|Tony Tasset's "Dead Blue Jay" at PICA.
Held, 'Twin Peaks,' First Thursday & Donut Shop 7
Portland art tour
by Jeff Jahn
art is an intensely personal and subjective thing, I decided to
do this piece strictly from that vantage.
First off, I've decided not to write much about Tony Tasset at
PICA, other than he has really bored me for very personal reasons
for more than 10 years. Most of it comes from his whole exploration
of a typical Midwestern guy's life. Being from Wisconsin, I'm an
expert on that … in fact, I've avoided it like a vampire avoids
Eating cornflakes, having children, dreaming of marrying blond
women, gaining 30 pounds, pretending to be Neil Young that's
what everyone I went to high school with did.
Only a month after I moved here my best friend blew his head off
rather than face that kind of future. So in that context, I find
Tasset's stuff second-hand smoke. Still, I liked the dead blue jay
somewhat as a reminder of what I left behind.
Somehow, it was still inadequate.
Since this is a bit of a diary, let's set the mood as I write:
It's midnight on a Saturday and spring has arrived in Portland.
The weather was lovely all day, but now it's raining and a 40-mph
wind is laying waste to all the club kids' umbrellas.
|Tim Lukowiak's "Dual Axis," at Heaven.
I'm at the Heaven Coffee Shop. The place is full and I'm surrounded
by paintings by Tim Lukowiak, who claims his work is "an amalgam
of metaphysics, comic books, Japanese pop, modern and classical
art and how color plays in the mind."
He's right, of course, but the only thing I like is "Dual Axis,"
which could be some decent cover art for a techno album. I particularly
like how the neon lights in the store window tint the work. Stylistically,
he's a young aesthetic gadfly looking for his thing but he
does have talent.
"Dual Axis" reminds me a bit of Al Held's latest work at Reed College's
Cooley Gallery. Held is an extremely influential artist and I admired
an early painting on view at MoMA while in New York last month.
Still, the current work seems more like an overly detailed illustration
of the imagination rather than a sparse catalyst for it, like his
earlier works. That said, some of the new work, such as "Ram Air,"
held my attention.
|Al Held's "Ram Air," at Reed College's Cooley
I particularly enjoyed hearing Held speak about his work. One attendee
queried him as to whether he was influenced by Duchamp. His refreshing
response: "I managed to avoid rock 'n' roll and I managed to avoid
At least someone avoided him! Sometimes an artist's ability can
be measured by what they don't allow.
Speaking of not allowing, I'm certain some will see this as trippy
art, which, of course, is kinda shabby thinking.
Held is a cool kind of square, obviously isn't dropping acid and
the incredibly sustained activity of the work comes from a half
century of visual experimentation taken in radical directions. It's
about indulgent work, not indulgent chemicals.
In many ways Duchamp was one of the least indulgent artists, in
terms of art-making. In fact, he stopped making it altogether. Technical
indulgence is a tricky thing; it's out of fashion in some circles,
yet in the Dave Hickey camp, it's de rigueur. That's a thin line
and, frankly, very few artists attempt to flirt with virtuosity.
Many just take a Fluxus-cum-Duchamian-just-add-water conceptual
base. They press on so self-pleased with their too-easily pilfered
If you want to follow that bad example, simply say "art is
ridiculous" and "art sucks" and there you have it
... instant, reactionary, negativist art.
|A 1949 Hans Hoffmann at Elizabeth Leach.
A lot of the collectives are doing that sort of fluxus-lite work
that also draws on the emo-rock aesthetic that broken homes, Prozac,
etc., give to some kids.
Most of it looks like a cry for attention that, at the same time,
is afraid to step into the limelight. As art, it becomes therapy.
As an antidote to "therapy art," I note that curator
Bruce Guenther was playing Easter Bunny in April, with an excellent
late-'70s Roy Lichtenstein, a classic Robert Rauschenberg and a
killer painting by Jasper Johns, "0-9," all on display in the Portland
Art Museum's Schnitzer Atrium.
