Crews of its multiple meanings. “I think those words [scheme, scam, subvert] have negative connotations,” reflected Pugay, “but then I can also imagine, coming from my background, my experience of being a Filipino immigrant, those are also tools for survival for people.”

On the one hand, SSSS has been shaped by a dialogue between Crews and Pugay about this fraught historical moment. They began asking themselves what it would be like, in Crews words, “to make a project that’s about scheming and scamming and subverting systems, when we have a President who is just straight up scamming us all.”

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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.

PNCA: Sticking to the path

Pacific Northwest College of Art decided merging with OCAC was a detour away from its future

Two big questions remain from the failed merger talks between Pacific Northwest College of Art and Oregon College of Art and Craft back in the fall.

The first: What are the details of the financial condition at OCAC that led it to seek merger and/or acquisition deals—with PNCA and then Portland State University—in the first place? Until OCAC talks publicly about that one, we’re left with speculations, informed and otherwise. That’s not the question I’m going to try to answer here.

The second: Why did PNCA decide against the idea of a merger with OCAC? After talking to President Don Tuski at PNCA, I think the answer has less to do with OCAC’s balance sheet and more to do with the future PNCA is attempting to carve out for itself.

Interior of the renovated the Arlene and Harold Schnitzer Center for Art and Design at Pacific Northwest College of Art/Courtesy PNCA

That future is extremely important to Portland’s creative economy, which is itself increasingly crucial to the economic health of the city. I’m persuaded after talking with Tuski, that, while the general direction of PNCA’s path isn’t new, its dedication to staying on that path is. And that path does not include a detour through the difficult process of merging with OCAC.

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Cannon Beach classes turn litter into learning

Participants in the Trash Talk series convert beach garbage into art while expanding their environmental awareness

Few things ruin a walk on the beach like seeing it littered with trash. I’ve picked up kite packaging, water jugs, firework debris, shoes, lighters — just about everything but cash. I once came upon an entire fleet of children’s plastic trucks sitting on the sand, waiting for the surf to sweep them out to sea. The kinder, gentler me likes to think that was done in the spirit of sharing with the next kids who came along. The cranky broad in me suspects the culprits were just lazy and disrespectful.

Many of us here on the Coast make it our duty to pick up what we can. In Cannon Beach, they’re taking it one step further with Trash Talks, a nine-part series of classes that guide participants in transforming beach trash into art. The series is presented by the Cannon Beach Arts Association and Haystack Rock Awareness Program and supported by a grant from the Oregon Coast Visitors Association.

A workshop in December turned plastics collected on the beach into holiday ornaments.

“The idea of the classes is to get people to reframe the way they think about beach trash,” said Meagan Sokol, arts education director for the arts association. She noted that besides the visual blight, trash can be deadly to seabirds, which are attracted by bright colors and often ingest it with deadly consequences. She added that the program is trying to get people to think about that, “to think, I can pick this up and do something with it. I can be a beach steward by cleaning up.”

Previous classes have made Christmas decorations using glass ornaments, trash, and beach plastic encapsulated in vegetable-based resin. The latter prevents the continued off-gassing of the plastic. In the Ocean Knots/Karma Mat Making class, students created small mats from fishing rope collected from the beach.

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Art on the Road: Au Naturel, Astoria

The Royal Nebeker Art Gallery's evocation of the contemporary nude in international art reveals the human, unadorned

Story and photographs by FRIDERIKE HEUER

We have this thing in our household about language. Well, someone has a thing in our house about my language – more specifically, my usage of the verb to love as applied to something other than a human being. Don’t devalue such a strong emotion, I am told, by wasting it on things, not persons! (That from the same Beloved who still despises split infinitives…)

Jay Senetchko, Sleepwatcher at the End, oil on wallpaper, detail

I can’t help it. Here I go again: I love this state. I love finding out new, beautiful things about it, even after 33 years since our arrival from New York City. You turn around and face surprises, in the natural as often as in the cultural landscape. Case in point was a recent visit to Astoria. I have written here before about this small former fishing and cannery town at the mouth of the Columbia river. I’ve described the increasingly vibrant art community, the diversity of what is on offer, from music to photography, from the perspective of a visitor as well as from that of an exhibiting artist.

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A long and inimitable painting career

Lucinda Parker's Force Fields at Hallie Ford Museum

Lucinda Parker is the premier Portland painter of her generation. Lucinda Parker—Force Fields is a 50+ year retrospective at the Hallie Ford Museum in Salem through March 31. Though the year has just started, there is unlikely to be a better or more important painting show in Oregon in 2019.

The show begins with two of the artist’s early works. Self-Portrait was painted around 1957 or 1958 when the artist was only 16. A serious looking young woman looks out at the viewer. The brushwork is surprisingly sophisticated for such a young artist but Parker had been taking art lessons since she was in elementary school. In Waterfall at Garland Pond, Putney, Vermont from 1959-1960, actively brushed flowing water foreshadows the dynamism of Parker’s works in the decades to come. The bold colors, dynamic paint (flowing, knifed, brushed), and aggressive scale will come later; these early works are dark, closed, in, and mysterious.

Lucinda Parker, “Waterfall at Garland Point, Putney, Vermont,” (1959-1960), oil on Masonite, with modern frame (acrylic), 30 x 42 in., courtesy of the the artist. Photo: Jim Lommasson.

Parker came to Portland in 1960, right after high school at Putney School in Vermont. She was attracted to a combined Reed College/Museum Art School (now PNCA) program. At Reed she, “took my humanities, my chemistry, my French and all that. I got [to the Museum Art School] and I thought it was the best thing in the world to be in a school like that—six hours a day in the studio every day. At night you’re tired. You can’t stay up all night.” She studied with (among others) Mike Russo, Mel Katz, Harry Widman, George Johanson, Dorothy Yezerski, and Louis Bunce. After completing her undergraduate degree program, she went on to get an MFA at Pratt Institute in New York, returning to Portland in 1969.

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