All Classical Radio James Depreist

VizArts Monthly: Paying attention

Commitment to New Year's Resolutions may be waning but February's art offerings remind us of the benefits of thoughtful attention and contemplation.


A quick Google search reports that by the end of January, a hefty percentage (an oh-so-precise number somewhere between 43-95%) of people drop off their New Year’s Resolutions. How are you all doing? One of my 2024 resolutions was to read more. Which sounds extremely silly, as I am currently deep in researching and writing my master’s thesis, which requires just as much reading as it does writing. But nevertheless, here I am. (I’m trying to balance out all the art history and theory, okay?!)

Because of this hopeful resolution, I recently picked up a copy of Georges Perec’s An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris from 1975– a rather short book that is really a compilation of concisely-worded observations Perec recorded over the course of three days around Place Saint-Sulpice of the 6th arrondissement. Here’s a little taste of it, translated by Marc Lowenthal in 2010:

What has changed here since yesterday? At first sight, it’s really the same. Is the sky perhaps cloudier? It would really be subjective to say that there are, for example, fewer people or fewer cars. There are no birds to be seen. There is a dog on the plaza. Over the hôtel Récamier (far behind it?) a crane stands out in the sky (it was there yesterday, I don’t recall making note of it). I couldn’t say whether the people I’m seeing are the same ones as yesterday. On the other hand, if the birds (pigeons) came (and why wouldn’t they come) I’d feel sure they would be the same birds.

Although this excerpt is a bit more poetic than the rest of the book, Perec’s recordings may seem at first rather straightforward, maybe even a bit clinical. But a large part of what Perec is doing is something rather important: paying attention, really paying attention. This is a radical action – especially in the lightning-paced society of today. What happens when we pay attention? Or, maybe a better question is: what can happen when we pay attention?

This month’s selections are a demonstration of the power of paying attention. Modern Folk, a group exhibition at Chefas Projects, draws on the genealogy of folk art to elevate the mundane and everyday. Chris Lael Larson’s Beginner Nudes at Fine Art Fruit is a lesson in seeing the potential in everything, exemplifying the adage “One person’s trash is another person’s treasure.” Policing Justice at Portland Institute for Contemporary Art as well as What’s at Stake at the Schneider Museum of Art show us that paying attention is a crucial, even indispensable component of sustaining social justice and checking human accountability.

Work by Jess Ackerman. Image courtesy Chefas Projects.

Modern Folk
Betsy Walton, Esther Pearl Watson, Gina M. Contreras, Godeleine de Rosamel, Jess Ackerman, Justin Morrison, Lisa Congdon, Luke Forsyth
January 26 – February 24
Chefas Projects
134 SE Taylor St., Suite 203, Portland (Wed – Sat 12pm – 6pm)


WESTAF Shoebox Arts

While folk art is typically a reflection of the everyday culture of a community, there is nothing ordinary or mundane about Chefas Projects’ current group exhibition Modern Folk. Owner and gallery namesake Stephanie Chefas brings together eight West Coast artists in a vibrant showcase of the artists’ unique visions of life. Jess Ackerman and Luke Forsyth offer flat-yet-energetic still-life paintings; Gina M. Contreras contributes deeply emotional self-portraits, and Godeleine de Rosamel introduces whimsical, otherworldly ceramic creatures.  All confirm that real life is what we make it.

Work by Chris Lael Larson. Image courtesy the artist.

Beginner Nudes
Chris Lael Larson
February 1 – 25
Fine Art Fruit
925 NW 19th Ave., Suite A, Portland (Tues – Sun 11am – 5pm)

One of my favorite things about Chris Lael Larson’s work (other than its bright, erratic, visual intensity) is the question of how to categorize it. Is it collage? Painting? Installation? Appropriation? Photography? Larson’s most recent series, Beginner Nudes, continues to blur that boundary by being, well, all of those things at once. By breaking down discarded student figure paintings, rearranging them into collage-like installations, and finally photographing them, Larson gives the original paintings completely new lives by shifting and expanding their contexts and narratives.

Work by Sean M. Johnson. Image courtesy Salem Art Association and the artist.

Queer Love
Liz Asch, Molly Alloy, Jason Berlin, Scott Bloom, Allynn Carpenter, Michael Espinoza, Sean M. Johnson, Needle In A Gay Stack, Dennis Portz, Numi Rehfield-Griffith, Jessica Rehfield-Griffith, Lottie Winters, Asa Wright, eboni wyatt
February 2 – 25
Camas Gallery, Bush Barn Art Center
600 Mis­sion St. SE, Salem (Wed – Sun 12pm – 4pm)

In this group exhibition of 14 artists (many of whom are friends, lovers, partners, or family with one another!), the expansiveness and dynamism of queer love is explored, demonstrated, and celebrated. Across a range of styles from illustration to painting to poetry, queer love unfolds as a complex spectrum of action, “not just WHO or HOW we love, but something we DO,” as the exhibition’s statement emphasizes. In addition to an opening reception on Friday, February 2 from 5:30pm-7:30pm, participating artist and writer Liz Asch will give a reading of essays and poetry on Sunday, February 25 from 4pm-5pm.

Work by Kenji Ide. Image courtesy Adams and Ollman.

