Hank Willis Thomas

In praise of Ramona & ‘Lonesome Dove’

ArtsWatch Weekly: Remembering Beverly Cleary, Larry McMurtry, and composer Stephen Scott; revolutions & the way things change

HERE AT ARTSWATCH WE LIKE TO LOOK FORWARD: Where are our culture and its art taking us? But culture is a cumulative thing, and every present and future is built upon a past – on the people and beliefs and events and achievements that have shaped us. They amplify us and help explain us to ourselves. So today we pause to honor three storytellers who have left us recently, but whose memories and achievements remain a part of us: the children’s novelist and memoirist Beverly Cleary; the novelist of Western life and culture Larry McMurtry; and the musical innovator Stephen Scott, known for his “bowed piano” compositions.

Author Beverly Cleary with her tabby cat, Kitty, in 1955. Photo: Cleary Family Archive

BEVERLY CLEARY, CREATOR of the wonderful world of Ramona Quimby and Henry Huggins and the scintillating cast of extraordinarily ordinary kids living extraordinarily ordinary lives in a somewhat antique yet eventful-in-an-everyday-sort-of-way Northeast Portland neighborhood, died last Thursday at the almost biblical age of 104 (she would’ve been 105 on April 12). Her loss is felt not just in her native Oregon but anywhere and everywhere you might bump into a gang of kids, a teacher, a librarian, or a couple of parents happy to see their kids absorbed in the mysteries and delights of a good book. Cleary was born in McMinnville and spent her early years on a farm near Yamhill and then moved with her family to the Portland neighborhood that became the epicenter of action in a string of children’s novels that for verve and wit and imagination beat the pants off most anything assigned in class.

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Going, going, gone: 2019 in review

A look back at the ups and downs and curious side trips of the year on Oregon's cultural front

What a year, right? End of the teens, start of the ’20s, and who knows if they’ll rattle or roar?

But today we’re looking back, not ahead. Let’s start by getting the big bad news out of the way. One thing’s sure in Oregon arts and cultural circles: 2019’s the year the state’s once-fabled craft scene took another staggering punch square on the chin. The death rattles of the Oregon College of Art and Craft – chronicled deeply by ArtsWatch’s Barry Johnson in a barrage of news stories and analyses spiced with a couple of sharp commentaries, Democracy and the arts and How dead is OCAC? – were heard far and wide, and the college’s demise unleashed a flood of anger and lament.

The crashing and burning of the venerable craft college early in the year followed the equally drawn-out and lamented closure of Portland’s nationally noted Museum of Contemporary Craft in 2016, leaving the state’s lively crafts scene without its two major institutions. In both cases the sense that irreversible decisions were being made with scant public input, let alone input from crafters themselves, left much of the craft community fuming. When, after the closure, ArtsWatch published a piece by the craft college’s former president, Denise Mullen, the fury hit the fan with an outpouring of outraged online comments, most by anonymous posters with obvious connections to the school.

Vanessa German, no admittance apply at office, 2016, mixed media assemblage, 70 x 30 x 16 inches, in the opening exhibit of the new Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art at Portland State University. Photo: Spencer Rutledge, courtesy PSU

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ArtsWatch Weekly: Sugar plums & what music means

Hip-hop haven, profiles in gender, Loverules at the museum, gallery tips, a new opera, un-holiday tunes, gibassiers and more


MUSIC MAY BE THE FOOD OF LOVE, AS SHAKESPEARE’S DUKE ORSINO proclaimed in Twelfth Night, but it is also the food of thought, feeling, action, and belief. Music can take you into deep waters and guide you to unexpected shores. What is the connection between sound and the greater world? ArtsWatch’s Matthew Neil Andrews found himself so immersed in the mysteries a while back that he decided to dive in even farther, looking for answers, or at least for even deeper questions.

“Several questions haunted this journalist’s mind during a series of fall concerts put on by three of Portland’s most excellent classical groups: Fear No Music, Resonance Ensemble, and Third Angle New Music,” Andrews wrote. “The music was all good, but was often upstaged by the concerts’ messages and the questions they raised.”

Third Angle New Music’s artistic director and flutist Sarah Tiedemann, Back in the Groove at the Jack London Revue. Photo: Kenton Waltz 

How, in these contemporary and sometimes politically engaged performances, did the music and the messages mix? In a three-part series, Andrews stretched his readers’, and his own, imaginations:

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Hank Willis Thomas: How to unmake race

The Portland Art Museum has staged the first retrospective of Hank Willis Thomas, who addresses the complexity of race in America in "All Things Being Equal..."

