Art Museum: Andreas Gursky rocks!
Rinder, Klein, PaineWebber
it just me, or did the pace of things in Portland find a new gear
in September and October?
Suddenly artists are taking more curatorial control,
artists are the critics/editors, and artists are getting more press
than institutions. I see these developments as a partial liquefaction
of the art scene. What else is going to happen?
Institutionally, PICA brought in the Whitney Museum's Lawrence
Rinder and "art devil" Dave Hickey to improvise their
ideas before Portland audiences. Thus, at two different gatherings,
we met two of the most controversial decision-makers in art.
Not to be outdone, the UBS PaineWebber collection sampler suddenly
gave the Portland Art Museum a weighty display of mostly 1980s and
'90s contemporary work, including two Andeas Gurskys; I'm happy.
I'll get to Hickey, Rinder and UBS later and, yes, blood will be
Robert Calvo: "Labyrinth."
But first, my favorite work this month (other than that terrifyingly
good Giacometti that Bruce Guenther snuck in at the Portland Art
Museum) was Robert Calvo's "Labyrinth" at Elizabeth Leach's
It's basically a piece about generic monoculture and the ghosts
of urban development that haunt all cities attempting to emulate
the New York-style grid. It also incorporates fractal, shaped brushstrokes
and simple manmade self-repeating building forms.
Skylines do not a great city make; that's merely one strategy,
perfected 50 years ago ... somewhere else.
Likewise, Compound, Portland's newest gallery, showed that the
influx of new energy into the city has not even come close to abating,
with excellent work by Dave Kinsey and Andy Howell.
deals with the punks.
Also, my friend Nic Walker had a show at Fleck. I thought the four
carved relief works were stronger than the three traditional paintings
for their street shaman-noir feel.
Aesthetically, the reliefs are like Joseph Beuys ritualistically
beating Ed Ruscha over the head with Gordon Matta-Clark's home furnishings.
Finally, in the last month or two I was subjected to the delicious
horrors of having one's own plans come together much better than
expected in the "Play" show at Portland State. More on
that later, too.
Overall a theme emerged: persnickety individuals are
the only ones who get anything done right. At some point, institutions
are only as good as their leaders and Portland seems to have
a fair number of both. Running with the pack is for the dogs.
"Objects between Subjects"
Lewis and Clark Gallery of Contemporary Art
Sheila Klein had a first-class exhibit at Lewis and Clark College,
giving me what I wanted: an in-depth look at someone's decisive
creative "events." All of it worked due to a combination
of spatial assertiveness and material approachability, mediated
with biographical iconography.
Outside, the giant pants sculpture, "Stand," didn't go
for the easy ha-ha of a Claes Oldenberg and had strong formal elements.
I suppose this is what Louise Bourgeois would do had she been more
At their best, Klein's soft fabric creations told of an intimate,
interactive art. The Greeks, and Aristotle in particular, felt ambivalence
was necessary a notion that the work of Klein and others
have dispelled. Her tents and cushions have the push-pull of intimacy,
yet grant the desire for respectful privacy.
I particularly liked lying on my back inside "Bonnet Nave,"
a large, shimmering tent work, made from space-age fabrics usually
seen on athletes. Instead of go-go-go, it said stay-stay-stay. I'm
especially interested in how her work humanized space, since every
object used scale to promote familiar trust instead of declarations
of cultural importance.
Klein proves everything that is architecturally activated does
not need to be so filled with testosterone.
Lawrence Rinder, curator of contemporary art for New York's Whitney,
was the first of two lecturers. His talk was a sort of digression
about a show he's developing. This show conceptually discusses non-Americans
creating work about America. It was fascinating for the institutional
processes it revealed.
Highlights were a "Wizard of Oz" re-imagining with a
German Dorothy in provincial, dour surroundings trying to communicate
with a blond hypermedia ditzy U.S. Dorothy and a Japanese screen
showing Zero fighters laying waste to New York.
Uh, so the passive-aggressive Whitney needs to re-establish or
mourn New York's invincibility by revisiting the Axis vs. the Allies
thing? Come on ... New York never was invincible and at some time
will be a pasture like Rome became for a while. Just deal with it:
New York isn't as all-important as it used to be.
