Western States Arts Federation

Live shows & Hunter Biden’s art

ArtsWatch Weekly: Performances all over; a presidential son and the art market; a hoop star's big art gift.

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THE GRAND REOPENING CONTINUES, inside, outside, sometimes in a park. After almost a year and a half of coronavirus shutdowns and occasional virtual productions, Oregon’s performing arts world is climbing back on the boards and putting on a show. Several shows, in fact. Here are just a few that might nudge you out of your home bunker and back into the semi-bustling crowd:

  • Westside Shakespeare Festival. Experience Theatre Project is back in Elizabethan action with a free outdoor festival this weekend – Friday-Sunday, July 16-18 – on the south lawn of  Beaverton Library. There’ll be Renaissance dancers, wandering minstrels, a 1591-style cursing contest (!), sword-fighting demonstrations, general Shagspurian frolicking, and performances at 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday of the amusingly irreverent yet oddly affectionate comic theatrical riff The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged). Beyond the free stuff, you can plop down a few shillings and chow down like Sir John Falstaff and Sir Toby Belch at Saturday’s Queen’s Feast. Later in July and August, the festival’s Complete Works will tour to a trio of Oregon wineries.
     
  • Bag&Baggage goes Elizabethan. Hillsboro’s adventurous theater company gets back into the live-performance saddle by going one step beyond in the Shakespeare sweepstakes with a fresh production of The Complete Works of Willam Shakespeare (abridged) [Revised]! (Note the addition of that [Revised].) The free shows began last week and will continue tonight, July 15, at Shute Park, then Saturday-Sunday at Tom Hughes Civic Center Plaza, and July 22-25 at Hidden Creek Community Center.
     
  • Ashland swings back into action. The Oregon Shakespeare Festival, birth mother of all things Shakespearean in Oregon, is finally back on stage with a live show – but it’s not by Shakespeare. Instead, the reopener in the open-air Allen Elizabethan Theatre is Cheryl L. West’s Fannie: The Music and Life of Fannie Lou Hamer, a celebration of the leading civil rights activist and one of the organizers of the Freedom Summer of 1964. The show continues through Oct. 9.
     
  • Lots at The Lot at Zidell Yards. The new outdoor performance spot on Portland’s Southwest Waterfront continues with a round of live shows this weekend: veteran soul outfit Ural Thomas and the Pain on Friday the 16th; the popular Y La Bamba for a pair of shows on Saturday the 17th; Portland Cello Project and the Extreme Cello Summer Dance Party Extravaganza (yes, cellos can be taken to extremes) on Sunday the 18th.
     
  • MOMENTUM & Old Moody Stages. Next Wednesday, July 21, DanceWire kicks off a mini-festival of performances and classes by a broad variety of dancers in a broad variety of styles at Zidell Yards. Check the link for details on who, what, and when: The dancing continues through Saturday, July 24.
     
  • Analog & Vinyl at Broadway Rose. The musical-theater experts at Tigard’s Broadway Rose continue their live production (you can also see it via stream) through Aug. 1 of Analog & Vinyl, an upbeat musical comedy with a twist about a vintage record shop owner who “is obsessed with LPs while hipster Rodeo Girl is obsessed with him,” and the mysterious stranger who drops in on them with a devilish proposition.
Alec Cameron Lugo, Molly Duddlesten, and Jessica Brandes in “Analog & Vinyl” at Broadway Rose Theatre Company. Photo: Mark Daniels

Hunter Biden and the case of the high-priced art

ONE OF THE ARTS WORLD’S BIGGEST FLAPS in the past week came from news of the high prices being asked for artworks by President Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, who’s lately decided to make his living as a painter. Georges Bergès, Hunter Biden’s dealer, has placed the younger Biden’s art at prices ranging from $75,000 for works on paper to $500,000 for large paintings – extraordinary prices for a johnny-come-lately to the art world. The question that rises immediately is, Who’s buying? Collectors who genuinely love his work? Investors betting the prices will go even higher? Foreign governments or lobbyists hoping to buy influence with the Administration?

In an effort to quell the possibility of the latter, the White House has announced something akin to a blind-sale agreement: Hunter Biden’s gallery will handle all sales, and the identities of the buyers will not be revealed to either the artist or the White House. (Nothing I’ve seen says the buyers can’t announce their purchases themselves, but it’s possible the non-disclosure requirement will be a part of the sales agreement.)

