|Frank Stella's "Metjaroe" is terrible.
hot? Who is not?
Stella, Kelly, Pope.L,
by Jeff Jahn
the New York front, Frank Stella has put an exclamation point on
his downward slide with his latest show at Paul Kasmin Gallery.
This happens to great late-career artists and it's
OK that Stella has evolved/devolved into mere highly refined craft,
because if every top-notch artist stayed at the height of their
powers for 50 years we'd have nothing but old artists choking out
the young bucks.
The problem stems from the reality of diminishing returns on Stella's
strategies and pandering to one's own aesthetic constructs. Pandering
is the death of most good ideas.
Without explaining it any further, I dub this "convention-center
art." Either you know what I mean or not; I would love to hear Stella
explain why it isn't.
|Ellsworth Kelly's "Red with White Relief."
Ellsworth Kelly at Matthew Marks Gallery continues to bore some
and thrill others with typical brilliance, but for me this guy is
just so damn good blunt, honest and mysterious. All in all,
kinda like stories about the Bermuda Triangle or Loch Ness Monster:
you see it as fabrication, but it's hard to believe it is not somehow
magic. Kelly's derived and distilled forms are simply more magical
than what originally inspired them (things such as rooftops).
Back home in Portland, we can all safely say there is a heap of
artists here these days and I think we have another two years before
peak. It's made up of an incredibly wide-ranging demographic; some
are skate punks, others are ambitious people with an international
bent. Monolithic characterizations are pointless.
So far, 2003 has major oomph every month has had something
genuinely exciting and The Best Coast show definitely had tongues
wagging coast to coast from major institutions across the land.
So, OK, there was a big wave with the AAM Convention and my pirate
crew and I simply showed the how, who and why of The Best Coast.
Not by coincidence, the now officially hot Portland
art scene pulled off a fait accompli with a national audience
in tow. I'm very proud of the artists, but those who took part need
to follow up be sure that I will. Besides the success, there
were many beautiful, touching moments ... what a great group of
people! It was like summer camp.
In the end, I followed the lead of an artist community
with soul; the show had an immense collective IQ, something most
institutional curators manage to stifle. Being artists in a confederation,
we knew better.
|Some Best Coasters: Picton, Fairman, Bavington and Ehlis.
There are still lots of things to look forward to: Portland Art
Museum's Oregon Biennial, and the October groundbreaking for the
new contemporary wing.
Other museum events, like the James Rosenquist show (2004) and
an early Cézanne retrospective (2005) give a great baseline to the
activity of the living scene.
The broader scene needs to be ready to make some major statements
by the time these shows roll through.
Some, like Malia Jensen, Tom Cramer, Bruce Conkle, Sean Healy and
Jacqueline Ehlis (etc.) already have the goods, but it's up to them
to get the show on the road. The artists in Portland have to start
thinking of themselves as cultural ambassadors. Portland is ahead
of the game in many ways and the city needs to assume those leadership
Still, I continue to enjoy the developing artists in town
they seem to arrive daily. For example, in an uneven show called
Diorama-rama at _Hall, I saw a mix of good, banal and excellent
work. One artist, Jesse Sargent De Jonge, in the "Volcanics"
series, turned lovely national park dioramas into a 3-D walkabout.
The work only looked good from one angle, which is kinda perverse
in a way that I like. Another artist, Javid Howell, created a couple
of truly excellent minimalist works.
In the near future (June 27) we have the 2003 Oregon Biennial,
which has infuriated a lot of the young conceptual, video and installation
artists in town. Then again, some of them could care less and are
happy that a broad swath of painters of all age groups is represented
(including the rival cliques of Hug Me's and Mods).
Let us just say biennials are not really supposed to make anyone
happy; they're an exercise in recommitting the cultural landscape
of the state to the arts. In addition, the format of being juried
from slides is, well, crap ... so keep that under consideration.
Don't whine, simply work harder.
The Best Coast show pretty much made the point regarding what
is and needs to be happening in Portland: Friendly exchange and
competition is good and leads to better art.
The "I'm OK, you're OK" thing promotes being OK which gives
All I care about is STRONG art and art that is working to get better.
