Hilda Morris

Picturing Oregon: wide open space

In the collections: The Portland Art Museum's survey of Oregon landscapes gives a history of the shifting territory as artists imagine it

On a recent Saturday afternoon I dropped in to the Portland Art Museum and immediately encountered a crowd at the entrance, lined up waiting to get in. That’s odd, I thought. Nice, but odd. Then I heard a bit of chatter in line, and remembered: the cars. It was prime visiting time for the museum’s megashow of slick beauties, The Shape of Speed: Streamlined Automobiles and Motorcycles, 1930-1942, and the traffic was still lively and thick.

It wasn’t quite like working your way around a pileup of tourists snapping selfies with the Mona Lisa, but once I threaded through the Bugattis and Talbot-Lago Teardrop Coupes and Chrysler Imperial Airflows things thinned out a bit to a nice steady pace. It was the first weekend day after the August heat wave had broken and the forest-fire smoke had begun to lift, and people were beginning to get out and about again: It felt as if a good chunk of the car crowd had peeled off to see what else there was to discover in the museum.

There are at least a couple of ways to go about visiting a museum. If it’s a new museum to you, sometimes the best thing to do is just to wander around and see what you find: Let serendipity be your guide, at least at the start. If it’s a museum you’re familiar with, your visits are probably more targeted: to see a special exhibition, for instance. At the Portland Art Museum right now, that might mean taking a last whack at the splendid show of early Richard Diebenkorns, arranged by the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento and hanging around Portland through Sept. 23. (The door-busting Shape of Speed ended Sunday.)

Philip Guston, Untitled, 1969, acrylic on panel, bequest of Musa Guston. Portland Art Museum

Or you might go to check in on some old favorites in the permanent collections. Special exhibitions serve a lot of purposes besides selling tickets. They can fill in gaps in a museum’s collection, or capture an important social or historic moment, or expand on strengths a museum already has. And they can get people interested in a museum, and its art, and encourage them to become regular visitors. But you can find the soul of most museums in their permanent collections, and how they’re displayed and rotated, and the way they allow people to visit over and over again, getting to know specific pieces or collections, or finding something new they hadn’t noticed before. This is where the Deep Museum exists.

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I Am This: Jewish artists in Oregon

A new exhibit traces the history and variety of Jewish art in the state. A second show tells the tale of a painting that saved lives.

It’s both easy and hard to wrap your head around I Am This: Art by Oregon Jewish Artists, the elegant small new exhibit at the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education.

Easy because the choices of artists are mostly familiar to Portland art followers, and because they share curator Bruce Guenther’s taste for modern and contemporary works that deal, whatever else might be going on in them, with the notion of beauty.

Hard because the questions the exhibit asks – What does it mean to be Jewish? What does it mean to be a Jewish artist? What does it mean to be a Jewish artist from Oregon? – are so elusive, with so many different answers, and ultimately with so many unanswered and perhaps unanswerable question marks. “Here we are, looking inward,” museum director Judith Margles remarked at a press preview last week, and maybe that’s at least a large part of what being Jewish means.

Frederick Littman's sculpture "Torso" (1968. Bronze, 46 x 22 x 12 inches, The Arlene and Harold Schnitzer Collection, Portland) and Mark Rothko's 1928 painting "Beach Scene" (oil on canvas mounted on board, Reed College, Kaufman Memorial Art Collection, gift of Louis and Annette Kaufman in memory of Isaac and Pauline Kaufman). Oregon ArtsWatch photo

Frederick Littman’s sculpture “Torso” (1968. Bronze, 46 x 22 x 12 inches, The Arlene and Harold Schnitzer Collection, Portland) and Mark Rothko’s 1928 painting “Beach Scene” (oil on canvas mounted on board, Reed College, Kaufman Memorial Art Collection, gift of Louis and Annette Kaufman in memory of Isaac and Pauline Kaufman). Oregon ArtsWatch photo

Guenther, the former longtime chief curator of the Portland Art Museum who is curating the first year of shows at the Jewish Museum since it moved into the old Museum of Contemporary Craft space in the Pearl District, spoke of the sometimes uneasy relationship between group and individual identity: “We live in an age of individualization, identity as core, as shield, as conflict.”

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