|A new creme de menthe vibe turns Portland on its side
hell & purgatory
Vibe: Portland and New
it drives the art world ... actually, it drives the world, period.
How we perceive our surroundings is the root-level underpinning
to our mental states. People simply want to be where the energy
Right now, Portland has "the vibe." If it were a drink it would
be creme de menthe.
Although I'm not certain if any place has a real handle on what
is going on, we live in a time where things are in a state of re-jigging
... a phrase some Brits have thrown at me lately. Portland seems
full of possibilities, things are positive and seem to be changing
for the better.
Portland is a city that isn't broken as an incubator. In fact,
it's starting to bear fruit when most of the other U.S. cities are
cleaning up after a very messy party.
At this writing, I am drinking a chai in the alcove of a Northwest
Portland coffee shop that is blaring some righteous guitar courtesy
of Blond Redhead. Several people, young and old, are discussing
Hegel and Kierkegaard. On another side of the room a young couple
takes a break from clubbing by playing chess. I love that!
Being surrounded by neon signs and art by street youths keeps laptop
gypsies like me bathed in the civic-anarchy vibe this country needs
right now to recharge itself.
Sometimes vibe is the more or less fly-by-night aesthetic of fashion
or something more permanent, like art (both have strengths and weaknesses;
here you're stuck with art). Both are vessels of vibe, anchors or
amphora of taste, dreams, obligations and probably a nightmare or
Klee's "Temple gardens" at the Metropolitan Museum.
Divining "vibe" (an indispensable word for advertising people)
is almost like using a dousing rod, but there's something to it
… not soft science, not hard science, but real because you feel
Dave Hickey calls 'em communities of desire. Portland is a place
where many youths are carving out their cosmopolitan dreams because
nobody dared dream them here before.
And if you can dream, it can be executed here. This is the first
That said, I want to see bigger dreams and an increase in mad-scientist
experiments. I want some young painter with crazy red hair like
Gene Wilder to metaphorically come out of the studio and frighten
the villagers with his monster, screaming ITTTS
For example, painter James Boulton, detailed many times in this
space, just got his leg up and is in the 2003 Oregon Biennial. Since
he's the most engaged of the 20-something painters I know, let us
hope this is just the beginning. The biennials have, unfortunately,
been the summa of many a career.
To get beyond their regional cultural reach, cities like Portland,
Seattle and Vancouver, B.C., all need to push further into a reality
that might not yet exist.
Vinci: mad scientist.
It's an audacious goal that simply takes vision and follow-through.
Someone like Paul Klee, for instance, sought to make the invisible
visible in his work. There's no reason this goal can't be applied
on a civic level. Some serious cultural coordinating needs to occur
and we shall see if Mayor Katzs cultural taskforce recognizes
the fact that Portlands art museums, galleries and art walks
are the key ingredient.
As you'll see later on, most current New York art seems to lack
this pregnant vibe. Still, two exhibits at the Metropolitan, "Klee
the Traveler" and the Leonardo Da Vinci show, showed just where
vibe can go if it is coupled to a mad scientist's quest for pleasing
Portland's scene has lots of vibe. It's probably the best place
in the country to create a vibe of your own, but we have yet to
hit second gear.
With the U.S. in a state of war, Portland somehow seems to be saying
told you so ... Likewise, New York seems to have convinced
itself of the inevitability of another attack despite the likelihood
that one would happen in L.A., San Francisco, Miami or Washington
D.C., since such cities present more iconic targets.
Portland is a city that swims against the current, something that
is becoming more and more valuable. In 1980, the Portland Building
gave us the first example of postmodern architecture. The trend
crossed over into art shortly thereafter. But the Portland Building
left such an awful taste in people's mouths that, to some degree,
it inoculated the city from the cult of postmodern pastiche that
became virulent in the 1980s and '90s.
