Louis Bunce

The ArtsWatch year in Visual Arts

This year the arts fought back by finding space for everyone and creating spiky work that reminded us where we are

We live in the best of times—at least measured by the profusion of visual arts in Portland and the state. The number of artists and the places they have found and created have both continued to grow. The thin infrastructure of existing institutions and galleries hasn’t been able to keep up, and so 2017 found us in the middle of a boomlet of new alternative organizations, cooperatives, groups and galleries. Many of these had a social and/or political bent to them, which makes perfect sense in this year of political tumult. The best form of resistance, both to the short-term national political condition and to the long-term drift away from democracy, is to develop new ways and platforms to share art-making, which itself can be a call to reflection and an appeal to shared experience and values. We will get out of this together, and when we do, we want to bring everyone with us.

As I wandered through the ArtsWatch visual arts stories of 2017, I was struck by two things. The first was that our resources were entirely insufficient to keep up with all that was going on. The second? The stories that our arts writers—all freelancers—created in response to what they encountered still managed to sketch an outline, an abstract, of what was going on. Hannah Krafcik, Paul Maziar and Nim Wunnan wrote about new galleries, new organizations and new artists showing in alternative locations. Paul Sutinen produced a series of interviews with some of our most decorated artists. Bob Hicks wrote compelling stories about the Portland Art Museum’s programming and the reimagining of the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education in its new Pearl District digs. And we had several one-shot reports—about an artist collective in Cuba, art made from the detritus washed ashore in Bandon, Oregon, and the back-and-forth between a model-photographer and the painter recreating her on canvas.

If you scroll through our visual arts category, you can find these and lots of other posts, most of them longer-form, all of them committed to grappling with art, artists and the culture in which they operate. The list that follows isn’t my peculiar assessment of the “best” visual arts stories of 2017. It just illustrates what I’ve been talking about, in one way or another.

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Art notes: Maryhill springs up

Plus: Final call for 'Mother' and Louis Bunce, Goltzius x 3, kickoff for Art Passport PDX, Portland Open Studios' be-a-patron plan

Sunday was shirtsleeve weather in Portland. The torrents returned on Monday, but the temperature’s been inching above 55. The hellebores and daffodils are pushing up. And if you want a sure sign that it’s almost spring (the calendar says it starts next Monday, the 20th) here it is: Maryhill Museum of Art opens for the season on Wednesday, with a big celebration on Saturday.

The museum, in a concrete castle that stands above the Columbia Gorge about a hundred miles east of Portland on the Washington side of the river, battens its hatches every winter when the storms grow fierce, and its reopening every March is a true regional reawakening.

Théâtre de la Mode: “My Wife is a Witch” (Ma Femme est une Sorcière)—A Tribute to René Clair, with 1946 fashions and mannequins; original set by Jean Cocteau, recreated by Ann Surgers; Gift of Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne, Collection of Maryhill Museum of Art

The 2017 season, which runs through November 15, appears to be focusing on the museum’s own eclectic collections, with a new installation of its international chess sets, a show of ancient Greek ceramics from the permanent collection, some spruced-up dioramas from it weird and wonderful Théatre de la Mode models of post-World War II French fashion (including the Jean Cocteau design), and an exhibition of recent works added to the permanent collection, including pieces by, among others, Lillian Pitt, Rick Bartow, Betty LaDuke, Fritz Scholder, and R.H. Ives Gammell, the American realist whose symbolic/mythological series of large paintings The Hound of Heaven has long been in the permanent collection.

Angela Swedberg (American, b. 1962), Cheyenne-Style Elk Ladle, 2008, hot off-hand sculpted glass, brain-tanned leather, antique Italian glass seed beads, porcupine quills, silk ribbon and red ochre paint, 28” x 6”; Museum purchase, Collection of Maryhill Museum of Art

Visiting the esoteric blend of passions and aesthetic compulsions that make up the museum – they range from brawny Rodins to furniture designed by Queen Marie of Romania to celebrations of the iconic dancer Loie Fuller to American realist paintings of the 19th century to a significant collection of Native American and Western art – is almost always a blast, and getting there on a nice spring day is half the fun. You can plan your own route and take as much time as you like. I’m partial to a coffee stop in Mosier, then winding through the hills on the old highway into The Dalles, maybe stopping for lunch, and getting back on the freeway for the final lap. The Gorge beckons. Heed its call.

