Rich Bergeman

The arts moment: back, or ahead?

ArtsWatch Weekly: We're emerging, but into what? The culture, and the arts world, consider the possibilities and make plans.

LIKE MOST OF THE NATION, OREGON HAS ENTERED SOMETHING OF A STATE OF SUSPENDED ANIMATION. Are we in or are we out? Do we shrink or do we grow? Scurry back, or look ahead? In the immortal words of The Clash, should I stay or should I go? Large stretches of rural Oregon, apparently, are eager to go – out of Oregon and into Idaho. Meanwhile, we are free to go unmasked into public spaces if we’re fully vaccinated, but not everywhere and not all the time – and we either are or aren’t on an honor system: Grocery store and restaurant workers and others dealing with the public are being left to police the unmasked to make sure they’re not cheating, and to live with the consequences of their customers’ anger. Businesses that live and breathe on public access, such as the sweet Oregon-scaled Enchanted Forest amusement park south of Salem, have eagerly reopened – and then shut down again in the face of threats from unvaccinated would-be visitors over being required to wear masks. We are one state, it appears, deeply divisible, with liberty and justice dependent on your point of view.

Back to the future? Melvin Van Peebles’ 1968 debut feature “The Story of a Three-Day Pass,” about a Black American G.I. and a white woman who meet and hit it off in France, came two years before his breakthrough hit “Sweet Sweetback’s Badasssss Song.” And it is, Marc Mohan writes, “the most revolutionary ‘new’ movie to hit Portland this week.”

Still, the trend appears to be toward motion – moving ahead – and that includes the worlds of culture and the arts. Museums have reopened, with restrictions. Music and theater and dance are once again among us, if mainly via video stream or on outdoor stages. (But not completely: Portland’s Triangle Productions is entering the final weekend of its production of the comedy Clever Little Lies, live and on an indoor stage, with a quarter-of-the-house capacity of 50 people at a time.)

Here at ArtsWatch we’re shifting with the tide, too. For instance, we’ve renamed Marc Mohan’s movie column, which has been called “Streamers” through the pandemic because movies have been available only via streaming, as “FilmWatch” – because, as Marc notes, movie theaters are beginning to open up again, and whether it’s in a popcorn palace or streaming to your living room screen, a movie is a movie. Even then, as he writes in his latest film column, this whole moving-forward thing can be a confusing muddle of present, past, and possible future. “The most revolutionary ‘new’ movie to hit Portland this week is from 1968, of course,” he writes. That movie is The Story of a Three-Day Pass, the debut feature of maverick filmmaker Melvin Van Peebles, “a sneakily acerbic takedown of American racism, particularly its internalized effect upon the psyche of Black Americans.” A story ripped, or so it seems, from the headlines of pretty much any year you choose.



FRIDA’S POPPING UP ALL OVER, IN OPERA AND IN ART


LEFT: Catalina Cuervo as Frida and Bernardo Bermudez as Diego Rivera in Anchorage Opera’s 2020 production of ‘Frida’. They’ll repeat their roles this summer at Portland Opera. Photo by Kathleen Behnke, courtesy of Anchorage Opera. RIGHT: Kahlo and Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky are among the figures in artist Molly Van Austen’s 175-foot scroll weaving around the Chehalem Cultural Center. Photo: David Bates

SUDDENLY IT’S FRIDA KAHLO SEASON IN OREGON: Onstage and via stream from Portland Opera, and on paper in a fascinating art exhibition at the Chehalem Cultural Center in Newberg. One of a handful of 20th century cultural figures whose work can draw a crowd just about anywhere, the ever-fascinating Mexican artist is either central to or an integral part of both shows. Here’s the word on each: 

