visual art

Art on the Road: Kollwitz in L.A.

At the Fortress on the Hill that is the Getty, an expansive overview exhibit gets to the grit of the great German modernist's life and work


STORY AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY FRIDERIKE HEUER


Husband: “You really are drawn to dark art, aren’t you? Who is she?”
Me: “What do you mean? We have a print of hers hanging on your side of the bed.”
Husband: “Print? What print? ”

Thus I offer you a slice of typical conversation overheard in our household, while dragging my beloved to a striking exhibition of works by Käthe Kollwitz (1867–1945), one of the icons of German modern art, at The Getty in Los Angeles.

Entry to the Exhibition with an enlarged excerpt from Charge (between 1902 and 1903).

While he was muttering about the absence of visual memory, my brain was frantically searching for a translation of an untranslatable German term that is often – and mistakenly, oh so mistakenly – cited in connection with Kollwitz’ art: Betroffenheitskitsch. Betroffenheit can be translated as shock, dismay, consternation, sadness. But in this context it is probably meant to describe too much empathy verging into kitschiness.

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Coos Bay’s Everybody Biennial

The Coos Art Museum's big biennial of Oregon art is a come-one come-all affair, with no gatekeepers. How's that work? You'd be surprised.

COOS BAY – What if they gave a Biennial and invited everyone to join in?

That’s not, of course, the way biennial art shows ordinarily work. From Venice to São Paulo to Shanghai to Sydney to Istanbul to Havana to Berlin to the Whitney in New York, biennials tend to be ambitious, careerist, elbow-throwing affairs, intent on one-upping the art world with the biggest names, the newest trends, the deepest scent of money, and the even deeper desire to shape the next chapter in the shifting story of global contemporary art. Competition is fierce, and acceptance into one of the big-name biennials can make an artist’s career.

Coos Art Museum’s Biennial 2018. In the center: Alan Bartl’s funkified bike trailer “Pork Slider.” Photo: Laura Grimes

Or you could just invite any and all artists in the state of Oregon to drop by with up to three works, and then fit them all onto your museum’s walls. That’s the way it works at the Coos Art Museum on the southern Oregon coast, where since the 1990s a “come one, come all” approach to its biennial has prevailed and, perhaps astonishingly, largely succeeded. In a way, it can’t get more daring. The show has no gatekeepers. Museum officials don’t know who or what’s going to walk in the door. You trust that it’ll be good, or at least not embarrassing. And what you get, you show. If ever there was a People’s Biennial, a purely democratic approach to the state of the art, this is it.

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Art on the Road: North Holland

Bergen's Museum Kranenburgh highlights Leo Gestel's eloquent mysteries and Ans Wortel's "organic allegories of people"

Most people who travel to Holland and are interested in art congregate in one or more of Amsterdam’s major museums. Outside of the city you can find some small jewels off the beaten path, though, that warrant a closer look. They provide introductions to Dutch art movements that are perhaps less well known but worthwhile getting to know. As a bonus you also escape the throngs of people you meet everywhere else, particularly during the summer months where the entire world seems to descend on this small country.

Leo Gestel, “Woman Between Flowers,” 1913, oil on canvas, collection Germeentemuseum Den Haag; at the Kranenburgh. Photo: Friderike Heuer

A 40-minute drive north of Amsterdam lies the small village of Bergen. Close to the North Sea, nestled among pine forests and dunes that are now a national nature preserve, the village was historically an artist colony, home to the Bergen School, a group of painters in the early 1900s who embraced cubism and expressionism and shared a taste for rather dark colors. Two museums in the area have large permanent collections of this School. One is the Stedelijk Museum in Alkmaar, about three miles south of Bergen, which also houses an amazing number of exquisite 16th and 17th century paintings.

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Stephen Hayes: A Guggenheim will fuel ‘In the Hour Before’

Local painter Stephen Hayes is awarded the prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship, toward his 'In the Hour Before' project, which deals with violence in America. . .