For those of us accustomed to top-notch work at museums, these
little Easter eggs get us through until the new contemporary wing
is completed. Honest, the museum owns some nice contemporary work
it's just that there's no place to put it!
For German Expressionists, they have an excellent Paul Klee, a
rustic Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, a nice Max Beckman, etc. ... some
day we can see all three together. Another top-shelf work by Hans
Hoffmann, at Elizabeth Leach Gallery, is also worth a pilgrimage.
If you paint, don't miss these works.
|Agent Cooper "treats" himself to some coffee ... demonic
Peaks, Episode 8"
I caught "Twin Peaks, Episode 8" (the first show of
season two) at the Mission Theater. Simply put, it is a great, pitiless,
but still humanistic achievement great to see the familiar
intro with its mill fashioning boards out of trees supported by
music filled with hope and despair.
The whole thing emphasizes how tenuous our control of our surroundings
is. Lynch is a behaviorist/semiotician sort, and his model works
better for movies and theater than real psychology or real-life
occurrences. In my mind, Lynch and Brecht are very much related,
probably via Jim Morrison, somehow.
Since I didn't grow up in the Northwest, these shows originally
reminded me of Northern Wisconsin. My family has a cabin that looks
just like the Great Northern Hotel.
|Audrey with drapes and lamp shade wings at One-Eyed Jacks
... are those eyebrows demonic or mundane?
I was particularly taken by the scenes with Donna, who wears Laura
Palmer's sunglasses and starts acting the part of Hollywood femme
The numerous musical numbers with Leland Palmer similarly transformed
characters that seemed accessible into living Hollywood masks: emotive
and performative but dead inside.
Basically, it all becomes choreography and reminded me of Marlene
Dietrich in "Blue Angel."
There was also a scene where Audrey, trapped at One-Eyed Jack's,
used masks and curtains to fend off the amorous advances of her
unaware pimp-daddy father.
It's all so classic the masks and curtains as symbols of
the theater. In Twin Peaks, drama lifts and debases, polarizing
the human experience. Are these actors, gods or monsters? Are these
roles really our higher or baser selves? Lynch makes that question
scary, seductive, unreal, tangible and as predictable as small-town
|Cooper and Truman have some donuts.
Of course, the shivering final sequence with the murder of Laura
Palmer and the demonic cackling of the Bob character froze the room.
Violence is a mask, too.
It reminds me that the power of visual media can be found in its
sensory deprivation of taste, smell and touch. It's a kind of mask,
which is why Picasso and Matisse's work still affect us ... the
strange sensory dissolution heightens attention. Similarly, Lynch
knows where the red meat is in his "Twin Peaks."
|"Coupling" (foreground), with Kronschlaeger's works in
PNCA's Feldman Gallery
Three years ago, Cris Moss started the Donut Shop in what is now
called the _Hall space in SE Portland. An excellent idea. Seven
shows later I can say the first was the best, but this last one
had the single most satisfying piece of art in any of his shows.
It also had some of the most blatantly ripped-off MFA drivel. Yet,
I loved part of the exhibit and overall the installation was very
Congrats and a hats off to gallery director Nan Curtis are in order.
She takes risks.
Bad news first: photographer John Harris apparently thinks nobody
has seen or heard of Jake and Dinos Chapman, famous for their disturbing,
often gory, dioramas. Sorry guy, we get art magazines here and fake
carnage looks very limp when you've got CNN coverage of the Iraq
war pumped in 24-7.
|Detail of John Harris' photography.
I think '80s and early '90s postmodernism lost touch with true
horrors like war, disease and despair. Most of that stuff, like
Schnabel's work, just had the sort of despair one sees from cocaine
addicts ... a world of alienation created by an alienating drug
culture fueled by deficit spending Reaganomics. Let's get past that
Another photographer, Alois Kronschlaeger, makes very German work
which, although nicely executed, simply lacks interesting content.
On a core level it is over reliant on ennui without any of the real
tension between disgust and desire that Baudelaire (the father of
ennui) so personified.