  • PORTLAND OPERA’S BOLD NEW SEASON. As we noted here last week, Portland Opera will present Frida, its long-anticipated production of Robert Xavier Rodríguez’s opera about the life and times of Kahlo, in combined outdoor and streaming performances in June. This week, Angela Allen takes us beyond with a broad discussion of the big new changes brewing in the opera company’s new season, which ranges from its still-streaming Journeys to Justice concert of music about the Black experience to the coming traditional Tosca and the contemporary operas The Central Park Five, a Pulitzer Prize winner with music by Anthony Davis, and the “dystopian chamber opera” When the Sun Comes Out, which was commissioned by the Vancouver Queer Arts Festival. “Opera is for everybody, not just for millionaires and folks who get all dressed up,” Damien Geter, one of the company’s artistic advisors, told Allen. “People want to see things about real people, about real things, things that happened in recent times.” Soprano Karen Slack, Geter’s co-artistic advisor, added: “I am both a lover of grand traditional repertoire and new works. Having made a solid career on both sides, I know the power they both possess. A healthy mix of classics reimagined and new works is always exciting. A little something for everyone.”
     
  • ART FROM THE QUARANTINE LIFE. “Cultural life in Yamhill County hasn’t returned to pre-pandemic levels of activity, but the engine is revving louder these days,” David Bates writes. “People are making plans, holding rehearsals, scheduling summer art camps.” And at the Chehalem Cultural Center in Newberg, he adds, a “delightful new exhibit” addresses the question of what artists will make of the Shutdown Year: “How will a historic, life-changing pandemic translate to the stage, page, and canvas?” The show features suggestions from two artists: Joe Robinson, owner of the East Creek community art studio and anagama kiln near Willamina, who declares that the “large, beautiful pots” scattered around the gallery “can only be accomplished when many hands come together,” and Molly Van Austen, whose 175-foot scroll snaking around the gallery comprises something of a diary of her memories and imaginings during the pandemic. It’s a cavalcade of people: “Each image in this long drawing is a meditation on some dear person in my life. That brings me joy and sadness. Memories prolong life and intensify our emotions.” Among the crowd is a portrait of Kahlo with the Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky. Frida seemed to know everybody – and as likely as not, everybody was at least as eager to be around Frida as Frida was to be around everybody.


PEAK EXPERIENCES: GOING TO THE MOUNTAINTOP


From left: Taylor Feldman, Ryan Stee, Stacey King and Shanita King on the trip to the top of Mt. Hood in Devin Fei-Fan Tau’s documentary “Who’s On Top?”

DEVIN FEI-FAN TAU: WHO’S ON TOP? In her newest Stage and Studio podcast, Dmae Roberts talks with Portland’s Devin Fei-Fan Tau, a gay Taiwanese-American filmmaker, about his new documentary Who’s on Top?, in which he and his crew follow four LGBTQ+ climbers – only one of them with previous climbing experience – in their quest to get to the top of Mt. Hood. It’s not just a physical journey, but an emotional one, too, and Roberts’ interview includes the voices of each climber talking about what led them to this pursuit. As Roberts puts it: “Historically excluded and ostracized as not belonging to the adventurer community, the climbers tackle not only a mountain, but assumptions about who they are and how they belong to the world of outdoor sports.” Bonus: The film is narrated by the great George Takei.

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Lawrence Shlim (American, born 1954). “Volcanic Ash, Centralia, Washington,” 1980. Gelatin silver print. Portland Art Museum, Gift of the artist, 81.41.2

TUESDAY, MAY 18, WAS THE 41st ANNIVERSARY OF THE ERUPTION OF MOUNT ST. HELENS, one of the signal events in the history of the Pacific Northwest. (It was a Sunday morning in 1980, and I was in Seattle, waiting at the depot to board the train back to Portland, which didn’t happen because the tracks were wiped out somewhere south of Centralia). The mountain’s cataclysmic explosion was the focus of the Portland Art Museum’s terrific exhibition Volcano! that opened last spring, and that in turn lost most of its run to another catastrophe, the coronavirus pandemic. Fortunately, the museum assembled this excellent online version of the exhibition, which you can still access. It’s a grand-scale show, with historic paintings going back as far as the 1850s, some wonderful post-explosion paintings by Henk Pander, George Johanson, Lucinda Parker and others, and many photos documenting both the devastation and the recovery that followed. If you click the link, you’ll find your own favorites. One of mine is the photo above, by Lawrence Shlim, of a street scene in Centralia, looking out a window at a man walking through a blizzard of ash. It seems to speak both to 1980 and the plague year of 2020: life enduring and moving on in the midst of disaster. A town staying, and going, too.



