still by Melanie Manchot at PICA
Celentano, Manchot, Row, Fritz, Moss, Haven
as Mama Celeste would say. Portland was inundated with excellent
shows during what I expected to be a January/February lull.
Sure, one has to hunt around. We don't have lots
of big-name galleries to make art-hunting predictable, but since
when does predictable = worthwhile? Just like in any other city,
one has to sort out the vain, mediocre or predictable from the
challenging stuff. The good news is it exists both in quality
and quantity if effort is expended. My avalanche of reviews should
bear this out.
In fact, there were so many good shows I didn't
have the opportunity to review other excellent shows like Michael
O'Mally's back-room installation at PNCA's Feldman Gallery or
"Field" at Elizabeth Leach Gallery, where Michael Mann
and Sam Francis give our local color-field painters an old-fashioned
As we start 2002, the artists feel enfranchised
in Portland and the core galleries haven't fallen prey to the
ennui cliché. Some even go for the throat from time to
time. This scene isn't something to sneeze at, although it's still
Fritz's "Disclosure" at Fleck Gallery
Also, some new blood and leadership (with high critical
expectations) have been added to the Portland Art Museum, PICA,
the galleries and the all-important developing-artists' scene.
In essence, during 2001 Portland realized it didn't
have to make excuses and in 2002 it is following through by working
Hence, we have lots of new artists in the gallery
stables and lots of younger artists who might be too good for
some of the tamer galleries in town. Here are this year's first
Laura Russo Gallery
805 NW 21st Ave.
These works have real power, stopping me mid-stride
as I walked by from across the street. That happens to me rarely
in museums and is even rarer in galleries. Celentano, one of the
first-generation pioneers in the 1960s Op Art movement, isn't
just going strong he's gaining new ground.
Art pioneer Francis Celentano at Laura Russo Gallery
With his luscious swirling columns of color he may
well be eclipsing his earlier work, producing art that fits in
well with Dave Hickey's Beau Monde ideas. To be relevant at 70-something
just means you were right all along. I'm glad the world is catching
In works like Star #4, Celentano reinvents that
seminal icon of the Greek pillar, charging it with the eternal
newness that drives the U.S. economic machine. This optic column
is a bit like candy or soft-serve ice cream, it's a bit like a
new car, it dazzles yet it doesn't pander to these fleeting appetites.
Instead, it is both approachable and inexhaustible two
things a car or candy are not.
Optically, I like the way the colors shift with
the position of the viewer; they delight and madden. It makes
us doubt the mind and trust the eye. If ever beauty had a definition
that would be my vote.
My favorite is Star #2. This pink, salmon, violet
and gray masterpiece gives two of Celentano's possible apprentices,
Ellsworth Kelly and Sol Lewitt, something to chew on. Celentano
achieves so much as a hedonist in perfect control, once again
reminding the puritans that the taste of something sweet is not
an invitation to the unimportant hamper.
Things have changed in the West as the new coast
asserts itself. I guess we youngsters now have proof there is
life in hedonist abstraction after Greenberg. The control is amazing
as #2 seems endless, gradually widening from base to top in a
tornado of youth. With its slick plastic surface it is art that
no curmudgeonly mud can stick to.
Certainly Celentano is expanding on Brancusi's endless
column (pronounced "Brancoosh"). This is the museum-quality
Northwest art I never see in Northwest museums. It is so refreshing
to see someone remain vital for so long the best measure
of relevance. Art is a war of attrition, and Celentano has won.
PICA, 219 NW 12th Ave.
A review of a review by D.K. Row
The Oregonian, Jan. 15, 2002
of Manchot's "Liminal" series of photographs
Two very important events recently coalesced into
one. First, PICA unveiled the Melanie Manchot show, once again
setting the international standard in Portland. This is a photographer
who so very adeptly incorporates my favorite non-modernist, non-postmodernist
themes of trust, intimacy and the overall glue that keeps our
civilization together on a person-to-person basis.
