9: The alarms are going crazy and I'm laughing my ass off with
You see, we're in the Alyssa Duckler Gallery and
whoever closed the gallery forgot to lock the door. Besides, it
was technically before closing time ... all in all, hilarious.
We decide to take in the show with the lights on
dim and the alarms flashing. I kinda dig the felonious quasi-disco
Anyway, we couldn't just leave the place open and
unattended ... eventually someone came. It all reminds me that
the whole art-hunting endeavor is supposed to be an adventure.
We should be challenged by what we come across. Is it good or
is it crap? Is it just someone else's idea of good crap?
Even perceived meaning can be an adventure when
people completely misconstrue what you think is crap and what
is good. For instance, Whitney curator Lawrence Rinder, in a short
article on the core sample Web site, seems to think that I
want Portland artists to genuflect toward New York divas like
Matthew Barney and Julie Mehretu. Huh? That's a new one. He even
picked two artists I find more interesting in their flaws than
their work! Still, he raises some important issues so Ill
respond in the proper forum.
This sort of wrangling is just another part of the
So, in keeping with all those adventures, here's
a bit of an art travelogue and a guide to some things I saw and
found exciting. Will it set off any alarms for you?
the Henry Gallery
Seattle (through Feb. 8)
If there's one thing you should see, it's the James
Turrell show, "Knowing Light," at the Henry Gallery at Washington
University. It features "Spread," a massive 2,000-square-foot-plus
ganz field room (pictured), which uses sensory deprivation to
heighten our awareness of light. Primal sensitivities are still
a core aspect of our lives no matter what kind of post-structural
jig we care to dance. Light matters. There is no post-photonism.
My bet: Turrell is one of the few living artists
who will be remembered 1,000 years from now. Matthew Barney ...
nope ... guys like Salvador Dali, Rene Magritte and Jean Cocteau
ate most of his lunch, and after 1,000 years, 50 years will seem
This is why we are all lucky "Knowing Light" has
been extended until February; there's plenty of time to see it,
but go as soon as you can. If you consider yourself serious, you
gotta make the trip. Otherwise, you're just like any Seattle-tonians
who missed the William Pope L. show at PICA a schmuck for
missing one of the best shows in the country. Take the train if
you don't want to drive.
Another hint: the Henry is consistently one of the
very best places in the country to see contemporary art. I think
Seattle-erians take it way too much for granted. I'd marry the
Henry if I could; it has a nice combo of the art-world cutting
edge and curatorial seriousness.
By having Superflat a few years ago, several very
good Northwest artists and now Turrell, the Henry is the
place for large-scale contemporary shows in the region. In fact,
there is a great show consisting of the Neuberger collection that
comes down Sept. 18. It's an adventurous place. I'll cover the
Turrell show in depth next month.
Portland Art Museum, Schnitzer Atrium, Lewis
& Clark galleries
Francis' "Big Orange."
There are some exciting new things at the Portland
Art Museum: a Miro and a Gottlieb show, plus some unannounced
goodies that overshadow the official shows. This, of course, is
Bruce Guenther making up for the Oregon Biennial by showing his
real strength top-end historically certified art.
Turns out the selection is very good.
So yes, going to the museum is a legit adventure
now that Guenther has reinstalled some galleries. In the Schnitzer
Atrium there are several Warhols, a nice later Rauschenberg and
one of Sam Francis' best paintings, "Big Orange," from the Broad
FYI, the Broads are debatably the greatest living
art collectors and they lend their largess to many museums.
In fact, they just bought "Big Orange" for 2.7 big
ones and since it is one of Francis' best works, it happens to
be worth every penny.
Part of the adventure is looking at these artists
in history and judging them by their best work. "Big Orange"
is one such opportunity, and Francis comes off as a tough customer.
"Dance Diagram (Foxtrot)."