That's good, because it is still very important, just in a saner,
more contextual way (as shown in Rinder's controversial Biennial).
participant Steven Dean's "Pulse."
Frankly, foreign work that does not discuss the U.S.A. will
tell more of real attitudes and, dammit, Native American tribes
have dealt with this subject with so much more force than those
included in Rinder's survey. Maybe Native Americans are too close
for the Whitney.
Conceptually, this really is a good idea for the institution. It
pushes their "American" rules some.
Still, if Rinder really wants to do something daring, just feature
five outstanding works.
Creating a huge show of 30 artists will blunt the stronger work.
Examples are the Russian artist's dream machine and the Korean
bombing ground photos. This would put the Whitney's heft behind
these artist's careers in a big way by taking a stand. As it sits,
this show is just a little tram ride through "not U.S.A.'s"
U.S.A. theme park and a bit parochial.
Rinder seems like he's made for better things than that.
to Portland: Do you know how to rock?
Dave Hickey's lecture was infinitely more satisfying than Rinder's.
Not that Hickey is going for satisfaction. He picked on arch-mediocre
institutions and baited as many sacred cows as he could find: wussy
artists, publicly funded arts, tenured faculty, small cities, museums,
big cities, etc.
His basic premise is the need for a redeemed cosmopolitanism. He
talks of intricate systems of dialectical utopias. Some cities (utopias?)
are very bourgeois, carnivalesque and populist like Las Vegas.
Others are elitist and more puritanical like Santa Fe.
A trend develops. Hickey, whether intentionally or not, has become
a bit of a poster child for blooming Southwest cities. It's only
natural; he is from Texas. And anyone who can make pretentious art-world
people feel stupid for not seeing how Foucault's writings about
carnival-faire environments are proven true in cheesy Las Vegas
grandeur is great. (I only got to apply it to Thomas Hardy)
I just think he's more limited in his appreciation of the more
northern climes not that he couldn't ... He just doesn't
think about London as much as he does about Los Angeles.
the entire Southwest: "Site Santa Fe 2001."
Then again, Hickey's "Site Santa Fe 2001" biennial rocked
so hard it validated the entire Southwest, including L.A., as legit
art meccas. One can't argue with results like that.
Hence, he failed to really discuss London, a non-Beau-Monde city
that is a hell of a lot more important, art-wise, than L.A. He even
pointed out historic Florence with the Medicis as another non-Beau-Monde
model city that did pretty well for itself the equivalent
of a scorched-earth policy.
Rhetorically it's a nice move, since it isn't what you say, it's
how much air you can take out of your detractors' lungs.
London as a patronage system has been the most important seedbed
for international-level art for the last 12 years (the place was
a complete art backwater 12 years ago). London proved all it takes
is two main characters: a big collector (Saatchi) and one brilliant
artist (Hirst). Other lesser dukes fill in the gaps.
Portland is a lot like Munich in 1910 (which had Bernhard Kohler
and Kandinsky) and similarly needs the one-to-one magic connection
to take off.
Thus, I can forgive Hickey's funny baits about Portland, Bloomington
and Austin being similar cities. I've been to those places, Dr.
Hickey, and there's 10 times the amount of cultural activity present
in Portland. Those cities are driven by large universities; Portland
Also, Portland isn't a scene driven by public funding, either
as he seemed to infer. That's why Portland is special: it's where
young unmarried people come to get away from all the corporatized
Portland is a Romanesque city where dining out is very big, and
for some reason it supports an unusually large visual-arts infrastructure.
Yet I think the ribbing is good: Portland still needs more balls.
Hickey's truly important points were that there needs to be small,
highly organized communities of desire; artists need to cause trouble
and you better be prepared to fight hard to get anything done. Oh
yeah, and if you are intelligent enough to integrate Charles S.
Pierce, father of philosophical pragmatism, with Walter Pater
that doesn't hurt, either.
Hickey knows his gambit: In the war of ideas, being right 50 percent
of the time is the best one can hope for. He's batting .500, and
understands all about the pitches he chooses not to swing at.