Now that Portland has an art scene on the move and a non-pastiche
architect like Brad Cloepfil, the time has come to decide what is
worthwhile and pursue it aesthetically. In terms of vibe, I noticed
Tyler Kline at Zeitgeist was painting a purple diptych with gas
masks and Portland police shock troopers. It felt like some of George
Grosz and Jorg Immendorfs better works.
Arts Group Exposition
Red 76 arts group:
Theater, March 12
"I've got an answer, I've got an anthem"
vibe at Red 76's I.A.E., March 12, Portland.
There was so much to see that every report will probably be completely
different. So, as the saying goes, individual results may vary.
First off, DIY indie arts events have probably been going on ever
since the birth of the first place where laws consolidated civic
power: a place called Uruk, an extinct city in what is now called
DIY events keep cultural products and distribution channels from
turning into useless parodies of themselves.
In 2002, Lawrence Rinder, a curator for the Whitney, caught hell
for including many such DIY and youth enterprises into the most
controversial showcase for American art, the Whitney Biennial.
He even purchased a piece by the collective Forcefield (included
in the I.A.E.) for the Whitney's permanent collection, a serious
but cool heresy! (The piece, a fluorescent David Lee Roth rocker
figure, "Leader," looks great and, in the Whitneys
halls, makes much of the art around it look flaccid.) On cue, a
wave of resentment from squares, Peter Scheldjahl and provincial
New York sophisticates ensued.
Now, in Portland, Red 76 had a brilliant idea to convene a collection
of the collective art groups all in one place, one night. In a word:
Here is a cattle call of some of what I saw:
Mills shot "Air Guitar" in black and white for dramatic
Instant Coffee (Toronto) offered a series of highly entertaining
videos. Most were infused with a light sense of humor that touched
on two themes: "Hey, look at me" and "I'm no big deal." Emblematic
of the entire ensemble, Chris Mills' "Air Guitar" film
was funny, pathetic and narcissistic. In his studied awkwardness,
he would be air-guitaring away, confronting passers-by with the
half-truth words, "I just want to make people happy."
His schtick makes Brad Adkins' similar work look positively derivative,
because it is. On screen Mills is uncomfortable, makes other people
uncomfortable and does the sophomoric dance of "gimme your attention."
Some might think I'm being negative … I think this is cool. However,
don't make me watch it again.
Mills knows it's all about being looked at, acknowledged, to somehow
matter. But what happens once he has the passers-by attention? (Besides
becoming a good mimetic device for the film viewer.) At that point,
it floats away into the vacuousness of the moment. "Air Guitar"
is nihilistic comedy, but Mills is no Sartre, yet (and likely never).
Somehow, one senses he is aware of the shortcomings. He begs us
for patience and, considering the brevity of his film, I'll give
it. I can think of worse endeavors.
Like most of this work, it's for people with lots of time on their
hands. Adults seldom have such a luxury. Still, Instant Coffee salutes
the elders (they realize responsibility is coming) and one cannot
fault them for their youthful gratuitousness; it's good, clean,
witty fun. Yet, it might yield something else. And even if it doesn't,
in this case, youth has not been wasted on the young. Their gratuitousness
is a form of savoring a fleeting time in life.
But do these films bridge cultural anthropology in the way that
Etruscan pottery becomes art? Right now, no. But maybe in a thousand
powered pirate radio station by Temporary Services (Chicago).
Collective Jyrk (Portland) had some pretty cool basement noise
rock in this video. It took me back to my basement tapes days of
high school when a friend and I started "ABL" (Anti-Biotic Legumes).
The blippy sound-grime and the repetitive endless noodling of the
on-screen musicians captured the "I know this has marginalized appeal"
vibe, but plowed along like Sisyphus. Most things this marginal
test the open-mindedness of the viewer. Many in the theater were
not up to the task.
Yes, this could have used effective editing, but not everything
must be user-friendly.
Base Kamp from Philadelphia offered "Mix Tape," a face-blending
mimetic mélange where the tape listener's face morphed into Elvis,
Dean Martin and other luminaries. Grotesque and funny, it worked
the theme of "what if I mattered?" It's witty only once, but worth
that first trip.
