Holding Contemporary

VizArts Monthly: Flexible viewing options for unusual times

Whether you're looking for a virtual or in-person (masked-up and socially distanced) experience, there's plenty to see in October

In September, Portland bid farewell to summer with PICA’s annual Time-Based Arts Festival, Devin Harclerode and Laura Camila Medina’s Loopholes at Fuller Rosen Gallery, and Anya Roberts-Toney’s Summer’s Eve at Nationale. Now, as social distancing requirements continue, artists and gallerists press onward, finding innovative ways to engage audiences through virtual exhibitions, by-appointment gallery viewings, and interactive experiences. October’s diverse slate of art events encourages viewers to choose their own adventure.

Work by Lois Dodd and Sharif Farrag. Image courtesy of Adams and Ollman

Lois Dodd and Sharif Farrag
September 12-October 31
Adams and Ollman
418 NW 8th Ave (by appointment)

Adams and Ollman creates a refreshing intergenerational pairing with concurrent solo exhibitions of painter Lois Dodd (b. 1927) and ceramicist Sharif Farrag (b. 1993). Dodd’s intimate, abstracted landscapes contrast sharply with Farrag’s raucous, punk-inspired sculptures, yet they find harmony in the in-between: elements of flora, lush color, and hidden histories. While Dodd’s works are emotive in their immediacy, often having been completed in one sitting, Farrag’s ceramics are overflowing with reference, drawing from iconography of the artist’s Egyptian and Syrian lineage, humor, and Californian funk art.

Continues…

The lens is cracked: Art and protest in the summer of 2020

Black Lives Matter protests have been ongoing for three months now. How have artists, photographers, and cultural institutions responded to this historic moment?

By ANDREW D. JANKOWSKI and SAFIYAH MAURICE

Andrew D. Jankowski is a freelance journalist actively reporting on Portland protests since they began in May. He was arrested in July despite a restraining order preventing police from arresting journalists. Safiyah Maurice is an artist and curator whose lifetime of artistic training and personal experiences give deeper context to what Andrew saw and experienced. Without the voice, knowledge, and perspective of a Black woman, this article would have detailed Black Lives Matter art from an exclusively white lens, and would have been a deficient report.

***

The confines of American exceptionalism created conducive environments for everything leading up to Breonna Taylor and George Floyd’s murders. Racists in authority have for generations perfected a system of genocide, and normalized the violence associated with it. Protesters took to the streets in early May because Taylor and Floyd’s murder weren’t accidents. The palpable, righteous fury protesters express rages on because if it did not, Derek Chauvin and his coworkers would have wholly escaped even scrutiny for kneeing on Floyd’s neck, asphyxiating his airway for 8 minutes and 46 seconds.

Systematic racism is foundational to all aspects of American society. Black bodies have been murdered and mutilated for centuries, the violence justified in the name of white American prosperity. While anti-fascist and anti-racist protesters have face violence for their resistance, armed right-wing protesters are treated with anything from indifference to preference, whether seen this spring in Michigan, or here in Portland for the past few years. Rightwing extremist counter-protesters have recently violently retaliated, with homemade explosives thrown in Southeast Portland, and gunshots fired from a moving vehicle in downtown Portland weeks later.

Protests against police brutality and systemic racism have revitalized the art world amid a still-ongoing pandemic. The government’s cruel non-response to the coronavirus, and its death cult commitment to capitalism, have shifted the white gaze toward racial trauma inflicted on BIPOC every day. COVID-19’s disproportionate affect on Black and Indigenous communities across the country, and hate crimes by white racists against Black and Asian people have increased exponentially. Every system in American culture is infected with racism, from government to medicine to the arts. The whitewashed pre-COVID lens is cracked, and should not be repaired.

With this in mind, the following observes nearly 90 days of continuous Portland protests as this summer’s dominant artistic and visual culture, and what this can mean for the next decade. Above all, this moment is about honoring, centering, and listening to Black people.


Performance, Public Art, and Public Spaces

The Regional Arts and Culture Council (RACC) has thus far removed four sculptures from its public collection: the George Washington sculpture on NE Sandy Boulevard, the commemorative settler sculpture The Promised Land in Chapman Square, Jefferson High School’s namesake statue, and the elk fountain sculpture/fountain Thompson Elkon SW Main St. All four were removed for structural damage, but only Thompson Elk emerged culturally unscathed. Elks are embraced by protesters as an antifascist symbol, with odes to Thompson Elk appearing everywhere from plastic deer figurines to reindeer pool toys to Thompson Elk’s current iteration, a cardboard sculpture nicknamed “Nightmare Elk,” taking on a Louise Bourgeois death metal aesthetic. RACC’s June press release announced the organization’s intention to review the city’s extensive public art collection to decide which pieces should still represent the city.

The “Nightmare Elk” on August 19th. Image courtesy of Andrew Jankowski.

