Spot On: Alberta, where you been so long?

By Patrick Collier

The headline question might very well be turned around on me. My prepared answer: I’m too old and live too far away. Those at least are reasons enough for me to avoid Last Thursdays on Alberta. Apparently though, I’m curmudgeonly as well, because I will admit to letting a once-monthly event keep me out of that part of Portland most other times. My loss, and I know it, so add pathetic to my list of flaws.

OK, maybe not that last one. I’m trying to rectify the situation.

I am in Portland most Thursdays, which is not always the best day to see art at some of the city’s alternative spaces, as they are typically open only on weekends. One such gallery is Appendix Project Space. Operated as a group curatorial effort by Joshua Pavlacky, Zachary Davis, Travis Fitzgerald and Alex Mackin Dolan, the exhibition space is in a two-car garage on an alley between 26th and 27th Avenues on the south side of Alberta. I have followed their programming via their website for some time now, and just from that I can tell they show some of the most innovative and challenging work this city has seen.

Knowing that I would be in their hood to run some errands, and having met Zachary Davis when we served together on a jury panel for an art exhibit, I contacted him and he graciously met me at the space so I could see Bea Fremderman’s sculpture installation, “S,M,L,XL.”

Bea Fremderman’s exhibition “S, M, L, XL” at Appendix Gallery Space

Fremderman’s sculpture, in a word—not meant to be disparaging—is slick: clean, well-crafted, and appropriately displayed with attention to details. Using materials discarded from office renovations, she has created a group of pieces, some more crafted than others, that adhere closely to their found-ness. Like limbs to a phantom cubicle, they do well against the stark white gallery walls. Meant in part as a critique of the organizational structure of the workplace, perhaps the door-stopper was my favorite piece in this regard. Installed on the wall at a height just above my thirty-inch inseam, I would suggest it might have been more appropriate to place it a bit higher in order to represent those rising stars of mid-management decision-making, the all-male Six-Foot-Two Club.

Echoing each other in materiality or in response to the space, the bulk of sculpture blend in a way that gives testament to a very organized, considered installation. Only the window-like piece on the floor stands on its own. Not so much a window as part of a plaster wall and a window shade mounted to a frame, it acts as sculpture, painting and artifact, its construction also providing a quiet visual/spatial commentary on the bright white walls on three sides of Appendix.

Although I was not familiar with the artist, there was something immediately recognizable in her work.

“She’s from Chicago.” Davis offered.

Nice hunch. But that’s all it was, perhaps based on my familiarity with a number of artists, artists who teach. In my research, I discovered that Fremderman just received her BFA from the School of the Art Institute in Chicago. Quite an impressive résumé as well.

Davis and I then talked a bit about Chicago, or rather, he tagged along as I took him down my Memory Lane. He then informed me that Appendix will be showing two more artists from Chicago in upcoming months. He thinks there is a sister-city-like aesthetic connection between Portland and Chicago. Not surprising, as some of the first artists I met after moving here studied at SAIC, I have reviewed other Chicago artists who have shown in Portland, and a friend of mine, Scott Wolniak, who lives and teaches in Chicago, shows at Chambers @ 916. Wolniak, by the way, ran a space in Chicago for a number of years called Suitable Gallery… wait for it… out of his garage. Weird, huh?

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I’ve noticed very few alleyways in Portland, unlike Chicago where they are part and parcel, as well as a treasure trove for artists and other salvagers. The alley leading to Appendix didn’t disappoint and made for some decent photos.

Given that a number of previous “Spot On” columns have included items about photography exhibits, one might get the impression that I have a soft spot for the medium. In fact, I do, which is why I should have made Ampersand Vintage on Alberta a must-see/shop a long time ago. Prepare to be overwhelmed by the sheer amount of visual stimuli in this gallery/store, and figure on spending some serious time plus a fair bit of cash on books and photos. I managed to restrain myself and opted for Josef Albers’ quintessential book, “Interaction of Color.”

The title for this month’s exhibit at Ampersand is “B Sides,” and is a bit tongue-in-cheek in that the show includes work by Corey Arnold, Clayton Cotterell, Todd Hido, Ron Jude, Raymond Meeks, Shawn Records, Tatum Shaw and Alec Soth, all accomplished photographers. Other than the fact that these works didn’t make the cut for publications or exhibitions elsewhere, I can’t imagine “B Sides” is meant to be a thematic group show. And in that, there is most likely something for everyone.

Clayton Cotterell, “Stir Stick” at Ampersand Vintage

It may be that the Albers book was foremost in my mind upon a second return visit, for it was Cotterell’s photo, “Stir Stick” that pulled me in. On one hand, a simple exercise in color and geometry, it also contains a more complex narrative of process. The yellow on the stick is set against the red-brown of the kraft paper used to protect the floor. It is the same yellow with which the wall has been painted, yet somehow seems brighter against the paper and darker against the kickboard. We are also forced to assess the harmony of the blue on the stick against the yellow of the wall. Classic Albers.

The stir stick has been used twice, maximizing its particular size. We imagine a hand (wary of splinters) positioned on the bare wood, especially on the second stir, so as to escape getting paint on the hand. Two drips of blue paint cross the bare wood. One drip of yellow traverses the blue to let us know the blue was stirred and likely used first, perhaps to paint something else in the room but outside of our view. Nevertheless, we assess how well the blue and yellow “go together.” Lastly, we note the blue was used at a time sufficiently in the past to make it safe to lean the stick that then becomes the C-squared for the gradually diffused shadow it casts.

If time and word count allowed, I would tell you about the ambitious publishing program the proprietor of Ampersand, Myles Haselhorst, has going. Instead, I will leave it go with a pronouncement: Ampersand is a critical piece of the photography community in Portland and brings a level of sophistication to its neighborhood that should be cherished by both Last Thursday party people and photography aficionados alike.

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Book lovers unite!

No reason to write that previous sentence, really, except the preceding paragraph seems so enthusiastic. Yes, the book publishing industry is going through some interestingly tough times, and for art-related publications, the situation may be more dire despite all of the self-publishing done online. While the latter may make our options multiply by some substantial exponent, when on the hunt for books that will fit your bookshelf for over-sized tomes or make a desired statement on a coffee table, it helps to have purveyors like Ampersand, and their near-neighbor, Monograph Bookwerks, do the wheat-vs-chaff sorting for us.

The book Blair Saxon-Hill was reading at Monograph Bookwerks.

Monograph takes a more generalized approach to art books than Ampersand. As I flip through must-haves, and sigh as I replace them on the shelves, Monograph’s co-owner, the artist Blair Saxon-Hill, seems to be aware of this customer’s internal struggle against the temptation to spend. More librarian than salesperson, she doesn’t pressure, yet is quick to suggest five other books of a similar vein. Her knowledge and attitude are appreciated.

Still, I don’t walk away empty-handed. Initially looking for examples of asemic writing, I settle on exhibition catalogues for two of my all-time favorite artists, Tàpies and Motherwell.

And then I go and spoil it all by asking something stupid like, “What is your favorite book in the store?”

While I may be forgiven my giddiness, we both know the question is both inane and a bit asinine, but her answer is not: “Whatever I am thinking about at the moment.”

This response does not come from a luxury afforded but instead an active mind, something that she, the Appendix people and Haselhorst at Ampersand all have in common. And it is enough to make me return to the Alberta neighborhood in search of like souls, whatever day of the week or time of day it might be.

Note:

Tightening the Alberta circle a bit more, Zachary Davis has an exhibit of his work at FalseFront Studio that opens August 30.

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