Lillian Pitt

The race is on. Ready for live events?

ArtsWatch Weekly: Ready or not, things are opening. Plus Lillian Pitt & Friends, opera breaks the mold, movie time, poetry all over

THE RACE IS ON, as George Jones famously crooned, and if it’s not pride up the backstretch and heartaches goin’ to the inside, as the song’s lyrics breathlessly declare, the stakes may be higher: Can we get the nation and world successfully vaccinated before relaxed safety standards and unchecked viral variants send us back to the starting gate? As warmer months approach, and vaccination rates improve, and people become more restless after more than a year in shutdown, the urge to get out and do things grows stronger – but is it jumping the gun? This week the state reclassified Multnomah and Clackamas counties, with a combined population of more than 1.2 million, from “moderate” to “high risk” for coronavirus. (Washington County, with a population of almost 600,000, maintained its “moderate” status.) The question is vital and controversial, and it goes beyond schools and workplaces and houses of worship and even a weekend at the coast. It has a deep and direct impact on cultural life, too.

Young blues phenom Christone “Kingfish” Ingram, from Clarksdale, Mississippi, had the crowd roaring at the 2019 Waterfront Blues Festival. The festival, a Portland July 4 Weekend tradition, was canceled in 2020 because of coronavirus restrictions but will return in July 2021 at the new Lot at Zidell Yards, south of its usual sprawling location on the downtown waterfront. This year’s acts have not yet been announced, and crowd size will be controlled. Photo: Joe Cantrell

Things are stirring. Restaurants have opened for indoor dining. Even theater, beyond the Covid-special videotaped virtual version, is taking tentative steps. Portland’s Triangle Productions has just gone into rehearsal for Joe DiPietro’s four-performer throwback comedy Clever Little Lies, with plans to open to a live audience on May 6, and it could be just the sort of nostalgic escapism that cooped-up audiences will be craving. Movie theaters are reopening (see Marc Mohan’s “Streamers” column, linked below). A consortium of Oregon large-event venues, meanwhile, has written Gov. Kate Brown pushing for guidelines and permission to reopen, arguing that they know how to control crowds and should be part of the decision-making process. The letter includes about fifty signees, ranging from the Pendleton Round-Up to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, the Sisters Folk Festival, and the Portland and Eugene symphonic orchestras.

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Lillian Pitt: 10,000 Years Through Art

Stage & Studio: Dmae Robert talks with the noted Warm Springs artist about friendships, mentoring, Covid, and the Indigenous traditions that shape her art

Dmae Roberts first met Lillian Pitt when noted writer Cheryl Strayed curated an artists  section of a TEDx talk in 2013 that included Roberts and Pitt. Though she was familiar with Pitt’s work, it was a pleasure for Roberts to finally meet her. In her TEDx talk, Pitt shared the stage with Toma Villa, a young artist she was mentoring.

In her new curated art show Pitt is again sharing space with Villa and other Native American artists, two others she’s also mentored. That is the giving spirit of Lillian Pitt. Her new show Lillian Pitt Solo Show: Ancestors Known and Unknown runs through May 1 at the Columbia Center for the Arts in Hood River.

Lillian Pitt. Photo: Dennis Maxwell

Pitt features her glass art based on petroglyphs for this exhibit. Other artists and artwork she curated for this show include photography by Joe Cantrell (Cherokee Nation) and contemporary paintings by Sara Siestreem (Hanis-Coos Tribe),  large-scale mixed media wood carved masks by Toma Villa (Yakama Nation), found-object sculptures by Debora Lorang (friend of the Columbia Gorge Native Americans), and  aesthetically rich oils on canvas by Analee Fuentes (Mexican Heritage).

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Social engagement: politics, resistance, and art

2018 in Review, Part 5: Oregon ArtsWatch visited creators in all media who are addressing problems ranging from racism to climate change

The world is indisputably in a precarious position — not just politically and socially, but economically and even ecologically. It is a moment of crisis. Artists play a crucial role in moments like these, helping the rest of us arrive at a shared cognition of what is — of seeing, sensing, and feeling that roil of life in a way that clarifies, opens eyes, and maybe even showing us a way forward.

What struck me in compiling this year-end reading list on socially engaged art in Oregon is the extent to which artists strove not simply to see and interpret, but to peel back layers, to reveal what is largely hidden — either by design or by accident — by institutions, by geography, and even by the telling of history. There may be no “new” stories to tell, but too many stories haven’t been heard by those who need to hear them, by people who perhaps want to see, but don’t know how.

So dive into this compilation. There’s a bit of everything: visual art, theater, music, conceptual art, literature. And, of course, the usual disclaimer: The choices here are highly subjective and presented in no particular order, and obviously are not intended to be comprehensive.

 


 

Witnesses in a churning world

Artist Hung Liu says “Official Portraits: Immigrant” (2006, lithograph with collage) is one of three self-portraits representing stages of her life.

Sept. 27: ArtsWatch’s Bob Hicks checked out a fall show at the Hallie Ford Museum of Art in Salem called Witness: Themes of Social Justice in Contemporary Printmaking and Photography. It featured a lineup of artists who look at the world through a lens that is both personal and cultural, and in a way that connects our present moment with history.

“The idea of art as a pristine thing, separated from the hurly-burly of the everyday world and somehow above it all, is a popular notion,” Hicks wrote. “But a much stronger case exists for the idea of art as the expression of the roil of life, in all its messiness and cruelty and prejudices and passions and pleasures and occasional outbursts of joy. Art comes from somewhere, and that somewhere is the world in which we live.”