Posters were wheatposted around Lownsdale Square —especially on the grotesque Spanish-American War monument with Civil War cannons and stairs commemorating Portland’s WWII involvement with Guam —and throughout Portland to reclaim racist or apolitical spaces. One of the more common posters —white Black Lives Matter text on black boxes, with legs supporting white boxes with Black names in black text —came from the artist Stephen Powers, and were printed at One Grand Gallery (OGG) earlier this summer.

Stephen Powers, Black Lives Matter (2020). Image courtesy of Neon-eye.com

The Park Blocks near City Hall are often political sites during times of crisis, especially over the past decade, but they weren’t the only publicly reclaimed Portland public spaces. Revolution Hall was among the performance venues ordered closed because of the COVID-19, but was a popular meeting spot for East Portland protests throughout June. Revolution Hall, as well as the space under the Hawthorne Bridge, hosted some of Portland’s biggest ever Juneteenth parties. Parks throughout Portland now serve as meeting spaces for speeches, multi-faith and art-based protests, and rallying points.

The Burnside Bridge was another early picture-perfect site in the national resistance against racism and fascism. It was one thing to document or view drone images of protesters lying face down on the bridge. It was another entirely to lie face down on the pavement, to have enough mobility to keep our faces off the ground if we chose, to have privilege enough to be calm while living through the last moments of people like George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Charleena Lyles, Mike Brown, or Philando Castille. It’s hard to consider the aesthetic horror of concrete when you’re getting violently arrested, but on that June afternoon, George Floyd’s terror  —and that same soul-destroying agony too many people experience —became real in a way that only reading social media posts or watching videos couldn’t make possible. For all its accolades as an iconic Portland protest moment, the Burnside Bridge meditation doesn’t account for the horrors of Black women like Breonna Taylor, Sandra Bland, or Atatianna Jefferson; queer Black people including Tony McDade, Layleen Cubilette-Polanco, or Kawasaki Trawick; or Black children like Quanice Hayes, Tamir Rice, or Trayvon Martin.

Trump Statue Initiative, Ode to Putin (2020). Image courtesy of the Trump Statue Initiative.

Shortly after some federal officers left Portland, the Trump Statue Initiative performance art troupe arrived at one stop in the national tour of their piece Ode to Putin. Gold-painted TSI performers staged three scenes: one based on unannounced federal arrests of Portlanders into unmarked vans weeks prior, one based on Trump’s contempt for mail-in voting, and a third depicting Trump praying for Ghislaine Maxwell and the late Jeffrey Epstein. A gut response was that Wieden and Kennedy got radicalized since the “Donald Trump’s BS” food cart four years ago. The next reaction was that, while obvious and bold, Ode to Putin could be more effective somewhere that wasn’t a walking distance from the actual sidewalk where Portlanders were arrested. Go to the actual site, or take to the suburbs, but staging at the waterfront felt like a missed opportunity. Ode to Putin can potentially shock non-Portlanders and make the feds’ presences in Portland more real for them, but it’s not clear that the artists considered how Portland might react to its history performed by people “who don’t even go here.” 


Photography

Lessons learned from St. Louis protests have forced art, journalism, and social media ethics to shift in under a month. With cops using social media to target protesters, people with audiences are being urged by protesters to obscure identities as much as possible. It’s a difficult ask, but one that’s been considered and accommodated by many journalists, including myself. These considerations range from focusing on the scale of groups instead of individuals, to outright censoring of faces, or editing them into a more representational form.

How one photographs cops, federal agents, and bad-faith actors is another topic entirely. Given how officers publicly fear being doxxed —despite setting journalists, protesters, and civilians up for this harassment every day —it’s important for the public to know the identities of those who could be arresting, macing, tear gassing, or shooting them. This could be because an officer is in violation of a protective order, or this could be because there’s no other way to know if you’re being arrested by law enforcement or kidnapped by armed fascist civilians.

The corner of SW 3rd and Salmon engulfed in tear gas on July 25. Image courtesy of Andrew Jankowski.

Dronecraft uncomfortably straddles these ethics. The photographer Andrew Wallner used one to document thousands of people participating in an 8 minute, 46 seconds-long “die-in” on the Burnside Bridge. His photos of protesters on the bridge were immediately hailed as iconic, with fairly solid reasoning. Wallner’s best images document the wide scope of people rallying for Black lives, numerous enough to span a river, contrasted by near-empty highways. They also utilize a lush grayscale palette, and lose their full range if social media lowers their resolution. This said, while pilots do keep an extra artist or journalist out of the crowds for socially distant benefit, dronecraft are distracting to protesters, both for their synonymous whir, and their inextricable ties to surveillance culture.

In all realms of photography, from protest news to art and commercial photography. more work must be done to unlearn the medium’s racist and imperialist origins reflecting only white bodies and perspectives. More technology and training exists to help photographers unlearn racism in their training, but major publications still need to put BIPOC decision-makers in positions of real, lasting power to exclusively hire photographers and stylists who know how to celebrate Black subjects, before these publications lose their influence and stay punchlines.


