Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art

VizArts Monthly: Day trips, local favorites, and virtual viewings

April's art offerings brim with the potential of spring embracing topics from collaboration to cultural heritage to much-needed laughter

The cherry blossom trees are blooming! It can only mean one thing: the slow ascent into spring has begun. Let’s brighten our days with some fresh art, shall we? Galleries are remaining COVID-safe, with ample opportunity to set private viewing appointments. For Portlanders itching to ditch the city for the day, this month’s round-up includes must-see shows in Astoria, Eugene, and Newberg. Those who prefer to stay home can still enjoy new virtual exhibitions at Upfor Gallery and Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art. Common exhibition themes this month include identity, cultural heritage, and shifts in landscape. There’s plenty of opportunity to challenge your perspectives, but Well Well Projects’ What’s So Funny? promises some long-overdue laughter, too. Enjoy, and don’t forget your mask.

Work by James Castle, image courtesy Adams and Ollman

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VizArts Monthly: Spring reflections on social upheaval

From new backyard spaces to established galleries, March's Vizarts Monthly offerings tackle the racial reckoning and Covid-induced isolation of the past year

It may feel difficult to believe, but the spring equinox is upon us, and our art scene is in bloom with plenty of new exhibitions to see in the sunshine (or the rain. Let’s be honest, it is Oregon). Several exhibitions this month expand upon the social, environmental, and racial justice movements of 2020, centering topics like police violence against Black men and art collaborations with those experiencing houselessness and poverty. Many galleries are still accepting viewers by appointment only, so plan ahead and make a day of it!

Figure sitting on a bed in a room with a window and scattered children's toys
Work by Jon Henry, image courtesy Blue Sky Gallery

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A new round of shutdowns

As coronavirus cases spike in Oregon and the governor orders new restrictions, museums and other art centers are closing down again

In line with Gov. Kate Brown’s new restrictions on public gatherings because of spiking coronavirus cases, several Oregon museums and arts spaces have announced temporary closures.

The shutdowns will last at least two weeks statewide, beginning on Wednesday, Nov. 18, and running through Dec. 2. The restriction is four weeks in Multnomah County, which has seen a large surge in reported cases. And depending on how successful the restrictions are in curbing the effects of the pandemic, the shutdowns could be extended. As of Friday, Oregon has had almost 55,000 confirmed cases of Covid-19, and more than 750 deaths. “I want to be honest,” Brown said at a press conference on Friday, as reported in The Oregonian. “We are trying to stop this ferocious virus from spreading even more quickly and far and wide, and to save lives.”

Most cultural and gathering spots are affected by the freeze, from the Oregon Zoo to the Portland Japanese Garden to Portland’s Lan Su Chinese Garden and more. Metropolitan area public libraries are affected, too, as The Oregonian reports: For the Multnomah County system the freeze extends to sidewalk-holds pickup service and wireless printing – and don’t return the books you’ve checked out. Clackamas and Washington County systems are slightly different; check the link for details.

The best advice is, before you go anywhere, check to see if it’s open: If it’s public and it ordinarily draws a fair number of people, it’s probably shut down for now. Most museums have virtual exhibitions online that can be viewed during physical shutdowns. Check their web pages for details. Meanwhile, many private art galleries remain open by appointment. Again, check before you go.

What we know so far:

OREGON HISTORICAL SOCIETY: The museum, history center, and research library in downtown Portland’s Cultural District are closed “until further notice.” Several virtual exhibitions remain available.

OREGON MUSEUM OF SCIENCE & INDUSTRY: The popular attraction on the riverfront in Southeast Portland is closed beginning Sunday, Nov. 15, “through the end of the Governor’s orders for Multnomah County.” Virtual programs continue.

Adam McKinney’s installation “Shelter in Space” continues to be viewable through Nov. 20 from the sidewalk outside the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education. It was installed on the eve of the Jewish holiday Sukkot, and expands on the idea of temporary dwelling places. Photo: Mario Gallucci, Oct. 8, 2020.