The article is a mini-tour of the exhibition itself, with nearly 20 pieces accompanied by the artists’ personal statements reflecting the roil and rebellion of their creative processes.

 


 

David Ludwig: Telling the Earth’s story through music

Chamber Music Northwest performs ‘Pangæa.’ Photo: Tom Emerson.

July 27: “Pangæa was the single huge continent on Earth encompassed by one vast ocean over 200 million years ago – eons before dinosaurs, much less humans,” musician David Ludwig writes in the program notes for composition of the same name. “It was an entirely different planet than one we’d recognize today, lush with life of another world.” That’s the world Ludwig interpreted musically in the West Coast premiere of Pangæa, a piece inspired by the ancient Earth, and the threat of extinction as a result of human-caused climate change. Matthew Andrews talked to him about this extraordinary piece of music for ArtsWatch. Best of all: You can listen to it yourself.

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Resilience and Strength in Glass

Not Fragile at the Center for Contemporary Native Art at the Portland Art Museum

by STEPHANIE LITTLEBIRD

The history and human heritage associated with glass working is a lengthy one. Boasting over 3,600 years of documented evolution as an art form, glass is something we rarely think about due to its ubiquitous nature. However, it is a material integral to everyday life. From the windows in your home and car to the lightbulb above your head, glass is, quite literally, everywhere. As an art form it is associated with fragility or vulnerability. But, glass is remarkable because it can only be manipulated with temperatures at or above 2,800 degrees fahrenheit. As such, it is a material that requires strength, respect, and adaptability.

Not Fragile at the Center for Contemporary Native Art at the Portland Art Museum is a unique collection of glass works created by some of the Pacific Northwest’s premier Native artists, including Joe Feddersen, Dan Friday, Lillian Pitt, and Brittany Britton. The Center for Contemporary Native Art serves as a dedicated gallery showcasing the perspectives of working Indigenous artists. Not Fragile is currently on display through June 9th, 2019.

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A new curator of Native American Art named by the Portland Art Museum

Kathleen Ash-Milby joins the museum's staff in a role that's become increasingly important

The Portland Art Museum has just announced the hiring of a new curator of Native American Art, Kathleen Ash-Milby. Ash-Milby comes to Portland from New York where she has been an associate curator at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) for nearly 20 years. She is a member of the Navajo Nation and replaces previous curator Deana Darrt, who stepped down in 2016.

At NMAI, Ash-Milby organized, curated, and co-curated many important exhibitions including: Transformer: Native Art in Light and Sound (2017), Kay WalkingStick: An American Artist (2015), C. Maxx Stevens: House of Memory (2012), HIDE: Skin as Material and Metaphor (2010), and Off the Map: Landscape in the Native Imagination (2007). In addition to her work at NMAI, Ash-Milby has curated projects internationally and served on the boards of the Aboriginal Curatorial Collective (2007-2012) and the American Indian Community House (2005-2007).

Kathleen Ash-Milby, the new curator of Native American Art at the Portland Art Museum

Ash-Milby was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and received her M.A. in Native American art history from the University of New Mexico. However, she does have connections to the Northwest as her undergraduate degree is from the University of Washington. She says she is “thrilled to be returning to the Northwest and joining the Portland Art Museum at such an important time in its growth. Portland has such a vibrant community of Native artists and community members, and I’m looking forward to being part of it.”

The Portland community is equally thrilled. Portland artist Lillian Pitt and member of the Native Advisory Board says, “I have known Kathleen since she started working at the National Museum of the American Indian…while the hiring process was lengthy, I am so pleased that Kathleen accepted the job. She will make us all proud.”

The position of curator for Native American Art has been vacant since Deana Dartt left the position in 2016, but the department has remained active. It has received several important grants from, among others, the Mellon Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities, and has continued to add new works to its collection. And it recently opened CCNA: Not Fragile, a show of glass art by contemporary Native artists.

Ash-Milby will start at the Portland Art Museum in July 2019.

Witnesses in a churning world

The artists speak out in the Hallie Ford Museum's big new exhibition on social justice and art. Here's what they have to say.

The idea of art as a pristine thing, separated from the hurly-burly of the everyday world and somehow above it all, is a popular notion. But a much stronger case exists for the idea of art as the expression of the roil of life, in all its messiness and cruelty and prejudices and passions and pleasures and occasional outbursts of joy. Art comes from somewhere, and that somewhere is the world in which we live.

With that world huddled suspiciously against itself, afraid of its own moving parts, gathered defensively in closed tribes, angry over what large fragments of its inhabitants still believe to be a lost paradise, how can art not reflect the political and cultural realities that surround and help define the artists themselves? Artists are our witnesses, the ones who watch and experience and tell the tale.

Witness: Themes of Social Justice in Contemporary Printmaking and Photography grabs our current cultural condition by the collar and gives it a good bracing shake. An expansive exhibition that is helping the Hallie Ford Museum of Art celebrate its twentieth anniversary in Salem, it features a sterling lineup of artists of color who look at the world through both a personal and a cultural lens, demanding each in their particular way that their stories be heard. All of the works are drawn from the collections of Jordan Schnitzer and his Family Foundation, and they’ve been smartly selected and arranged by guest curator Elizabeth Anne Bilyeu. The show she’s put together, which continues through December 20, is bold and revealing and aesthetically accomplished and reflective of a world that is richer and more complex than we can individually comprehend.

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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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