Storytelling & Poetry

Throughout June, Rose City Justice organized nightly marches and rallies. At its height, the group organized a march on the Marquam Bridge —there don’t seem to be as many “iconic” labels for these images compared to Wallner’s drone photography, despite the Marquam Bridge connecting highways and being about 35 percent longer than the Burnside Bridge. RCJ had disbanded to some effect weeks before federal officers arrived in Portland, and organizers who still claim affiliation to them still pop up, but they seem to have lost the trust of many protesters, who either shifted their focus from the Central Eastside, or may have stopped attending protests altogether (the latter group being speculative and unverifiable). This said, in those June weeks, downtown protesters and RCJ protesters felt united in protesting racism and police brutality, and celebrating Black lives while giving space to share important stories that rarely make it into cable or print media.

Carlos the Roller Blader and Marceau Michel speak before an audience of thousands at Rose City Justice’s June 12 rally at Revolution Hall. Image courtesy of Andrew Jankowski.

RCJ protesters could go as far north as Irving Park, or as far south as Cleveland High School. Marching through Portland neighborhoods was a whole new way to engage the city’s history that wasn’t otherwise possible. Black Lives Matter signs on white homeowners’ lawns in gentrified neighborhoods isn’t low-hanging comedic fruit, it’s still a blistingerly real reminder of ongoing violence against BIPOC that white people still don’t understand. There was a misplaced jubilance to white Portlanders banging pots & pans from their porches and balconies in a historically Black neighborhood, like the frontline worker cheers each night this past spring. The dissonance was jarring, yet just so typical of white Portlanders.

That said, stories and poems shared by Black Portlanders have been some of the most important and underreported news during these protests. Catharsis is the experience for the speaker making their story heard. Enlightenment is the experience for the listener taking on imparted wisdom. The experience for people transcribing or interpreting these words is somewhere between these feelings. I [Andrew] learned in undergrad Conflict Resolution and English lit studies about how trial translators would be sickened taking on first-person perspectives to repeat literally atrocious stories. The experience is similar when translating and transcribing stories of sorrow and joy.

Storytelling is the transmission and inheritance of personal lived experience. Spoken word is a way of knowing that’s similar but entirely different from written literature. As the speaker Z with PDX Black Youth Movement told hundreds of people at Peninsula Park on August 8, chanting lets organizers know that protesters are focused. This not only tells organizers they’re being heard, but the words protesters say change them, revealing who comes out for clout and who comes out for change. Chanting is a secular and multifaith act of unifying, in this case revealing vocal antiracist and pro-Black values, and gives voice to years of national mourning.

Black Portlanders’ experiences with racism come from a lifetime living here, or from being disillusioned by moving here after hearing glowing reviews of Portland’s whimsical reputation. These experiences start in childhood, with lived experiences with white racism mixing with their elders’ stories and histories. These stories include Black children robbed of their childhood, forced by racism to grow up too early. Speakers’ cadences and deliveries are strong, proud, weary, exhausted, outraged, brave, unwavering. These stories speak of discrimination everywhere: at school, at work, at church, at the grocery store parking lot, at the doctor’s office, at stores, restaurants, and more places. They also reveal hope and perseverance.

Whenever in doubt, listen to Black women. Black women push movements forwards. They come out every night, rallying and striving for a community that doesn’t give them the recognition or respect they deserve. Black women move mountains and leave legacies that make the path towards liberation even possible.


Text and Digital Art

Protest signs are the quickest and easiest examples of effective political text art. Before I took part in my first-ever protest as a teen, I remember being inspired by protest signs I saw online: creatively, cleverly, effectively summarizing sentiments and demands. Protesters have gotten far more clever in the 16 years since my first protest, with far more cultural references to unite them, and fueled by far more reasons to demand justice. Protest signs can use original words, or quotes sourced from historical figures, contemporary leaders, and all genres of music, literature, and art. Gen Z and young millennials are already known for inventing their own terms for everything from animals to public figures, and protests give them plenty of space to creatively stretch what English has meant.

Protest signs in Portland on August 19. Image courtesy of Andrew Jankowski.

Tear Gas Teddy and “Gas me, Teddy!” appeared in graffiti and on social media simultaneously. It’s almost impossible to know who coined those phrases, but it’s safe to say it was someone whose resume John Oliver should read if it is ever definitively revealed. Social media was still new during Occupy, but at 2020 Black Lives Matter rallies, protesters and journalists engage multiple platforms at once, with more dexterity and precision than 2011’s top influencers could’ve done. 

Text art appears digitally too, with projectors beaming everything from copper-orange protest chants and George Floyd icons, to stories-high affirmations of First Amendment rights. Close-read hypertext’s overwhelming, abrasive presence has, for the first time in my experience, made its way into live protests. Digital literature including hypertext reimagines classical restrictions on what is considered art, poetry, news delivery, or whatever the programmer desires. A protester at the Multnomah County Justice Center brought hypertext from the gallery to the protest’s front lines.

