|Tony Oursler at moving image art show Dec 12-14, 2002
Eyeing the Portland art scene
Potential hullabaloo in
ortland art scene, what do you want? There's
much activity that's either going to get more serious or become
drivel; it won't stay the same no matter how social it seems.
Even more serious newcomers are coming to town, so stake
your claim. With an ever more facile and dangerous scene converging
on the looming potentials of the 2003 Oregon Biennial, what
is the big, ornery, heuristic, chimerical question of the day.
It's time to get one's liminal face outta the Roland
Barthes and step up to the plate. Curate your own statement ...
or engage the museum by entering.
Bourgeois shows first-rate conceptualism in "Stitch by Stitch"
at Elizabeth Leach Gallery.
This month's survey includes an incomplete discussion of Portland
genres and strategies. Art in Portland comes in almost any idiom
imaginable and varies from work by legit superstars like
Tony Oursler, to amateurish copies of more fully realized international
art, to local stuff that is legitimately a leader in an emerging
The question is: Will there be a convergence or a split between
the serious players? Also, is someone ready to collect the serious
players and pay more than $10G for someone less than 40 years old
in the Pacific Northwest? The money is here, but so is a lot of
See, no matter how many postmodern arguments are made for globalism
creating a general dilution of indigenous products, well, place
still matters. A person will make different art in Sri Lanka than
in Eureka, Calif. Gotta use those inherent quirks.
It isn't regionalism ... simply an awareness of place.
New York for the last 40 years has been the most provincial city
on earth because it saw itself and its concerns as summa. Instead,
it was usually the second or third place to catch on (pretty impressive,
actually). The place is a marketplace, but true to the new global
realities, that market has moved a lot of its production elsewhere.
With a proliferation of art fairs and numerous biennials, that myth
of New York as summa has been shattered.
the Organ have balls? Let's hope so ... that's what's needed.
Another sticky question: Is Portland prepared to take notice of
what is very good and critique what isn't? It's all about raising
expectations and the same old excuses really don't hold anymore.
Portland can expect more; this isn't San Diego.
For example, D.K. Row's slam on Catherine Ace last year was both
courageous and right on. Live with it. Richard Speer has a baroque,
dramatic bent to his words and Chas Bowie is a very welcome addition.
Will Camela Raymond's arts newspaper, "The Organ," live up to its
potential and produce a budding crop of hypersensitive critics?
Let's hope so, but it has to be of a caliber that will affect collectors
by taking a stance and backing it up.
With plans for a huge new wing for contemporary art, PAM has its
single best chance to prove contemporary art and art in Oregon are
intersecting concerns with this Biennial.
Or will the museum look out of touch with the new developments
Bruce Guenther isn't stupid, folks, so you might want to send
him the toughest art you've got.
I'll give B.G. some serious attention here because he can take
it, and I've considered him the best curator for sculpture in the
country for the last 10 years (on account of his "the essential
gesture" show in L.A.). Still, everyone and everything especially
museums have limitations, and strong statements by shows
outside the museum can have more definitive effects than the Biennial.
Things are too big for the Biennial to fully take in or discuss.
Although the Biennial isn't the final word, it could be the single
best way to promote what is and has been going on here. I saw the
Bay Area Now 3 show in San Fran last weekend; it was mostly amateurish
and half baked. Still, this show got international attention in
Art in America. Guenther can definitely shut up some of his colleagues
who say "Portland ... har-har" if it's done right.
Curators in San Fran and Seattle already know we have the goods,
but will we use 'em?
by Zack Kirchner.
The other big question regards "aesthetic collisions" and dynamics;
it would be nice to have more of both bold youth and bold
august work. The Biennial is a big hairy group survey show that
can get diluted if everything tries to achieve balance.
Will the layout feature big statements in contrast to other dissimilar
big statements? Or will it all just blend together in a passive
haze of politeness, which one gets soooo often here? (Think PICA's
Northwest narrative show in 2001; it was strictly OK.)
But I think Portland has outgrown that. Will Guenther put on an
imposing-provocative local show? I don't want his tattoo to overshadow
this next one. Been there done that.
To put it bluntly, his predecessor, Kanjo, did this in 1999 and
it remade Portland's galleries introducing now-stars Jacqueline
Ehlis, Brendan Clenahgen (who should create a room-sized environment
sometime), Sean Healy, Heidi Schwegler (who was THE young star)
and revealing more dangerous and masterful versions of Michael Knutson,
Tom Cramer and Molly Vidor.
Guenther himself admitted the last show "lacked engagement."
That is an honest appraisal of his show, but also of the art that
was entered. This time everyone better step up because the Biennial
could really mean something as a showcase to the world.
and non-exclusive list of
genres and strategies in Portland art
Bourdette's "Modest Exaggeration."
and the Northwest cliché
This seems to be the defacto style of the region ... possibly a
consequence of Morris Graves, lots of rain and the early work of
Rothko, Clifford Still and Robert Motherwell.
