What Needs to Be Said

Going, going, gone: 2019 in review

A look back at the ups and downs and curious side trips of the year on Oregon's cultural front

What a year, right? End of the teens, start of the ’20s, and who knows if they’ll rattle or roar?

But today we’re looking back, not ahead. Let’s start by getting the big bad news out of the way. One thing’s sure in Oregon arts and cultural circles: 2019’s the year the state’s once-fabled craft scene took another staggering punch square on the chin. The death rattles of the Oregon College of Art and Craft – chronicled deeply by ArtsWatch’s Barry Johnson in a barrage of news stories and analyses spiced with a couple of sharp commentaries, Democracy and the arts and How dead is OCAC? – were heard far and wide, and the college’s demise unleashed a flood of anger and lament.

The crashing and burning of the venerable craft college early in the year followed the equally drawn-out and lamented closure of Portland’s nationally noted Museum of Contemporary Craft in 2016, leaving the state’s lively crafts scene without its two major institutions. In both cases the sense that irreversible decisions were being made with scant public input, let alone input from crafters themselves, left much of the craft community fuming. When, after the closure, ArtsWatch published a piece by the craft college’s former president, Denise Mullen, the fury hit the fan with an outpouring of outraged online comments, most by anonymous posters with obvious connections to the school.

Vanessa German, no admittance apply at office, 2016, mixed media assemblage, 70 x 30 x 16 inches, in the opening exhibit of the new Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art at Portland State University. Photo: Spencer Rutledge, courtesy PSU

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ArtsWatch Weekly: dark & stormy nights

Frankenstein, Día de Muertos, tribute bands, dinosaurs, warps & wefts, and a Dope Elf: Welcome to the art week.

TODAY IS BOTH HALLOWEEN AND THE BEGINNING OF DÍA DE MUERTOS, two holidays that have distinct backgrounds and meanings but are often linked in the public mind, because they occur each year at about the same time and because they deal, in their own ways, with the souls of the dead. Día de Muertos, or Day of the Dead, which begins today and continues through Saturday, is a celebration that began in central and southern Mexico and has spread broadly from there. It’s a time for remembering friends and family who have died, and helping them along their spiritual journey.

Carlos Manzano as Bombón in the Día de Muertos-inspired play Amor Añejo, at Milagro Theatre through November 10. Photo © Russell J Young 

Milagro Theatre’s current show, Amor Añejo, gives you a good sense of the spirit of Día de Muertos. Bennett Campbell Ferguson, in his review for ArtsWatch, Into the Beyond, with Pain and Laughter, calls it a “tale of bereavement and rebirth.” “It’s an elegy—and more,” he continues. “The story flows from a single death that leaves everything from pain to joy to absurdity in its wake. Amor Añejo’s fullness of spirit makes it an unmissable play. At once profoundly soulful and gloriously silly, it invites us to touch the life of Hector, a painter who refuses to accept the death of his wife, Rosalita.” Naturally, that’s only the beginning.

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Hallie Ford Fellows explore ‘What Needs to Be Said’

The Salem museum features 13 artists in a traveling exhibit emphasizing the range of visual art

The poster for What Needs to Be Said, an exhibition at the Hallie Ford Museum of Art in Salem, features an image of a stack five thick hardbound volumes by artist MK Guth, who incorporates participatory engagement into work that includes printmaking. 

These books, bearing the title of the show, are in fact part of the show. Each has a subtitle: Love, Politics, Identity, Ecology, and Art. When the exhibit opened mid-September, most of what must be thousands of pages were blank, but that’s for the viewer to rectify. Those with something to say, something they deem must be said, may say it here (anonymously or not) and know that they’ve contributed to Guth’s vision. She will seal the volumes once they are filled, making them, according to guest curator Diana Nawi, “repositories for inner thoughts, objects that index and contain critical expression without fully revealing it — an apt metaphor for the possibilities of artistic practice.”

"What Needs to Be Said," is a printmaking project by MK Guth, after which the show at Hallie Ford Museum of Art is named. Photo by: David Bates
MK Guth’s project “What Needs to Be Said” shares its title with the name of the show at the Hallie Ford Museum of Art. Photo by: David Bates

Guth is one of 13 artists whose artistic practice is featured in the show, which runs through Dec. 20 on the Willamette University campus, a few blocks east of downtown. What links them? All were recipients of the Hallie Ford Fellowship between 2014 and 2016, an award that goes to Oregon artists “based on accomplishment, depth of practice, and future potential.”

A variety of work fills the sprawling ground-floor Melvin Henderson-Rubio Gallery: photography, drawings, installation, sculpture, a soundscape (which I initially thought was the building’s air circulation system), as well as the public engagement invited by Guth’s books. A handsome, 112-page hardcover catalog with short essays by Nawi and a half-dozen arts-and-culture critics can be purchased in the lobby.

What Needs to Be Said is touring Oregon. It opened in the Umpqua Valley Arts Center and Umpqua Community College in Roseburg earlier this year. Early in 2020, it arrives at Disjecta in Portland. The show heads south again in 2021 to the Schneider Museum of Art at Southern Oregon University in Ashland.

The diversity of media on display posed, for me, a chicken-egg question. Was the show’s title selected and Guth’s piece adopted it? Or was the piece submitted before the show was named? I asked Nawi, a Los Angeles-based curator. It turns out the book stacks came first; Nawi was already familiar with them.

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