The neon above the main entrance of the Portland Art Museum reads “LOVERULES.” Illuminated in different combinations, it reads both “love overules” and “love over rules.” The neon work, loaned by Jordan Schnitzer, sets the tone for Hank Willis Thomas’s show All Things Being Equal… that opened October 12 and will run through January 12, 2020. 

Hank Willis Thomas (American, born 1976), Loverules, 2019. Neon. Courtesy of Jordan D. Schnitzer. © Hank Willis Thomas, photo courtesy of Portland Art Museum

Thomas is a photographer and conceptual artist whose work explores race, the language of advertising, and the power of images to shape culture and historical narrative. All Things Being Equal… is his first major retrospective. It brings together 15 years of the artist’s work and cements Thomas’s role as an artist who asks questions and poses answers about American history and the American present.

The show is a big moment for the Portland Art Museum and co-curators Julia Dolan and Sara Krajewski. To host this sort of retrospective for an artist of this status establishes the museum as an important venue for contemporary art. The show has been written up in the New York Times, Artnet, and the Observer, which stated “this show unequivocally places the Portland Art Museum in Oregon on the contemporary art map.” It is the culmination of several years of work for Dolan and Krajewski, who, in addition to curating the show, secured funding from multiple prestigious sources and co-authored a handsome catalog with Aperture. It is equally an opportunity for viewers to consider images and race in a different way.

Though his work deals with race and Thomas contends that there is no stronger power in the universe than Black joy, he is equally adamant that race is an invention or myth designed to justify inequality and to propel stereotypes into widespread assumptions about how people are. Thomas says of race, “it is only real because we were taught to make it real.”

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ArtsWatch Weekly: old, new, always

Same old story? Brash new wave? In Oregon arts & culture this week, old and new mix it up, and it's sometimes tough to tell which is which

ART IS ABOUT STRIDING BOLDLY INTO THE FUTURE and discovering the new. The Portland Art Museum, for instance, is getting ready to open the first major retrospective of the work of American artist Hank Willis Thomas, whose photography, sculpture, video, and collaborative public art projects turn their focus sharply and sometimes satirically on the flashpoints of contemporary culture and the struggle for social justice and civil rights. Hank Willis Thomas: All Things Being Equal …, which will run Oct. 12-Jan. 12, is the museum’s big fall-season attraction, and a central part of a run of shows in the next few months about the work of artists of color: the essential Portland painter Isaka Shamsud-Din, the great Robert ColescottFrida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, and the just-opened exhibition Question Bridge: Black Males.

Hank Willis Thomas, The Cotton Bowl, from the series Strange Fruit, 2011. Digital c-print. 50 x 73 inches. © Hank Willis Thomas, courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.

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Viz Arts Monthly: The post-holiday edition

The gears are grinding as the arts world shifts into 2019

Well, we made it. Hello, 2019. While some galleries are still shaking off their holiday hangover, there’s still good stuff to see. If you’re making new year’s resolutions, why not resolve to see more art in person! Some good shows are closing soon, so take this chance to see them before they go. Besides the ones listed here, make sure to check out the closing events at PICA’s Abigail DeVille show—two film screenings feature a local documentary about police violence and independent films from houseless youth. And if you haven’t had your fill of New Year’s celebrations, the Portland Japanese Garden will host an evening of music, games, tea, dancing, and performance for Japanese new year on the 13th. Also worth celebrating: five Portland artists have received the prestigious Painters and Sculptors grants from the Joan Mitchell Foundation. Congratulations to Addoley Dzegede, Lisa Jarrett, Elizabeth Malaska, Wendy Red Star, and Blair Saxon-Hill.

Ōtagaki Rengetsu (Japanese, 1791–1875), Samurai Footman with Poem, 1867, hanging scroll; ink and light color on paper, 12 13/16 x 17 1/2 in., Collection of Mary and Cheney Cowles.

