|Video still from Ann Hamilton's "Untitled (aleph)."
Tharp, Chartier, Lake, Caccamise, Everett Station Lofts
is a month of anticipation when the expected explosion of flowers
throughout Portland is in full effect. It's safe to say if you don't
like flowers stay out of the Rose City in April.
I'm a big fan of the scenic tour and last month the level of art
shows worth seeing was equally blooming. I've never expected more
than three good shows per month but April had at least 10.
The single most successful and pollinating event wasn't even a
show, but a talk by 1993 MacArthur Fellowship recipient Ann Hamilton.
Hamilton's talk was a packed house with people sitting on the floor
of Reed College's Vollum Hall. Highlights were her amazing "Untitled
(aleph)" video projected on a large screen, accompanied by
its disquieting, jumbling soundtrack, along with her discussion
of the tower she's building in Sonoma County, Calif.
|Hamilton at Reed College: construction of her Sonoma
In many ways it's Hamilton's acute awareness of physical proximity
and phenomena as a form of communication that makes her special.
For example "Untitled (aleph)" is about the beginnings
of communication (aleph is the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet),
but all the creepy balls in the mouth can be read both as an obstruction
to traditional verbal language and as a substitution of sculpture
for traditional words.
Hamilton is an alchemist of sorts because she transfers standardized
conceptual constructions like language into a demonstrative physical
form that also communicates.
It's like a novel with only punctuation!
The great thing is how down to earth and pragmatic she is in person.
She feeds on the room, noting where the support is.
When amazed by the turnout she stated, "I think I need to consider
moving to the West Coast ..." drawing great applause. Let's just
say Portland is probably one of the hungriest art cities on the
planet. How that appetite turns into better patronage is something
else, but as the Portland Art Museum has shown, it is very possible.
Institutional consistency of vision is key and Reed College has
definitely been a rock in that department.
|Joe Thurston's "The Things That Establish Her Personality
Sometimes Exhaust Other People."
Spring also brings great expectations, and a new May show by Joe
Thurston at Mark Woolley Gallery might be just the thing. Thurston
has given his signature "flayed" work a twist, incorporating dramatic
mannerist poses from great paintings by Eugene Delacroix and arcadian
landscape backgrounds reminiscent of those on the Mona Lisa.
Also of note this month, Laura Fritz (a
favorite amongst scores of critics) has a solo show at Seattle's
venerable Soil Gallery. MK
Guth will travel the red shoe delivery service to Nottingham, England,
of all places as well. Dan May will hit the big time with a New
York show at Pavel
Zubouk in Chelsea in June.
It's a fact: Portland artists have been doing quite well when they
show elsewhere and recently Bruce Conkle has received critical accolades
for shows at GASP
(Boston) and Consolidated
Ellen George has shown in Dallas (with a project for a private
collection) and David Eckard has shown in Boston and San Diego within
the last six months. In New York, Damali Ayo had a library project
and Mona Superhero's art was popular. Sean Healy has a big federal
project in Houston (which is opening a lot of doors) and Henk Pander
recently gave Seattle's Frye Museum a taste as well. Lastly, as
previously mentioned in Critical i, Matthew Picton had a wonderful
installation at the Carl Solway Gallery's
30 Ways to Make a Painting show, which was full of big names, such
as Joseph Kosuth, Polly Apfelbaum and Nam June Paik.
Needless to say the secret about Portland is out: it's home to
a large number of artists worthy of national attention, probably
because artists get a chance to develop idiomatic styles here. I
suspect the Oregonian might even start noting that specific Portland
artists are making waves despite not being blessed by the Portland
Art Museum's Oregon Biennial.
The Oregonian's recent mention of Sean Healy as flying below the
radar is a bit late, too. He's definitely been on the radar for
years as evidenced by their review last September, which criticized
him for making art that looked like it could be done elsewhere.
That retrograde stance is a fast-dying, old-school attitude that
ignores Portlanders who are active elsewhere. Simply put, credit
needs to be given when due. It reminds me of how Washington, D.C.,
treated Anne Truitt's death as something of only local importance.
| Matthew McCaslin, Roxy Paine and Matthew Picton (from
left) at Carl Solway Gallery.
For example, let's remember that Harrell Fletcher's first Whitney
Biennial was largely ignored and only after being in two in a row
did he become impossible to ignore locally. It's time to stop promulgating
a myth that no longer holds credibility.
