It also begs to be looked at ... and through.
In the last five years Portland has gained a lot
more glass and it's not just in the architecture. Suitably, nowhere
is the "look and evaluate" more prevalent than in Portland's rapidly
evolving visual art scene.
Now September is upon us and that means the perfect
storm of art activities is upon the once sleepy Northwest city
of Portland, with Affair,
TBA, Portland Art Focus, Troca Brasil, etc.
Things will only get better in October with the opening
of the Portland Art Museum's Center for Modern and Contemporary
Actually, before the latest wakeup call, Portland
wasn't always sleepy. Back in the late 1800s and early 1900s it
was a creepy place where you might enjoy a drink and then suddenly
wake up with a headache on a ship bound for Shanghai. Back in
the early 1900s (when Seattle was clearly giant steps behind)
the West Hills grandees were collecting Monet, Gauguin, Picasso
and Brancusi. They built a museum, hosted the armory show as it
traveled and apparently knew legendary art dealer Curt Valentin
well enough to receive a nice Ernst Ludwig Kirchner painting as
Now the new condos, restaurants and art boom in town
are creating a new see-and-be-seen cultural transparency in the
city. Instead of Portlanders traveling to Paris, Parisians have
a reason to visit here.
Even the new Roy Lichtenstein brushstroke sculpture
mocks the very star of the new museum wing, the Greenberg Collection
(which has some good stuff but is in many ways more important
historically than aesthetically).
Lavadour in the Henry's lobby.
In this new Portland, where even the museum can laugh
at itself publicly, it isn't tough to find out who donated what
to which organization.
This is Portland's new philanthropic paradigm shift
toward public support.
(Many newcomers with the means and experience from
bigger cities have sat out of the museum expansion simply because
they want to see what PAM does.)
The change is in effect and instead of the old behind-closed-door
Masonic lodges of the '50s, things have taken on contemporary
transparency and we can tell who collects boring French posters
in the Pearl and who has a good eye for contemporary art.
All this can be done simply by looking in the windows
or paying attention to who buys what at the galleries.
Even the various high-rise condo lobbies and restaurants
in the Pearl are becoming visual events, like the new Pinnacle
condo or the subtle entrance for the Henry, which sports five
fine James Lavadour paintings.
Still, the better artists in town tend to have more
edge than the dealers and collectors who form this interesting
Bermuda Triangle where gallery art disappears until the artists
(if they are lucky) get displayed in the museum.
Will the collectors get edgier or cheesier?
The good thing about all this cosmopolitan consumption
is that very little stays secret (if you are in the loop). This
organization will lead to bigger things in coming years.
Question is, will the leaders active right now seize
the moment with more glass or go for more creme-colored brick?
Katherine Bovee and Philippe Blanc
Legacy: Boxed Version
PCC Northview Gallery
through Sept. 16
and Blanc at the Northview Gallery.
The most sophisticated August show in Portland was
by the young husband-and-wife team of Katherine Bovee and Philippe
Blanc at PCC Sylvania's wonderful Northview Gallery.
The gallery sports some great brutalist architecture,
characterized by extensive use of cast concrete, glass and two
long white walls that frame a big window. In this setting the
Northview seems to swallow the exhibition whole, but that's part
of its sophisticated charm.
Instead of addressing the space, the numerous cardboard
surrogates for Macintosh computers are clustered in one corner
of the gallery space.
At first I was annoyed with the insular arrangement,
but in time I noticed how the work seemed to ignore the real world
and focus on a series of familiar yet strange contemporary fetishes,
most of which were analogous to computer-geek culture. To further
the pun, geek columns (I mean Greek columns) appear on the idealized
computer screens and hearken back to computer games like "Civilization,"
which fetish the look of Hellenic civilization without exploring
"Boxed Set" (detail).
Another contemporary art fetish is the use of cheap
materials, in this case cardboard and clotheslines, as surrogates
for computer plastic and wires.
This use of materials seems to comment on the trope
rather than utilize it and, at first, one wonders if this is just
an uber-chic computer design that only looks like it's made of
cardboard ... sort of like those cell phones with soft-knit covers.
The comment is a kind of academic absurdity. It is
a Dadaist combination where the utility of form is defeated by
focusing on the physical form as a way to nullify the philosophy
that led to the design in the first place.
The end result of "Boxed Set" is an interesting
parallel between ubiquitous Dadaesque currents in contemporary
art (like uselessness and cheap readymade materials) and geek
culture's fetish of nostalgia, be it Greek civilization or outdated
What does it mean? Ha!
It's really about how subcultures spend their time
and how a very good academic can combine two parallel currents
into something even more absurd while ringing true to daily life.
A more academic show would be read with a simpler, more literal
narrative. But Boxed Version goes further into the roots of obscure
art and geek obsessions and, like the source of the Nile, holds
onto a kind of mythic status as a kind of achievement. Online
we connect to others and network while turning ever more inward
and this fetish of mythic nostalgia seems like a desire to rewrite
history on a personal basis
Despite its appropriateness here, Bovee and Blanc's
next show needs to address the space rather than ignore it.
Still, Boxed Version is a dramatic increase in sophistication
for these two young artists, putting them in league with only
a select few contemporary Portland artists who preserve the enigma
that keeps really challenging art interesting.