With titles like "Residue and concealment #2," the allusion to
drug culture is about as ham-fisted as it gets. Compare it to Baudelaire's
"The Vampire," from Les Fluers Du Mal, and it seems quaint.
My snotty, arrogant suggestion: watch some David Lynch. Actually,
watch all of Lynch's work. Then stalk him. I'm certain he's used
to it. Kronschlaeger draws lines but never crosses them, and the
art is mired in the aesthetics of 1993.
|Julia Fenton's work at Mark Woolley Gallery.
A successful work like Julia Fenton's untitled, on the other side
of the Pearl district at Mark Woolley Gallery, is infinitely superior
for this reason.
Beauty and disgust with lots of layers.
The standouts of the Donut Shop 7 are Frantiska + Tim Gilman. They
created one misfire that needs refining, along with one exceptional
Their "Coupling" of two fuzzy bears looks like a lot
of MFA work I see coming from California art schools, with two animals
joined at the head. Somehow, the cheap-looking foam pedestal for
one of the bears and the lack of Discovery Channel pheromone lust
in the forms undermined the piece. So couples share a brain and
there is a control-and-dominance thing ... it needs more layers,
a shifting tension ... maybe some weird flowers.
|"We Took a Sideways Glance and Fell into the Bottom of
a Season," by Frantiska + Tim Gilman.
Conversely, their "We Took a Sideways Glance and Fell into the
Bottom of a Season" is amazing.
The floating dioramas of foliage recreating the reflections of
water with real underside foliage were a great, mimetic, one-to-one
correlation of a mirror image couple, still capable of springtime
By suspending elements in the air, it also creates a metaphor for
the suspension of disbelief transfiguring the fake foliage and waterfall
into something plausible.
Love is in the air, so cue the Barry White.
|Detail Of Donald Jones' work at Soundvision.
Thursday (April 3)
Stratum and Fluorescence
Everett Station Lofts
I really liked the Lofts last month. Soundvision's Stratum was
excellent and I particularly liked Donald Jones' pictures of flotsam
and jetsam in a river or lake. Instead of the completely dislocated
aesthetic that I find essentially bankrupt, it is another work that
walks through the territory of postmodernism into a new country
many artists are exploring.
The difference: all of the disparate elements seem connected and
there is a tide, an ebb and flow. Somehow, even though the photos
are fragmented, they are all of the same cloth and cannot be cut.
Welcome to the 21st century.
At Field in a fit of aggravated indulgence, I decided to leave
the relatively gutless and removed confines of art critic and install
a long-shelved experimental project for Michael Oman Reagan &
Muriel Bartol's Fluorescence show.
|Fluorescence show: Ehlis, Bartol, Walsh (on wall), my
I think it went well.
Jacqueline Ehlis and I installed first. Hers was hard edged, so
I decided to go soft for contrast … (it was a dialog project).
Apparently, by not going ultra-clean it stood out which
I wanted. The Pacific Northwest tends to see clean lines as indicative
of value (an anti-rustic aesthetic that comes from the ease in which
moss develops around here). For instance, when was the last time
you saw Jean Debuffet in these parts?
My point exactly.
The region seems relatively ignorant of the whole entropy art aesthetic
in Art Brut, Art Informel, Jackson Pollock and Eva Hesse. Since
most around here are more aware of Marfa-influenced work, many think
minimalism = clean. Not so.
Simply put, Richard Long, Eva Hesse, Robert Smithson and Andrew
Goldsworthy show that organic or natural aesthetics can be minimal.
|Eva Hesse (left) and a detail of my stepchild to her
In general, I only see flaws in shows I'm associated with and this
is no exception. My criticism of my own work is basically that it
was very derivative of Eva Hesse and Louise Bourgeois. Yet, I liked
it because I like Eva Hesse a lot. This unease made me feel self-conscious
about how fragile authorship is within history.