This close-read piece projected onto the Justice Center is meant to use 120 percent of the viewer’s entire attention. In under four seconds, George Floyd’s gut-churning last words project alongside calls for Mayor/Police Commissioner Ted Wheeler to resign, and rallying cries for protesters to keep up the antifascist, antiracist fight. Columns of Black names scroll faster than natural human perception, replicating how computers process information. These details and more happen in under 15 seconds. To experience it in person and to experience it when you’re safe at home, able to pause and rewind, are two different experiences. This video’s format, along with laser-projected animations in the same style as augmented reality dance videos, are aesthetics that were refining themselves at the end of the last decade, and will remain on tastemakers’ radar throughout this new decade.

Glitch art is another prevalent medium, whether seen intentionally through disciplines like datamoshing or analog glitch, or through unintentional methods from broken screen displays. Like physical graffiti, glitch art can be seen as disruptive, broken, or malfunctioning, or the aesthetics of broken data and transmissions are a meditation on unpredictability or cultural breakdowns.


Food as Community Building & Art

Laid-off chefs and restaurant workers have turned out for protesters using their unique talents. The intersectional cuisine of 2020 Black Lives Matter rallies speaks to how much of the world relies on Black lives. When cultures come together for a common cause, rations turn to a potluck, a potluck turns to a feast, and a feast turns to a banquet. During Occupy Portland, some protesters gathered beans and non-perishables as winter came. Free antifa ice cream carts popped up in 2017-18 summer protests long before the never-retracted cement milkshake lies began. This summer, anyone worth their salt in a kitchen has answered Portland’s urgent call for food. I’ve seen pizza, hot dogs, hamburgers, vegan options, bulk snack boxes, fresh fruits and veggies, and whole food carts like Kee’s Loaded Kitchen and Trap Kitchen serve Black Portlanders and their non-Black allies for free; to say nothing of food trucks offering free meals during the spring for anyone forced out of work and paychecks by the coronavirus.

Food cart pods remain open for business despite PPB deploying tear gas on July 4. Photo credit: Andrew Jankowski.

Food globally unifies people, building community and cultivating hospitality through a sense of belonging, safety, and togetherness. We truly are what we eat, and how food is prepared impacts a meal as much as the freshness of ingredients used. A cook can use familial traditions along with those learned in school or on the job from their peers. They can come from their own biography, or be influenced by admiration for someone else’s culture. A meal always tastes better when respect is present in equal or greater parts to love, from the diner as much as the chef.

While they haven’t garnered the same media attention or offered food for free, the nonprofit Changing the Gray (CTG) Street Outreach has served hamburgers, hot dogs, and gourmet popcorn to protesters in Chapman Square, appearing before and returning after Riot Ribs’ nearly two-week run. The Snack Bloc party returned under the Hawthorne Bridge, reclaiming the area with food, music, and queer-centric dancing. Heavenly Donuts and 7-Eleven have presented themselves as culinary problematic faves. The former’s Lombard location seemed like it was being defended by cops —who fired combustible tear gas canisters near area gas stations —but later served hundreds of doughnuts to downtown protesters thanks to a few anonymous orders. The latter’s downtown location is something of a neutral zone for protesters who may need something not offered at the downtown smorgasbord, even as its sanctity has been violated by people accused of having white nationalist and far-right ties.

Food is not free from colonialism’s influence. Colonization made white palettes the norm, with native chefs and recipes obscured for white people to later “discover” these recipes and make their own “improvements,” like raisins in potato salad. White people also have an embarrassing legacy of loudly not knowing how to engage other cuisines. Correcting this kind of behavior is something that starts at home, and continues long after protests finish. But that’s not the end of the fight, either. Capitalism commodifies food to a point where global hunger boils down to distributive failure. This commodification keeps ingredients, like quinoa, inaccessible to financially exploited BIPOC, whose cultures center them in their cuisines.


Galleries

In a long-overdue shift, the white-led institutional art world is changing its priorities and yielding space, finally centering BIPOC artists and curators, and their aesthetics, methods, and principles. Even as this happens, exclusionary gatekeeping practices persist in existing systems which prioritize higher educational pedigree. The current moment is a return to what art has always been: a global, multi-dimensional language, a way of knowing that predates literature, but whose ancestral roots are still today under attack from racism and ignorance. It’s beyond past time for white people to engage with BIPOC artists’ works and unlearn gatekeeping practices. Through this regular engagement, white people won’t derail crucial conversations by centering their unprocessed guilt, or make room and support for BIPOC artists’ work about themes beyond trauma.

Don’t Shoot PDX’s Holding Contemporary show, Stop Killing Us: A Black Lives Still Matter Exhibition, opened Aug. 6, and is one of the local gallery scene’s first interpretations of the current moment. Mobile Projection Unit also offers ongoing experimental and revolutionary cinema as a radical pop-up drive-in theatre, showcasing works by local filmmakers as well as documentaries including Crip Camp (2020). These sites are uncompromising spaces, where Black and Indigenous creators express unrestricted.