I get sick of gray fuzzy landscapes in encaustic, but
there are stronger stylists around as well, even video boxes.
Artists like Nic Walker, Christine Bourdette and Brian
Borrello all recycle materials to create their signature styles
that historically have their roots in Beuys-Twombly-Ruscha, Kiki
Smith and an odd combination of Franz Kline and Ed Ruscha, respectively.
Laura Fritz's sci-fi noir video and light boxes are like classic
'60s Gerhard Richter … his best era.
Her moth video box is still the best video piece I've ever seen.
The eerie moth under a milky Plexiglas doesn't look dated like
most video and works as an apt metaphor for viewing art; is it trompe
It is creepy, elegant and disturbing in its natural effect and
marketing heaven and hell.
This is a style I'm partial to.
I really like Joseph Cornell and Cornelia Parker, so collections
and serialization of that collection gets me. Chandra Bocci (reviewed
last month) rides that very difficult fence of love and revulsion
of consumer culture. Edie Tsong and Gabriel Manca accumulate magazine
imagery (something normally throwaway), then start manipulating
things to their aesthetic whims.
Pat Boas' tracings of New York Times images in "Slowness"
were elegant conceptually, but physically worth less than seeing
all those papers plastered against the wall instead of the tracings.
It seemed like second-hand smoke.
Melody Owen, similarly, can be too precious. But her very effective
car-crash chandelier actually accumulated memories (and gave me
flashbacks to my potentially fatal Firestone-induced rollover nearly
four years ago).
Michelle Ross, another accumulator, has one of my favorite artist
statements, and Cézanne is clearly her Yoda (with a crazy-quilt
George Braque for an Obi Wan).
She accumulates carpeting, scribbles, string, paint and other do-dads
on wood surfaces. Although she achieves her goal of control (and
safety), she looks like she is sacrificing risk for elegance. It's
good for now, but lacks Agnes Martin's rigor and Cézanne's
presence through thoroughness, a process that creates solidity and
of Edie Tsong's work.
James Boulton, with his "spark gap transmission," accumulated
an effect akin to Chris Ofili and James Rosenquist as well. His
16-foot-wide work makes him one of the few painters who has signaled
his intentions to accomplish something. I suggest he really look
at Ofili; they have a nice one in San Fran. Mark Smith accumulates
old clothing and vacuum packs it (see photo of last biennial, above).
Margaret Shirley and Laura Domela's work, at Laura Russo Gallery,
layer captured imagery to nice effect, too. Domela doesn't use actual
collage but, like James Rosenquist, arranges imagery into natural
forms. Shirley's work uses real seaweed.
Rex Amos, who lives in Cannon Beach, has great accumulation pieces
from the '60s check some of them out at the "Fehrenbacher
Hof" in Goose Hollow, next to "The Goose."
Conkle's Pink Valley.
Emily Ginsberg creates impressive wallpaper (see
November 2001) and slows time with her video work.
Bruce Conkle absolutely kicked ass with his Photoshop de-populated
and de-pixilated computer game stills. Sublime and some of the very
best computer art I've ever seen.
It is quite ahead of anything similar I've seen from L.A.
work: Emily Ginsberg.
Likewise, Kris Timkin, Jacqueline Ehlis and Anna Filder all use
computers either to produce the image (Timken) or design custom
laser-cut graphics (Ehlis).
In many ways the computer allows reality and unreality to converge
in a more forced way further increasing our skepticism of
Matthew Picton (reviewed
last month) and Ellen George both have a way of "inhabiting"
space and addressing an environment with a man-and-nature husbandry.
Hilary Pfeifer, Malia Jensen, Bonnie Paisley and Lucinda Parker
all borrow some force from the mainstream as well.
This is a genre that can help define Northwest art in a way with
which other places cannot compete. An in-depth discussion would
require a lot more space to get into properly.
Jensen's tree shirt.
I love Malia Jensen's ridiculously useless tree shirt, and she
exists in my mind as a conceptualist with enough sense to also build
physical efficacy into her plans hence her skunk taking a
bath is cast in soap.
One major up-and-comer, Michael Oman-Reagan, is dangerously ascetic.
His sophisticated, fragile, elegant works and legendary communication
project (see July
2002), where he communicated with gallerist Jane Beebe purely
through leaving work on her doorstep, proves he's on top of his
Oman-Reagan is a perfect fit for PDX Gallery and is Portland's
most European artist probably even more so than ex-pat Europeans.
He also runs the Field Gallery at the Everett Station Lofts.
Others, like Nan Curtis, Kristy Edmunds, Harrell Fletcher, and
Brad Adkins, are all card-carrying conceptualists, too (Adkins will
likely make a card). Melody Owen can be lumped in, but she does
get into the process part more than the others.
