of Affairs, Lindsay Bowdoin Key,
'Kill Bill,' Bowie, '10.5' and more
time to dilate the pupils a bit before hyper-focusing in on
main event shows like Site Santa Fe in July or the major-effort
solo shows in Portland that begin this month.
Another reason is to step back and take stock of
these ridiculous times by casting the net wider than the often-incestuous
vacuum of gallery culture.
Still, April in the Portland art scene was noteworthy
because of the many social bellwether shows, like State of Affairs
at Savage Art Resources or Lindsay Bowdoin Key at Haze. It's
both wartime and election time here (presidential and mayoral,
for those reading outside Portland's ramparts).
I often question whether Portland is a black sheep
or another member of the herd of American cities. The recent
spate of now-legalized same-sex marriages in Portland indicates
As a city-state, PDX has rarely toed the line with
other American urban centers and is a particularly good place
to be when questioning the place of the United States in the
grand scheme of things. The discussion absolutely needs to take
|"Militiawoman," by Joel Preston Smith.
The world, as usual, is in chaos. But there customarily
is a certain professionalism to being an Ugly American that
is utterly missing these days. Our foreign policy and related
actions remind me of the ancient Athenians' infamous and ill-fated
Overconfidence and oversimplification were the main
problems there, too. (My opinion on this is more of an operational
evaluation than a political statement.)
Net result: it's pretty much Greek tragedy and in
the cafés of Portland there is a lot of unrest. At my favorite
coffeehouse, Anna Bananas in Northwest Portland's Alphabet District,
Preston Smith displayed some nice war photography. Most
possessed the combination of beauty and repulsion usually accompanying
that genre of photojournalism when done well.
The restlessness is being articulated in demographically
engaged works, too. Ben Hull's "Mid-Life" at Ogle is one of
those rare sociological commentaries made through formalist
abstraction about baby boomers.
Hull's "Mid-Life," at Ogle.
"Mid-Life" is a tensioned graft of metal, wire and
wood, like an Anish Kapoor car rack that peels back to reveal
wooden surfboard/candy bar planks. The materials indicate youth
beneath the slick navy-blue exterior.
Pun intended, "Mid-Life" is a very timely
work. I like how it is not just an indictment of the Miata-driving
bald guy with an insecure girlfriend 15-25 years his junior
who needs a daddy figure. Instead, it seems to celebrate youth.
And who can blame the boomers? Youth is wasted on the
young, but that's the enviable luxury.
It's odd to think of how baby boomers value youth
as a commodity. Yet, I wonder how much many of them value youth
in general as people. (It works both ways; how many Gen-Y-ers
appreciate anyone over 40?)
I can say one thing: Anyone who collects art should
get to know youth through face-to-face exchanges. "Mid-Life"
does not necessarily condemn the mid-life crisis maybe
it's a good kind of crisis?
(for standing absolutely still)," by Brian Borrello.
The most poignant piece I saw in April was Brian
Borrello's "Shoes (for standing absolutely still)."
Sometimes when the world gets crazy it's best to take a time
out. These are very Zen and definitely male shoes.
Of course, Borrello, a new father, is learning to
fill new shoes, and what could be more profound than watching
the cycle of life continue?
War awareness and parenting do not initially seem
too related, but they are.
For example, there is no more lasting and palpable
grief than that of a parent who outlives their child. A second
net result of being responsible for another person's life is
you suddenly understand the value of life a lot more.
Foisy's "Soft Speaker," at Butters Gallery.
No, I am not going suburban here and, no, I am not
a father. But when women special to me have had children, I
have felt a tiny sample of this fatherly stillness.
Gilles Foisy's excellent show at Butters Gallery
consistently carried off a similar feeling of contemplative
stillness. Look for me to count it as one of the year's best
in my December roundup.
Even Hollywood knows that the fog of war seems less
prominent on the battlefield than in conference rooms this time
... so we have two movies about Alexander the Great, a re-imagination
on the history of King Arthur and Troy coming out in 2004. All
are historical fantasies about the way war lays bare human ambitions,
preoccupations and failings.
Conveniently, all are set a long time ago.
OK, so back in 2001 Hollywood knew the public would
be striving for context and/or what real leadership looks like
and it's only now starting to come out. Of course, this
is the Hollywood version, so it all will likely be incredibly
dumbed down and uber-hyped.
I'm certain that the important Bucephalus and Alexandria
segments in the Alexander films will be mere vignettes. I wonder
if these fantasies will lead to some critical metaphors in the
lighter-weight aspects of the U.S. media, like "Access
Hollywood," "Today," "Oprah" and film
reviews in general. Im not holding my breath.
is wasted on the realists?