The local and the international are increasingly becoming one and
it's fascinating to watch how Portland's new and old residents react
to the change.
Some folks have been freaked out and that's a legitimate response
from sheltered types, but I'm more of the European school of thought
that all borders are naturally quite porous.
Truth is, geographical isolation in developed countries is more
of a personal choice than an imposition. This is a modern reality
and, frankly, it's odd when borders aren't permeable. I anticipate
more attitude adjustments in the future of the Portland art scene.
Still, April wasn't all anticipation. Some of the early art blooms
of spring were most impressive, making it tough to ignore any of
these good shows:
|Frank Miller's "Chanbara" at Ko Du Ku Gallery
in the Everett Station Lofts.
The Everett Station Lofts in April were the strongest they have
been for quite some time. As artist-run galleries they definitely
point to a whole new crop of talent that is milling around town
Frank Miller's "Chanbara" book of photography at Ko Du
Ku Gallery was most impressive.
With dramatic angles combining modern and ancient Japanese street
moments, these photos transport the viewer to a crystalline place
that reminds me of the disciple that bushido or "the way of the
|Messages in bottles
Chanbara is the term given for Japanese sword-fight movies (Tarantino's
"Kill Bill" movies are an homage) and this series of photographs
has an unmistakable male perspective that is both flattering and
unflattering. Publishing a well-done book is also impressive.
At Pepper Gallery, artist and operator Daniyel Hicks put together
a nice conceptual participation project appropriately titled "message
in a bottle." It isn't very original but its simplicity works with
the nice visual presentation. This is a classic romantic existential
project and I like seeing it rather than projects that try to garner
attention by advertising how many artists take part. Those projects
don't do anything other than garner attention for the organizers.
At Ogle, the first installment of shows for Portland
Modern's second issue made for a handsome exhibition by two
artists the Critical i has followed for a long time, Bonnie Paisley
and Rachel Wiecking.
|Keith Rosson at Zeitgeist Gallery.
Juried by Sue Taylor, it's a serious step up and Wiecking really
looks like she's ready for bigger things (some important collectors
have snapped up her work). Bonnie Paisley had the most successful
piece with "American Beauty Rose" (reviewed here last year).
Lastly, Keith Rosson at Zeitgeist continued putting out the finest
graphic novels distilled into paintings in the Pacific Northwest.
His best works have deft poetic turns and a knack for tense, hilarious
moments. They feel perfectly in synch with the times.
Elizabeth Leach Gallery
|Jaq Chartier's Testing show at Elizabeth Leach Gallery.
Jaq Chartier's debut solo show at Elizabeth Leach Gallery showed
why this emerging national star from Seattle is worth watching.
Her stained studies in material absorption and the effects of sunlight
are quite empirical, putting her in line with artists like Tim Bavington,
Bernard Frize and Sol LeWitt, who all create visual work through
a non-visual series of instructions. Chartier is different in that
she allows her materials (various staining colors) to interact with
What I like is the quantified element of chance that is then organized
and annotated. It separates her from those other abstract instruction
painters. I particularly like the notes on the sides of the paintings,
which keep them from being arid empirical curiosities and turn them
into archives as well as active experiments.
Still, this take on Greenbergian formalist stain painting is a
bit too formulaic for my taste, although a truly anal-retentive
person will get off on it. It's good work but I'd like to see her
evolve some, because she is onto something big with her focus on
Laura Russo Gallery
|Henk Pander's "Bombadeer" at Laura Russo Gallery.
Henk Pander at Laura Russo Gallery showed how academic painting
can be rehabilitated with a wry sense of timing and swift, sure
Pander is an allegorical history painter, but those who refer to
his technique as old masterish couldn't be more wrong. Pander, who
doesn't use glazes and paints rather loosely, is more like the early
impressionists such as Manet, rather than an old master like Franz
Sure, he has some chops and the work has a conceptual connection
to the melodrama of Goya or Gericault, but that "old master"
tag confuses technical competency with subject matter.
Paintings by true old masters like Rembrandt and Sir Joshua Reynolds
are studies in various levels of translucence. Pander has a flattened-surface-only
picture plane and it's quite good and modern. Pander isn't some
anachronism like Odd Nerdrum.
PDX Contemporary Art
|Detail of Flechemuller's "Birthday Boy."
Jacques Flechemuller at PDX
Gallery is a creepy and hilarious artist who exists somewhere
between Mark Tansey, Claes Oldenburg, Gerhard Richter (on nitrous
oxide) and a gremlin.