A flower painting by Hunter Biden. Image via Instagram

Curious, I looked online for images of some of Hunter Biden’s paintings. Biden declares that although he’s a newcomer to the art world and has no formal training he’s been drawing seriously since he was a child, and at least online, his paintings aren’t bad: fairly accomplished abstractions that wouldn’t be at all out of place on the walls of reputable art galleries, although with vastly lower price tags. And capitalizing on a relative’s power or fame is an old game, from the “Billy Beer” entrepreneurship of Jimmy Carter’s brother to Ivanka Trump’s vigorous business ventures. Margaret Truman, Harry’s daughter, embarked on a singing career (and her father the president threatened to punch a Washington Post critic in the nose over a negative review). FDR’s son Elliott Roosevelt wrote a series of detective novels in which his mother, Eleanor, was the detective-heroine.
 
At a certain level of ambition or achievement pretty much every politician and her mother-in-law has written at least one book, most of which rack up sales vastly out of proportion with their literary prowess. And several powerful politicians have dabbled in painting. Winston Churchill was a talented, if traditional, amateur, and surely the name of the artist had a good deal to do with the $11.5 million paid recently for one of his paintings when Angelina Jolie had it put up for auction. George W. Bush relaxes in his post-presidential life by painting, and has published a couple of books of his work, including one which consists of admiring portraits of U.S. immigrants (a body of work that could be interpreted as a rebuke to the shrill anti-immigrant policies of the 45th president).
 
Still: $500,000 for a painting by the president’s son, who only recently took up the trade? What such prices may underline is that the difference between art and the high-end art market can be as irrational and astoundingly huge as the difference between the actual economy and the Wall Street economy. And it suggests that, in this case, the White House might have things backward. It’s too late – the cat’s already out of the bag – but here’s a modest proposal for what might have been. Instead of insisting that the buyers be anonymous, maybe the artist should have been anonymous, or creating under a different name. Why not take “Hunter Biden” out of the equation, at least until his father’s out of the White House, and let the art find its natural economic level?


The week: photo giants, memory fade, mixed & remixed

Left: Portrait of Stu Levy by Joni Kabana, 2013. Photo courtesy Stu LevyRight: Portrait of Ansel Adams by J. Malcom Greany, first published in the 1950 Yosemite Field School yearbook.

ADAMS & LEVY ~ IN THEIR TIME. Art and knowledge are carried forward generation by generation, often by the older teaching the younger personally. In a pair of brief biographical sketches and a long interview with Portland photographer Stu Levy, Pat Rose tells the fascinating story of Levy’s professional and personal relationship with the great wilderness photographer and environmentalist Ansel Adams. In addition to forging his own distinguished career, Levy makes a point of passing along what he’s learned, as Adams once did with him. Adams, Levy notes, “taught me the difference between taking a photograph (an external, impersonal exercise) and making a photograph (an interpretive, personal exercise).” Meanwhile, the exhibition Ansel Adams in Our Time continues through Aug. 1 at the Portland Art Museum.

ART OUTSIDE: THE CHICKENS HAVE LEFT THE BUILDING. Jennifer Rabin shakes off the vestigial remains of pre-vaccine torpor and ventures out to 1122 Outside, a backyard gallery in Portland’s South Tabor neighborhood that includes in its space an old, cleaned-up chicken coop. “That’s my favorite part,” gallery co-owner Jen Denrow tells Rabin, “when artists come over and start to imagine how they can use the space. We focus heavily on process—if an artist is working on something and they want to try something out.” Partner Lauren Schaefer adds: “There’s even potential for pieces that work even better outside. We work with people who want to be weird or want to experiment.” 

AN OPERATIC FADE OF MEMORY. Chamber Music Northwest is off and running into a brave new season of live indoor performances and streamed concerts, and one of the festival’s highlights so far this season has been its premiere of Marc Neikrug’s chamber opera A Song by Mahler, which had a single live performance a little over a week ago and will be available to stream July 20-Aug. 31. It’s a tough, dramatic tale about a singer being overtaken by Alzheimer’s, and as Bennett Campbell Ferguson writes in his review, parts of it can seem “almost too much to bear.” Prepare yourself emotionally before you see it, he advises: “What is clear is that, like Mahler, Neikrug is heroically committed to finding meaning beyond beauty and youth.”