A film like "Lost In Translation" struck
a chord last year. Basically, it was a floating fluxy study
on being emotionally out of control in Japan. As a study in
recapturing one's true essence through the company of strangers,
I felt Bill Murray's was the only redeeming character in the
Without Murray and some wonderfully stylistic cinematography
adopted from other films, like "YiYi," it would have
been just awful.
I think we all knew this and were so glad it threaded
the needle. We gave "LIT" too much praise.
Actually, can we give a film that takes chances
and succeeds too much praise? No ... but that is a problem.
The bar has been so lowered that "LIT," which pales even compared
to lightweights like "Breakfast at Tiffany's," isn't a revelation.
The art world has the same problem ... pick between paintings;
a De Kooning or a Cecily Brown.
Peyton's self-portait at the Whitney Biennial goes beyond
Brown as a painter is good, but De Kooning ate her
lunch. Let's also remember super-painter Elizabeth Peyton is
friends with "LIT" director Sophia Coppola and probably
showed her a thing or two about creating mood.
Peyton has been the best painter in the world since
at least 1996 and should have been in Dave Hickey's Beau Monde,
but I'll take her presence in the 2004 Whitney Biennial as a
victory for Hickey, nonetheless.
She's the transcendental Norman Rockwell of beauty
with Edvard Munch and Edouard Manet lovingly thrown in.
In the parallel Rock 'n' Roll Universe, the Strokes
video for "Reptilia" basically borrows from Peyton's
odd, intimate expressionistic feel and intensely moody color
schemes. She paints portraits of the band members all the time,
so I doubt that it's mere coincidence.
That's another reason she's definitely the best;
other genres have found her worth copying. David Hockney should
start taking lessons from her. Sure, she learned from him. But
at her solo show at Gavin Brown Enterprises in April, she was
so wryly hedonistic that she made Hockney look more like Edvard
Munch. She's Munch's true antipode. Hockney's been superceded
by Peyton, the onetime apprentice.
fourth film by Quentin Tarantino)
Like "Lost In Translation," Tarantino's
film takes place in Tokyo, but with a diamond-hard, almost cartoony,
focus. "Kill Bill Vol. 1" was a genius-level action
flick adrenaline and tongue-in-cheek genre vengeance.
But without the guilt of knowing all the details of the grievances
between The Bride and Bill, it was just the appetizer compared
to "Kill Bill Vol. 2."
|The Bride in "Kill Bill Vol. 1."
"Vol. 2" fills in the blanks and the emotional
tangle. Funny, it seems The Bride ditched Bill and faked her
death when she found out she was pregnant.
Notably, the crucial scene where the two female
assassins discuss the implications of a pregnancy test while
respectively trying to carry out and avoid a hit is brilliant.
It's even better than the "Vol. 1" mommy
battle between Vernita Green and Beatrix Kiddo (The Bride).
In the pregnancy-test scene, The Bride effectively
gets out of the assassin business and into the mommy business.
Directly after that scene, Bill, who in his twisted
way still loved The Bride, was looking for his beloved's killer,
only to catch up with her just before she's about to marry a
Texas doofus. The audience kinda understands how he might snap.
That doesn't make it right, but we identify both of them as
Sadists and masochists are completely interchangeable
at a certain level and, when two assassins are about to become
parents, their lack of people skills couldnt be more tragicomic.
The wedding rehearsal probably draws on Tarantino, Uma Thurman
and Ethan Hawkes, relationships giving it extra emotional
|The Bride and Bill in "Kill Bill Vol. 2."
David Carradine is worthy of best supporting actor
and plays the ultimate bad boyfriend. He's evil and can't do
anything about it. Thurman is just as bad, but she is transformed
by having a child; she's in no moral position to judge Bill,
but being a mommy trumps everything.
It's true, nothing on earth is as intimidating or
legitimate as a mother and baby. I have to smile every time
I see a mother and child, and Thurman's character, although
she still has feelings for Bill, just can't have Bill around.
Bill's excuse of "I overreacted" for shooting
Kiddo was one of film historys best understatements, yet
it rings true to life in dysfunctional trailer parks or the
coked-up Hollywood Hills. Bill and Beatrix are professionals;
since its called "Kill Bill," Bill has to die. Synopsis:
Daddy shot Mommy, so Mommy used the five-point exploding-heart
technique to make Daddy go away ... it sure seems to this viewer
like an analog of Mommy filed for a divorce with felony abuse
charges. We have come a long way since "Kramer vs. Kramer"
and we are more professional and wicked about splitting up a
family with kids in the middle. It's a vicious circle and I
wonder if these broken-home kids become emotional assassins
"Kill Bill" is so fake it smacks of honesty
... truth in fiction.
|Power-puff anime: Bowie for reality?