Other groups, like Eveleigh and Evans (London) and Konstakuten
(Stockholm), provided documentary evidence of self-started art events
and were a good how-to guide. Somehow, it seemed anticlimactic though
… then again, that's Europe in a nutshell!
"CableVision": Sooo damn funny; finally, "Spinal
Tap" gets a freaky lil' brother.
American groups like Temporary Services (Chicago) and Paperrad
(East Hampton, Mass.) seemed less permanently defeated. In fact,
Paperrad's "CableVision" video, with its relentless Vulcan
machine-gun shelling of '70s and '80s etcetera was soooo damn funny
I could not stop laughing.
A bunch of '70s-style classic rockers who stoically play psychedelic
rock while standing on top of speeding custom vans (all this is
Flash animation) nearly killed me. I could see that one several
times. I went home, picked up my black Les Paul guitar and put it
somewhere near my bed; I knew I needed a rock 'n' roll dreamcatcher
after seeing what has to be the sickest, funniest hyper-mélange
of '70s and '80s imagery ever distilled.
"Spinal Tap" has a lil' brother and he is really weird!
Funny is good, but its aesthetic capital gets spent; stronger art
retains its charge by giving less away.
In the end, I am reminded that Forcefield has now disbanded; all
that success leads to another stage ... sort of like the The Royal
Art Lodge collective in Winnipeg. The best metaphor is the piece
"Leader" itself the group collectively created what it did
not have. But once you can imagine a country, you want to go there
for real. Collectives are good, but leaders bring about the real
changes. Someone has to walk the walk that the group talks.
The long-term effect of these groups is a potential mass cloud
seeding, a potential golden age; culturally, we haven't had one
of those since the '60s.
Everett Station Lofts
Klein's levitating asteroid of vibe.
Tyler Klein's big balls of aluminum foil hung there in tension
like cumulonimbus clouds of post-consumer art.
With the bright twine it was an art informel dream … as long as
it was suspended off the floor it was art; if it hits the ground,
then it's litter. The best dreams threaten to die.
I like that tension (Paul Klee taught his students at the Bauhaus
to master gravity first; good advice most people can relate
Ayers' Portland debut.
Damien Ayers' debut in Portland, with glib remarks like "Death,
I hid from you as long as I could, let's be friends," and "It
ain't over till it's over," have the feel of skate culture
meeting Ziggy cartoons by way of Ziggy Stardust filtered through
Barry McGee. Since I am partial to Klee and Kirchner's pine trees,
Ayers also wins points. Not as precious as Barry McGee.
Maybe none of these Portland artists will be remembered, but there
is a genuine vibe to the work.
West's "Corona," seen here in Vienna; better indoors
OK, I spent a long weekend in New York and the vibe was reminiscent
of treading water, often in a very polished and detached way.
I like to call it post-intellectualism it's almost insightful,
but leaves that crucial insight part out because, frankly, that
is a risk.
Insight requires one to commit.
Besides the flat stuff, I saw some great David Reeds and Franz
Wests; completely worth trudging through the snow.
One-time Portlander Heidi Cody's work looked smart at the Scope
Fair in the Dylan Hotel (a major collector ordered a whole alphabet
set; nice going Heidi).
Overall, a sense of powerlessness or a fetal-position effect was
in force. Tons of highly developed but terrible art was in force,
and only about 20 things were worth seeing (mind you, only London
has more than 20 shows worth seeing a month).
Here is my quick vibe-o-meter for 10 things:
West pushes past the powerless with "Sisyphus IV."
1) Franz West: Sisyphus at Gagosian. This is art informel
on steroids. Metaphorically, Franz West rolls large globby creations
up the hill. He knows his job is "push, push, push." It's not
rational; it is the will to survive given physical, grotesque form.
His large painted aluminum sculptures, like Corona and
Dorit, infuse the room with zest.
