Getting better all the time. Right?

ArtsWatch Weekly: Big tech, billionaires & struggling artists; cameras & the way we look at things; the Metallica/symphony connection; Vanport Mosaic & the BlaQ Out fest

CALIFORNIA AND NEW YORK ARE OPENED UP – if not quite all the way, most of it – and Oregon’s thinking about joining the crowd. Schools are making plans for classrooms-as-usual. Europe’s getting ready to welcome tourists again. After being cooped up at home for fifteen months, people who can afford it are leaving on a jet plane – for Hawaii or Mazatlán or anyplace that isn’t home. Musicians are coming out of their hidey-holes and performing in actual concerts. Actors are revving up for Shakespeares-in-the-Parks. Museums and art galleries are reopening. The highways to the Oregon Coast are filling up with getaway vehicles. Restaurants are beginning to buzz. Juneteenth, celebrating the day in 1865 when the last enslaved Black Americans were emancipated, is becoming an official national holiday. And much to the joy of the home team, Portland chanteuse Storm Large kicked it on America’s Got Talent. (A lot of people have great pipes. Storm’s secret is that she also has impeccable control over them.)

So why is William Deresiewicz in such a funk?

ArtsWatch senior editor Brett Campbell is here to explain it all for you. Brett likes to dig deep into stories, and he’s been on a roll, following Cultivating Creative Community, his recent exploration of the imaginative laboratory of Tualatin Valley Creates’ Arts and Culture Leadership Incubator program, with his latest essay, Autopsy for the Arts. In it, he dissects The Death of the Artist, Portland writer Deresiewicz’s dissection of everything wrong in the world of Arts & Culture As Usual. 

“The body wasn’t quite a corpse yet, but it was clearly on life support,” Campbell begins. “The victim? The vast majority of independent American artists, with arts lovers as collateral damage.” He then traces and explains Deresiewicz’s thesis, that the new American economy – dominated by tech giants and billionaires – is forcing artists to spend huge amounts of energy selling themselves in the digital marketplace, while also losing traditional channels of income through such “innovations” as “free” digital distribution. Artists, Campbell writes, “suffer from new economic and social conditions antithetical to producing meaningful, moving, and perspective-altering creations — for any artist. ‘Art is shaped by money, by the material arrangements under which it is produced — in plainer language, by the ways that artists get paid,’ (Deresiewicz) writes. ‘When those shift, art shifts.’ For most artists, the shift has been devastating.” Campbell has much more to say in his compelling detective story of an essay, which is well worth diving into. Warning: The shift doesn’t apply just to artists. The ground is probably shifting, Deresiewicz declares, under your feet, too.



THE THINGS WE SEE (AND HOW WE THINK ABOUT THEM)


THE WORLD IS FILLED WITH IMAGES, everywhere we look and everywhere the camera lens points: We’re living in a visual age. But what do we see when we see? What’s “real” – the visual capture of a fleeting moment, as close as we can come to re-living its time and place and meaning – and what’s created in the mind of the photographer, or for that matter, of the viewer? ArtsWatch has published several stories in the past week that hint at the various degrees of documentation and created reality that the camera offers. Let’s take a … well, a look:

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Christopher Rauschenberg, “Mysore/Jaisalmer/Hampi” (2021), at Nine Gallery. Archival inkjet print.

EMBRACING THE BUCKET (AND OTHER OVERLOOKED DETAILS). Christopher Rauschenberg is something of a legend in Portland art and photographic circles. “You might say he’s Portland’s glue guy,” Blake Andrews writes in reviewing Rauschenberg’s exhibit India Pushtogethers at Nine Gallery. “Look behind the scenes of any local photo institution and you’ll likely find his fingerprints—perhaps literally, on his camera as he snoops through its grimy back alley. … But making pictures has always been priority number one.” Often Rauschenberg roams the  world to gather his images, as he did for this exhibit, “wandering around, eating lots of delicious Masala Dosas, and looking” around India in January 2020. The photos he took were in a way documentations of life in the world’s second most populous nation. But once he got home, he began to see affinities and fascinating juxtapositions in his many images, and began, quite literally, to push them together, creating new fusions of reality that make both structural and imaginative leaps, creating a kind of reality-in-hyperdrive of a place that is, yet never was.