David Bowie came to Portland in April and has never
been more important, even though in interviews he's resigned
himself to no longer being hit-maker central (although that's
never really been his lot). He's not Britney Spears, the Strokes
or the White Stripes and, of course, that's why he's wrong about
His career is the iconic unattainable dream of every
fame-seeker whose management makes "the decisions." Bowie is
the antipode; he has control and is the flash in the pan that
never goes away.
His characters Ziggy, the Thin White Duke,
et al they all fade. They're designed to fade. However,
the ghost of Bowie remains.
Precisely, he's more interested in getting away
with his own character assassination before others can do it.
A lot of arty people age 18-45 have rightly seen this as one
of the only sure-fire ways to retain anything with the scent
integrity on it.
He's sincere about presenting something insincere.
He's an actor playing a rock star, whereas Britney, the Strokes
and the White Stripes are pop and rock stars that would sell
their souls to be actors.
Bowie is the one famous artist-type who never seemed
capable of losing his soul. The secret? Sell the soul beforehand
to reduce that liability potential.
Bowie's latest album, Reality, is OK for
2004, but he needs to use recording engineer Steve Albini (PJ
Harvey's Rid of Me) to cut out the unnecessary gloss.
That rawer sound is part of the reason Bowie's songs
with Mick Ronson are often the best, but "Heroes,"
"Fame," "Let's Dance," and two songs from
his most hated Tin Machine project, "I Can't Read" and "Under
The God," are some of his very best. "Under Pressure"
is a masterpiece, but Freddie Mercury had skills and chutzpah
even Bowie envied.
|Gregory Grennon's "No Everything is not Allright," at
Then there is NBC trying to distract us with the
ridiculous "10.5" earthquake TV movie May 2. Yes, the West Coast
falling into the Pacific Ocean from Seattle to San Diego makes
Bin Laden look like a third grader shooting spitwads, but it's
a physical impossibility.
A big 9.5 is possible, but gargantuan 10.5 quakes
can't be generated by the slip faults and relatively short subduction
zones here. It's a cathartic, silly and unscientific production
that plays on our fears, irrational tolerance of the Baldwin
brothers and appetite for spectacle.
Then again, So-Cal is expecting a large 7-9 Richter
Scale quake in the Mojave Desert in the next six months.
From a cathartic fear-management standpoint, Buffy
the Vampire Slayer was better with all those monsters constantly
disrupting Sunnydale. In art-related terms, local luminary painter
Gregory Grennon catches a lot of hell for being a misogynist
who explores doubts and fears, but I find his paintings confrontationally
cathartic ... kinda like "Kill Bill Vol. 2," as well.
Idealism needs to be used judiciously and so does
bitterness; Grennon has bitterness down. The secret: don't use
irony as a crutch. Frankly, not all art needs to be easygoing.
Besides, I like women who don't smooth everything over. Everything
is not OK. A little fear keeps everything from growing stale
or complacent; it means you give a damn.
6635 N. Baltimore
|Lindsay Bowdoin Key's "American Farm" at Haze.
American Farm should further cement the Haze Gallery
legend in Portland by simple virtue of transforming the gallery
into a structure suitable for a barn dance.
It comes complete with flying udders, glasses of
milk, country music, tin-shack siding and enough hay to potentially
I left four times just to keep from uncontrollable
Did I mention there was a longhaired calf as well
that, in its own sweet way, tried to gore several people affiliated
with the gallery?
They had it coming.
Haze Director Jack Shimko asked me ahead of time,
"do you know how to handle a cow?"
That set off alarms; Shimko's a city slicker. Me?
I've pulled a calf or two in my day, so I can make the Dukes
of Hazard distinction. (Translation: I've been a bovine midwife.)
That was the scene; now for the art.
The overall installation was immersive and the scent
alone legitimized the farm. In fact, hay is food to cud-chewing
ruminants like the li'l calf present at the opening. In addition,
the hamburger I ate definitely connected me to a life-and-death
cycle that farmers all understand.
Most First-World people outside of farms have precious
little idea where their food comes from, producing a calloused
arrogance along the food chain. The paintings, with their hungry
birds and cows, illustrated this point excessively and really
didn't add anything.
When a tasty sandwich beats a painting, don't show
the painting. Yet Key made a successful point regarding consumption
and Americans' desire to not know how the sausage is made.
|Alpacas and the stepford alpacas?
The real showstopper was her video of fake "Stepford"
alpacas amongst the real alpacas. Sure, it calls genetically
designed animals into question, but there's more going on here.
Key is from Manhattan, a place that rightly has felt under siege
New York, by being a huge target, makes one have
farm and countryside fantasies.
In fact, the fake alpacas could be read as "sleeper
Key is onto something here and her plan to work
with sheep in the Portland area would elegantly consolidate
the more fabricated aspects of the American farm into one big,
poetic statement. This has great possibilities: counting sheep,
wolves in sheep's clothing, and the sticky question about whether
Americans are just dull sheep being led to the slaughter by
corporations, politicians and terrorists, opens exciting questions.