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… and oddly, as a pitched political battle sweeps the nation, life goes on. How will the arts world respond to the extraordinary events of the day? How, if at all, will this most divisive and pugilistic of administrations respond to the world of art? Shoes could drop at any moment: the administration has already stated its intent to kill the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities, and to end federal funding to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. While Nero threatens to cut off the fiddles, here are a few highlights of what’s going on in and around town.

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IT’S FIRST THURSDAY this week, when many galleries open their new monthly shows, so visual art is on our minds. The Portland Art Museum has opened Rodin: The Human Experience, a major show of 52 bronzes, and Constructing Identity, an important overview of historical and contemporary work by African American artists.

Louis Bunce, “Apple”, 1968. Oil on canvas. 41” x 48”//Courtesy Hallie Ford Museum of Art

And the invaluable Hallie Ford Museum of Art in Salem has opened Louis Bunce: Dialogue with Modernism, a retrospective on the late Oregon artist, who Paul Sutinen, in his ArtsWatch review of the show, identifies as a key figure in the city’s cultural life, the catalyst for making Portland a city of modern art. “It is an important show,” Sutinen declares. “It is a great show. It is accompanied by a monograph on Bunce by Roger Hull. It is important. It is great.” And then he explains why. See the sort of thing that the Savonarolas of the federal purse are eager to upend.

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Louis Bunce: Catalyst for making Portland a city of modern art

A retrospective of Louis Bunce's at the Hallie Ford Museum makes the case for the artist as the catalyst for modern art in Portland

There is a retrospective exhibition of paintings by Louis Bunce at the Hallie Ford Museum of Art in Salem, running through March 26. It is an important show. It is a great show. It is accompanied by a monograph on Bunce by Roger Hull. It is important. It is great.

The importance of Louis Bunce to the development of art in Portland (and Oregon) cannot be overstated. As Hull says in his introduction: “Arguably Louis Bunce was the major Oregon modern artist of the twentieth century—a claim that can be substantiated on the basis of his enormously skilled production in many styles and modes, his friendship with artists on the New York scene that provided links between the Big Apple and the Rose City, his imaginative will to make Portland, Oregon, a city of art as well as roses, and the sheer force of his amiable, extroverted personality.”

Gerald Robinson, “Portrait of Louis Bunce,” 1955, gelatin silver print//Courtesy Hallie Ford Museum of Art

The exhibition certainly demonstrates “his enormously skilled production in many styles and modes.” Born in Wyoming in 1907, Bunce graduated from Jefferson High School in Portland. He attended the School of the Portland Art Association (later called the Museum Art School and later the Pacific Northwest College of Art), and spent four years in his early 20s in New York attending classes at the Art Students League. Early on he was enthralled with the paintings of Paul Cézanne, and the early landscapes in the exhibition have hints of Cézanne.

He then seems to have been inspired by the surrealist Giorgio de Chirico in the 1930s, with works like Along the Waterfront, 1939-1940. Here is a view from the seawall along the Willamette, looking north. Two figures lean on the wall, gazing across the river, but the rest is a simplified still life of objects: timbers, post, wheel, bridge and the towers of the Portland Public Market Building (later the Oregon Journal Building, demolished in 1969 for the construction of Waterfront Park). It has the bleakness of de Chirico, but maybe that’s also the bleakness of the Great Depression.

Louis Bunce, “Along the Waterfront”, 1939-1940. Oil on canvas. 34” x 30 ½” /Courtesy Hallie Ford Museum of Art

By the 1950s Bunce, in the spirit of the times, was making abstract expressionist style paintings. For me these are his most powerful works. Bunce combines freedom of form making with explorations of paint application—typical abstract expressionist attributes—with the feeling (not really “depiction”) of the land and sea of Oregon. Burned Land No. 2 relates directly to the series of massive wildfires known as the Tillamook Burn. Other titles such as Bay Composition No.2, Beach—Low Tide, Soft Rocks, Cliffside, or Lava Field, make it clear that Bunce was looking locally for (oh, I hate using this word, but…) “inspiration.”

