Northwest art

Grace Kook-Anderson is a curator based in Portland, Oregon. She has served as the Arlene and Harold Schnitzer Curator of Northwest Art at the Portland Art Museum since 2016. Recent exhibitions she has curated include APEX: Laura Fritz and the group exhibition, the map is not the territory. Prior to her appointment at PAM, she was Curator of Contemporary Art at the Laguna Art Museum in Laguna Beach, CA, and has also worked on various projects as an independent curator. I spoke with her via phone recently while each of us worked at our respective home offices during the Covid-19 stay-home mandate. In the time since our conversation, PAM has announced it will furlough 80% of its staff in an effort to manage the financial impacts stemming from the pandemic. 

A woman with long black hair in a low ponytail, dressed in a navy blue plaid coat with a draped collar and simple black dress, poses in an art gallery featuring contemporary sculptures, to the right of a man wearing a gray business suit and black tie, with square-framed glasses
Grace Kook-Anderson (photographed here with museum director Brian Ferriso) in the Northwest Art Gallery at the Portland Art Museum. Background art (left to right) Karl Burkheimer, Heather Watkins, and Avantika Bawa. Image courtesy Portland Art Museum

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Sketching ‘Volcano!’ at the museum

ArtsWatch Weekly: Big crowds & small artists take in the Portland Art Museum's big boom, March's new art & dance, a fresh film fest

ON SATURDAY I DROPPED BY THE PORTLAND ART MUSEUM to spend a little quality time with Volcano!, the sprawling exhibit designed to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the eruption of Mt. St. Helens. (The mountaintop blasted sky-high on May 18, 1980; the museum’s show closes on May 17, a day before the anniversary.) On a rainy afternoon the place was packed with curious or nostalgic visitors. Some came to revisit their experiences of one of the most memorable days in modern Pacific Northwest history. Some came eager to learn a little more about a cataclysmic event they didn’t live through themselves but knew was a Really Big Deal. And most seemed engaged: The crowd wasn’t just walking through quickly with a glance here and a glance there – people were studying the paintings and photographs, sometimes doubling back to take a closer look at something they’d already seen. One way or another, this show seemed a part of their lives.

Lucinda Parker, “The Seething Saint,” 2019, acrylic on canvas, in the exhibition “Volcano!” at the Portland Art Museum. Courtesy Lucinda Parker and Russo Lee Gallery

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West Coast Woodcut: edges of life

In Maryhill Museum's Year of the Print, an exhibition of contemporary printmaking cuts from urban realism to the rhythms of the natural world

Man at Work, a 2014 linoleum block print by Ronnie Goodman in the exhibition West Coast Woodcut: Contemporary Relief Prints by Regional Artists at Maryhill Museum of Art, fits a classic role of printmaking: It’s a quiet provocation, surprising the viewer with a sudden twist on familiarity. An image of a man standing on a street corner in San Francisco with two huge bags filled with cans and bottles slung over his shoulders, it fits securely into a social-realist tradition that also embraces the likes of Otto Dix, Käthe Kollwitz, and the American regionalists of the 1930s.

Ronnie Goodman, Man at Work, 2014, linoleum block print. Edition 9/16.

Stylistically it could be from the 1930s, and with a little jolt you realize looking at it that in a way it is, or at least it’s a contemporary echo of the Depression years. Man at Work is an image of down-and-outness, of the outsider, the possibly homeless guy sidling against the crowd, and when you see the title the whole little drama expands: Whatever you might have thought on first glance, the man’s no bum. He’s working, gathering the trash, doing a job that other people don’t want to do, scraping by with a quiet dignity that most people never take the time to see. The capper comes when you look at the wall plaque and discover that Goodman himself has led a hard-knock life: He’s homeless, and learned to make art in prison while serving a six-year sentence for burglary. “I have had my belongings confiscated ten times,” Goodman is quoted. “The city has taken my original irreplaceable linocuts – over fifty plates, all of my original artwork.” The explanatory plaque continues: “This includes works that were included in a temporary exhibition in the office of San Francisco mayor, London Breed.”

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“the map is not the territory”: Whose border is it?

The Portland Art Museum starts a discussion that involves regionalism, authority, and curatorial process.

Appropriately, there is no transition to ease one into the Portland Art Museum’s exhibition the map is not the territory. The viewer is thrown directly into Fernanda D’Agostino’s video installation, Borderline.

The central sculpture court of the museum is often used as a gathering or transitional space to help prepare the viewer for what is to come inside the galleries. Here it is a gallery itself. Multiple projections flash simultaneously on walls, the floor, and suspended screens: entangled bodies and graceful forms present as peaceful or pleasing but then are overshadowed by columns of of trudging figures, showers of red dots, and engulfing flames. Attention is then divided between the rotating bodies and the encroaching calamities—identified as mass migration, government surveillance, and climate change. D’Agostino’s installation sets the tone for the show and confirms that while compelling, it doesn’t shy away from difficult topics.

Fernanda D'Agostino Borderline

Fernanda D’Agostino, Borderline. (2018) video projection, 2 projectors, 13 scenes set up in a software to combine imagery in a 169 combinations.

The title of the show, the map is not the territory, was inspired by a remark by the philosopher Alfred Korzybski and addresses the idea that what is “solidified” in a word or a map is never the full expression of the thing. This may not be the most poetic application of the theory but in the interest of a succinct explanation: you—with your personal history, your anxieties, hopes, and dreams for the present and future—you are more than your driver’s license. Identity is more complex than that, and in the same way, a region is more complicated than its borders and topographic elevations.

Installation View of the map is not the territory, Portland Art Museum (2019)

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In the galleries: photos & more

April is Portland Photo Month, and it's a wide-angle lens: a First Thursday guide to the month's shows

Snap, crackle, pop: April is Portland Photo Month, with events and exhibitions all over town. Photolucida, which sponsors the annual celebration, has put together a handy guide to several of the photo exhibits.

Philippe Halsman, “Marilyn at the Drive-in,” 1952, gelatin silver print, 10 x 13 inches, Edition of 250. In Augen Gallery exhibit of 20th century photography.

Among the gallery shows are works by such high-profile figures as the 20th century master Minor White (in a continuing show of images of Portland 1938-1942, at the Architectural Heritage Center), Christopher Rauschenberg (photos from Poland at Elizabeth Leach), and a couple of Portland photographers who balance fine-art photography and globe-trotting photojournalism (Corey Arnold and his Aleutian Dreams at Charles A. Hartman Fine Art; Susan Seubert with Not a Day Goes By, an exploration of suicide and the choice between being and nothingness, at Froelick).

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