His "Birthday Boy" painting had a nice combination of
really good, if slightly loose, painting and (this isn't a slam)
Salvador Dali goofiness by attaching some googly eyes. It is his
disregard for his obvious technical ability that impresses me (whereas
Dali relied on it as a crutch).
In fact, the painting seems to be an all-out assault on preciousness
which, instead of coming off as a gimmick, makes the piece vibrate
with a self-assured innocence that is contagious.
If I had a guest house I'd subject my guests to its not-so-icy
Any collector willing to live with this has got to be someone who
will never become a fuddy-duddy and I have to approve of any object
that is a dadaesque talisman against self-importance while remaining
|Detail from James Lavadour's "Blanket."
Lavadour / Walk
Storm Tharp / The Black Show
PDX Contemporary Art
The single best show in April was PDX Gallery's exhibition of James
Lavadour and Storm Tharp in the Wieden + Kennedy Building.
Lavadour may be one of the best gestural painters on the planet
and it's a little scary how he also manages to be a bit photo-realistic
One could go on and on, but the man is in a class by himself. Simply
put, he is the best landscape painter alive. If there is a criticism
it's that the multiple-part works are distracting when stacked vertically
and I long for a simple horizontal two-part work with larger format
Tharp is no slouch either. His "Trust" was my favorite work in
|Storm Tharp's "Trust."
With flamboyant hair and eyelash flourishes on a very rough-and-tumble
piece of paper bearing the images of Elvis Costello and Jack Nicholson
from "The Shining," it's a tour de force in dandyist plumage
designed both to attract and repel. "Trust" is more of a question
mark than a statement of intended effect here. Together, the two
shows were an interesting contrast in styles and personality. Lavadour's
personality is subsumed and ultimately manifest as landscape, whereas
Tharp's landscape is full of interpersonal grandstanding and thrives
on his personality filling space via his art.
On that coin toss, heads or tails means you win here.
|Eva Lake at Augen (from left) "Lovelake," "Sun
King," "Swimming Pool" and "Before Dark."
Eva Lake's latest show, at Augen Gallery, was one of the most
sustained, mature and enjoyable in recent years.
"Sun King" used tight gradient squares that made them
into overwhelming experiences ... you just keep thinking about how
perfect each square is, yet there is variety. Hand painted without
the use of tape, they impress.
|Detail of Lake's "Sun King."
Others, such as "Swimming Pool," had larger gradient
squares and this emphasized the painterly aspects of this work over
its still-prominent serial nature. It is excellent work that stores
up the concentrated studio process energy that created it like a
Something about the serialness and square nature of the work seems
a bit too cloistered and hermetic for my own tastes, though. I have
the same issues with the work of Eric
Freeman, which is a bit like one of Lake's gradient tint squares
blown up to large scale.
Arbus, Untitled (Marcella Matthaei), 1969. [Matthaei Collection
of Commissioned Family Photographs by Diane Arbus ©Marcella
Hague Matthaei Ziesmann]
The Portland Art Museum had the rewarding Diane Arbus show, an
excellent untitled De Kooning from 1977 and a sampler of minimalist
works from the impressive collection of Sarah Miller Meigs. Highlights
were two Donald Judd chairs, a couple of LeWitt cubes (personal
faves), a Carl Andre and a really great John McCracken red plank,
McCracken's red ones always seem to get me more than his other
works and, at a recent studio tour for the Portland Art Museum's
Contemporary Art Council, Jacqueline Ehlis spoke of stealing just
such a red plank in L.A. (the fantasy plot involved a fast red convertible).
Ehlis has a very anticipated show in June at Savage.
What is great about McCracken is how direct his work is, yet its
mirror-like surface heightens its context in the room. Where McCracken
differs from Ehlis is she is a material multitasker while he is
so ridiculously consistent. Both are products of their times and
Ehlis is the one with a lot on the line.
Speaking of fantasy, the Waking Dreams show of Pre-Raphaelite paintings
at the Portland Art Museum is worth a romp. Yes, it's steeped in
bourgeoisie Victoriana that Lake Oswego hausfraus might really dig,
but something more is going on.
The Pre-Raphaelites rode a wave of nostalgia for King Arthur as
a nationalistic myth and, by asserting that myth, they made this
sort of thing the ultimate imperial cultural tchotchke ... not unlike
Jackson Pollock with his drip paintings.