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Resourcefulness and resilience: Local thesis shows in a global pandemic

Graduating art students pivot from in-person thesis shows to an array of virtual offerings

By BRIANA MILLER

There is a lot going on in the world right now, and in the midst of it, a newly minted class of fine art and craft students is setting out into the world. The timing couldn’t be better – we need their hope, creativity, resiliency, and ingenuity now more than ever. Equally, the timing couldn’t be worse – nearly all of their final in-person thesis shows were cancelled because of Covid-19 related closures. But art and artists are attuned to change, and as the pandemic forced colleges and universities across the Portland Metro area to close their campuses, their art departments moved swiftly to adjust expectations and find meaningful ways to culminate their degree programs. 

“Our role was to be responsive to the moment and work with the circumstances and not despite them,” said Jess Perlitz, who teaches sculpture at Lewis & Clark College and is the co-chair of its Department of Art. “Something about the arts is to be prepared and resourceful and resilient. We got to model that.”

For many schools, delaying or postponing the thesis exhibition wasn’t an option. Students left as campuses closed in mid-March, and because they were graduating, any plans to return were uncertain. As a result, institutions pivoted to thinking of the final exhibitions as virtual, building new online galleries or substantially enhancing existing web pages. 

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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: One for the books

Portland Book Fest turns the page, downtown gets a new museum, music and theater light up the stage, it's beginning to feel a lot like ...

WORDSTOCK IS DEAD. LONG LIVE THE PORTLAND BOOK FESTIVAL. And the city’s big blowout of a book festival, by any other name, is just around the corner: Saturday’s the day. Portland’s South Park Blocks is the site, centering on the Portland Art Museum but sprawling like free verse across the territory. “A circus is a good analogy for Portland’s big annual book event, with its 100+ authors appearing on nine stages all in one dense, delirious, daylong literary orgy,” Katie Taylor writes in her aptly titled ArtsWatch preview, Portland Book Festival: Sometimes too much is a good thing. “It’s intentional FOMO,” or Fear of Missing Out, festival director Amanda Bullock told Taylor. “There’s always something happening, a new event starting every 15 minutes. Even if one thing is full, there’s always something else to check out.”

Checking the goods at 2018’s Portland Book Festival. Photo courtesy Literary Arts

Among this year’s headliners will be the big-idea journalist Malcolm Gladwell and former Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice. As always, the party will be overflowing with authors, readers, speeches, workshops, browsers and impromptu discoveries – a blossoming of language for a book-besotted town. As for that name change, the beloved Wordstock rebranded itself last year, trading in its smart, snappy, cheeky, and memorable monicker for something that sounds a little more boardroom drab. On its web site, the festival explains the change. I’m not convinced. Then again, open book, open mind: Maybe I’m just reading too much into it. 

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At PSU’s new museum, art for all

The new Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art at the urban university gives Portland a new center for contemporary art. And it's free to everyone.

As you walk around the new Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art at Portland State University, the eyes have it. Staring out from the prints on the walls in the museum’s inaugural exhibition, Art for All, they leap across the space between art and visitor, intimate and visceral and commanding. When the new museum’s interim director, Linda Tesner, was shaping its first show she wanted to appeal to as broad a potential audience as possible, and decided to stress portraits: person to person, universal and immediate. What could be more democratic?

“Art for All” might well also be the new museum’s motto. When the newest Schnitzer-named university art museum – the third in the Pacific Northwest – opens its doors on Thursday at PSU, Portland will gain something that’s common across Europe but almost as rare as hen’s teeth in the United States: a free art museum. That’s free, no strings attached: free admission for any PSU student or staff member; free for anyone and everyone, from anywhere and everywhere, who wants to visit.

Left: Robert Colescott’s Haircut, 1989, oil on canvas, 84 x 72 inches. Right: David Shrobe’s Keeper of Secrets, 2018, oil, acrylic, graphite, paper, canvas, wood, fabric, metal, and vinyl. Photo: Spencer Rutledge, courtesy PSU

That fact alone distinguishes the new JSMA from most American museums. It tears down the stubborn economic wall that traditionally keeps lower-income people on the outside and turns museums into havens for the middle and upper classes. The costs of building, maintaining and exhibiting museum collections are high, and in the U.S., where government underwriting of cultural institutions is scant, that usually means high admission prices, too: standard admission to the much larger Portland Art Museum, for instance, is $20, an amount that doesn’t even begin to cover the costs of keeping its doors open.  

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