Kelly Markgraf and Jennifer Johnson Cano in the premiere performance of “A Song by Mahler” at Chamber Music Northwest, with clarinetist David Shifrin. Photo: Tom Emerson

FILMWATCH WEEKLY: PORTLAND’S ‘PIG,’ PLUS ‘ROADRUNNER’ & ‘MAMA WEED.’ Marc Mohan praises Nicolas Cage’s “ability to approach absurdity with complete earnestness,” this time in the made-in-Portland Pig, about a hermit truffle-hunter who comes to Portland in search of the porcine companion somebody pignapped. “There’s no winking, no irony in his portrayal of a bedraggled, bloody-faced mumbler whose mantra is ‘Who took my pig?’,” Mohan writes. “Eventually, it wins you over and you end up caring about someone who could easily have been a caricature.” Also: a piercing documentary about Anthony Bourdain; a problematic but darkly comic caper starring Isabelle Huppert.

LARA DOWNES: BEAUTY IN THE DARKNESS. Brett Campbell writes a long and revealing profile of Downes, the California pianist and activist who brought a sense of contemporary cultural urgency to this year’s Oregon Bach Festival in Eugene. About a year ago, amid the pandemic and Black Lives Matter protests, she left her Sacramento home for the first time, Campbell writes: The child of a Black father from Harlem and a white mother from Akron who’d met at a San Francisco sit-in protest, “She’d long championed the work of composers of color, and worked on behalf of social justice. Now, returning from the demonstrations, she felt inspired despite the turmoil: people were coming together in solidarity against injustice. She grabbed an old cassette recorder and started playing music written by Black composers during earlier times of trouble and transformation.” Those tapes became the basis for several releases. As Campbell quotes her, “Beautiful things can come out of difficulty.” 

STAGE & STUDIO: HEIDI DURROW. Peabody Award winner Dmae Roberts’ podcast interview with the writer Durrow is her tenth written and spoken feature since bringing her Stage & Studio podcast to ArtsWatch in March, and her work has added great breadth and versatility to what we offer. She’s interviewed costume designer deluxe Wanda Walden; conceptual artist Roberta Wong; the brilliant Indigenous artist Lillian Pitt; recent creative laureate Subashini Ganesan-Forbes; theater director Desdemona Chiang; gay Taiwanese-American fimmaker (and mountain climber) Devin Fei-Fan Tau; Vanport Mosaic founders Laura Lo Forti and Damaris Webb; James Dixon and Tyler Andrew Jones of the new BlaQ Out incubator for Black/queer theater; and Sarah Jane Hardy and Marcella Crowson, artistic leaders of Portland’s two most prominent children’s theaters. Like Downes, Durrow – who graduated from Portland’s Jefferson High School, wrote the novel The Girl Who Fell From the Sky, and is keynote speaker for this year’s Willamette Writers Conference – is biracial: Daughter of a Danish woman and a Black American serviceman, she calls herself an Afro-Viking. She talks with Roberts about her Portland roots, her activism, and her Mixed Race life.  

Left: Pianist and activist Lara Downes, who brought a pair of virtual mini-concerts to this year’s Oregon Bach Festival in Eugene. Right: Onetime Portlander Heidi Durrow, author of the novel “The Girl Who Fell From the Sky,” a keynote speaker at this year’s Willamette Writers Conference.

 

From Carmelo Anthony, high hoops & big bucks for art

Visiting students at the Portland Art Museum gather below Kehinde Wiley’s 2017 painting Indio Cuauhtemoc (World Stage: Brazil); oil on canvas, 107 x 83 x 3″, Collection of Arlene and Harold Schnitzer. © Kehinde Wiley. Portland Trail Blazer star Carmelo Anthony has directed a $100,000 gift via the NBA to the museum for its Black Art and Experiences program. Photo courtesy Portland Art Museum.