Black Lives Still Matter installation at Holding Contemporary. Image courtesy of Holding Contemporary.

Jeff Liddicoat, an artist and Right 2 Survive board member, runs Outsider Art Gallery, his home and studio near Southeast Sandy Boulevard and East Burnside Street. Along with his reclaimed woodwork collection, Outsider Art Gallery currently also displays protest art against Portland’s ongoing clearing of urban and remote campsites.

Even with good intent, Stephen Powers’ and One Grand Gallery (OGG)’s hand-printed posters repeat the same inconsiderate, gentrified New Portland activist historic practice of posting BLM signs in neighborhoods from which historically Black residents were strategically displaced. This takes up physical space that Black artists could occupy with the same resources. Especially now, there is no excuse for withholding space or resources from historically marginalized artists. Yale Union’s dissolution for Native Arts and Culture Foundation, Ori Gallery’s involvement with the PDX Billboard Project, or the Tender Table storytelling series’ programming are a few examples of how to center Black and Indigenous artists and their work, experiences, and insights.


What Does It All Mean?

Art is the language of the oppressed. It identifies the environments in which oppressed people live, and reflects the conditions under which they live.

Art can’t solve systemic racism all on its own, and as the theologian, art scholar, and nightlife organizer bart fitzgerald tweeted last winter: “Visibility doesn’t mean shit when the gaze isn’t ethical.” Portlanders, especially white Portlanders, must reconcile our city’s and state’s racist legacies —distinct from and no less terrible than ones rooted throughout the US. Art is a language communicating healing, empowerment, and knowledge. Black speakers throughout this spring and summer have wanted to know why white people suddenly show up for Black lives, and how long white people will do so. White members of the art world can answer these questions. Even if these answers don’t make primetime news, they are still needed for mutual growth and communal healing. Art can be a conduit for this growth, especially when written word fails, and orators need rest.

Safiyah Maurice’s Statement: You listen to Black, Indigenous, Trans, and Queer Women because their fight is intersectional and holds pre-colonial language that has been historically erased by the colonizer mindset. You listen because our oppressed ancestors for centuries have passed down their language and plight. We know the language of the oppressors and the inequitable and genocidal plans they hold for us. You protest to protect Black and Indigenous life and the historic narratives of oppression they carry. So we can continue to fight, decolonize, and defund the imperialist mindset that looks to normalize patriarchal acts of extreme violence. It’s imperative you investigate, look deeper, and question whether your historic narrative, artistic ideologies, language, and practices at large uphold the current paradigm that is White supremacy


This article was made possible with support from The Ford Family Foundation’s Visual Arts Program.

Celebrating mundane interiors

Leslie Hickey's photographs capture the enigmatic appeal of the everyday

Those familiar with photography over the last sixty years or so will recognize the genre of Leslie Hickey’s photographs at Holding Contemporary. The work harkens back to the minimal interior shots of William Eggleston — a style emulated by a slew of photographers ever since. The primary goal of such photography, simply put, is to find something special about the mundane. Hickey’s photographs manage to celebrate the mundane and, at least in one case, convey a mood as well. (The lighting in the gallery may have been a factor, for each piece was dimly lit, not so dim as to lose details of the work, but enough to encourage only soft-toned conversations opening night.) 

When photographing mundane subject matter, that to which we typically are oblivious or wouldn’t otherwise think to document, the goal is not to have the final image appear as a manipulated/staged vignette, but instead use framing and technical abilities of the camera to elevate that which is seen. Success comes in how well one illuminates the extraordinary that lingers within empirical reality. The hope is that mediation by the photographer, and then contemplation by the viewer of the scene somehow replaces the superficiality with something more complex, perhaps even sublime, even as it remains matter of fact. And as in many other art forms, visual irony and/or paradox play a role in determining success.

rotary phone with note cards and wite-out
Leslie Hickey, Grandma’s Phone (Tacoma) (2019/2020). Pigmented inkjet print. 19.2×24. Edition of 3. Image courtesy of Holding Contemporary.

Notably, Hickey’s photographs do not contain people, and therefore narrative qualities are subdued. Nevertheless, we can read a story in Grandma’s Phone (Tacoma). A rotary phone (the image was taken in 2019) hangs on the wall above a corkboard full of index cards held with push pins.  A bottle of Wite-Out sits on a small ledge, and an electrical cord neatly runs along that ledge to a point out of frame. We recognize the old plastic wall tiles as something from our own grandma’s house. Based on this corner of her room, we get a good sense that while still in an analog world, she is as sharp as one of those push pins. Yet it is significant that Grandma is nowhere to be seen. We have no idea if she is still alive, which may answer why I feel a certain melancholy when I look at the image.

flowers leaning against glass on a plinth with sandpaper
Leslie Hickey, SACI still life, angle (2018/2020). Pigmented inkjet print. 11×14. Edition of 3. Image Courtesy of Holding Contemporary.