Sophistication does not come from slickness or bigness, it comes
from making art that, start to finish, has taken a good look around
civilization and can virtuostically inhabit the frayed edges of
its fabric. West just outdid the Otoku culture of Japan for ridiculous
existential absurdism, while utilizing Greek myth. I always liked
Franz West; now I LOVE Franz West.
Puragtory, a dull silver cloud.
2) Inigo Manglano-Ovalle at Max Protech Gallery. A big humming
silver cloud form called "Purgatory" is just that. Neither
here nor there, just big bombastic gasps of postmodernism, choking
on its own fumes. It's a pointless technical achievement in titanium,
and someone should have told this usually very adept artist about
the Guggenheim Bilbao, completed in 2000; same material and mucho-superior.
"Purgatory" is not as interesting as a real cloud, and
about as interesting as waiting in line at the DMV.
I get it, it's a liminal stupor and, unfortunately for Inigo, I
hate art that makes people dumber and contemplate suicide.
Reed: a beautiful purgatory.
3) David Reed at Max Protech Gallery. Luckily for the gallery
staff (lest they slit their own throats) they have gorgeous David
Reed paintings up in the back.
Reed's swirling cloud-like purgatories of beauty and balls-out
enigma cancel out Inigo's useless tripe. It is not fair, but Reed
rocks. Ovale just sniffs glue.
There are purgatories and there is hell with production value.
Reed is not heaven. This is another purgatory, but he does something
more sophisticated than Ovale; beauty without end.
Not numb ... not edgy, Reed is like Milton Avery and Cannes era
4) Matthew Barney at the Guggenheim. The films are better
than the props. I suppose weed or Prozac would help this out, which
means it is weak work.
The props are revealing and informative about the film process,
but the film itself is the main work.
Still, I believe the stills are more enigmatic; they were poorly
lighted due to the fluorescent fixtures.
OK, it's orange; very clever.
5) Beverly Semmes in the "O" at Leslie Tonkonow Artworks.
This exhibit says, "Hello, I am a big orange-draped room with red
amphora." If Tang is your thing, this is your heaven.
Orange has always struck me as the boldest of colors. This was
an interesting mock-temple to color, and not as cool as Jim Hodges
curtain from the PICA show last year. It lacked Hodges' soul.
Somehow, it just seemed like a stage with no actors.
Besides, color artists like Ellsworth Kelly, Yves Klein and Mondrian
do better with less. Nice, interesting, but a future? I dunno. This
was interesting at the time but, looking back, it isn't.
"Remember the 'O'" sounds like a bad call to arms.
6) Scope art fair. Infinitely better than the armory ...
it replaced the monotony of familiar artists with a helter-skelter
mix. Savage (team Portland) with Heidi Cody's light boxes had a
tactical presentation advantage: self-contained lighting. In addition,
they were clean and conceptually fully formed. Other good things
were photos by San Francisco artist Keith Boadwee and some really
spooky Norwegian art.
7) Armory show. No Dave Hickey kids on display on the Friday
when I went. The only first-rate YBA art was a cubbyhole of Tracy
Emin's work, one fun Damien Hirst spin painting and a bunch of Sue
Williams' semi-interesting paintings.
Sue De Beer at Postmasters rocks. Her take-no-prisoners look at
mimetic twins reminds me of the great (but creepy) film "Dead
I wanted to hate the armory's featured artist, Barnaby Furnas (at
Marianne Boesky). But guess what? His moon-age daydream fantasies
of concerts he never saw simply rock. Their light touch and energy
are everything Bill and Ted were not ... funny, excellent and
whoa full of energy. At a fair this dead inside, you gotta
love this sort of stuff.
McGill's excellent "silver cloud" at CRG.
Other stuff I liked and was familiar with: Marcel Dzama, Linda
Bessemer and Gary Hume. Now that's an odd threesome!
