roger shimomura

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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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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In nearly all cases, a museum’s collection will be larger than the space it has to display that collection. This is where curating comes in. Decisions regarding what objects to display and what information to include are made in order to tell a larger story about those objects, whether art or archaeology. How the museum defines curatorial departments, and the financial support and wall space they receive, determines a great deal of what a museum goer will see.

Due to restrictions of funding and space, it’s common for museums to rotate their collections in order both to protect fragile work and to get a greater part of their art on view to their audiences. To do so tells a broader story about the history of cultural production than would be possible with a static hanging.

Which brings us to these 10 artists not currently on view and the question of why they’re not included in the art historical narrative presented at the Portland Art Museum. Household names or not, they were or are significant contributors to the American cultural landscape. We should expect to see them now and again, but it isn’t clear that they get their fair share of attention. An employee of the museum pointed out the majority of these artists’ works in the collection are on paper, thus they fall under the domain of the Graphic Arts curatorial department.

Graphic Arts has one small gallery in the basement of the museum to showcase a historically, stylistically, and geographically varied array of work. In most museums, graphic arts and drawing fall lower in the arts hierarchy than painting and sculpture, and because they are considered second-tier art, they’re relegated to tertiary placement within museums. The result: Artists relevant, even central, to American art history aren’t included in American galleries because they are represented by works on paper.

There’s yet another layer to this issue: you might have noticed that all the artists in the slideshow are people of color. This is intentional on my part because it was while searching for works by Jacob Lawrence, Diego Rivera, and Carrie Mae Weems that I started to notice a pattern: Fewer of these artists’ works are on display than you would expect them to be, if you’re familiar with American art history.

Obviously, works by major white American artists are also in the Graphic Arts department and are rarely seen, but if you look at the museum’s holdings of Robert Rauschenberg, for example, you can see how these structures play out. The examples of his work that fall under Graphic Arts aren’t on display, but Patrician Barnacle (Scale), a sculptural assemblage, is on view!

Why is it that the museum doesn’t have holdings of the artists in the slideshow that fit in with their criteria of “high” art? One reason is that there aren’t (m)any works by these artists that fall into that category, and that has a lot to do with the fact that prints, drawings, and photographs are less expensive to create and reproduce than paintings and sculptures. Artists working before the end of WWII were often employed by the WPA, or made work that was socially motivated. They placed a higher value on reproducibility in order to address a wider audience. It’s not that the museum is deliberately hiding works of art by artists of color. Rather it is how art historical hierarchies map onto social hierarchies to create the “ghettoization”* of these artists and works, as a friend and former museum employee put it to me.

Despite what the museum thinks of works on paper, I expect that a wide array of Portland audiences would find these artists’ work interesting and relevant. I know I do. Which is why I’ve started looking closer at the PAM’s holdings and curatorial habits in a new blog. It’s why I’ve written this post and another. I think the question of who is included in the art museum’s historical narrative is a matter of public interest, because a publicly funded museum serves multiple public groups. An inclusive museum should showcase America’s diversity. To do otherwise it to present a false historical narrative and vision of our future, through the erasure of the contributions of artists of color.

This erasure, this lack of representation is additionally significant because it can discourage people from imagining themselves beyond what the dominate culture teaches them about themselves. For example, how can girls know they can be scientists, artists, and business owners if all they’re allowed to play with are kitchen sets and the only time they see themselves valued is when they’re being sexualized?

Now take that logic and expand it to even more marginalized groups in American society, and that’s why the matter of who is shown as an artist at the Portland Art Museum is a matter of who is allowed to see themselves, and be seen, as artists in Portland.

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Ghettoization The process by which minority groups are forced out of the mainstream aka structural marginalization, which can include physical structures (housing), economic structures (jobs), and cultural structures (mass media) among others.

New Year, New Guide!

MMA at White Box, A group show at Disjecta, and Adam D Miller at Rocks Box Contemporary Fine Art...

The New Year is upon us, and with a new year comes new art! While this post might seem a bit delayed, in fact we were all enjoying the first day of the year on the first Thursday of January, which is why the Portland Art Dealer’s Association postponed their opening receptions to Thursday, the 8th. In addition to few First Thursday galleries I’ve also included shows that open later in the month so we can start off the year with a fresh start. I don’t know about you all, but my new year resolutions include being moved to tears by art more often, like I was when I saw A Winged Victory for the Innocent at Mississippi Studios a few weeks ago. I can’t tell you why I cried, by I can tell you it was cathartic and uplifting, which is why I’ll keep schlepping around to the galleries every month for the rare chance at a similar experience.

First Thursday Galleries:

Wrest_01White BoxThe Quick and The Slow by Evan Larson-Voltz explores the idea of imaginary travel through crafted objects and installation pieces that draw out the viewer’s fragmented sensory responses. Wrest_01 is a video of artist Heidi Schwegler trying to free herself from the defensive holds of Colt Toobs, mixed martial artist and son of famous World Wrestling Entertainer Rowdy Roddy Piper.

 

Untitled, from the series Inventing My Father by Diana Markosian

Untitled, from the series Inventing My Father by Diana Markosian

Blue Sky – Dima Gavrysh, Inshallah (God-willing), catalogs the impact of the Soviet and American occupations of Afghanistan while he was embedded in the US Army. Diana Markosian, Inventing My Father, reconstructs her relationship to her lost father with whom she reconnected after a separation of over 15 years.

 

 

 

 

Joel Wellington Fisher

Joel Wellington Fisher

Art Gym – Shifting Practice is a group show of allusions, interventions, and conventions in contemporary photography at Marylhurst University.

 

 

 

 

Saturday, Jan 17th openings

constructs at DisjectaDisjecta – Constructs with Nathan Green, Pablo Rasgado, and Laura Vandenurgh takes Disjecta’s gallery walls as a form for experimentation that highlights the architecture of gallery space through scale and the body through site specific installations that encompass painting, sculpture, and architecture.

 

 

Roger Shimomura (American b. 1939), Classmates #1, 2007, 24 x 36 in., acrylic on canvas, private collection, Seattle, WA. Photo courtesy of the Museum of Art at Washington State University, Pullman, WA.

Roger Shimomura (American b. 1939), Classmates #1, 2007, 24 x 36 in., acrylic on canvas, private collection, Seattle, WA. Photo courtesy of the Museum of Art at Washington State University, Pullman, WA.

Hallie Ford Museum of Art – Roger Shimomura: An American Knockoff at the Melvin Henderson-Rubio Gallery at Willamette University is an exhibition of paintings and prints from the early 1970’s to the present with an emphasis on his recent work. Influenced by comic books, pop art, and traditions of Japanese woodblock prints, Shimomura’s work represent his experiences as a Japanese-American by addressing his childhood at the Minidoka internment camp during WWII and by inserting himself as an aging Asian Everyman in a host of recognizableAmerican settings.

 

 

Saturday, January 24th opening

Detail of work by Adam D Miller

Detail of work by Adam D Miller

Rocks Box – Hive Mind is a solo exhibition of work by Adam D. Miller. Co-founder of The Pit, an exhibition space featuring emerging and mid-career Los Angeles based artists. Gallery hours are Saturday and Sunday from 12 to 5pm, or by appointment at the intersection of N Interstate Ave and N Rosa Parks Way.

 

 

 

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Finally, here are the links to two great maps of the many galleries and art institutions of Portland that have intriguing shows beyond the scope of this brief guide:

Portland Art Dealers Association Galleries and Alliance Members

Duplex Collective’s Gallery Guide

Don’t forget to mention the shows you’re looking forward to below in the comments!