portland center for the visual arts

ArtsWatch Weekly: Confronting the great divides

America's battle with itself comes alive in a pair of plays, a book on the working-class tightrope, and a photo show about the persistent South

AS YOU MAY HAVE NOTICED DURING OUR RECENT IMPEACHMENT SPAT and other real or manufactured public outrages, we are living in deeply divided times. One of the roles of art is to look into such abysses and give them shape that either clarifies the issues or reveals them to be more confusing and complex than we believe. In times like these art is not simply decoration: It also can be, and likely should be, a relentless and unwaveringly human mirror. 

Jason Glick and Andrea White, caught in a Blind. Photo: Lindberg Media

Art often looks back to look forward. While watching Lynn Nottage’s brilliant play Sweat in its recently closed, knockout production by Profile Theatre, I felt the lurking presence of the late, great Arthur Miller in the hall. Nottage’s play, which deals with the economic crumbling of the American working class and the way such stresses also can reveal racial and other fault lines, suggests some of the underpinnings of populism’s hard turn to the right and left. It also feels like an updating and almost a reverse image of Miller’s 20th century social realism in the likes of All My Sons, a play that looks at the effects of economic skullduggery from the vantage of the owners, while Sweat considers its brutalizing effect on the workers.

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Our place in the fabric of the world

Finding the warp and weft of things in Amanda Triplett's studio, a fresh look at PCVA, and a Diane Jacobs work at the Portland Art Museum

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The role of the artist is exactly the same as the role of the lover. If I love you, I have to make you conscious of the things you don’t see. 

James Baldwin The Creative Process (1962) (from The Price of the Ticket: Collected Nonfiction, 1948-1985.)


STORY AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY FRIDERIKE HEUER


ONE OF THOSE WEEKS. Unrelenting, miserable downpours, not the drizzle Portland usually knows. Unrelenting, horrid news, death calling with helicopter crashes, earthquakes, viral lung disease. And then three art encounters that stretched the brain and filled the soul with smatterings of joy. Softened the week around the edges.

Details from Amanda Triplett’s studio.

The thread that ran through these encounters was literally that: a thread. Or, more precisely, multitudes of them, fabrics, textiles, hair, and other palpable materials fashioned into something different and new. To stay within the textile metaphor, the warp running the lengths of the works was clever, clever ideas about our place in the world, crossed by the weft of invitations for multiple interpretations.

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Critical remakes but no art

Curatorial team Triple Candie's retrospective of the Portland Center for the Visual Arts at the Portland Art Museum

Gallery installation featuring low plywood façade wrapping around corner of two walls, and on the floor two yellow fluorescent lights, two logs, a mirror, a silver box, and an assortment of small objects arranged in a grid.
Installation view of Being Present, courtesy of Portland Art Museum

What is the point of an art exhibition that contains no actual artworks? In the case of Being Present (on view at the Portland Art Museum through June 14, 2020), the point is to provide an unsparing analysis of Portland’s art world of the not-too-distant past. Being Present offers an eccentric tribute to and critique of the Portland Center for the Visual Arts, an organization that played a formidable role in the formation of Portland’s creative landscape. Triple Candie, a Washington, D.C.-based curatorial duo (Shelly Bancroft and Peter Nesbett), has put together this retrospective in accordance with their mission to “explore the possibilities of exhibition-making as a truly alternative, critical practice.”  The show’s subtitle, Revisiting, Somewhat Unfaithfully, Portland’s Most Experimental Art Experiment, hints at their unusual approach to unpacking Portland’s recent art history. 

In their opening statement, Triple Candie admit they “never experienced PCVA in person,” having arrived in the Pacific Northwest as students at the University of Washington a year after the group folded. They go on to explain that they “curate exhibitions about art, but devoid of it.” This is an oblique reference to the fact that Triple Candie themselves are the authors of the objects on display, which apparently do not qualify as art, but as tools for interpreting art that no longer exists. They are quirky reconstructions of artworks commissioned by PCVA in the 70s and 80s that diverge from the originals in ways that reflect the curators’ research and critical stance. This may sound confusing, but each piece is accompanied by a detailed explanation that renders the conceptual connections between the physical works and their historical counterparts surprisingly clear and sometimes almost literal in their directness. Furthermore, there is a sense of irreverence here that makes sifting through this conceptually dense show a fun and engaging experience. 

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