I like the look of this: pop, politics, authentication,
terrorism, science and age-old farming ... could be something
Savage Art Resources
1430 SE 3rd
Through May 14
|Tony Tasset prophetically "spews" a little, back in 1993.
Stuart Horodner is billing his first independent
curatorial effort in Portland as "a mood ring of a show" and
it's definitely not to be missed, as it mostly refrains from
The exhibition begins with one of the more exciting
early-'90s Tony Tasset black-and-white photographs, "Spew."
As a comment on media hype, oil consumption (it
looks like Tasset is spewing oil) and Jackson Pollock's trumping
of the European avant-garde, it meditates on situations that
were in effect back in 1993, but continue to be bandied about
The U.S.A.'s dominance of the art world may now
be in full retreat since our latest champion, Elizabeth Peyton,
has been big since 1996. The point is that "Spew"
looks prophetic, and being prophetic after 10 years gives the
work a kind of art-historical halo.
Sara Masacar's "All Sorts: Heads of State" is a
nicely finished installation of tiny licorice leader heads and
an accompanying book. Why licorice? It could be the waxy, impermanent
nature of the position. I suspect, though, it's more of a dada-esque
leveling. This is well done visually, but lacks a denouement
to elevate it.
|Leon Golub's "We Can Disappear You."
No such problem with Leon Golub, the heavyweight
star of this show. His trademark raw canvases tacked to the
wall show why he has been the premier social realist artist
since George Grosz. His "We Can Disappear You" could apply to
government thugs anywhere in the world. Or to terrorist thugs
anywhere in the world. The possibilities are indistinguishable.
His talent is for bringing out the timelessness in such difficult
and time-sensitive imagery.
Others who attempt this sort of work make the mistake
of being too shrill or tricky. Instead, Golub gives threat a
sketchy physical posture and confrontational stance that I've
always admired. He draws the viewer in as both a witness and
a possible victim.
Aside from the message, you know it's good because
it pulls people in from across the room.
Another star of this show is Tad Savinar. His silkscreen,
"Champ," is probably his single best piece.
Upon viewing you have to ask: Is the United States
still No. 1? Do we deserve the status, or not? It's a multi-layered
critique and celebration.
|Duford's "Jubilation" (Detail): completely overshadowed
With great power comes great responsibility and,
as the only superpower, the U.S. coasted during the '90s.
Now we have the same challenges but they are knocking
on the door in ways we can no longer ignore.
Other works, like John Sparagana's elegantly distressed
magazine ads and Michael Bise's satirical cartoons, are nice
and current (touching on consumerism and angst-filled neglect
of teens, respectively) but will probably be superceded by real
comic books and real advertisements that manage to survive for
another 300 years as artifact art objects.
They live on borrowed cultural force and lack the
authority over the subject matter to make the art history books.
The same problem exists for Daniel Duford's "Jubilation."
Just because his golem has a comic-book quality similar to Paul
Chadwick's Concrete character doesn't make this particularly
strong work. Besides, the whole golem idea seems like an illustration
lifted from Dungeons & Dragons, only without its deep roots
in Jewish folklore being developed or expanded enough to be
|Barbara Pollock's "American Army"
Without the oomph of George Grosz or Leon Golub,
the "Jubilation" golem seems akin to high-school anti-war murals.
Mary Shelley's Frankenstein did it so much better, creating
both empathy and terror. Even the celebrating Fallujah-ers seemed
compositionally tacked on. It's agitprop and, although I liked
how the drawing addressed the industrial service door, it lacked
style. Duford is talented but he hasn't learned the importance
of being more than earnest.
Barbara Pollock's "American Army" video
was a definite highlight. In the piece, we watch a young man
play a video game designed as a recruitment tool for the U.S.
Army. With the young man on the split screen above and the video-game
action below, it certainly is a study in strange ambivalence
one where the video-game player probably gets a less
consequential dose of reality, which possibly innoculates him
from the true price of war.
|Self-portrait, by Marne Lucas.
When the video-game soldier is shot, the player
spins his third-person camera up and around the eerie scene.
The mood is somber and impassive.
For something closer to civilian life, Marne Lucas'
self-portraits with mirrors and other reflections are less impassive
and more revealing. Sometimes she's sexy, sometimes it looks
like Velazquez's "Las Meninas" with a cast of court
players playing out roles.
I don't know the people, so it's difficult to decode.
At other times, like her turn at impersonating a zoot-suited
boy, she questions how she is defined and records it like a
memory as a secondary image.
Oh yes, a defiant boy is just being a bad boy. But
a defiant girl is still largely unacceptable.
None of this is new, but that's not the point. Maybe
it's how things haven't changed that tells us most about the
state of affairs of American life in 2004.