Look, there's a reason Pollock got the nod as an American icon
and it had everything to do with him being a hard-drinking man's
man from west of the Mississippi.
The difference: The American tchotchke was ahistorical, fitting
for a country that now can hardly remember what The New Deal or
the gold standard means.
Caccamise, Doug Morris
Trouble in Tiny Town
Savage Art Resources
Caccamise makes nice crafty art.
Trouble in Tiny Town is a very Brooklyn art show; correction, this
is a very Brooklyn 2003 art show. 2004 had more antlers!
Still, Doug Morris shows some promise where Chris Caccamise is
all premise. It's all that much sadder because this cute toy-art
came and left L.A. and Portland back in 2001.
Nothing worse than seeing Brooklyn trying to pass itself off as
fresh when the West Coast is driving trends. For example, Caccamise's
art is part of the U.S.A.'s knockoff version of Japanese Kawaii
or cute culture that was fresh back in 1998. Even artists like Evan
Holloway made rainbows and social critique ubiquitous a long time
Back in the late '90s Yoshitomo Nara and Takashi Murakami took
dada, existential angst and feelings of desperate cultural impotence,
then wrapped them in clean graphic design with big eyes.
cutesy sarcasm made of paper and enamel.
Caccamise's work is the same thing except that it borrows design
elements from '70s TV icons like The
Electric Company, School House
Rock and Zoom.
With the preponderance of rainbows, clouds, lightning bolts and
cheap-looking low frame-rate animation, those TV shows conveyed
pessimism with a smile and resignation to '70s-era globalism.
As a redux in this show we have an oil tanker called "Don't
Fail Me Now." It produces a laugh from fear of current and
past oil pinches, but doesn't really offer any insight other than
a crafty child's toy. Frankly, it's so precious that it becomes
a form of amnesia. Even the oil tanker seems made to be a bit stubby
Also, the use of paper and enamel hearkens to the very influential
photos by Thomas Demand. But the cute reality of Caccamise's work
undermines itself in comparison to Demand's resolute fiction captured
lightning" ... a tribute to lowered expectations.
Let's just say "That '70s Art" is about as bright as
Ashton Kutcher, who happens to be in bed with a 40-something trying
to remain relavant in an entertainment industry that worships youth.
Sure, they're having fun and look good but ... do we need more validation
for the hollow nostalgia of a youth scene gone by?
Caccamise is making joke-art, but it's like Carrot Top's prop comedy
compared to Claes Oldenberg, who was so much drier and less stylized
in presentation. I grant that they may be funny, but it is hardly
A piece like "relaxed lightning" says it all: "Mellow
out dude and enjoy the ride ... everything is OK."
Problem is everything is not OK and this third-generation cute
art doesn't do it for me (Murakami and Nara are the first generation,
Karen Kilimnik and Rachel Feinstein's fantasy sculpture are the
Caccamise's work follows a formula like all hipster art: It's full
of easily recognized semiotic signs, but in the end it's a marketing
strategy that only works on the Portland Mercury crowd. It works
on hipsters precisely because they too desperately want to believe
that their baby-boomer parents will approve complicitly in these
shared parent-to-child Peter Pan syndrome aesthetics. It's my generation's
challenge to reassess the America our parents created and Brooklyn
art is failing horribly, while the baby boomer trust-fund support
system keeps this kind of art on the dole.
For better art of nearly the same aesthetic territory, Roy Lichtenstein's
sculpture humbles young upstarts like Caccamise whose profound
impotence cannot be overcome as long as they chase a quick, cute
buck in Brooklyn or Chelsea.
Comparatively, Lichtenstein owned his impotence and turned toys
into tough-to-dismiss art. Caccamise's art is like shooting fish
in a barrel.
More succesfully, Doug Morris also relies on craft and has more
than a few rainbows as well, but I think he is one of the better
artists of this rather soft genre.
Especially when the work is less elaborate and more formal, such
as in "Untitled."
Morris's cut-foam constructions echo Fat Tuesday party bonnets
and their relationship to tribal masks and Taco Bell polystyrene
make them a very interesting confluence of trash and syncretic tribal
behavior. It is this anthropological approach that holds some promise,
because it addesses the roots of our problems: the human tendency
to want to party now and clean up later.
Upon discussion, I teased out that Paul Klee was a very early influence
for Morris and I contended that no artist is more influential amongst
these crafty kids. Morris learned his lessons well, whereas Caccamise
simply illustrates current trends that are better done in Diesel