After some thought I decided the lack of hard tied knots and the
bright color gave mine a different feel, more free will and less
fate than anything Hesse ever evoked. That figures. I'm not exactly
similar in personality to Hesse. I'm doubtful that my modifications
to her ideas were as visually convincing, since it isn't the core
thrust of my work. It also reminded me of antiaircraft fire over
Iraq. Thus my installation, called "Tant," implied free
will, but with lots of consequences.
Overall I think it needed three more layers going up several stories.
I think of it as a preparatory sketch.
Still in hypercritical mode, I was a little dismayed that many
critics managed to write about the show without talking about properties
of the color itself since it is, after all, a show about
fluorescent color. Then again, postmodern criticism usually limited
formal discussions to the big, empty white space of the gallery
wall because it was reactionary to Greenbergian formalism, which
discussed form, color and texture.
What I noticed was fluorescence dematerializes its support material
and the objects start to seem like dreams. For example, Sara Dis'
entombed creatures do not seem so pathetic when wrapped in high-pitched
colors. The color made them like candy. Even my Eva Hesse rip-off
looked less ponderous and heavy because of the color; if it were
brown it would have looked like ruined fishing net (like Hesse).
The color turns light itself into an object, which photons, of course,
are (although we seldom acknowledge it). James Turrell has made
a career out of this.
In a way, it was like appropriation art and I'm glad Eva's aesthetic
in Sara and my work kept it all from being the ultra-clean show
some confused it as. Hence the title.
|Some of Sarah Dis' creatures.
Similarly, I liked Brad Adkins "I'd do anything for Love,"
an oval-shaped pin-and-spotlight piece until I read the title.
This feigned "cult of the fragile psyche" thing is growing
old. It's like listening to Jewel, fer chrissake! It's also very
emo-affected and I am not going to treat Adkins with kid gloves
like everyone else does mainly because he has good ideas
that I would like to see developed, instead of prematurely foreshortened
He questioned my short comment last month so, I decided, why not
just say it publicly? I like Brad himself more than his work ...
so I unleash this with the caveat that I like the ideas but they
need more rigor. If it's going to be conceptual art it literally
needs to make up its mind.
So, here goes. Can a mock-biographical work effectively subvert
criticism? In this case no, and here is why:
One huge problem is that the work is mistaken for being self-effacing,
both by other critics and the artist himself (a real no-no; sarcastic
work can't believe its own sarcasm and remain credible). Why? Any
works with a spotlight on them and a title with an "I"
refer back to the artists themselves. Thus, instead of being self-effacing,
they say "look at me ... pretty please."
This type of grab for attention requires a certain charity on the
part of the viewer, whereas Harrell Fletcher's infinitely better
work is based on being charitable and shares some private
thing with the viewer. Being charitable is self-effacing, but asking
for charity (although not a sin) is a bit needy and demanding
purposefully diluting rather than layering the conceptual heft of
the work. In the end, I doubt the artist would "do anything
for love" at all, but would whisper for attention. It is simply
too passive-aggressive for me, a strategy that keeps the artist
from investing much in the work or concept: Fluxus-lite.
To be stronger it needs to be more or less evasive.
In other words, it needs to succeed or fail more fully in its aim
to raise itself above being cute. Right now it tries to have it
both ways, but without anything at stake there is no tension between
the "look at me" and the "I'm not important"
impulses. It's simply too much an extension of Adkins' own self-consciousness
to exist beyond him.
To be succinct: ennui and self-pity mixed with passive-aggressive
grandstanding is just not an effective mix. One of Adkin's own avowed
influences, Joseph Kosuth, purposefully distanced all of his work
from emotion and autobiographical content for this very reason.
If Adkins invests nothing (as the blank aura suggests), why would
someone else invest their concern? Either alienate the viewer more
fully (like Charles Ray) or bring them in (like Fletcher).
Adkins could also combine the two and hold them in stasis like
Ed Ruscha. He threatens to do it, but never walks that tightrope
because his objects evaporate too much to hold the opposing forces
|Did someone say "Evil"?