Overall, it was a gallery who's who ... but nothing new. A nice
Bernard Frieze here, a decent Martin Kippenberger there and several
Gerhard Richters that were lovely but kinda predictable compared
to Reed, who is a better painter.
Sad but true: The armory is a dog-and-pony show of familiars. The
scope was better. The armory should be renamed The Mall.
8) Jo Baer at Dia Center. This was the only good thing at
Dia besides the Robert Irwin light piece. The second room was amazing:
hung low, "V. Eutopicus" seemed to be burning rubber in a power
stand on the wall. No wonder Dave Hickey included this monster at
Site Santa Fe. Say what you will, Hickey still had the best show
of the 21st century to date. If you can't see that, you are in denial.
Again, something better will come along, but a lone artist will
have to pull it off. It wasnt neo-modernism, superdupermodernism
or post-postmodernism. Hickeys show was a return to the love
of art in contrast to the aesthetic hypochondria of postmodernism.
9) Maria McGill at CRG Gallery. One room was stunning. It
consisted of several mirrored blown-glass pieces that reflected
the flock of shiny black drips on the wall. Once again, this reflection
sets up a mimetic dialog of seeing the world around you as lensed
through what currently has the viewers attention. It was smart
and to the point, and I couldnt help but think about alchemy.
Moffett's "Gold Tunnel," extravagantly flat.
10) Donald Moffett, Extravagant Vein at Marianne Boesky.
This was so saccharine, even Hickey would have to hate the iridescent
gold lamme video gimmickry that projects high-color Central Park
scenes onto metallic canvases.
I suppose I can chock this up to nostalgia for what New York was
like before September 11, but I gotta say this would bore people
to tears in L.A.
Too bad, I was a month early. This month Boesky is showing Takashi
Murakami, one of the three great artists of the '90s (and today).
As a gallerist she knows what she's doing and she knows her New
York clientel who are just as capable of old sycophantic
regionalism as every other place.
Zero Slide / Portland Tram Vibe
United Architects (UN)
architects WTC design.
My favorite September 11 site design was the one by the UN architects
group. It was much better than the winner's (Liebskind) memorial
to every minutia of the attacks.
Still, for what it's worth, I like Liebskind and he was my second
choice. But his holocaust museum in Berlin was more tasteful.
Instead, UN's glittering, hypermodern and defiantly stoic design
threw a mirror up to New York and the rest of the world. Instead
of pity, it was built on doing it better (not doing it more somber).
UN probably didn't have the political muscle, even though it was
the best blend of distinctiveness, innovation and, yes, vibe.
On March 26, the OHSU tram project announced the firm of Angelil/Graham/Pfenninger/Scholl
as the winner. Although Im disappointed that UN studios did
not get the job, I think the tram still could get the cover of Architectural
Record Magazine for Portland.
| UN's version:
The wham-bam-thank-you tram.
UNs proposal was very strong maybe too strong
since it proposed moving the trams route to connect with the
Ross Island Bridge.
Although this was a bold and brilliant way to make the tram a much
more important people-mover, it probably was not quite what developers
of the North Macadam district were hoping for.
That, along with UNs design, which had a retro-future Jetsonesque
aesthetic that Seattles Space Needle, as well as towers in
Vancouver and Toronto, all share. UNs was the wham-bam-thank-you
Portland, a refreshingly stubborn city, went with a firm that rightly
realized the tram cars themselves were the biggest architectural
jewel, and AGPSs cars dont look like anything in Woody
Allens "Sleeper." This is an extremely European-looking
design, unlike anything in American pop culture even "Star
I love the AGPS cars, not just an antiquated version of the future.
OK, so maybe the jury did go with the most radical proposal ...
it's also the most understated one.
version: The what's up dock.
Still, the AGPS upper landing towers in this early design phase
lack zest when compared with the firm's L.A. Childrens Museum
Simply put, the vibe of this tram shouldnt pander to the
most skittish Portlanders; it should be strong enough to convert
AGPS's cars are perfect though much better than UN and SHoPs.