THE NIGHT JANET REED DANCED INTO BALLET HISTORY


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Imagined narratives for past lives

Rich Bergeman has been photographing abandoned settlements in Oregon and Washington for 30 years. What has he learned?

Rich Bergeman is a photographer, journalist, curator, and teacher based in Corvallis. His current show The Vanishing West features pictures of early settlements in eastern Oregon and Washington, photographed over a 30-year period. I recently asked Bergeman about relics, process, and the dangers of cliche.

BA: What attracts you to old relics as subject matter?

RB: I get this question a lot, so you’d think I’d have developed a clear pat answer by now. But no, I’m still unsure about the why part — could be a childhood hell bent on getting out of a dysfunctional family, so maybe now I’m overly curious about how others may have lived their lives? 

Rich Bergeman. Goodnoe Hills, Washington. Image courtesy of the artist.

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Yamhill County calendar: From tea to ‘Tightrope’

Gallery shows focus on glasswork, the Rogue River Wars, and tea service; Linfield hosts a one-night play reading; and a native son is coming to town

Yamhill County’s lively gallery scene continues to intrigue this week with a couple of new openings, and we’ve also got a one-night theatrical affair at Linfield Theatre. Finally: Have you read Nicholas Kristof’s new book? There’s still time before he comes to town.

Let’s get to it:

“Ancient Cedars at Fort Orford Site,” by Rich Bergeman. The U.S. Army fort housed more than 200 men and more than 1,000 Indigenous prisoners during the peak of the Rogue River Wars in 1855-56. Nothing of the fort remains.

CHEHALEM CULTURAL Center has several shows ready for your viewing pleasure. Hanging River, an installation of glasswork by Takahiro Yamamoto and Andy Paiko, occupies the Parrish Gallery, visible to visitors as they enter the Newberg center. You’ll marvel at both the glass pieces themselves and the exquisite care it must have taken to install them. In the Founder’s Gallery at the rear of the building is a collection of Fretta Cravens’ stunning botanical photography, titled Intimate Conversations.

Down the hall to the right is a new exhibit that’s been traveling around Oregon: Rich Bergeman’s collection of photographs documenting the landscape of the mid-19th-century Rogue River Wars of Southern Oregon. The Land Remembers is both an exhibit and a handsome book (available for sale). Bergeman used infrared light for the images, which are mostly void of any sign of human presence. “I felt that the haunting quality of infrared would help transport viewers to another time,” he writes in the introduction to his book. “And because the infrared spectrum is invisible to the human eye, it seemed especially appropriate for photographs that follow in the footsteps of ghosts.” The show runs through Feb. 28. Highly recommended.

Tea is the theme of a show by ceramicist Jonathan Steele in George Fox University’s Minthorne Gallery. Photo courtesy: George Fox University

A FEW BLOCKS AWAY at George Fox University, we find … tea! I haven’t seen this one yet, but it looks inviting: In the Service of Tea features ceramic work by Jonathan Steele in  the university’s Minthorne Gallery in the Hoover Academic Building. A reception for the show, which opened last week, will be from 4 to 5:30 p.m. Monday, Jan. 27, in the gallery. Steele will perform a Chinese tea service at the free event. An artist’s talk follows from 6 to 7 p.m. in the Chehalem Cultural Center.

“Tea is a quiet joy – art is a fervid one,” Steele said of his exhibit in the press materials. “I make the tea to be still, to observe the present moment, to watch slowly unfurling leaves, feel the weight of the warm cup pressing against my fingertips, steam rising through my nostrils, the sweet, light astringency of the perfect steep welling on my tongue. I make the teapot, the cup, the tray and boat, the floral arrangement, the interior décor, the room and the house itself – all to the same end.”

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