Francis is a very good artist whose reputation is
a bit in limbo; a bit like Yves Klein and Nicolas de Stael. They
are artists that need a serious retrospective to solidify their
place in history. This recently happened for Francis' contemporary,
Right now, under-retrospectived artists are like
square pegs in the overly simplified art history textbook we have
been using for the last 20-plus years. Hell, until MOMA's Jackson
Pollock retrospective, the art world politely steered the discussion
away from Pollock ... who happens to be the first American "summa"
of art and therefore its single most important artist.
The Broads also purchased and lent PAM "Dance Diagram
(Foxtrot, man turns and woman turns)" by Warhol, our second "summa"
artist. It is an amazing painting for many reasons. First, it's
often displayed on the floor, tempting viewers to dance on a 2.2-million-dollar
painting. OK, that is an adventure no art-insurer will condone.
Sadly, here it is displayed on a wall where it still can be read
as a question mark.
Second, Warhol copied the diagram by hand and finished
painting the work by hand, another rarity. Warhol was prolific
but not nearly as predictable as the vernacular myths would suggest.
& Ramirez-Jonas from "Walkways."
Few realize he was an extremely gifted artist who
was making $60,000 a year drawing shoe ads at a time when $25,000
bought you an exceptionally nice house. Metaphorically, Warhol
can dance. And in his wry, disjointed way, he asks the viewer
to follow his lead.
This is an excellent museum piece, although I consider
it similar to the Brillo boxes a highly successful art
simulacrum and a brilliant mimetic device.
To see its influence, just look at Janine Antoni
and Paul Ramirez-Jonas' "Migration" from PICA's walkways
show last year.
acquisition last year: Bavington's "Voodoo Child a slight
Thank you, Broad Foundation, for sharing. We notice
and appreciate it up here. Other loaners from other sources, like
a nice Gerhard Richter, "Davos S.," look excellent next to things
the museum does own, like an Alexander Calder mobile and a still-exciting
Tim Bavington that the Contemporary Art Council bought last year.
Good for the novice and experts alike, the council
does adventurous things like make studio visits, fund exhibitions
and take trips. It's also a good way to support new acquisitions;
you can find out more here.
Elizabeth Leach Gallery
Portland (through Aug. 30)
rides provoke mimetic anthropomorphic response (video).
PICA was born at the Elizabeth Leach Gallery eight
Kristy Edmunds is the director, the kahuna of PICA
and, as anyone knows, starting a nonprofit arts venture equals
the end of what most of humanity would consider "a life." It is
a little nuts.
All heroics are!
I've found all cultural endeavors have a lemming-like
I've lived it for months at a time; Kristy had lived
it for, um, seven years likely drinking a year's production
of a Columbian coffee plantation in the process. Thus, she needed
a vacation away from her buddy Juan Valdez. In this case, the
adventure was to stop facilitating culture and relax so she could
maybe make some art.
It makes me feel like Oprah; I wanna say, "I hear
ocelot moments before recognition (video).
So what kind of art did she make? Well, her monotype
prints are gauzy, personal and slow of pace, but they lack a bit
of that edge that is necessary for me to dig.
They are a bit like too-elegant vacation shots.
It comes off as fuzzy, nice and too mushy. However, her video,
"Twitch/Tremble/Tense," is something I can sink my teeth into
even if others might find it difficult. Once again, that
is the adventure.
First off, it is a demanding 22 minutes long and
pretty self-indulgent. Apparently, this is just a draft. I still
enjoyed it thoroughly.
The piece does what moving images are very good
at they slow down time and allow the viewer to focus. Instead
of vacation footage, we get a series of intimate situations. Sometimes
it's a sea lion indulgently scratching itself with a flipper,
seemingly oblivious to the viewer. At other times, there are those
points of recognition where a goat, an ocelot or an otter go about
their business like the sea lion, but then they spy the videographer
just before the scene shifts.
Of course, this brings the viewer into an intense
moment of voyeurism and a moment of being watched back. Is it
intrusive? Is this a call for privacy from Kristy? Possibly.