Hickey’s photo, SACI Still Life, Angle, while narrative in that it has a sense of place, is less specific than Grandma’s Phone (Tacoma). It could be a scene from any art school.. (SACI stands for Studio Arts College International in Florence, Italy. Hickey attended the school in 2004 and had an exhibit there in 2017.) The configuration of flowers and glass set up on an old, beat-up plinthe is likely for a painting class, yet Hickey has usurped it with her camera. To what end? While the flowers arranged against the light green glass is pretty enough, and we presume that it is the focus of a painting exercise, its arrangement strongly contrasts with other elements in the photo.The piece of easel, the used sandpaper, and most significantly, a foreground emphasizing the textures of the ragged plinthe, bring contrast and friction to the image. (Sandpaper!) 

A similar contrariness exists in Wire (Rockaway). The wire and its shadow presents as a simple drawing, largely due to the texture of the paper or whatever the wire rests on.Then again, in that we know this is a photograph, the raised bumps make the photo appear to be printed on rough handmade paper. Hotel Alla Salute bed (diptych) employs the same illusion, only this time it looks as though the walls in the photos have been hand colored, when in actuality, whoever painted the walls did a fairly uneven job. One can get a sense of these illusions from the images posted with this essay, yet seeing the work in person will bring another degree of appreciation, and the close engagement will find the viewer getting inches away and at an angle to see if there is indeed a manipulated surface. 

wire on a white background
Leslie Hickey, Wire (Rockaway) (2019/2020). Pigmented inkjet print. 11×14. Edition of 3. Image courtesy of Holding Contemporary.

Holding Contemporary is a small gallery and Hickey shares the space this month with Erin Murrray’s drawings as part of a two-person show, What We See and What We Know. With limited exhibition space, we can assume that Hickey’s six photographs in this exhibit were carefully chosen (especially given that the dates for the work span a four-year time period, and a photographer generally takes a lot of photos). I commend the gallery and artist in their curation.

Finally, I cannot resist relating these photos to this particular moment, our life in the time of Covid-19. Perhaps by nature and profession, visual artists are figuratively and literally some of the most self-isolating people one will know. If not lost in thoughts primed by the eye, they are in the studio realizing those ideas through a medium of choice. A day or two, a week or three, distraction-free and confined to the studio or house, is a blessing not often afforded. (However, this “free” time may come with great financial loss, so please, if you can, buy some art and support your local art institutions now.)  We might all do well to adopt this attitude and not only slow down to appreciate the simple things around us, but attend to what is important that has until now been put aside.


Holding Contemporary is open by appointment only. The gallery will also be amplifying its digital presence by having artists “take over” the gallery’s Instagram feed (@holdingcontemporary) and tag photos of interior architecture/still life.

First Thursday: Solitude and connection

The galleries and art fans braved coronavirus, coughed in their elbows and sought shelter

As I biked downtown to visit a few galleries for First Thursday, I wondered if the news of pandemic would keep local audiences at home. I was happy to see that I wasn’t the only one willing to throw caution to the wind in order to support Portland’s art community — the Pearl District was full of small groups of all ages bouncing between shows.

Much of the artwork on view was hushed and intimate, though the crowds were chatty and restless as usual. It felt almost as though artists and curators were unwittingly building virtual shelters, providing protection, if not comfort, from the increasingly chaotic world outside. 

Abstract black-and-white drawing featuring organic-looking shapes overlayed with sharp angular forms and calligraphic designs, evoking a dark room layered with sheer curtains and wrought metal decor
Graphite and ink drawing by Erin Murray/Courtesy Holding Contemporary

My first stop was Holding Contemporary, where a show-scheduling snafu had serendipitously resulted in the last-minute pairing of Philadelphia-based Erin Murray and Portland’s own Leslie Hickey in a show titled What We See and What We Know. The gallery was mostly dark as I approached, and I wasn’t even sure it was open since I couldn’t see anybody inside. But the door wasn’t locked, so I went in and realized the sleepy lighting scheme was intentional, and lovely.

The other visitors were in the back, hovering near an alcove that contained a sort of side exhibition by André Filipek Magaña. There, the small pencil drawings of children’s cartoon character Dora the Explorer in various surreal situations and seemingly uncomfortable positions were funny in their way, but were a bit of a non sequitur in the context of the feature show.

Continues…

VizArts Monthly: Art worth braving the rain to see

The galleries will be dry and there is great art to see inside

Now that January is finally over and we’ve all recovered from the holidays and reacclimated ourselves to the rain, it’s time to get back out into the world! There is a lot going on this month from anniversaries to grand re-openings to just plain great art shows from galleries and artists that work hard to share important ideas and visions with the rest of us. Beloved gallery Nationale has finally opened its doors at their new location off East Burnside, while the equally wonderful Ori celebrates its second birthday with a party and group show. Carnation Contemporary brings work from artist members of Eugene’s Tropical Contemporary to town for a gallery collective crossover event (and vice versa), and PDX Contemporary presents exciting new work from a long-time gallery artist. 