A few days ago, the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation named the recipients of its 173 Guggenheim Fellowships in the areas of scholarship, art, and science. Among 24 other painters from around the country who received this year’s honor was the Portland painter Stephen Hayes. Hayes has been working on a project, titled In the Hour Before, to reimagine depictions of spaces, sites, in painting.

In this body of work, now supported by the Guggenheim award, Hayes examines the violent American social context by depicting the sites of shootings—places like Newtown, Charleston, Orlando, Roseburg, and others. This undertaking is for Hayes, a way to respond to the “grotesque reality of an escalating physical and social violence in America,” related specifically to “racial inequity, economic disparity” among other issues—as he described in proposing In the Hour Before to the Guggenheim Foundation.

Thanks to the award, Hayes is set to complete In the Hour Before, “traveling” by way of Google Earth, “to the burgeoning number of sites of shootings throughout the country, and making paintings in response to these places as they were witnessed benignly, without comment or bias, by the impersonal technology of cameras mounted on cars,” as the artist remarked.

Stephen Hayes, “Ferguson, MO 8-9-14,” 2017 oil/canvas 30”x 30”

This content marks ongoing change in Hayes’s work—as he described in his interview with our own Paul Sutinen last year — but his compositions retain a singular approach to discerning, rendering. “Such deft blending of representation and sheer abstraction underpins Hayes’s eminence as a supreme kind of painters’ painter in the Pacific Northwest,” wrote Sue Taylor in Art in America in September of 2016.

Hayes’s handling of paint treads the line between abstraction and representation, and his sense for the conceptual in painting always seems in keeping with his formal subjects. Hayes says that a painting “can pay poetic homage to the lives and places at the heart of each story. In fact, we are ALL at the heart of each of these stories. I believe that real solutions to this will only come from contemplation, reflection, deliberation, and conscious action.”

Hayes was included in More Than a Pretty Face: 150 Years of the Portrait Print at the Portland Art Museum in 2010, and also received the Hallie Ford Fellowship in Visual Arts in 2011. The Guggenheim is a national matter, and past Portland winners have tended to be writers: Paul Collins, Peter Rock, Tom Bissell, Dan O’Brien, among others. Each year since its inaugural year in 1925, some 3,000 applicants vie for the fellowship; Hayes’s award is no small thing to a working artist, teacher, adherent of visual art. The list of 2018 fellows — including Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Tyehimba Jess, writers Teju Cole and Min Jin Lee — can be read in its entirety on the foundation’s website. We caught up with Hayes to hear how news of the Guggenheim award has hit him.

Where were you when you learned of your having won the Guggenheim Fellowship Award?
I got the notification that my project had been forwarded to the Board of Directors for approval by email in the middle of an ordinary working day. I was in the middle of a Color Theory class and while on break I checked my email. I wasn’t sure that I was reading the message in the right way and was a little off balance. I had to forward it to Linda [Linda K. Johnson, Hayes’s partner] for interpretation!

In your interview with Paul Sutinen last year, you talked about your “ability to challenge your thinking or to find context for what it is you’re doing.” Is this award a landmark in your career, relative to your approach, how you’re working and seeing in the context of 2018?
The award would be a landmark for anyone. It recognizes decades of work already made, but more critically it provides spiritual and financial support for unseen work in the future. I am already deeply engaged with the project that I proposed to grow. In the Hour Before is a body of work unlike any other that I have made, and I am continuously looking to understand my relationship to the project, my process and its impact on me every bit as much as on you.

I really love what you had to say (last October) about beauty having very few limitations. How has this outlook changed since then?
I am as surprised as anyone that beauty can exist so seamlessly side by side with horror. It is very confusing. I find myself wondering if we don’t have the ability to see this dichotomy as some kind of a paradoxical safety net; part of our limbic brain that protects us in an almost prehistoric way.