Landscape-inspired-abstraction continued to be Bunce’s motif of choice through the end of his life, with a few side tracks into “pop”-inspired, paintings of enormous apples and roses, and a series of collages and serigraphs with strange furniture-like motifs (unfortunately not in this exhibition, but in a show of Bunce paper works that just closed at Hallie Ford).

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Art: new images for a new year

The first First Thursday of 2017, and other January visual arts events

Well, we pretty much got out of 2016 with the shirts on our backs, and suddenly here we are in a fresh new year.

January brings some intriguing visual art possibilities, including a major retrospective on Oregon master Louis Bunce (1907-1983) opening Jan. 21 at the Hallie Ford Museum of Art in Salem. On the same day in Eugene, the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art opens Sandow Birk: American Qur’an, a visual exploration of how the Muslim holy book intersects with American life. On Jan. 17 the Ronna and Eric Hoffman Gallery at Lewis & Clark College opens youniverse: past, present, future, by veteran Portland artist Tad Savinar, focusing on works conceived in Florence, Italy, in 2014 and 2016 and on prints, paintings, and sculpture from 1994 through 2011.

And the Portland Art Museum has several things coming up this month to help fill the Andy Warhol void: Rodin: The Human Experience, a show of 52 bronzes opening Jan. 21; Constructing Identity, a major look at the work of contemporary and historical African American artists from Henry Ossawa Tanner to Faith Ringgold and beyond, opening Jan. 28; and the Portland Fine Print Fair 2017, which brings together offerings from 20 top dealers, and which the museum hosts Jan. 27-29.

MORE IMMEDIATELY, THURSDAY is the first First Thursday of the art-gallery year, and galleries across town will be opening new monthly shows. (Some have holdovers, or different opening dates.) Here are a few shows that have caught our eye. There’s lots more, so get out and explore on your own:

Carl Morris, “Voyage Unknown,” 1946, oil on canvas, 52 x 32.5 inches. At this point his art is moving away from figurism but not yet into the abstract expressionism for which he’s best known. Photo: Russo Lee Gallery

The iconic Oregon artist Carl Morris (1911-1993) has a show at Russo Lee Gallery, sharing space with Alex Hirsch. Morris moved from WPA-style murals (the Eugene post office) to his own form of earthbound abstract expressionism that kept vital touch with the mysteries of the Northwest landscape. Morris was at once regional and wise to the movements of the international art scene, and this exhibit covers roughly 50 years of development.

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ArtsWatch Weekly: Moby-Dick, Golden Boy, in the galleries

A look at the week that was in Oregon arts. A glimpse ahead at the week that's going to be.

Neither snow nor ice shall keep ArtsWatch from its appointed rounds, which on this frigid and slushy morning include a virtual tour of what’s coming up in the Portland arts world in this, the first full week of 2016. We’ll also take a gander back at that creakity old-timer 2015, but fresh things first.

Sometimes what’s new is old, or built on what’s old, and that’s the case with [or, the whale], Juli Crockett’s new play for Portland Experimental Theatre Ensemble, opening Friday at Reed College. PETE’s been spending the season reexamining the events and implications of the great Moby-Dick (Barry Johnson reviewed Drowned Horse Tavern, the project’s opening chapter, here), and this newest chapter, the PETEsters say, “will dive into the mind of the old sea-salt sea captain of the one leg.” Right now, we’re imagining a voyage through icy seas.

"[or, the whale]": drama on the high seas. Photo: PETE

“[or, the whale]”: drama on the high seas. Photo: PETE

Also this weekend, Ty Boice slaps on the gloves at Lakewood Theatre and takes a punch at Golden Boy, Clifford Odets’ earnest cautionary drama about American ambition. Boice, who recently left Post5, the company he helped found, to seek further adventures in the northlands of Washington state, seems excellent casting for Joe Bonaparte, the sensitive violinist who stumbles into the fight racket in search of fortune and fame. Three guesses how that turns out – and Odets didn’t even know about the massive long-term dangers of repeated concussions.