Also, better artists, like Ruscha, indirectly discuss themselves
through metaphor but in more loaded and consequential terms. For
an example, Ruscha's great work "Evil" is a little self-condemning
Since "Evil" is inked in the artist's own blood, he celebrates
how that vital fluid has somehow become more culturally important
than when it was keeping him alive.
The notion of art being more important than the artist is seen
as evil, or at least "wrong," to some. Ruscha straddles
the fence with the work. By not being personally involved it's impossible
to tell if "Evil" is evil. ("Evil" was my nickname
in grad school.)
Also, to be blunt, emo as an M.O. works better in teen-age pop
music, since it is disposable a real cult of personality
is needed in Adkins' work, since it continually refers back to Brad.
Still, it was a successful piece in most every way except its title's
paramount conceptual undertow. So, if you want love, change the
title to "Anything for Love?" The question puts something
at stake and doesn't believe its own "look at me" schtick.
That said, I think Adkins will figure it out someday. I don't write
him off as "more a curator," like many do. He's too hypersensitive
about all this to be "just an organizer." And this sort
of schmaltz-liquor thing won't play with people who can help get
Adkins to the next level.
Michael Oman Reagan's work, for example, is just as delicate but
expresses it within the work without referring back to the artist.
This self-contained conceptual rigor is what is needed.
Jacqueline Ehlis' work made me realize why fluorescents are used
for sports: it reinforces a border as a target, but also enhances
the transgression the athletic gall of scoring a point.
Fluorescence can be confrontational, a big "nah, ah, don't
Somehow Ehlis' "drawing" seemed a bit too rooted and
static (and the version outside her studio is better). Squares and
rectangles are very stable forms ... targets instead of the sensation
of speed she is often after. Still, the tape on the outside of the
gallery was my favorite part.
|Muriel Bartol's gauzy Fluorescent work flirts with immateriality
and a delicate virtuosity.
Ehlis is into Ellsworth Kelly, so I'm certain she has more dancing
forms in the works. This was an experimental piece, as was mine.
There are things artists learn only from doing.
In fact, she's made a breakthrough in the studio (think of Ellsworth
Kelly and Eva Hesse shooting spitballs at Richard Serra, yet absolutely
phenomenologically serious) and I see how this wall drawing has
been translated into some amazing museum-quality work made from
more solid materials.
Muriel Bartol's works were extremely nice, with very sophisticated
layering. A kind of fluorescence behind a gauzy scrim.
I know Bartol, and this work fits her personality always
a good indicator that the art is hitting the mark.
Overall, it's nice to mix it up. Thinking and writing about art
only goes so far. Being a practitioner is crucial.
Bartol and Reagan's work was the most developed in the show, since
most of the other work was experimental. I like experimental shows
like this, where one has to try and get into the artists' heads
a bit. Bartol and Reagan used the curatorial impetus as a kind of
studio, looking for new experimental ideas once their own work became
Overall, yes, it was cramped quarters but the fluorescent color
properties of the works made it breathe. Interesting. It was like
a studio visit with 15 artists all at once.
Michael Oman Reagan.
In the end I guess I distrust any critic or curator who doesn't
try to practice what they are supposed to be engaging. For example,
the world's greatest wine critic, Robert Parker, started the Beaux
Freres Winery in the Willamette Valley to avoid that "conceptual"
To be sure, being a critic makes one sensitive to people's biases,
including one's own ... but being an artist means stretching other
One hand literally shakes the other, so there is no reason one
can't be both. Robert Motherwell, Frank Stella, Duchamp and Picasso
were all very good at evaluating other people's work as well as
I wish artists would critique critics more. I think critics should
do the same to one another as well.
In short, I am finding everyone's tastes, including my own, are
too conservative and predictable. Which usually means something
very interesting is on the way. I'm thinking more and more about
intense personal subjectivity and how it is a coordinating force.
Subjectivity is not the alienating insular version continually touted
in late 20th-century postmodernism.
One is reminded that Manet's "Olympia" brought personal subjectivity
to the fore ... and somehow modernism and postmodernism seem like
such arbitrary terms for a much broader field of optimists, pessimists
and fence straddlers.