What’s next for you in light of having won this award?
I am deep into the final term of teaching for the year and have plans to be more fully in my studio as soon as possible. In preparation for that day I am gathering information, making stretchers, stretching canvases, gathering materials and trying to share the moment generously with my family and friends. Once in the studio… it’s on.

Quintana, Crow’s Shadow, big day

Art notes: A legendary Native American gallery returns, an innovative eastern Oregon art center comes to Portland, and the Jewish Museum prepares for a grand reopening. Oh: and First Thursday, too.

The innovative Crow’s Shadow Institute of the Arts has been a boon to the worlds of art and Native American culture in the Northwest since it was established twenty-five years ago by artists James Lavadour, Phillip Cash Cash, and others on the Umatilla Reservation near Pendleton. Its nationally known printmaking center draws artists of all sorts to eagerly sought-after residencies with master printers. The Institute actively boosts economic development for Native American artists and students via classes, workshops, and other programs. And not coincidentally, over its quarter-century Crow’s Shadow has had a hand in the creation of a wealth of vital contemporary art.

Jim Denomie (Ojibwe), “Blue Mountain Portraits,” 2011, print monotype on Somerset satin white paper, 20 x 15 inches; Crow’s Shadow at Froelick

For forty-two years until its founders retired and closed up shop two years ago, Quintana Galleries was a national and even international force in nurturing and selling mostly traditional Native American and First Nations art. Several other Portland galleries represent excellent contemporary Native artists, but no new gallery has sprung up to take Quintana’s place.

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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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Fragments in Time: James B. Thompson’s elusive artistic journey

The new exhibition at the Hallie Ford Museum of Art follows the Salem artist's independent trail over twenty years through time, space, and ideas

James B. Thompson: Fragments in Time, a twenty-year retrospective of paintings, prints, drawings, and fused glass by the notable Oregon artist, opens Saturday, January 23, at the Hallie Ford Museum of Art in Salem, where it continues through March 26. The exhibition is arranged in eleven series of work, beginning in 1995 and continuing through 2015. Bob Hicks wrote the essay for the accompanying catalog. Here, we excerpt its passages on the first series in the exhibition, “Certain Situations,” created 1995-1997.

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The world of James B. Thompson is a mindscape of bits and pieces waiting to be rearranged. It holds fragments of history and shards of place. Fleeting thoughts, broken connections, surviving evidences of cultures and ways of thinking buried deep in time. It’s a destination of transformations and sly jokes about the universe’s constant state of change: as he wryly puts it, the fragmentary is so becoming. His art ranges across continents of possibilities, assembling and creating contemporary beauty out of evidences of things past. The ritual sites of prehistoric Picts. The game of golf. Disappearing landscapes. French village life. The medieval sense of space, forgotten hand tools, the way that glass can be like a map. …

"The Visitation," 1996, acrylic with mixed media on paper, 31 x 27”, (framed dimensions), courtesy of the artist. Photo: Dale Peterson.

“The Visitation,” 1996, acrylic with mixed media on paper, 31 x 27”, (framed dimensions), courtesy of the artist. Photo: Dale Peterson.

The first series in this twenty-year retrospective rises, as so much of Thompson’s mature work does, partly from his visits to Scotland. It also marks the fruition of twenty years of earlier work, developing his themes and styles, discovering the future of his own art. That future wound through the world of medieval art, then back again to the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

For most of his career to this point, Thompson had been a committed abstractionist, surfing in his independent way the waves of modern and contemporary movements. Here, he stuck with contemporary theories of color and space, but added figures, not so much for their emotional impact (although the figure of Death, for instance, is fraught with implications), but as added shapes and suggestions to be shuffled into place on the plane of canvas or paper. It seemed a minor shift: he wasn’t adopting an Andrew Wyeth sort of realism, or even a Francis Bacon−style contorted figurism. Yet it represented a personal leap forward through a giant leap backward.

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