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Counter-mythologizing: Zig Jackson. “Indian Man on the Bus” (1994), in the exhibit “Ansel Adams in Our Time.”  Gelatin silver print. Image courtesy of the Portland Art Museum.

UPDATING ANSEL ADAMS. Sure, you’ve seen his stuff before: Ansel Adams’ photographs of the rugged and romantic wilderness are the stuff of legend, hanging in poster form from walls around the world. “Ansel Adams is an extraordinarily popular figure in the world of photography,” Laurel Reed Pavic writes in reviewing Ansel Adams in Our Time, the traveling exhibition now at the Portland Art Museum. “It was always bound to be a big win with a large and receptive audience, but given my general indifference to Adams, I didn’t expect to be among the thronging fans.”

Mythologizing: Ansel Adams. “Self-Portrait, Monument Valley, Utah” (1958). Gelatin silver print. Image courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and the Portland Art Museum.

Surprise. “Thanks to a well-curated show that then was augmented by the Minor White Curator of Photography Julia Dolan for exhibition in Portland,” she continues, “I’m happy to join the masses.” Much of her pleasure comes from the ways in which the exhibit “deftly weaves well-known and lesser-known photographs by Adams with works by predecessors (to show how he revolutionized nature photography) and contemporary photographers (to show how his ‘revolutions’ continue to loom large over the medium).” In a way, the show both explains the myth of a beloved artist’s work and demythologizes it.


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Photographer Charlie Hyman says he favors out of the way places, such as this landscape in "Glencoe Scotland."
Charlie Hyman’s photo “Glencoe Scotland”: “a single home, nestled in a patch of trees in a glen framed by mountains and an ominously dark sky. Although surely a road or path leads to the house, it is hidden by the curvature of the glen, giving the appearance that the house is the only sign of civilization in an otherwise untamed wilderness.”

CHARLIE HYMAN: PICTURES THAT WARRANT A SECOND LOOK. Since 2013, David Bates writes, the Chehalem Cultural Center in Newberg “has hired Wilsonville photographer Charlie Hyman to shoot major events, but this month in the Main Gallery, Hyman’s photography is the event.” The exhibit of 27 photographs – augmented via scannable QR codes to include about 200 images in all – includes mostly landscapes shot over a decade around Oregon, Washington,  Hawaii, and Scotland. “What’s interesting about the collection — well, one thing — is that this isn’t a lineup of the usual Pacific Northwest suspects: Mount Hood, Haystack Rock, Yaquina Bay, etc.,” Bates writes. “Those photographic paths are well-trod, and Hyman prefers the road less traveled. So sure, there’s a few from Silver Falls, but there’s also Humbug Mountain, Harris Beach, Three Fingered Jack, and the Joe Graham Cabin.”

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Dee Moore captures the intensity of the conflict when fundamentalist anti-gay protesters crash a Pride celebration in a city park in Keizer, near Salem. 

PRIDE AND PREJUDICE IN KEIZER. Photographer and writer Dee Moore was on the scene during an LGBTQIA Pride Month celebration in the mid-Willamete Valley city of Keizer when a group of fundamentalist Christian provocateurs crashed the party, waving hellfire-and-brimstone signs and warning that the people in the gathering were headed for Hell and must repent their wicked ways. In photographs and accompanying essay, Moore captured both the simple scenes of communal celebration and the reality of the conflict between two groups of people adamantly opposed to each other’s world views.



MUSIC: MAHLER, METALLICA, AND THE MODERN ORCHESTRA


Left: Gustav Mahler in 1907, via Wikimedia Commons. Right: Metallica performing March 3, 2021 on the Super Bowl edition of “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.” Photo: Brett Murray/mettalica.com

BEHIND FACADES: DAVID DANZMAYR, CONTINUED. Charles Rose continues his conversation with the new music director and chief conductor of the Oregon Symphony Orchestra (you can read Part 1 of their conversation here), who’ll make his bow in his new position on Oct. 2, conducting Mahler’s Second Symphony, when the orchestra returns after a long Covid layoff to begin its new season in the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. This time around Rose and Danzmayr talk about rage, suffering, authenticity, influences, and the intriguing parallels between “big” Romantic music such as Mahler and heavy metal. “The biggest composers were influenced by what’s around them,” Danzmayr declares. “You should use the cultural influences that you have! … Nirvana, Metallica, Rage Against the Machine really influenced me growing up. And in some way it influenced my taste in classical music. It’s the same as when I have a Beethoven symphony with the rage or a Mahler symphony with the suffering. It is unbelievable to me to this day that over so many years and times, the frustrations, passions, and emotional content of human life seems to be pretty significantly similar.” 