And that's admirable like all real thinkers, he's out to
see what he can get away with. And in the art world there are only
two in this league: Dave Hickey and Damien Hirst, period.
Portland Art Museum
The best? Not!
OK, a lot has been written on this, so I'll write the stuff the
other editors think is too brainy for their general readers.
One important point is that this corporation would not have this
collection without the interference of founding CEO John Mellon.
There are all the basic questions about the conspiracy of blue
chip art and blue chip corporations. But on that let's just say
that the collection's Damien Hirst is the show's most innocuous
piece, which means they chose wrong.
Now for a prickly question: Is Gerhard Richter really the world's
Of course not. Most of his ideas and techniques, like "the
impossibility of painting," have already been articulated more
adeptly by other Germans such as Sigmar Polke and Anselm
Kiefer: more challenging than Richter.
This includes painting over photographs. Also, Richter's whole
focus on his mysterious past is just secondhand smoke compared to
Joseph Beuys, who showed him the strategy in the first place.
In essence, Richter is a greatest-hits collection of German art
all packaged in a way that masters the forms but takes no real initiative.
Thus he's good, but not Hans Hoffman, Joseph Beuys or even
Sigmar Polke good.
I consider him on Francesco Clemente's level: excellent, but doomed
by his heavy-handed chimerical use of himself and his techniques
to be the second-best of his generation. An Eric Clapton compared
to Hendrix: not bad, but kinda embarrassing if you think about it.
"Afrodizzia" is better than Richter.
Furthermore, painting on photos like Hans Hoffman isn't as inscrutable
as it's supposed to be. It's accessible.
This produces good attendance at shows, since Richter meets his
audience 90 percent of the way (and nice colors don't hurt).
In fact, photographer Andreas Gursky is just as painterly, but
less hodge-podge about his materials and aims.
Ed Ruscha, Chris Ofili, David Reed, Kiefer and Ellsworth Kelly
are all more legit contenders because they point to the impossibility
of painting and pull it off with more risk (I pick Kelly).
By the way, unless you are daft, Basquiat was the best painter
of the '80s, and guys like Clemente and David Salle are good bridesmaids
worthy of attention. See them at PAM, too.
Most of the others are a bit overheated, with Schnabel being very
overrated (Guenther wisely gave him a cramped transitional space
in the show, and Cy Twombly a better place). The question is how
much blow does it take to make Schnabel's paintings look good? He
paints half-assed so his full-assed ego doesn't get any competition.
If you're in the area, check out the seminal Warhol, Basquiat,
Clemente, Brian Hunt, Sam Taylor Wood and the great Andreas Gurskys.
Portland State University
Bruce "the ice man" Conkle, Jacqueline "jacquelope"
Hilary "bologna" Pfeifer, Todd "the myth" Johnson
and myself "the elf"
are you still reading?
First off ... uh, who wrote, "I Love You" in the consarned
guest book? We are all kinda wondering if it's for the whole group?
Can you handle all of us LOVE-ing you back?
More seriously, I think all the press was important to bust things
up in Portland but, yes, I got sick of my face, too ... it's the
sword of Damocles. And I've already got bigger trouble stirring.
Follow-through is crucial.
Overall, that damn
show was a highly collaborative, Frankenstein-making, mad-scientist
group effort. Everybody became experimental, since we wanted to
see what happened when five artists each tried to play by their
own rules together.
To answer the parochial questions about my role as curator and
artist: the show was an experiment comprised of all its participants
think jazz quintet. I gathered four other artists who I knew
could handle the collaboration, much like starting a band.
I think it's critical that artists reclaim curatorial control,
and I was not attempting to emulate what have become traditional
curatorial practices. A show called "Play" would be a
critical lack of balls if the guy who called the game only wanted
In some ways, having an outside curator is like having an outside
songwriter it might produce coherent material but it won't
rock particularly hard. Artists like Takashi Murakami, Damien
Hirst and old guys like Kandinsky, Duchamp and Mark Rothko all curated
and participated in shows. Artists simply have the right to do these
It's important to remain dangerous, and that means being involved.
I still consider the real tests to be solo shows.