Like all conceptualists, their most universally convincing stuff
comes when the cuteness of their narrative ideas are tested and
informed by the truth of making something or finding something readymade.
Louise Bourgeois learned this a long time ago: Ideas need efficacy,
else they become mental masturbation or mere trickery.
Adkins created this going-away card last year.
Otherwise it is like arguing the number of angels on the head of
a pin, which was OK for 1992 ... not 2002. Both Adkins and Harrell
Fletcher seek to ingratiate their viewer/participants into the whole.
Sometimes conceptualism is refreshing, other times so cute I want
to spit, yawn or read something by a real narrative writer like
Gore Vidal, Dave Hickey, Charles Baudelaire or Voltaire.
The problem with conceptualists is that they can come off like
trepanned philosophers and they are not worthy of comparing to the
real deal, like Hegel, Plato, etc.
Con," by damali ayo.
Another conceptualist, damali ayo, makes very physically interactive
environments. Once again, she's in the world not simply rambling
Hell I even got accused of being an arch-conceptualist this
Trust me, I ain't gonna do that secret poststructuralist narrative
handshake (although I love Duchamp, conceptual ideas are a tool,
not an end; talk is cheap).
Tharp's "Orchid Eaters."
Long ago it was just portraiture, like Gregory Grenon.
But now it has expanded to installation art, like ayo.
Ayo is one of the few artists in town sociologically
concerned with race, but it is also more generally about identity
outside of that discussion. Nan Curtis, Edie Tsong, Daniel Duford,
Joe Thurston and Pearl Dik are all good examples.
Others, like Cynthia Starr and Sandy Roumagoux, use
dogs instead of people creating a sense of detached honesty
not unlike talking to a stranger. Et tu Camus?
Thurston's Flayed series.
Storm Tharp's work often turns me off with its narcissism,
but I have to say his latest show, "Drawings," has a few
real tour de forces in particular the Franz Xavier Messerschmidt
shout-out, "Orchid Eaters."
Lastly, a group of counter-culture expressionists is worth seeing
at Zeitgeist in the Everett Station Lofts.
Tyler Kline, Paul Fujita, Dan Ness and Keith Rosson round out the
I particularly like Kline's conceptual pieces, too (chickens in
Some think they are just skate punks (which they are, and that
is good). But they are also some of the most daring existential
artists in Portland.
Kline was trained at the extremely well-respected College of Art
and Design in Savannah, Ga.
Optical presence/Finish fetish
Jacqueline Ehlis fits into both camps with a very inviting form
of toughness. Her work romances the eye, creates a give-and-take.
Ehlis' tough glitter.
Viewers can often see themselves reflected in her work.
Other artists, like Tom Cramer and his metallic-finished wood carvings,
cast a kind of ancient temple/rave party glamour about the space
Brendan Clenahgen has a whole vocabulary of desire, as do Heidi
Schwegler and Sean Healy.
Brendan Clenahgen's "Kiss."
Christine Bourdette has a percussive tidiness and control that
fits the finish-fetish genre well.
Abstractions by Eva Lake, another optical explorer, display great
effects loosely based on the diagonals of the Fremont Bridge. How
very Ellsworth Kelly!
Others like Rae Mahaffey, Michael Knutson and Todd Johnson are
masters of optical patterning.
by Bwanna Spoons.
Art has gone though an amazing leveling and, as if to
prove Christopher Knight right, sign makers and tattoo artists are
doing great things in a genre called Low Brow.
Gallery Bink is the epicenter, but Portlander Extremo
Klown is THE Cézanne of the genre in this country ... I also really
like some of the work by Bwanna Spoons.
Spoons' Lego piece spelling out "Sunset" was
evocative at Stumptown last summer.
Boulton's "spark gap transmission" is 16 feet wide.
Painting isn't dead and still has some of the coolest
moves in art, kind of like having a huge 'fro and a polyester leisure
suit the anachronism is balzy.
Megan Walsh, Michael Knutson, Erin Kennedy, Curtis Phillips,
Zack Kirchner, Brian Borello, Paige Saez, Marcello Munoz, Adam Sorenson,
Tim Dalbow, Carsen Ellis, Zeffery Throwell, James Boulton and Henk
Pander all provide proof positive.
Age has its benefits, too.
In some ways it's too bad Lucinda Parker was in the last two Biennials,
because she is now painting better than she ever has (good for her).
2," by James Lavadour.
Furthermore, James Lavadour is now quite simply at a level of western
landscape/abstract painting that no living U.S. artist can match.
I will settle that point with fists if necessary. He's Andrew Wyeth's
long-lost heir (incredulous ... bring it: Lavadour is ready for
In conclusion I'd like to make a last shout-out to Matt Fleck,
who has worked hard the last two years to help a lot of the Everett
Station Lofts artists lift their game.
He finished his two-year run with James Boulton last November and
I'll miss intruding on the red-headed architect every First Thursday.