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Wednesday 08.24.05

« How to Be an Artist | Main | Ploeger at Newspace »

Portland gallery "going" in August

Brown, Essenhigh by Zach Kircher

I don't expect much from August gallery shows but there were more than a few things for the curious this month. You've still got through Saturday the 27th to catch most of em.

Actually, I'm still surprised at how fast Portland is growing up in the Pearl District and some of the newer buildings are finally showing a new boldness in design. I predict a second phase of condos seeking to distinguish themselves from the rather OK designs that have already gone up.

As for art my favorite work in August was Zach Kircher's, "Brown, Essenhigh" at Savage Art Resources. (gallery closing thoughts at end of this post, art first folks)

Kircher's one hell of a painter. Will we see Cecily Brown in Playboy or Maxim? It's possible (she's been in Vogue enough), but truth be told this painting is more revealing than the cheesecake.

I like both painters but Inka Essenhigh is better and less of a pouty-panderer than Brown and I want to believe that is why Essenhigh has a slightly less revealing pictorial situation here. Also, there is something hilarious about hard edge abstraction as a bra for two abstracted but still figurative painters too. Kircher is awfully good and he's skewered everyone from De Kooning to Elizabeth Peyton over the years.


For First Thursday (as usual) I started at The Laura Russo Gallery, where Mel Katz was predictably good. The gallery is just blocks from my place in the heart of Portland's expensive pasta district, NW 21st Street.

This is another strong vital show from a smart, vibrant guy with brilliant white hair. His art smarts show in the elegant designs of his sculpture and he was a key reason the legendary PVCA kunsthalle hosted the likes of Dan Flavin and Carl Andre. It is no secret Portland could now really use another truly serious kunsthalle.

As for Katz's work, his clean, spare and unfussy work simultaneously reminds me of Ellsworth Kelly, Calder and Mark Di Suvero ( a list of favorites). Some artists get sappy as they get older and some just get clearer and even more unapologetic, Katz is in the latter group.

Pearl District:


I felt Emily Ginsberg's show at the Nine Gallery (PORT review here) was well done but not as effective as her brilliant wallpaper pieces a few years ago. These works were somewhat Rube-Goldbergy and their diagrammatic silhouette quality reminded me of Kara Walker but lacked any coherent narrative charge, humor or seriousness that distinguishes Walker. They were more like the symbols found in an unusually entertaining DVD player owner's manual.

Brendan Clenaghen's New Eyes (L)

Pulliam Deffenbaugh Gallery had a group show with some really excellent pieces. The best of which were Brendan Clenaghen's "New Eyes," Brian Borrello's new motor oil and charcoal works and Linda Hutchin's "Reiteration" series.

This was to be the last PD show in their (ugh) carpeted space before the move into their swank space on NW Flanders street but the bay area bazaar curated by Laurie Reid for will have that distinction in September. Notably, the new gallery space is dealer owned and will sport uber chic, gun metal grey clad steel flooring.

PD's new digs

Yes, this is Portland's first iron clad gallery. The new space will hopefully be ready at the end of September? PDX Gallery's new home will be next door.

With these two galleries, Elizabeth Leach Gallery around the corner and Blackfish across the street, this block between NW Glisan and Flanders on 9th will become the undisputed gallery hub of Portland.

Just down the street the 2 month old Beppu Wiarda Gallery on NW 9th Street Judy Vogland's "Reluctant Reliquary" was a deft bit of assemblage.

Somewhere between a more frantic Joseph Cornell on roids and a somewhat cleaner and more timid Robert Rauschenberg, this is a nice piece that outclassed everything else in the gallery. She also gets points for the mirror which reflects the viewer's feet… it's an engaging work. Often the other works simply filled their pictorial space in a suffocating way.


At the Everett Station Lofts Amy Ruppel's show at Pause showed how far she has matured since she was the poster child of the last Oregon Biennial.

This was a sustained well executed show and all she needs is to do is incorporate more surprise and risk. Then she will be ready for gallery representation. Hint, don't overexpose your next body of work and ask for some studio visits from the new gallerists. Lots of artists are talented, but Ruppel is solid on top of it. All she needs is a little more nerve.

At Compound's super powers show Michael Leavitt's The Greatest American Hero was a guilty pleasure (and completely dates me as a child of the 70's). Noted designer Alex Gross's "X-Ray" painting stole the show though. Yes it's completely reliant on nostalgia but it masters that trendy beast so well I have to approve.

Corey Smith's Southward

At Backspace, pro snowboarder Corey Smith had a lot of Baudelaire meets Warhol paintings. Some were nearly witty like, "My Secret to Staying Young and Handsome," which sported some cigarettes and beer. Maybe that painting is too much of a Bon Mott and more of a lifestyle illustration than strong art but "Southward" shows a level of wry restraint that has me watching this artist.

At Motel the neo-Victoriana temple of princess power had some very good and some disappointing works. My favorite was, "The Lovers," by Jesse Rose Vala who created all of the strongest pieces. "The Lovers" has all the classic moves, an odd couple and weird forces beyond their control plus stark negative and positive space.

As a show the lavender wallpaper and satin ribbons made this otherwise simple drawing show a kind of surreal Disney meets Richard Dadd in fairy-land event.


At Chambers, I was happy to see a young artist like Paul Fujita selling so well. It's a good start for a new gallery too. His work is still a bit young but I like how his gallerist got behind him. Work #3 is his best but I'd love to see what would happen if he took some cues from Braque's later work and mixed it with his Skateboard culture savvy, right now it is too dense and doesn't breathe.

Last, at Gallery 500 Dan Gilsdorf's Interstate show was even heavier handed than Daniel Kaven's show last month. Since I juried the coming September show, it had better have some nuance after these carnivals (not bad but they get old fast). Gilsdorf is a crowd pleaser for the ADHD art viewing crowd and is filled with well made gizmos but it's so literal it puts me off. On a more positive note his shadow works with oil drilling platforms were a nice antidote. They were touching, ghostlike and not heavy handed in the same way, in fact they where like classic B&W films. Wheras, an art machine that makes army boots march called "Destination Known" may serve a political purpose but it's basically a motorized political cartoon.


Gallery Closing: Savage Art Resources

Also, this was the last show at the now closed gallery as reported in the Oregonian; the signs were there weeks ago and became clear when the gallery pulled out of the Affair at the Jupiter Hotel art fair.

First, I just want to say that I appreciate any progressive gallerist with the guts to do it. This is all despite the fact the generalist press likes to kick arts people on the way out, especially if they dont drive a Ford Festiva. Let's be honest, serious gallerists are heroes because it's an impossible and thankless job and it is much easier to be a private citizen. Gallery closings are natural and only boring art scenes have galleries that never close.

With that in mind Savage has put on some of the best shows in Portland for the last 5 years. Simply put, Tracy Savage no longer had the fire to run a gallery and it's better for her to bow out than linger.

Her legacy is the Greenberg collection, a deal which she brokered and brought to the Portland Art Museum in 2000. She also showed the city what a classy and edgy gallery can be.

Portland's greatly expanding art scene has room for 2 or 3 more top tier established galleries and the race is on between newcomers like Chambers, Motel, Gallery 500, Beppu Wiarda, RC and at least 2 other galleries that are threatening to materialize. To survive they will need a mix of young energy, good eyes and intense PR savvy because this is one crowded and competative scene.

Posted by Jeff Jahn on August 24, 2005 at 21:57 | Comments (0)


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