BIG TENT, BIG INVESTMENT, BIG DREAMS. Lori Tobias writes about the Lincoln City Cultural Center’s July series of concerts coming up in a giant,  4,150-square-foot tent being set up on the cultural center grounds. It’s all part of a push to ignite interest in the center’s $2.5 million project “to elevate the cultural center’s plaza to a traffic-stopping attraction in its own right.” The center, along U.S. 101, is in the handsome old Delake School building, which still looks like a school. The new plaza, organizers hope, will help attract visitors and make it look like what it is: a thriving community space for culture and the arts. 

Bassoonist Carin Miller Packwood, celebrating with cellist Kevin Kunkel, at the next-to-last Classical Up Close concert. Photo: Joe Cantrell

CLASSICAL UP CLOSE: WRAPPING IT ALL UP. The chamber company of musicians, most from the Oregon Symphony Orchestra, has been in the vanguard of Oregon’s tentative return to live performances, conducting a two-week festival of free outdoor concerts in parks, driveways, and yards across the Portland metropolitan area. Classical Up Close exists to get the music out of the concert halls and into relaxed and unexpected places where people hang out, and this month’s festival, while keeping everything outdoors, did just that. Inspired by photographer Joe Cantrell’s quest to visually document all 14 concerts, ArtsWatch followed the festival closely, publishing nine stories that focused on how it felt for musicians and audiences to share music once again in real time and real space. The final three:



THEATER & MORE: FROM VANPORT MOSAIC TO BLAQ OUT


Phillip Ray Guevara and baby Isa star in The –Ism Project’s filmed drama “Ofelio: A Borderline Story,” part of the Vanport Mosaic Festival. Photo: Tricia Casteneda-Gonzales

THE VANPORT MOSAIC FESTIVAL, which began in late May, continues with a blend of virtual and in-person events focusing on remembering and commemorating “equality, diversity, justice, dignity, and truth” as they’ve played out in Oregon over the years and now. It’s building up to a grand closing weekend of multiple events June 25-27 in Portland’s North Park Blocks, and in the meantime has plenty more going on. On Saturday, June 19, at the Echo Theater in Portland’s Hawthorne District, MediaRites’ The –Ism Project will present four short films about people being caught in cultural crossfires. The project began a few years ago as a series of short live plays, and has transitioned during Covid to film. Saturday’s show will include the premiere of Andrew Siañez-De La O’s Ofelio: A Borderline Story, about a former Border Patrol guard, now the father of a baby, who as he cares for his child “is haunted by the faces of children who were detained at the border.”

Rehearsing “Apologies to Lorraine Hansberry (You Too, August Wilson)” for the BlaQ Out festival (clockwise from top left): Treasure Lunan, Gabie Mbenza-Ngoma, Cris Eli Black, Tyler Andrew Jones, Brianna Freeman, and Shareen Jacobs.

STAGE & STUDIO: BLAQ OUT BLOOMS. In her newest Stage & Studio podcast on ArtsWatch, Dmae Roberts (who’s also the driving force behind MediaRites and The –Ism Project, featured this week at Vanport Mosaic, above) talks with James R. Dixon and Tyler Andrew Jones, producers of the new BlaQ Out theater festival. BlaQ Out, an incubator for Black/Queer theater, is presented by Fuse Theatre Ensemble and The OUTwright Theatre Festival, and will present three shows: Jarrett McCreary’s The Children of Edgar and Nina, Roger Q. Mason’s The White Dress, and Rachel Lynett’s Apologies to Lorraine Hansberry (You Too, August Wilson)


Oregon Arts Watch Filmwatch Marc Mohan

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About the author
Senior Editor

Bob Hicks has been writing about arts and culture in the Pacific Northwest since 1978, including 25 years at The Oregonian. Among his art books are Kazuyuki OhtsuJames B. Thompson: Fragments in Time; and Beth Van Hoesen: Fauna and Flora. His work has appeared in American Theatre, Biblio, Professional Artist, Northwest Passage, Prologue, Art Scatter, and elsewhere. He also writes the daily art-history series “Today I Am.”

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