Obviously, I am not "Portland Uber Alles" as some mistakenly think.
Instead, I see a network of West Coast cities standing on their
own as cultural trading partners, as well as engaging the rest of
the world. I see Portland as a Rebel Base that others from outside
can also enjoy.
Pope.L: "The Great White Way."
219 NW 12th
(through July 26)
PICA scores a knockout punch with William Pope L. The show smells
like a sticky sweet dumpster, it infuriates/endears itself to blacks
and whites alike and it incorporates rotten meat and Americana.
What is not to love?
I wonder what King William would be like if he grew up in France,
Egypt or, God forbid, Germany? Chills ... Pope.L manages to react
to everything without being reactionary. By being nonstick Teflon,
his discourse remains vital; by being about race and Americana his
objects are omnipresent.
Part of his success is that he absolutely means everything he does
or says, but remains in disbelief or wonder at the same time. Thus,
he refuses to paint himself into a corner. I think it's his visceral
panache that makes it happen, and he is a really sweet guy.
Viscerally and in terms of cumulative effect, this marks the real
birth of PICA as a visual arts organization. Until now, it has been
my opinion that the institution did not want the visual arts program
to take the spotlight from the performance program. Fah! Stuart
Horodner as curator scores his first knockout by putting on what
is probably the single-best version of this touring retrospective.
It is cramped, lovely and nauseating.
Pope.L's real trick is that he's a great listener, so even when
he is on the soapbox about race and America, he is listening, connecting.
He reads gestures and body language; he is not stumping, he is thumping.
Pope.L is a guy doing his own thing, reading between the lines,
aiming between the eyes and raising hell with food.
|Michael Henzley's "Plan for Robot."
Mark Woolley Gallery
I've been watching Michael Henzley for years now, and he's always
impressed me as an artist who is willing to stretch himself and
use "rough material" in a West Coast city where Jean Debuffet is
almost unknown and every artist in the galleries, at the very least,
went to art school as an undergrad.
Portland panders to craft and the patina of uninspired professionalism
a bit too much.
Despite this, Henzley's latest work has really evolved; it retains
its doodle-like overload, but gone is his old reliance on Basquiat-like
paint handling. What comes out is a pile of elegant doodles that
still breathe and do not suffocate in the tangle. It's a bit like
Cy Twombly and a bit more cartoony than the work of Nic Walker (one
of Henzley's influences) three years ago. What gels is a sense of
ancient cartooning, not unlike hieroglyphics. It's not Carol Dunham,
but he's on the right track.
|Carol Dunham's "Alpha."
So what is Henzley specifically trying to say?
I don't think the artist wants the specifics to be clear, but the
somewhat ancient graffiti of his work makes me wonder: What if the
library of Alexandria was filled with doodles and cartoons? The
mind at idle play ...
This is an important thing if you live in an overly stressed high-speed
pace of life.
To my eye, they are totems of that rare creature: free time. I
find the work liberating and elegant and wonder what new layers
are yet to come.
Powell's Basil Halward Gallery
I like the pathos of Ryan Boyle's obsessive work, the
various "chodes" (vaguely amphibian creatures ... company + hoard
+ toad = chode?). They cavort in a pitiless funland where they ruthlessly
dominate and subjugate one another (it's a world I do not live in).
The odd tableaus have a circus/carnie-like aspect, a
bit Betelgeuse and a bit Pee Wee's Playhouse ... so there is this
whole Tim Burton thing. It is also related to Hieronymus Bosch's
scenes of hell. Is this a corporate hell? Probably.
Of particular interest were the drawings of the chodes themselves
in context to the distressed materials. Is this the reverse of the
clean high-rises of the corporate cultures, the moral ramshackle
and their less-than-elegant occupants?
This installation definitely worked and was even better than Art
Gym's Blood and Guts Forever show. The extended layout and larger
pieces anchored some of the minutia. In the end, I'm reminded of
Marcel Dzama, and Hogarth's great etchings ... all with installation
Pretty cool. I'd like to see Boyle's take on Brueghel's Tower of