The arts: After the deluge, what?

ArtsWatch Weekly: Planning for a post-Covid Oregon cultural scene; pancakes and the art of dissent; good things come in multiples

AS OREGON HESITANTLY REEMERGES FROM ITS LONG COCOONING – baby steps, everyone: take it cautiously, and wear your masks – it’s not too early to think about what the “new normal” might look like for the state’s arts and cultural organizations. A couple of highly respected onlookers have been considering the changed landscape long and deep, and while they disagree on some fundamental issues, on one thing they’re in accord: It’s highly unlikely that enough money will be available to support everyone in the manner to which they’d like to be accustomed.

What to do, then, when financial push comes to shove?

Fear No Music playing music by Middle Eastern and emigrant-diaspora composers at The Old Church Concert Hall: Will the future of arts in Oregon by small and adaptable? Photo © John Rudoff/2017


Christopher Mattaliano, the former general director of Portland Opera, opened the conversation with his essay Will Portland protect its ‘Big 5’?, arguing for the centrality of the city’s major institutions  – the opera, Oregon Symphony, Portland Art Museum, Oregon Ballet Theatre, Portland Center Stage at the Armory – and the necessity to keep them alive and flourishing. They’re the anchors, he argues, that set the stage for smaller arts organizations and create the core of a healthy cultural scene.

Brett Campbell, the longtime music journalist and ArtsWatch senior editor, responded with his own essay, Homeward Unbound: Resetting Oregon arts policy for the post-Covid age, in which he argues that the true future for the state’s arts and cultural life lies in smallness and diversity – a flowering of expression in many small spaces of many cultures and points of view, with emphasis not on the European models of the 19th century but on the contemporary expressions of the state’s multiple contemporary communities. If the old forms in the old large spaces can’t pull their own financial weight, he argues, why should they be bailed out at the expense of other, smaller, more adventurous scenes?

You might agree with Mattaliano. You might agree with Campbell. You might agree with parts of each, or none of either. You might ask, is it necessary to sacrifice one approach in order to achieve the other? You might favor an entirely different solution. As we begin to enter an uncertain new reality, the conversation’s begun. Where should we be heading? Think about it, and let us know. You can email your ideas to music@orartswatch.org.


ON PANCAKES AND KNEEHOLDS AND THE ART OF DISSENT


Arvie Smith, “Hands Up Don’t Shoot,” 2015, oil on canvas, 48 x 48 inches, Collection of Nancy Ogilvie. Featured in the Portland Art Museum’s 2016 APEX exhibit of Smith’s paintings.

IN OREGON AND ACROSS THE NATION, protests continue unabated in the aftermath of the slaying by Minneapolis police of George Floyd, an African American man who was pinned to the ground by a knee to the throat for what was reported to be eight minutes forty-six seconds, a figure that has become a rallying cry in the Black Lives Matter movement. (On Wednesday officials in Minnesota announced belatedly that because of an error in the original filing of charges that figure is wrong, and the kneehold actually lasted seven minutes forty-six seconds.)

The sense that this killing, after so many others over so many years, finally constituted a national “enough!” moment can be traced in many ways, from the mass protests even in a time of pandemic-forced physical isolating to street art springing up on boarded-over store windows to the suddenly nervous corporate offices of Wall Street and Madison Avenue. (It has not, however, shaken the resolve of America’s corporate sports world, in which the owner of the professional football team in the nation’s capital, for instance, has defiantly ignored for years calls to retire the team’s “Redskins” nickname.) On Wednesday, Quaker Oats – which is owned by PepsiCo – announced that after 131 years, it is dumping (or “rebranding”) its Aunt Jemima pancake syrup, a best-selling brand built on Mammy reveries of the antebellum South. 

In its reporting on the change, The New York Times noted that the beaming Aunt Jemima has provided a good deal of satirical fodder for artists. “Black artists, including Joe Overstreet and Betye Saar, have challenged the character for decades,” The Times’s Tiffany Hsu wrote. “Mr. Overstreet painted Aunt Jemima wielding a machine gun in 1964 and created an expanded version of the work, ‘New Jemima,’ in 1970. Ms. Saar’s 1972 mixed-media sculpture, ‘The Liberation of Aunt Jemima,’ presented a ‘mammy’ figurine armed with a rifle and a hand grenade against a backdrop of repeated images of Aunt Jemima’s face.”