If January first is the “soft opening” of the New Year, the beginning of February is like the official Grand Opening of Earth’s next tour around the sun, when things really get going again after the post-holiday doldrums. But these shows and events don’t come out of nowhere, they are the result of careful planning and a lot of hard work that happens all year round. If you want to show your support to the arts workers who make this town great and help them continue their efforts in a sustainable way, consider donating to the projects linked at the end of this article. 

View of white-wall gallery with colorful quilted works featuring abstracted figures on walls and floor
Aruni Dharmakirthi, No Flowers in Eden, installation view, courtesy Nationale

Aruni Dharmakirthi: No Flowers in Eden
January 18 – February 18
Nationale
15 SE 22nd Ave
Nationale has moved around many times in its more than ten years of operation, but this last move was almost certainly the most trying. After miles of red tape and thousands of dollars spent updating this charming storefront location a half block South of Burnside, Nationale is transformed once again, but still radiates the singular personality of inimitable curator May Barruel. The gallery space is larger and the retail side now includes mini-shops offering items from local vendors Mixed Needs and tone poem. The first show in this space might have easily been overshadowed by the circumstances leading up to it — and in fact, the show was delayed by several months as renovations dragged on — but Aruni Dharmakirthi’s subtly sculptural quilted works are captivating enough to be heard over everything else. Her works’ abstracted figures, off-kilter palette, and casually expert decorative detailing add softness and warmth to the white-walled space. 

Logo featuring gold geometric designs on black background and text reading "Year of Ase 2020, Ori Gallery's Anniversary Fundraiser"
courtesy Ori Gallery

Year of Asé
February 15 – March 22
Opening reception February 15, 6-9pm
Ori Gallery
4038 N Mississippi Ave
Ori Gallery is two years old, and they are marking the occasion with a group show featuring work from a half-dozen artists and a party/fundraiser on opening night. The gallery’s tight-knit community has come together for celebration of the more than a dozen exhibitions and countless events they have produced to date and to get energized for the future. In their words: Year of Asé is “a thank you to all of our artists, volunteers, interns, patrons and staff. Come make connections and foster strength for the liberation work we have ahead of us!” The public is invited to join the party, which will feature opportunities to donate and a chance to win prizes from local vendors. 

Abstract painting with washy texture and small pointillist marks in soft pastel pinks, blues, and yellows on white background.
detail of work by Denise Lutz, image courtesy Carnation Contemporary and the artist

Pink Sheets
February 1 – 23
Carnation Contemporary
8371 N Interstate Ave

If/Then
February 7 – 28
Tropical Contemporary
1120 Bailey Hill #11
Eugene
Carnation Contemporary in Portland and Tropical Contemporary in Eugene pull a Freaky Friday move this month, hosting groups exhibitions of artist members from each other’s gallery. Pink Sheets, at Carnation, features work from members of Tropical focused on the comfort and warmth many of us crave during these winter months. If/Then, at Tropical, features works by Carnation members that share a common theme of the uncertain future versus the anxious present. Both galleries utilize an artist membership model both to share the costs and responsibilities of running an art space and to give artists ownership over their exhibitions. The gallery swap concept is a great way to highlight the hard work and collaborative spirit both of these spaces bring to the Oregon arts landscape, and hopefully will inspire art viewers from Portland and Eugene alike to break out of their usual routines and see what their neighbors are up to.

Still from digital animation showing red rock arch with cut interior revealing black and white digital pattern
still from CORES by Nick Sassoon and Rick Silva, courtesy Holding Contemporary

CORES: Nick Sassoon and Rick Silva
January 23 – February 29
Holding Contemporary
916 NW Flanders
The two artists featured in Holding Contemporary’s CORES, Nick Sassoon and Rick Silva, both make work connecting the digital and the physical in material ways. Rocks figure prominently – think digital animations of geode-like objects whose interiors are trippy LED screens, or an actual rock with an actual LED screen sprouting from an armature buried in the stone. Part of the aim is to evoke the ways in which humans have affected the natural world, even down to geological processes, and it would seem there are few perspectives that oppose anthropocentrism quite as effectively as lithocentrism — the rock’s eye view. 

shredded and layered blue and green flags hanging on white wall
Work by Brittany Vega, courtsey Fuller Rosen

American Hex: Christine Miller and Brittany Vega
February 1 – March 14
Fuller Rosen
2505 SE 11th Ave Suite 106
Christine Miller and Brittany Vega come together in their show, American Hex, to explore the problems and revelations contained within their own eccentric personal collections. Vega’s flag collection grew from her practical experience in the flag industry. The flags on view at Fuller Rosen are shredded and remixed to break down their original significance and question their role as cultural and political tools. Miller’s collection of racist Americana is a more direct statement on the trouble with American-ness and patriotism. These items reflect the racial violence and oppression that infuses so much of the history that has also informed a certain concept of national identity. Miller collects them as ”teaching tools” in the hope that their careful presentation and context might begin to neutralize their power as symbols of bigotry. Miller has published a book to accompany the show titled My Black is the Color of the Sun, in collaboration with the gallery. There will be a release event on February 22.

