Arvie Smith

Tumbling statues, voices heard

ArtsWatch Weekly: A culture in crisis clashes over the past; a museum reopens; photos & films; singing amid the vines; a bookstore steps out

THE BIG NEWS IN PORTLAND THIS WEEK has been Sunday night’s downtown rumble through the cultural district, a highly focused and rigorously carried out protest – declared by its organizers to be an Indigenous People’s Day of Rage – in which activists toppled public statues of Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt, vandalized the Oregon Historical Society to the tune of an estimated $25,000 or more, did lesser damage outside the Portland Art Museum and at Portland State University, smashed store windows, and shot bullets inside an empty restaurant. Police declared the protest a riot, but took no action until after the damage was done. And the story was immediately picked up by President Donald Trump, who tweeted his desire to rush federal officers into the Portland fray. “Put these animals in jail, now,” he tweeted, referring to the protesters, and quickly followed up: “Law & Order! Portland, call in the Feds!”

David Manuel’s “The Promised Land” was controversial when it was installed in 1993 and is even more controversial now after months of racial and political unrest. It was removed for safekeeping from downtown Portland’s Chapman Square in July.

ArtsWatch’s Laurel Reed Pavic was working on a story about the issue of politically and mythologically charged public monuments and how to deal with them when cultural values and understandings of history shift. She quickly updated her analysis after Lincoln and Roosevelt – not the most obvious of targets, although each had specific issues about Indigenous rights – came tumbling down. The symbolic overthrow of monuments, she notes in her essay After the Statues Come Down, is nothing new: “Defacing or damaging public art has always gone hand-in-hand with putting it up in the first place. It happened in the city-states of ancient Mesopotamia and continues to happen today. The visual impact of a former leader face-down on the pavement hasn’t lessened over the past 5,000 years.”

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The arts: After the deluge, what?

ArtsWatch Weekly: Planning for a post-Covid Oregon cultural scene; pancakes and the art of dissent; good things come in multiples

AS OREGON HESITANTLY REEMERGES FROM ITS LONG COCOONING – baby steps, everyone: take it cautiously, and wear your masks – it’s not too early to think about what the “new normal” might look like for the state’s arts and cultural organizations. A couple of highly respected onlookers have been considering the changed landscape long and deep, and while they disagree on some fundamental issues, on one thing they’re in accord: It’s highly unlikely that enough money will be available to support everyone in the manner to which they’d like to be accustomed.

What to do, then, when financial push comes to shove?

Fear No Music playing music by Middle Eastern and emigrant-diaspora composers at The Old Church Concert Hall: Will the future of arts in Oregon by small and adaptable? Photo © John Rudoff/2017

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The Artists Series 3: Visual Artists

Ten portraits in black and white by K.B. Dixon of Oregon artists who are helping to define what Portland and the state look like


TEXT AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY K.B. DIXON


This is the third installment of portraits in The Artist Series. The first two focused on Oregon writers. This one focuses on visual artists—the gifted painters and sculptors who have made invaluable contributions to the character and culture of this city and state, people whose legacies are destined to be part of our cultural history.            

It would take pages to catalog the awards, commissions, and honors of these artists and color reproductions of their work to provide a full appreciation of their wizardry so I will simply refer you to their various perches in cyberspace—their virtual ateliers.


LEE KELLY: SCULPTOR



Kelly is one of the most revered artists in the Pacific Northwest. He is best known for his monumental public sculptures. These large pieces are “often animalistic, sometimes suggestive of calligraphy or Asian script, always poetic.” – Bob Hicks, ArtScatter.

Examples of Kelly’s work can be found at the Elizabeth Leach Gallery and at lee-kelly.net.

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Art review: Beneath the surface seductions

Disjecta and Upfor dive into difficult and dark waters with work by Arvie Smith, Pinar Yoldas, and Iyvone Khoo

 January is named for Janus, the double-faced Roman god who was able to look simultaneously at the past and the future. Given this etymological foundation, it seems appropriate that two stand-out shows in Portland this month grapple with the legacy of the past and the possibilities for the future: Disjecta has works by Arvie Smith in 2 Up and 2 Back and Upfor Gallery has works by Pinar Yoldas and Iyvone Khoo in The Absence of Myth.

At first blush, the shows are so different that the juxtaposition seems bizarre: Smith’s large, warm-toned paintings at Disjecta are chock-full of identifiable figures and symbols while the sculptures, prints, and video works at Upfor are captivating but less immediately familiar. Khoo’s materials include bioluminescent algae, fluorescent coral, and marine debris. Yoldas makes two- and three-dimensional prints of a cast of deities inspired by Greek mythology but that she describes as “designer babies.” What the works of the three artists have in common, however, is a visual seduction that gives way to repulsion that then transitions to big questions about humanity and complicity and responsibility.

What meets the eye is one thing, the “more” is cavernous.

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Turkish-born Yoldas boasts an impressive list of academic credentials. Currently a professor in the Visual Arts department at the University of California, San Diego, her research interests exceed the confines of art and design and blur into the biological sciences. The sculpted figures she makes don’t advertise this expertise at first glance. I was far too taken in by the glossy resin surfaces, undulating forms, and delicate filigree to consider any scientific underpinnings. But as I continued to look and looked closer at the figures themselves, it emerged that something was off: the faces are too contoured, the eyes too almond-shaped, the limbs turn into paddles or the shoulders into armored spikes. Several reminded me of sculptures from Amarna-period Egypt when the canon of representation that had been in place for thousands of years was discarded to accommodate a new religion. 

Pinar Yoldas, Aegeria the river goddess (2019) 3D printed Vero resin. Photo: Adam Simmons, courtesy of Upfor

Prints on the walls on black gridded or tessellated backgrounds show variations of the same figures. The backgrounds emphasize the “design” component of the figures; these forms aren’t meant to appear organic but instead painstakingly fashioned according to a master program. This, it turns out, is the influence of Yoldas’ scientific background. A booklet available in the gallery gives data and backstory for each figure, and flipping through the ethical implications begin to multiply.

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In the Frame 4: Culture now

In a fourth collection of images, K.B. Dixon continues his photographic portraiture series of Oregon arts and cultural leaders

Text and Photographs by K.B. DIXON

“The portrait,” said legendary photographer Arnold Newman, “is a form of biography. Its purpose is to inform now and to record for history.” It is hard to imagine a better, more succinct summation of the genre.

The portraits informing and recording here are the latest in a series titled In the Frame—a survey of the talented and dedicated people whose contributions to the art, character, and culture of this city have made it what it is today, people whose work has become part of our collective consciousness, whose various legacies are destined to be part of our cultural heritage.

As with the previous portraits in this series, I have tried to produce first a decent photograph—a photograph that acknowledges the medium’s allegiance to reality as its primal source of strength but one that is more than simple transcription—a photograph that presents a feeling as well as a form, one that preserves for myself and others a faithful representation of its subject.

 


 

Steve Wax

First U.S. Federal Public Defender for the District of Oregon and now Legal Director of the Oregon Innocence Project.

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