Oregon Cultural Trust

Converge 45’s opening weekend

The biennial features the work of local, national, and international artists at venues across the city. The opening festivities August 24-27 included performances, events, parties, and openings galore. Georgina Ruff reviews.

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The Converge 45 biennial openings, performances, and special events spanned the city from last Thursday to Sunday from Lewis and Clark to Oregon Contemporary, the Pearl to SE Cooper Contemporary, and 16 venues in-between. If you missed some, or all, of the shindigs, do not despair! Many of the actual shows are up through the autumn and access to the work might, in some cases, be easier later. What follows are some initial thoughts, general impressions, and first hand recounting, perhaps enough to instigate your own investigation.

Anna Gray and Ryan Wilson Paulsen, more missives, 2023

Perhaps best known for the 2020 Portland Memorials and Monuments Project (PMMP), Converge 45 has been active since 2016. The organization’s by-line is “Art on the 45th Parallel,” referring to the cartographic line that connects the greater-greater-Portland metro area to, among other places, Minneapolis (Minnesota), Bangor (Maine), Bordeaux (France), Sevastopol (Crimea), and Songyuan (China). The solo show artists included in this year’s Converge 45 biennial also span the globe, hailing from places including Chile (Seba Calfuqueo, Jorge Tacla, Rodrigo Valenzuela), New Orleans (Malcolm Peacock), the Bahamas (Tavares Strachan), and Aukland (Sam Hamilton). In terms of solo exhibitions, Portland is represented by Anna Gray + Ryan Wilson Paulsen’s more missives (2023) project that spans multiple venues, Peter Gronquist’s Sky Line (2023) billboard on the East Bank Commerce Center, and Marie Watt’s Chords to Other Chords (Relative) (2023) at Center for Native Arts and Cultures. 

Nicola López and Jessica Jackson Hutchins’ work in Assembly at Stelo

The group show Assembly that stretches across Stelo Arts, Parallax Art Center, and the Pacific Northwest College of Art (PNCA) galleries includes works by an additional 13 artists. At Stelo, Nicola López’s precise Landforms and Transformers collages of graphite on paper and mylar seem to repeat Jessica Jackson Hutchins‘ balanced, bulgy, ceramic forms but as lonely 3-D renderings. At Parallax, Narsiso Martinez’s black prints on flattened produce boxes, titled Unnumbered Portraits, invite close viewing, whereas the woven works of Portland based artist Vo Vo fill the back gallery, pushing viewers to the periphery to gain perspective. Rodrigo Valanzuela’s solo show at the PNCA 511 gallery is hung with surreal photos that hinge on contrasts: light and dark, machinic and organic, even the scale of the work in comparison to the forms depicted is questionable. 

Rodrigo Valenzuela’s work in the PNCA 511 Gallery

I confess to having missed the yoga sessions held as part of the Assembly show in the PNCA Lemelson Center. (I was caught in New York style traffic as I commuted from Malcolm Peacock’s enigmatic installation at SE Cooper Contemporary.) Printed with mantras for late capitalism, the colorful mats by Karlo Andrei Ibarra were used for a series of 15 minute mini-classes during the opening events. The mats will be available for viewer use in the gallery for the duration of the show. 

Amanda Ross-Ho at the Lloyd Center Ice Rink on August 25

To open her show at ILY2 in the Pearl District, Amanda Ross-Ho performed at the Lloyd Center ice-rink, a seemingly cautious performance that belied her earlier experience as a competitive figure skater. Costumed professionally in neck to toe skin-tone printed with an illustrated skeleton, camera-ready makeup, and just a few sequins, Ross-Ho took to the ice just after 11am on Friday, beginning the performance by taking a shaky lap around the rink that included a tumble. Intentional? It’s unclear, but the tension between appearance and ability was consistent through the subsequent 20 minute performance. 

After using a compass to etch a large figure 8 into the ice, Ross-Ho proceeded to enact a Bruce Nauman-esque performance, skating each lobe of the eight on one foot, switching feet as she crossed the center. With the ambient sounds of the arcade as accompaniment, Ross-Ho continued to trace he figure 8 for about ten minutes, her body becoming subtly fatigued in contrast to the noticeable improvement in her skating. After many tracings, Ross-Ho stepped out of the habit that she had enacted, and as “All That Jazz” played over the rink sound system, Ross-Ho took some victory laps, accompanied by falling snow. ILY2 describes Ross-Ho’s show in its Pearl District space, now open through October 28, as being “populated with surrogate artifacts shaped by a corrupted link to the past.”

Richard Mosse, Broken Spectre, 2022 at the Rona and Eric Hoffman Gallery

The theme of this iteration of the Converge 45 biennial is “Social Forms: Art as Global Citizenship.” One of the works most ardently engaged with this premise, Richard Mosse’s Broken Spectre (2022) is installed on screens cutting through the Ronna and Eric Hoffman Gallery at Lewis and Clark through December 15. Running in a 74 minute loop, the work documents the ongoing destruction of the Amazon rainforest and the activist efforts of the indigenous Yanomami people. Converge guest curator Christian Viveros-Fauné described the work as an “aesthetically gorgeous” way to summarize global warming, which is otherwise a concept so large as to be “very difficult to get your head around” (Viveros-Fauné referenced the hyperobject of Timothy Morton).

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Broken Spectre is complemented by an exhibition of Mosse’s photographs, titled Occidental and on view at Blue Sky Gallery. These works similarly insert color in ways that manipulate the viewer’s relationship to the subject of the work: Beautifully detailed black and white images (both in the film and the photos) underscore the documentary aspect of the subject matter, while simultaneously distancing the colorful lived reality of the viewer from what is depicted. When Mosse does insert color, it is vibrant, saturated, unnatural – the product of technology, making the film and photo images stranger still.

Also occupied with color are the paintings of Jesse Murry hung in the Cooley Gallery at Reed in an elegiac show curated by his friend, Lisa Yuskavage. Layered, scraped, feathered, and perhaps sanded in places, the surfaces of Murry’s works are as intriguing as his juxtaposition of colors that at first glance might seem discordant. The reference to J.M.W.Turner is inescapable, but Mark Rothko’s interest in the transcendent shifting of colors in space is also at play. Murry received a Pollock-Krasner grant for his work, a fitting connection between those interested in the expressive qualities of paint. 

Detail of Jesse Murry’s work at the Cooley Gallery

There’s more to Converge than I’m including here – to the biennial proper and then there are 14 “affiliated” exhibitions. I made a good start and will spend the next month catching up with the rest. The Hung Liu exhibition at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art at Portland State looked potentially remarkable over the heads of the crowd that was present for its opening. Marie Watt’s glowing neon “Turtle Island And” sign at the Center for Native Arts and Cultures (CNAC) changes the atmosphere of the space, both inside and out, in a way that accentuated the opening night party vibes. With Oasis playing across the gallery and the selfie options at the maximum, it was an art scene that seemed unfamiliar in Portland. 

Converge 45 seems invested in shifting the atmosphere of the Portland Art Scene toward a more frenetic pace. 16 openings and events in one long weekend spread across the city with big events during the day on Thursday and Friday is a big ask. It’s a bit of a New York vibe – the rush, the energy, the FOMO. Hopefully the works look even better when the crowds have dissipated.

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Photo Joe Cantrell

Georgina Ruff is an art historian of modern and contemporary art and technology. Her interests in the conservation of obsolescing media and immersive installations have led her on explorations of 60's era light shows, Bauhaus illuminations, histories of fluorescent light bulbs, and contemporary spatial politics of object-less art works. Georgina earned her PhD in Art History from the University of Illinois at Chicago in 2020.

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