BLAZERS STAR CARMELO ANTHONY NOMINATES PAM FOR $100,000 PRIZE SUPPORTING BLACK ART AND EXPERIENCES. Basketball, with its combination of swiftness, fluidity, precision, and extraordinary physical dexterity, seems to have a close affinity to dance. But it’s a sport of considerable artistry, too, and art was on the mind of Portland Trail Blazer star and probable future Hall of Famer Carmelo Anthony last week when he directed a $100,000 donation from the National Basketball Association to the Portland Art Museum for its Black Art and Experiences initiative. Anthony is the winner of the league’s first Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Social Justice Champion award “in recognition of his work for civil rights, Black empowerment, and racial equality,” and with the award came the right to choose a nonprofit organization for the $100,000 donation. The museum’s Black Art initiative, a significant start in its rethinking of how it interacts with its community, has already paid deep dividends, including the recent Hank Willis Thomas: All Things Being Equal … show. Carrie Mae Weems, the terrific photographer and artist who was born in Portland, recently joined the museum’s board of trustees. And in October 2022, the museum initiative will help bring to Oregon viewers a potentially knockout exhibit, Black Artists in Oregon, guest-curated by the outstanding Portland artist and photographer Intisar Abioto. A very large thank-you and tip of the hat to Mr. Anthony: Keep the dance flowing and the shots rattling in.


Art Beyond: Hiking boots, J. Edgar Hoover, oceans of art

Avantika Bawa’s “A Yellow Scaffold on the Ranch” (2021), installed as part of Ashland’s Art Beyond, “stands out from the surrounding organic shapes and natural colors, a contrast which constantly shifts attention between the work and the landscape and back again,” Georgina Ruff writes.

ART OUTSIDE: HIKING BOOTS OPTIONAL BUT RECOMMENDED. It’s big, it’s bold, it’s outdoors: Art Beyond, a project of Ashland’s Schneider Museum of Art, takes artists and art lovers out of the galleries and into the great outdoors for large-scale installations in five sites – two in town, three in the surrounding countryside. “Viewers of the show can choose adventure levels ranging from the literal bunny slope of a ski resort to the ‘black diamond’ of winding mountain roads,” Georgina Ruff writes. Exploring the sites is a rich and varied adventure – and at times, an arduous one: Wear those hiking boots! “Discovery is a key component of the Art Beyond adventure,” Ruff says; “maps and instructions are scant, but wandering inquisitively around the sites quickly yields rewards.” The show officially closes on Sunday, July 18, but some of the installations will stay up longer.

J. EDGAR HOOVER: POLITICAL SMARTS & UGLY TIES. Lori Tobias conducts a fascinating interview with Nehalem writer Paul Letersky, whose new book The Director: My Years Assisting J. Edgar Hoover tells the tale of Letersky’s eight years in the FBI during the late 1960s and early ’70s, most of that time as part of Hoover’s personal staff, during the twilight of Hoover’s long and controversial career. It’s an inside look at Hoover’s excesses and achievements during tense cultural and political times: “We really thought we were doing what we did for the better good. … We had authority and we violated that authority.” Letersky calls Hoover, who reigned over the FBI for 48 years, “the greatest bureaucrat of all time.” The ties? They were gifts from Hoover. They were silk. They were Italian. They were expensive. They were ugly. “I’ve never worn them.”

YACHATS’ LAUGHING CRAB GALLERY PREPARES TO SCUTTLE SOUTH. In a piece first published at YachatsNews.com. Cheryl Romano tells a tale of art and real estate: With their building in the seaside town of Yachats being sold and their lease uncertain, the gallery’s owners decided to move a few miles south to a bigger space on the Florence bayfront, where they expect to reopen in August.


THE OCEAN GOES TO THE OCEAN. No, it’s not like hauling coals to Newcastle. One ocean is, well, the ocean. The other ocean is a wave of paintings of the ocean — little slices of water and coastline, each 2 x 4 feet, part of a long-term project whose goal is to create an artistic representation from every mile of the Pacific coastline from the Mexican border to the Canadian border. It’s called For the Seventh Generation, and it’s been an obsession of the Elisabeth Jones Art Center and its director, John Teply, for years: ArtsWatch wrote about it here in 2018. Next week, July 21-24, almost a half-mile swath of paintings by a variety of artists will snake across the lawns of the Lincoln City Cultural Center, creating a “pano-mural” of paintings that, like the ocean itself, can feel hypnotic. The project has a larger meaning, too – the health of the oceanic ecosystem. “Without our strong environmental conscience and a voice to express it, threats to the ocean will be left unchallenged and its health subject to the whims and manipulations of politics and industry,” Teply declares. “This project, extending through the 21st century, provides such a voice.”

A single 2 x 4-foot painting from one mile of the Pacific coastline somewhere along the 1,320 miles between the Mexican and Canadian borders; part of the “For the Seventh Generation” outdoor installation at the Lincoln City Cultural Center.

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Bob Hicks

Bob Hicks

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

Bob Hicks

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

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