Marcel and Motherwell
wit and great art
The Portland art scene in August had a nice selection of history,
innocence and old-fashioned butt-kicking with shows by Robert Motherwell,
Harrell Fletcher and Nathan Marcel.
Two works particularly catch the eye: Marcel's "Urban Avatar"
at Blackfish and Fletcher's "Dog Made From Three Plastic Bags"
At the mercy of context:
219 NW 12th Ave., #100
|Fletcher's "Dog Made From Three
Fletcher's overall exhibit has flaws. With overly clinical pastel
wall colors and a lack of large works to anchor the layout, the
exhibit allows the massive white space of PICA's main gallery to
swallow and diffuse Fletcher's ambitious project.
This is disappointing since Everyday Sunshine evokes a sense of
childhood wonder, need and parental custodial responsibility. I'm
let down because these are some of my favorite subjects. I recommend
a close look to tune out the space.
In particular I found Fletcher's "Dog Made From Three Plastic
Bags," to justify the trip. The care that went into making
this small work transforms basic, banal materials into (dare I say)
love. In the context of his childhood photos with yellow whiteout,
this work achieves poetic sunshine.
exhibit: Wonder-world or science lab?
I like the tonal difference between the handmade care of the dog
and the more clinical works (seen at left). When cropped like this,
the exhibit works. Too bad the clinical side is overemphasized by
the expansive space making Fletcher's wonder-world look more
like a science lab. In a gallery with lower walls and hardwood floors
the exhibit would have succeeded. It is simply the passivity of
the show colors that tilts the exhibit towards an unfortunate deconstruction.
Basic human activities like caring are not something that can be
reduced, poignantly showing why postmodernism is inadequate, especially
for themes like innocence. Like a fragile sea creature removed from
its environment, deconstruction gives a researcher a jar with some
scattered tissue floating in it. I doubt this was Fletcher's intent.
His dog succeeds by making us forget the space by focusing our
vision on something much smaller than ourselves.
New Members Show
420 NW 9th
Marcel isn't playing the reduction game sometimes
he legitimately overwhelms. Most of his works at Blackfish engage
dada-esque wit but with updated media saturation more in keeping
with our time.
Witty and illustrated like most classic dada wall works, one really
stands out: "Urban Avatar" puts the busy eye in a blender
and seamlessly combines witty stock epitaphs like "man-child"
and "hero worship" with a fedora-ed Dick Tracey-ish male
image. For good measure he adds enough eye saccharin to make Spielberg
vomit (that is good).
"Urban Avatar" makes commentary on the 25-45
singles scene I see daily, exposing persona in a carnival for the
eye. Every year, lots of other clever MFA grad students work on
this coming-of-age subject. So far only Marcel's work has given
me a convincing effect. Who knows where Marcel will be lead as he
starts his MFA this year at Portland State. Sometimes, his work
has a panache I haven't seen since Jim Dine's earlier days. Well
done ... watch this guy.
817 SW 2nd
Elegy for the Spanish Republic," by Robert Motherwell
Usually, prints are pale impersonations of an artist's more serious
work. For all but an obvious few, such as Albrecht Durer, Rembrandt,
Picasso and die Brucke group, this rule holds.
Add Motherwell to that exceptional list. His warm black massifs
have become proven icons.
"Barcelona, Elegy for the Spanish Republic" is part of
a series which has become his trademark.
These elegies have primal mass, an engagement with history and
there is something warm and inviting in addition to the threatening
nature of the black shapes. In the elegy series, the matte black
of his work transfers well to printmaking.
With Motherwell there isn't any real drop in quality between the
paintings and the prints, only an issue of scale and the inherent
fragility of works on paper.
"Monster," at right
This fragility makes up for the bombastic scale giving mid-sized
works like "Monster" depth. Funny how monsters, like grizzly
bears and other super-predators, are fragile things; they evoke
myth and a tenuous philosophy of disbelief. Somehow we stare when
we see one, even though we know that this was once bear country.
Much like art itself, all constructs and assumptions can be shattered
with a growl or the uncovering of a Loch Ness hoax.
Motherwell's work, much like a bear, shocks with its substantiality
something I miss in a lot of art today. As an artist, Motherwell
was an important cultural bridge and his work has the philosophical
polish of the Europeans like Tapies, with the American gusto of
Review," by Motherwell
Still, without Pollock, I believe Motherwell would have gone a
less-adventurous route with his collages and somewhat more academic
and class brandishing pieces like "Paris Review."
It is likely Alfred Barr, the original director of New York's Museum
of Modern Art, would have encouraged this side of his work had Greenberg
not stolen his thunder.
Compared to "Monster," these "class conscious"
works are pleasant but lack the charge that is so indicative of
the first generation of abstract expressionists. Motherwell was
a key part of the Europeans abdicating the throne of cultural importance
Some hold that the center of the art world was already in America
in the 1940s, due to the presence of European masters in New York.
Although some Europeans did indeed wait out WWII, the people who
spawned the school of Paris and the expectations that Parisians
had for art, did not. Matisse and Picasso did not flee France. Instead,
New York received a transfusion not a heart transplant.
Motherwell was the American whom surrealist Europeans were grooming
as a disciple. He gained their acceptance then proceeded to surpass
their expectations. Greenberg (a critic who had even more intellectual
cachet than Motherwell) and Pollock lead the charge. It is a poor
student who does not surpass their master.
Motherwell was the best early example of a sophisticated American
artist and helped establish depth in the New York scene.
But the question has to be asked: Why hasn't America produced any
artist of real historical stature in the last 17 or more years while