What is interesting is how intimately the scenes
are filmed and how that makes recognition between different species
a shared animal exchange. Instead of human communication, this
video works on a more primal level. That is telling, because it
cuts to a different scene just after recognition. There are no
confrontations, only the sense of boundaries defined and permeated.
Thus, it's all before the real drama will occur.
scatters some birds (video).
Is this an idealized animal kingdom then? No ...
because we also have young children who occasionally disturb a
flock of white birds. In one repeated segment we see the birds
recognize a potential threat, a child that is hardly a threat
to other humans, but certainly disruptive to the birds. It is
shot from the birds' eye level to further distance us from the
From our human instinctual parental impulse, the
scene can be read as cute since the child is oblivious to the
From the birds' perspective they definitely seem
to mind but only for a split second. Will they remember?
Since the rest of the film avoids humanity, I think
we are supposed to see how the child disrupts order and the birds
settle once again after the intrusion. It is the ebb and flow
of salient events, maybe not dissimilar to PICA's programming?
I particularly liked the shots of various amusement-park
rides. The oddly cropped nodding ride capsules seem to invite
an anthropomorphic response ... are those slowly wavering things
waving to the viewer, prompting a response? Once again, this is
all slowed down and one realizes the swaying rides will sway whether
or not we are on them or if we somehow do not acknowledge them
Therefore, there is a theme of continuity. Edmund's
work demands her soul as an artist, but when she lets the job
go for a while, she creates a video about observation and continuity.
Looks like she is still an artist no matter what she is doing.
Laura Russo Gallery
Portland (Aug. 8-30)
"We Must Never Sleep."
Good painting is rare and the Laura Russo Gallery
had some nice examples, including Robert Colescott and a very
impressive Gregory Grenon, "We Must Never Sleep."
Grenon is a fierce painter I respect, and this is
one of the best I've seen in years. Maybe it's the red or the
fact that it's not overtly aggressive. Instead, as the title suggests,
there is a pervasiveness to the work, possibly two friends who
never stop comparing experiences?
It's a disquieting mood piece and I read it as saying,
"who has got the courage to speak up?" Unlike a lot of other Portland
painters Grenon isn't overly fussy and doesn't rely on easily
controllable, and therefore repeatable, effects. He knows the
intangibles get overcooked if you try to control them too much.
In this case, all the intangibles the viewer can
imagine are coaxed out by Grenon's magnetic painting. Similarly
and speaking of adventure, Russo has nice open racks to peruse
work through. That alone is a cool sort of adventure. Why only
buy from the current show?
630 SE 3rd
Wick's surly dude.
Hmm, a mixed media show at the time of a painting-heavy
and arguably bloated Biennial. What could it mean? I was also
interested in how this more focused show would contrast with the
110-car pileup of the Modern Zoo show.
It definitely was more focused than the Zoo, still
it lacked zip except for one work by one of the two people most
responsible for the Zoo. It needed a large statement piece to
cement the mixed-media theme.
Some participants, like Zefery Throwell, did some
porno-collage work, and Morgan Wick did a collage image of some
surly dude who appears to be haphazardly wearing a fake beard.
Sadly, Wick's other works seemed more technical than successful.
Another surprise: Amy Karol brought some of that
"Quilts of Gee's Bend" trendiness with her own quilts.
Only New Yorkers could get so excited by such a
down-home comfort subtext show like Gee's Bend. It was nice but
not THAT nice; a few quilts caught my eye, but that was it. I
saw similar quilts at the Milwaukee Art Museum in the mid '90s.
Suereth's installation of treated plants.
So much for the Big Apple's cutting edge; they've
found their inner Milwaukee! To be fair, they did have robots
randomly drilling holes in walls on another floor ... now combine
the two and you've got a happy critic and some angry quilters.
Back to "Mixed Media." The star of the
show was none other than Bryan Suereth, co-founder of PCAC and
co-daddy of the Modern Zoo.
His real plants painted or dipped in synthetic materials
were hanging in mid air without pots. Everyone felt the installation
really looked good.