It's part of a trend towards reassessing basic human
impulses and needs, like "Breathing" at the New Museum
in New York and "Behold," curated by PICA's Hordoner
last year; and beauty, at Dave Hickey's "Beau Monde"
during Site Santa Fe.
Of nearly equal importance, on Jan. 15, The Oregonian
ran its first review by dedicated staff art critic D.K. Row. It
was a position left unfilled since early 2001, when Row left for
New York. Maybe someone didn't think it was an important enough
position to fill? Yet, newspaper coverage is critical as is the
public notice of major, top-quality shows.
To illustrate, the Milwaukee Art Museum (my previous
home and I mean the museum, not the city) ran a jaw-dropping
U.S. debut show of photographer Andreas Gursky. It hit me hard,
but I think I'm one of only 50 people who saw it, as there was
absolutely no press attention. The press there often just grouse
about how Milwaukee isn't New York (well, duh!).
Gursky is arguably the best photographer since Stieglitz
invented photography as a serious art form. (If you have to argue,
it usually means there is a 50/50 chance it's true and I like
those odds.) Manchot is one of two photographers that has excited
me since Gursky.
So what better way to welcome Mr. Row back and further
validate the importance of his criticism than by disagreeing with
a portion of his first review? Besides, the reason I'm picking
one major point is the fact that I rather agreed with the rest
of it. Welcome to persnickity'sville ...
I must disagree with Row's assertion that "The
most accomplished pieces by Manchot in the show are a series of
large-scale portraits of her mother dubbed, 'Liminal Portraits.'"
Although excellent, those works are easily the most traditional,
iconic and accessible in presentation, composition, intertextuality
and subject matter. Their single figure, the artist's mother,
defines the picture plane and dictates the entire context and
resonance of the work upon the viewer. In other words, they are
a clear entry onto the road Manchot's work is traveling, not its
I liken the liminals to a creation myth. They present
the liminal, nearly tacit region that a daughter and mother create
between one another. It is a least common denominator. We all
have mothers (with the advent of cloning, we will see how that
trend sticks) and therefore these liminal photographs create a
sort of intermediary mental space that surrogates Manchot's position
in the relationship with the viewer's.
of Manchot's "LA Pictures," combining fantasy text
The problem is it's a very one-way exchange that
overwhelms Manchot's avowed goal of trust and the testing of personal
limits. This occurs because Manchot's mother cannot be surrogated
fully as our own. No matter how liminal, it cannot usurp that
fundamental reality. To us she's just some lady. The liminals
likely spurred Manchot onto her more impressive breakthroughs
in the show.
Thus, either "The LA Pictures" of kissing
couples or "Gestures of Demarcation" (where another
person stretches a painfully large amount of skin from Manchot)
can be seen as a great deal more accomplished because she allows
the viewer the freedom to associate with either of the two figures.
Providing more options gives greater latitude and
theater for the viewer. This engenders trust while still framing
the question, and accomplishes her aim more fully.
Portland Installation Feast
Surprise, surprise! The last month has been filled with installation
and video art; lets compare some.
630 SE 3rd (a block north of Montage)
At the Eagerwally Gallery's "Climate Control"
show, the overall feel was refreshing although installations
incorporating beds are "pretty MFA" (my term for the
predicable art that can be found in any art school). In particular,
Yuro Matasouka's inventive string of white Christmas lights enclosed
in prescription bottles with photographic images inside stood
out and set the tone for a show with some guts.
Still, I felt the angst-ridden dark personages standing
beneath the lights were redundant and forced in comparison to
all the photographic faces in the plastic bottles. The work's
strength is in its connotations of the face as the theater of
personality and drugs as a potential hijacker or savior of that
theater. It didn't hurt that the drug containers looked like amber
Chinese lanterns either, adding another layer of Pa Chen, or "family,"
to the work. There is promise here.
625 NW Everett St. #107
Fritz specimen "Insular"
After getting a lot of attention in the Portland
scene for her kinetic practically sci-fi sculptures last year,
Laura Fritz has now turned the vital corner from curious to disturbing.