Green, blue, and yellow painting of large rocky mountain with cascading white waterfall and yellow sky in background
Adam Sorenson, Tetuan, courtesy PDX Contemporary

Skeleton: Adam Sorenson
January 15 – February 29
PDX Contemporary
925 NW Flanders
Portland artist Adam Sorenson gained national attention for his psychedelic neon landscapes ten years ago, and this month he returns to PDX Contemporary with paintings that find something new to say about the fantasy worlds that have become his signature. Like his past work, the pieces in Skeleton are replete with gumdrop-like rocks, cascading waterfalls, and glowing colors. But they are looser, more relaxed, and more painterly. In contrast to his earlier works, a little more is left to the imagination, and it feels like the mysterious places Sorenson conjures have a bit more room to breathe.

Photo of bearded man with yellow-painted face and purple lace shroud over head, holding hand to cheek and looking upwards with mouth open and eyes rolled back as if in agony or ecstasy. alpine scene in background
image courtesy Disjecta

Nierika: Santuario Somático: Edgar Fabián Frías
February 2 – March 8
Disjecta
8371 N Interstate Ave
Disjecta curator-in-residence Justin Hoover presents artist Edgar Fabián Frías in the second show of a series titled ungodly: the spiritual medium (Coco Dolle’s PUNKDEISM was the first). Frías is a licensed psychotherapist in addition to their interdisciplinary art practice, and their exhibition Nierika touts itself as an opportunity for viewers to take refuge and undertake a voyage of self-discovery through creative workshops, videos, and objects infused with spirituality inspired by Wixarika traditions of Western Mexico. How this transformative process is meant to unfold is hazy, but pursuit of a goal as utopian as the “binding together” of individuals through facilitation and nurturance of the collective psyche is certainly worth diving headfirst into the unknown. 

Show Your Appreciation: Contribute to the Art(ist)s

The Portland Art Museum just announced a $10 million gift from Arlene Schnitzer, and Disjecta was recently awarded $80,000 in funding from the Andy Warhol Foundation. These donations are wonderful for the institutions receiving them and the artists they support, and for Portland’s arts community. But not everybody can be (or show at) the museum. Many of the venues in this month’s listings are artist run, and it’s no small feat to organize exhibitions on a monthly basis while trying to juggle an art practice and the inevitable day jobs and side hustles that come along with the “creative lifestyle.” Here are some small ways you can contribute to the artists and curators who are working hard to make Portland as cool and interesting as everyone expects it to be:

Ink & Drink PDX
@inkanddrinkpdx
Last Wednesdays 7-10pm
Dig a Pony 
Ink & Drink is a monthly event held at the Inner Southeast bar Dig a Pony: a dozen artists sit at a big table and draw as spectators look on with beers in hand. Finished drawings are hung in a makeshift salon-style gallery for patrons to purchase and take home (at very reasonable prices!), and 50% of the proceeds benefit rotating local nonprofits and activist organizations. Check their website and Instagram for details about upcoming events.

Holding Contemporary’s Shareholder Program
Holding Contemporary runs on a unique “shareholder” model, in which an investment in the gallery yields quarterly returns, discounts on art, exclusive invitations to special events, and other perks. Buying a share in a gallery may sound unusual, but it’s a great way for the business to attract support in a town whose art market is still developing compared to other cities. The initial investment can be as little as $100, but the impact is significant for the gallery and its artists.

The Nat Turner Project
The organizers of the Nat Turner Project call it a “fugitive gallery space” that aims to give artists of color the literal and metaphorical space to create their work. Their projects include exhibitions and performances, as well as the Drinking Gourd Fellowships, which provide material support to emerging artists of color. Now NTP also has a podcast, called who all gon be there?, and you can support all of their activities by donating to their Patreon. An ongoing contribution entitles donors to benefits like exclusive podcast episodes, a NTP zine, and custom-made buttons. With enough support, the organization hopes to eventually rent exhibition space and pay future artists-in-residence. 

Nationale
Reborn gallery Nationale has raised an impressive amount so far through its grassroots fundraising campaign, but it still has a little ways to go to make up for the high costs of renovating its new space. Owner and curator May Barruel is known for her continued support of young emerging artists, and her gallery is by some measures the quintessential Portland art space. Over the years she has borne much of the cost of running the space herself, and it has been heartwarming to see the community she helped build gather its resources to keep Nationale going.

Oregon Artswatch
It would be remiss not to include ourselves! Oregon Artswatch has been covering the state’s arts community and news since 2011. As a nonprofit organization, we rely in part on donations to fund our reporting. If you are enjoying this column, think about contributing a little bit if you can so that we can continue sharing our journalism with you!