 


 

Final call. A couple of big museum shows close up shop this weekend: Seeing Nature, the exhibition of paintings from the Paul Allen collection, on Sunday at the Portland Art Museum; and Alien She, built around the artistic provocations of the Riot Grrrls, on Saturday at the Museum of Contemporary Craft.

Jim Lommasson, from "What We Carried: Fragments from the Cradle of Civilization," at Blue Sky. image © Jim Lommasson

Jim Lommasson, from “What We Carried: Fragments from the Cradle of Civilization,” at Blue Sky. Image © Jim Lommasson

First call. This week also brings the first First Thursday of the year in the galleries, and because New Year’s Day arrived last Friday, the Second Friday gallery hop arrives the following day, bringing lots and lots of new exhibits to town. A few shows to keep in mind:

  • Photographer Jim Lommasson is an investigator of trauma and survival, looking for shards of hope amid upheaval. At Blue Sky Gallery, his new series What We Carried: Fragments from the Cradle of Civilization documents the stories of refugees fleeing the Iraqi war, and the things they brought with them. Also on view will be works from his earlier series Exit Wounds, about the aftermath for American soldiers of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. Meantime, at the Nine Gallery inside Blue Sky, you can see some convincing, new works by ArtsWatch correspondent Patrick Collier.
  • Charles Siegfried’s Boom, at Blackfish, also looks at the effects and aftereffects of war: it’s based on a declassified Department of Defense document detailing a communications surveillance system designed to create a “virtual fence” between North and South Vietnam.
  • Sublime Crush, a new show of dreamlike and intensely stylized landscapes by Kendra Larson, is at Augen.
  • On Friday Portland’s longtime Attic Gallery, a downtown fixture since 1973, opens its first show in its new home across the Columbia River, at 421 N.E. Cedar Street in Camas, Washington. Artists include Bill Baily, Brenda Boylan, and Mike Smith.
  • In addition to new abstract works by the always interesting Portland veteran G. Lewis Clevenger, Laura Russo Gallery will feature Looking Back: Northwest Icons, work by pioneers including Louis Bunce, William Givler, Martina Gangle Curl, Kenneth Callahan, Sally Haley, Carl & Hilda Morris, Amanda Snyder, the Runquist brothers, and others.
Louis Bunce, "Study for Fleet Mural," c. 1960, oil and mixed media on paper mounted on masonite, 25 x 41 inches. In "Looking Back: Northwest Icons" at Laura Russo.

Louis Bunce, “Study for Fleet Mural,” c. 1960, oil and mixed media on paper mounted on masonite, 25 x 41 inches. In “Looking Back: Northwest Icons” at Laura Russo.

 


 

Three things, meanwhile, stand out on the close-but-not-quite-here, start-making-plans horizon:

  • Fertile Ground 2016 runs January 21-31, bringing dozens of new theater and dance works to stages across the city, from first readings to staged readings to full productions. From the Brothers Grimm to a Box of Clowns to a Frankenstein cabaret, the possibilities are multitudinous.
  • CMNW Winter Festival: Chamber Music Northwest, far better known for its summer series of concerts, offers this concentrated winter series of reimagined masterworks – six shows and a free rehearsal January 27-February 1.
  • Biamp Portland Jazz Festival. This year’s fest runs February 18-28, and is built around a celebration of John Coltrane’s 90th birthday. Charles Lloyd, Dianne Reeves, Sonny Fortune, Gary Peacock, Elvin Jones, Bobby Torres, much more.

 


 

 

ArtsWatch links

 

Vana O'Brien and Joshua Weinstein in "4000 Miles" at Artists Rep in May, one of the Big 100 of 2015. Photo: Owen Carey

Vana O’Brien and Joshua Weinstein in “4000 Miles” at Artists Rep in May, one of the Big 100 of 2015. Photo: Owen Carey

The Big 100 of 2015. ArtsWatch’s writers and editors put their heads together and came up with 100 stories that helped define the arts in Oregon in 2015 – a kind of cultural road map of the year. From Miz Kitty’s Parlour in January to a farewell to ZooZoo in December, we sampled the distinct cultural flavors of the year.