Wednesday’s news of Aunt Jemima’s retirement (her long goodbye will take several months and many thousands of platters of additional pancakes to achieve) immediately reminded me of a painting by the master Portland artist Arvie Smith, “Hands Up Don’t Shoot,” that was included in a 2016 APEX exhibition at the Portland Art Museum of ten of his large-scale paintings. In it, a smiling Jemima figure is holding aloft a plate of pancakes in each hand as Confederate and American flags fly side-by-side, a body surrounded in police chalk lies on the ground near flames, a Klan figure puts his hand on the shoulder of a black maid behind a police barricade, and a Hollywood type with a movie camera “shoots” the entire scene. It and the other paintings in Smith’s APEX show fit into a long and noble tradition of political and cultural satiric art. Art may belong to history, but the best of it also belongs to the moment.


GOOD THINGS COME IN MULTIPLES


Motoya Nakamura, portrait of John Murakami, from the series “Images of the 442nd” 


ARTSWATCH HAS WRAPPED UP A COUPLE OF GOOD SERIES THIS WEEK, proving in the process that some things are worth waiting for. Charles Rose completed his three-part interview with Portland composer and singer Damien Geter, whose “An African American Requiem” was to have been premiered this spring as part of the Oregon Symphony season. (Because of Covid-19 shutdowns, the premiere has been rescheduled for Jan. 22, 2021.) In Black music is the centerpiece of American cultureTired of having conversations, and There’s a man going around, Geter talked about the importance of Black traditions in American art and music, the evolution of his own work, the interplay of European and African American traditions, and his new Justice Symphony, which is based on music of the Civil Rights Movement.

And in Focusing in Isolation and Focusing in Isolation: Part 2, Portland photographer Pat Rose talked with ten prominent Oregon fine photographers about the pandemic and how it’s affecting their lives and work: As you might guess, the answers are as varied as the artists themselves. The two parts represent something of an all-star lineup: Ray Bidegain, Jamila Clarke, Jim Fitzgerald, Heidi Kirkpatrick and Angel O’Brien in Part 1; Zeb Andrews, Susan de Witt, Julie Moore, Motoya Nakamura and Deb Stoner in Part 2. As a bonus, each interview is accompanied by three examples of the photographer’s work, which is varied in style and technique but united in artistic integrity.
 

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The grandly pleasurable Portland festival Chamber Music Northwest, meanwhile, kicks off its fiftieth season (and the final under the long stewardship of David Shifrin as artistic director) in a fashion that a few short months ago it didn’t expect: with a triplicate of streamed performances (by the Emerson String Quartet, the Guarneri Quartet, and the Calidore Quartet) available beginning at 7 p.m. Monday, June 22, at CMNW.org and on the company’s YouTube channel. So begins a multiplicity of digital concerts that will premiere at 7 p.m. each Monday, Thursday, and Saturday through July 26 in what CMNW has renamed its Virtual Summer Festival. All concerts will be free, although of course like any cultural institution in these financially difficult times, the festival surely would appreciate a multiplicity of donations should a multiplicity of you feel so moved.

Good news arrives from the Oregon Coast, as Lori Tobias reports, where just such a multiplicity of donations – $250,000 worth – has put the Lincoln City Cultural Center over the top in its drive to create a multiple-use pedestrian plaza, pathways and park area on the outside of its campus, the former Delake School. The project had previously been awarded $1.5 million in Oregon lottery funds.

A pair of Oregon museums have announced their reopening dates. The Portland Art Museum plans to reopen some galleries on July 16. And in central Oregon, the Museum at Warm Springs will reopen July 7 with a new exhibition, The Path of Resilience, drawn from the museum’s permanent collections. Both museums will follow strict procedures on spacing and number of visitors allowed at any one time.

In Under ‘Suspiria’s’ spell, Bennett Campbell Ferguson talks with Anthony Hudson about the online course Hudson’s teaching (it’s at 7:30 tonight, Thursday, June 18) on Luca Guadagnino’s 2018 remake of the cult horror flick Suspiria, a conversation that “spotlights the movie’s progressive politics, queer love stories and moral ambiguities.”  You might also know Hudson in his performance persona as the drag clown Carla Rossi, which leads us to …

The second of three parts in this final multiple, Harper’s Bazaar’s Striking Portraits of America’s Most Legendary Drag Queens, which includes among its highly select few Portland’s truly legendary Darcelle XV. “She told us that for a long time she maintained a careful partition between Darcelle and Walter, her given name,” the story reads in part. “She kept them apart for years, but over time, they had integrated, merged into one. ‘It took a lot of money, balls, and nerve to be Darcelle all these years. Just call me Darcelle.’ And yet despite the apparent unity, she still insists on the possibility of multiplicity: ‘Don’t build a fence around me. I’m not one person, none of us are. We fought to do away with labels; now there is a label for everything.’ “

And more Darcelle: When Portland’s Architectural Heritage Center reopens on a yet-to-be-announced day in mid-July, it will feature Darcelle XV at Home, an exhibition of photographs by Tom Cook of Darcelle amid domestic treasures.
 


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