Previously, her creepy magnetic automations made
seed-like forms skitter like wounded cyborg germs in need of maintenance.
Some evolved forms of these magnetic/kinetic works
are featured here, but they are not her current focus. Instead,
Fritz's new works address entropy through specimens and video
vitrines. This new direction more convincingly transgresses the
lines between science fiction and reality.
The specimens are better than the tad gimmicky kinetics.
For example, with "Insular," Fritz fills medical vials
with a variety of chemicals that congeal, coalesce and change
for a period of weeks. Eventually the decay stabilizes. Is Fritz
creating life or is she inducing death? Is this an abortion or
a cloning experiment? At this point in history some of our sci-fi
fantasies and nightmares are coming true. By deliberately hijacking
this awareness, the viewer glimpses the FDA's decision-making
process. Is this the cure or the disease? Fritz threatens both.
The most successful piece in the show is the video
vitrine, "Section." A big part of its success comes
from the fact that it isn't obvious as a video screen and therefore
in 20 years won't succumb to utterly dated nostalgia. The work
consists of a black box with a milky white surface that pulses
with an eerie light from within. On rare occasions the profile
of a large brown moth crosses without noise, setting up a succinct
and rich metaphor for the act of observation. Without the moth
it evokes the paintings of Portland's most famous artist, the
late Mark Rothko. With the moth, early Gerhard Richter, Bruce
Nauman and Joseph Cornell are referenced. Sublime and mortal.
She is onto something.
Elizabeth Leach Gallery
207 SW Pine
Cris Moss is known as the creator and promoter of
the Donut Shop series of itinerate art exhibits. I can't say enough
good things about doing that sort of out-of-the-box thinking and
promotion in Portland, but critical review has to come into play
Moss is still in art school, but let's not waste
criticism on those too old or dull to care.
The installation has a clumsy MFA academic didacticism and really
doesn't go far enough to become something more than a learning
exercise in repetition. The installation consisted of a screen
with a tiny stabbing stick figure, another screen that flashes
"I hate the way I fucking write," some white shirts,
a video of a sewing machine whose needle repeatedly penetrates
white fabric causing some sort of blood-red liquid to seep through
and some photographic stills of that footage.
Overall, the oblique allusions to virginal textuality,
the making of text, violence and, surprise surprise, "repetition,"
are just so typical to the art school environment that it seems
like Moss has made a zoo of hackneyed art productions that inundate
all college art programs.
It tells me he's searching for a way to frame his
questions regarding art differently by expelling the stuff around
him publicly. That is a healthy direction. Keep at it. And kudos
to Liz Leach for giving him a real opportunity to develop. Artists
don't appear like Athena, fully formed from the head of Zeus.
Frankly, nobody has ever had the balls to give me a bad review!
To be constructive, I really love Moss's earlier
piece, which can usually be found at Visage eyewear in the Pearl.
With its distended greenscreen and wires trailing, it evinces
some sort of sci-fi horror. On the screen is the image of a child's
face that continually changes moods and direction of gaze. The
work probes the projection of anthropomorphism that we humans
are prone to do. People interact with this artificial intelligence
and it is a subtle study in humanity, even if it is a bit too
indebted to Tony Oustler.
604 NW 12th Ave.
Haven's "Halo Event" installation is world
class. The piece consists of dozens of delicate elliptical clear
acetate cutouts, each held by two pins. Light travels through
the ovals, casting shadows on the wall behind. On some of the
shadow ovals, Haven has slyly painted the wall with light blue,
making the shadow seem somehow changed and odd. The work evokes
Robert Ryman, Agnes Martin and Eva Hesse, but by adding this odd
transfiguration to the oval she wields "emphasis" in
a way that they did not. This "wobble," as she calls
it, is a path to perfection by accepting the inherent imperfection
that is necessary for variety. Minimalism and variety, now that's
an excellent wobble. Through March 9.
Stay tuned: next month I unveil my recent essay,
"Art and Threat."