Christmas at Coffee Creek. Just before Christmas, a group of musicians from the Oregon Symphony brought a special gift to inmates at the Coffee Creek correctional facility for women: a casual, free-wheeling holiday concert. It turned out to be a happy affair for everyone. Photographer Benji Vuong went along, and filed this photo essay for ArtsWatch.

Happy musicians, happy audience: the Oregon Symphony at Coffee Creek. Photo: Benji Vuong

Happy musicians, happy audience: the Oregon Symphony at Coffee Creek. Photo: Benji Vuong

 


 

 

About ArtsWatch Weekly

We send a letter like this every Tuesday to a select group of email subscribers, and also post it weekly on the ArtsWatch home page. In ArtsWatch Weekly, we take a look at stories we’ve covered in the previous week, give early warning of events coming up, and sometimes head off on little arts rambles we don’t include anywhere else. You can read this report here. Or, you can get it delivered weekly to your email inbox, and get a quick look at all the stories you might have missed (we have links galore) and the events you want to add to your calendar. It’s easy to sign up. Just click here, and leave us your name and e-address.

 


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We are (almost) a Bieber-free zone

News and notes on the Portland International Film Festival, William Stafford Centennial, Louis Bunce, theater grants

Louis Bunce, "Eclipse", 1962, gouache and conte on paper/Laura Russo Gallery

Louis Bunce, “Eclipse”, 1962, gouache and conte on paper/Laura Russo Gallery

No, we are not going to tsk-tsk over the latest Justin Bieber arrest in Miami. We just aren’t. And we’re not even going to link you to the tsk-tsking over at Huffington Post. OK, so I couldn’t help myself. Let’s just say I personally would not rent a Lamborghini to the kid, but that’s just on aesthetic grounds: Why put a piece of fine machinery at risk?

I shall link to other events in the universe, however, ones that I find more congenial!

For example, the Portland International Film Festival released this year’s schedule, available as a PDF, and it’s impressive. Tomorrow the microsite for the festival goes live and you can reach the same info via the Northwest Film Center’s website. The festival will run February 6-22.

We agree that this is choral music’s Golden Age in Portland, and Jeff Winslow reviewed Cappella Romana’s Arctic Light concert as a case in point. If you haven’t already, maybe it’s time to start enjoying the riches.

Add to the ongoing William Stafford centennial celebrations: Portland Peace Choir has commissioned Portland composer Beth Karp to set one of Stafford’s poems, “At The Un-National Monument Along The Canadian Border,” for chorus. The new piece will premiere at the PPC’s May 17 concert. “This is the field where the battle did not happen,/where the unknown soldier did not die.” I should also point out the Literary Arts/Lewis & Clark College William Stafford Centennial Celebration, 7:30 pm February 7, Newmark Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway. The poetry stars will be shining, hosted by Matthew Dickman. (OK, now I’m trying to imagine a meeting between Justin Bieber and William Stafford…)

Jamuna Chiarini’s review of the first half of the (a)merging dance festival at Northwest Dance Project, is a good preview of the second half, which starts Friday night.

Many of America’s historic post office buildings, including several in Oregon, constitute an important part of our public architectural heritage. Oregon Congressman Earl Blumenauer is trying to protect them.

Bonnie Hull blogged about Jack Portland’s artist’s talk on artist Louis Bunce at the Laura Russo Gallery on Saturday, and if you have any doubts about Bunce’s significance, you should check out Paul Sutinen’s blog. Right now!

When I first arrived in Portland, back before global warming, I thought the Portland theater was wonderful because it was so weird, and it was so weird because it was so isolated. I thought of it as the Galapagos Islands of theater, where strange organisms evolved. Storefront Theatre was a case in point, but there were many others. When those companies collapsed, mostly, we entered a period during which we resembled lots of other big theater towns, just a couple of years behind. And now? Well, I think we are doing some pioneering work that everyone else is going to mimic, just a few years later! My latest piece of evidence: both Oregon Shakespeare Festival and Portland Center Stage received TCG Audience (R)Evolution grants to build on their successes in reaching new audiences. Congratulations!