Poetic Imagination in Japanese Art
Through January 13
Portland Art Museum, 1219 SW Park Avenue

There’s still time to catch this exhibition of, as Laurel Reed Pavic noted in her ArtsWatch review, “calligraphic texts, imaginary portraits of poets, monochrome ink paintings, and landscapes from the eighth through the twentieth century,” all drawn from the collection of Mary and Cheney Cowles. Maribeth Graybill, the Curator of Asian Art at the Portland Art Museum, calls the collection “without question one of the finest collections of Japanese art in private hands.”

Print by Christoph Ruckhäberle

Paradise Lost: Christoph Ruckhäberle
Through January 13
Ampersand, 2916 NE Alberta Street

Bursting with color, these collages, photogravures, and wood prints by German artist Christoph Ruckhäberle evoke a bustling world of shapes and figures. Many of the prints come from some process of recycling, whether it’s taking material from paintings made by Ruckhäberle or creating collages from makulatur, a German word that refers to wastepaper from test prints. This small, lively show should be a nice shot of color in the midwinter months.


Member Show
Through January 30
Blackfish Gallery, 420 NW 9th Ave

Stalwart of the Portland art scene since 1979, Blackfish Gallery is member-owned and operated by artists representing a broad spectrum of the local art community. This annual show highlights recent work by each current member, and kicks off the 40th anniversary of this community hub for countless regional artists.

Photo By Rebecca Reeve

Sun Breathing: Rebecca Reeve
January 3 – March 2, 2019
UpFor, 929 NW Flanders St

UK artist Rebecca Reeve brings a show of photographs of eerie, beautiful landscape interventions to Portland for her first solo exhibition at Upfor. Painting directly onto portions of the landscape or elements within it. Reeve returns to the same sites over and over, describing it as “watching the change in seasons and the earth breathe.” This allows her to develop a relationship with the area that informs her final photos, which represent a patient collaboration between Reeve and the light, flora, and natural elements of the landscape.

Sculpture by Joanna Bloom

Exaggerated Stories: Joanna Bloom
January 4-February 2
Adams and Ollman, 209 SW 9th Avenue

Regional artist Joanna Bloom’s first exhibition at Adams and Ollman “elaborates upon her experiments with the ritual forms of the trophy and the bowl.” These chunky, enigmatic ceramic sculptures draw on the right history of self taught art, ceremonial objects, and the landscape of the Pacific Northwest. Crowns, bowls, floral shapes, and other loose and lovingly-sculpted forms play with associations of achievement, glory, and recognition while reveling in imperfection and rough-edged personability.

Altar installation view

Altar: Lynn Yarne
January 16-March 1
Open Signal, 2766 NE Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard

This vibrant mixed-media installation weaves the real-life stories of “nine elders from Portland’s Chinatown/Japantown” from a collection audio recordings, images, and animations. Yarne explores representation, local history, and community memory in the second- and third-hand stories that she’s pieced together in this altar to local mythology. A very long list of contributors and collaborator helped produce the three video pieces in the show Don’t Forget Who You Are Or Where You Are From, Digital Collage Power Portraits, and Power Shirts.

Visual Magic: An Oregon Invitational
January 19-May 12
Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art
University of Oregon Campus, 1420 Johnson Lane, Eugene

The Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art in collaboration with the George D. Green Art Institute presents a smorgasbord of beloved Oregon artists. Including recent work by 45 artists who emerged in Oregon during the 1960s and ’70s, the show features paintings, sketchbooks, ceramics, and mixed-media work from an influential generation of Oregon artists. Featured artists include Rob Bibler, Sharon Bronzan, Jon Jay Cruson, Humberto Gonzalez, George Johanson, Connie Kiener, Nancy Lindburg, Lucinda Parker, Isaka Shamsud-Din, Richard Thompson, and Phyllis Yes.

The Bridge by Amy Bernstein

Entre chien et loup: Amy Bernstein
Through January 22
Downtown Stumptown
128 SW 3rd Avenue

The newest recipient of the Stumptown Artist Fellowship, Bernstein is known in Portland for her ebullient, spare and gestural abstract paintings. The title of her exhibition comes from a French expression meaning “between the dog and the wolf.” While it usually refers to the time of day between dusk and night, Bernstein employs it here to describe our current era, which she calls a “divided time of possible selves.” To her it symbolizes “an investigation of an indiscernible time of light and darkness, a time of unimaginable metamorphosis and imminent revolution whose direction is not totally clear.”

 


 

Correction: An earlier version of this story reported that an exhibition of work by Hank Willis Thomas is at the Portland Art Museum. In fact, that show will open October 5.