American Friend
Kenji Ide
January 20 – February 17
Adams and Ollman
418 NW 8th Ave., Portland (Wed – Sat 11am – 5pm)

The 1977 film American Friend, from which Kenji Ide draws the title of his current exhibition at Adams and Ollman, follows the criminal career of character Tom Ripley across Hamburg, Germany. Yet as a teenager, Ide didn’t know this– he had never seen the film. Rather, he allowed himself to imagine his own plot, generating his own narrative for the film. Today, Ide’s small-scale sculptural works offer a similar avenue for speculative narration: minimal forms (some abstract, some recognizable) populate diorama-like scenes, giving space for endless possible explanations for what they’re doing and why they’re there.


WESTAF Shoebox Arts

Work by Forensic Architecture. Image courtesy Portland Institute for Contemporary Art.

Policing Justice
Alfredo Jaar, Blue, Carrie Mae Weems, Cleo Davis, Don’t Shoot Portland, Forensic Architecture, Kayin Talton Davis, Kimberly Moreland, Master Artist Michael Bernard Stevenson Jr., Robert Clarke, Sandy Rodriguez
February 23 – May 19
Portland Institute for Contemporary Art
15 NE Hancock St., Portland (Thurs – Fri 12pm – 6pm; Sat – Sun 12pm –  4pm)

Arriving on the not-too-distant heels of the 2020 George Floyd protests that rippled globally, the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art presents Policing Justice. The exhibition examines the policing practices of Portland in relation to local and national histories of oppression and social justice. Curators Nina Amstutz and Cleo Davis organized works by a roster of artists who call Portland home, as well as featuring a three-part investigative video work by London-based art and research agency Forensic Architecture. Supplementing the exhibition will be a community conversation symposium, a film series at Clinton Street Theater, a workshop, and a variety of artist lectures.

Installation view of Afraid/Not Afraid. Image courtesy Archer Gallery.

Afraid/Not Afraid
Pamela Chipman and Jan Cook
February 7 – April 25
Archer Gallery
1933 Fort Vancouver Way, Vancouver (Mon – Sat 11am – 5pm)

Archer Gallery presents Afraid/Not Afraid, an immersive photo installation by Pamela Chipman and Jan Cook that emphasizes a blurred line between public/private as well as the construction of gender expectations. Utilizing projections and semi-transparent fabric, images of silhouetted women engaged in daily activities are encountered by peering through a window, shifting the viewer to become a voyeur. In this, Chipman and Cook confront their anxieties of constant surveillance that is often a precursor to violence, with the goal of bringing attention and change to these issues. 

Work by Pace Taylor. Image courtesy Nationale.

Before the Doors Open
Pace Taylor
January 15 – February 18
15 SE 22nd Ave., Portland (Thurs – Mon 12pm – 5pm)

Nationale hosts Before the Doors Open, a selection of pastel drawings accompanied by a series of smaller watercolors, marking Pace Taylor’s third solo exhibition with the gallery. Tenderly rendered in their distinctive velvety and almost-natural style, Taylor’s subjects are at once present yet perhaps somewhere else, intimate yet somehow distant. The works are reflections of tussling with the back-and-forth of one’s inner monologue – of holding fear, desire, loneliness, and longing in the same hand. 

Work by Zeina Barakeh. Image courtesy Schneider Museum of Art.

What’s at Stake
Al Farrow, Masami Teraoka, Zeina Barakeh
January 11 – March 23
Schneider Museum of Art
555 Indiana Street, Ashland (Tues – Sat 10am – 4pm)


CMNW Summer Festival SB FIXED #1, TP, Top

During a recent trip to San Francisco, what was originally three separate solo shows at Catherine Clarke Gallery immediately made sense as a cohesive group exhibition to Schneider Museum of Art (SMA) Executive Director Scott Malbaurn. Re-presented at SMA as What’s at Stake, each artist considers the impact of war in their past and present locales – Masami Teraoka from Japan, Zeina Barakeh from Lebanon, and Al Farrow from here in the US. Together as a group, the works open a global dialogue about the humanitarian issues still faced today: not just war, but also human rights violations, colonialism, and unchecked violence.

Work by Margaret Coe. Image courtesy Karin Clarke Gallery.

The Northwest Landscape: An Invitational Exhibit
Mark Clarke, Margaret Coe, Bets Cole, Carl Hall, Hart James, David McCosh, Erik Sandgren
January 31 – March 16
Karin Clarke Gallery
760 Willamette Street, Eugene (Wed – Fri 12pm – 5:30pm; Sat 10am – 4pm)

Karin Clarke Gallery showcases six historic and contemporary painters from across Oregon focused on celebrating the awe-inspiring beauty of the Pacific Northwest landscape. Stylistic approaches vary, from the impressionism of Mark Clarke to the abstraction of David McCosh, offering diverse and multi-facted perspectives on the beauty of our backyard. Two receptions will be held for The Northwest Landscape: the first on February 2 and the second on March 1, both from 5:30pm-7:30pm.

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Photo Joe Cantrell

Headshot of Jason N. Le.

Jason N. Le (they/them) is a Vietnamese American writer, thinker, and curator based in Portland, Oregon. Their academic background lies in art history and critical theory, focused on postwar American art, identity politics, performance theory, and the genealogy of arts criticism. They hold degrees from the Pacific Northwest College of Art and Portland State University, and their other critical arts writing can be found at Art & About PDX.


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