I thought it was laudably perverse to do this to
real plants and it recalled everything from that famous scene
in "Goldfinger" to tiki culture, Oppenheim's "fur cup"
and Star Trek sets. By having the works hang in space he recalls
Paul Klee's Bauhaus lessons, where Klee advised that an artist
should master gravity to create a mood and compositional options.
The whole thing was synthetic and natural, two magic
words for me. The tension is both campy and deadly.
In particular, I found "Dgnzalez Unathrzed" to be
excellent. The kinky purple plant painted shiny unnatural purple
and studded with nails is an interesting take on the fig leaf.
Instead of primitive clothing, it is nature dressed up for Carnival
I would like to see a whole walk-through installation
of this; I think it's my way of giving vegetarians hell. Hey,
and what is it with vegetarians and vegans who smoke all the time.
So much for the "meat is unhealthy" argument.
I only respect non-smoking non-carnivores; they
make some sense.
Mixed Media was an OK show, but nowhere near as
successful as Maritime, possibly because the Modern Zoo has sucked
a lot of energy out of the scene until it comes down. Come September
the show will probably provoke more concise reactions.
115 NW 5th Ave.
photo by Groshong Ericson.
Most scenesters should already know Backspace, a
new hybrid video arcade and art gallery. I've been walking past
the space for months wondering how it would turn out. It's next
to Compound and around the corner from Motel (another hybrid space),
so it should create a nice three-stop neighborhood.
Now the wait is over.
As expected, only some of the work is good. The
majority is a bit uninspired or "studenty." Still, you can
also probably nab some nice work by talented recent graduates
here, and there are things worth having.
For instance, Groshong Ericson's work alone is worth
the trip (it's way in the back). I saw these charged photographs
on display in PNCA's studios last year.
It's nice work; it has heat, testosterone and bravura. I applaud
its attitude and must ask, "So ... OK young buck, how big are
your next set of antlers going to be?"
I saw this last year; gimme something new.
'Weapons of Mass Production'
107 NW 5th Ave.
This is a very typical theme for iconoclastic Portland
and, ironically, it uses a lot of iconography. But this little
logic goof is a thoroughly honest and understandable hypocrisy.
A lot of this show was the same old "corporate culture
is pure evil" thing that is overly simplistic and lets us poor
consumers off the hook. Thus, much of the work loses its poignancy
to its preachy propagandistic leanings.
For a better artistic model, David's "Death of Marat"
was quite a bit more layered in that genre during the formative
days of the New Republic. If you want to fight something you need
to martyr something or someone. You have to be a good artist,
Despite this, I really liked Scott Patt's paintings
and T-shirts all with the same images: a pig combined with a helicopter,
a fish combined with a battleship and a rabbit bomb, etc.
"Death of Marat."
It all works nicely, especially since there are
T-shirts nearby. It was a mistake to separate Patt's paintings
from his commercial goods in the Oregon Biennial.
After Takashi Murakami's Factory, this sort of blurring
of fine art and practical goods should not be ghettoized.
Patt's work is blunt, well done and not overstated.
One knows where Patt stands; he makes a good ambivalent
image about things like war and food that we cannot be ambivalent
about. There are checks and balances here, and that's where it
Aaron Hoskins' "Prototype" looked nice and sinister
with its black coverings and microscope insignia on the burger,
fries and drink containers.
Still, it is more propaganda than art. In London,
Jake and Dinos Chapman recently did a somewhat better job by carving
tribal totems with McDonald's insignia incorporated into them.
In both cases, I found them neither damning or layered
enough to hold my attention past admiring the craftsmanship.
Lastly, the once-and-future Oregonian Kelly Newcomer
showed her satellite ceramics.
I like the sense of adventure and admission of naiveté
in our exploration of space. Is it really just the next logical
step that we colonize the rest of the solar system?
Won't we just clutter it all up, like we have done
to Planet Earth? By looking too sweet and harmless, Newcomer presents
a worrisome fiction.
Only time will tell how the facts turn out. All
I know is a lot of orbital space junk already exists and I doubt
any of it looks this good.