Morphosis' unfinished courthouse in Eugene (*update: Port's review and pictures of the finished courthouse
It had been several years since I made the hour and a half trek south to Eugene but
this was my chance. With a new museum, a 35 year retrospective and one of the
most exciting new buildings in America (by Morphosis) under construction there was plenty to see.
It isn't done yet but the new Wayne
L. Morse United States Courthouse by Thom Mayne
is the first building to
threaten Rem Koolhaas' Seattle Central Library as the coolest new building in
the Pacific Northwest (although I doubt a courthouse can beat the planet's best new public building in the last 25 years). Artists featured are international
, the Bay Area's Kris
and Portland's own rising national star Sean
. The building opens this summer. For more info check out the official website
Sean Healy in one of his Portland facilities
Healy is creating a number of glass doors (with images of people from Eugene)
which jurors will pass through like a civic Scilla and Charybdis. It's an interesting idea that from what I've
seen should be one of the more engaging public art projects around. It's absolutely
accessible but in Sean's typical wry and challenging way, it obliquely questions how one
conceives of their peers.... all through the use of transparent and semitransparent glass.
The New Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art at the U of
Eugene is also the home of the new Jordan
Schnitzer Museum of Art
. I like the Art Nouveau/Moorish facade in these
days of cultural polarization. The building's insides are very different from
the one I remembered before the renovation, completed last year. Luckilly they
kept the courtyard, which I've always considered a jewel. All museums should
have inner sanctums and this one's is open to the sky.
The galleries have some surprises including an ok Franz Klein, a very good
Adolf Gottlieb, a swell Frank Stella and a surprising Barnett Newman on paper.
The Jenny Holtzer pops up when you least expect it as well and I can't help
but think that any of these works would be major gap fillers in the Portland
Art Museum's collection. It is totally surprising to find it here and it will
make your trip to Eugene from Portland absolutely worth it.
As far as the current art faculty show, Eye Contact (open through April 9th), it looks a lot like an uncluttered version of the
2003 Oregon Biennial. The room itself is gorgeous,
the best gallery space in the state. Overall, the show is a bit stiff and academic,
but it definitely proves they still have the best art program in the state (PNCA
and PSU's faculty are producing a lot edgier work though). Painters like Carla Bengston
and Jan Reeves both have fresher pieces here compared to their work in the 2003
Oregon Biennial. Whereas Amanda
, one of my favorite artists in the state (who was also in the 2003
Oregon Biennial) didn't have some of her strongest work on view here. It seemed
unfocused and jumbled... the form lacked definition and seemed a bit unfinished.
Hopefully her work in the upcoming 2006 Biennial will avoid this problem with
sophomore sequel jinxs. Laura Vandenberg's drawings stood out as well but more as an
installation of a swarm of drawings. Individually few really stood out, she's in
the upcoming Oregon Biennial as well. Kivarkis' Brooch
The best things in the show were Anya Kivarkis' strange jewelry designs. Their
odd surfaces and intriguing designs make me wonder if the jewelers here are
better because they are held to more competitive standards? There are soo many
jewelry makers littering the planet but these pieces really confuse me in a way that
most painters and installation artists don't anymore. Jewelers generally work
to higher tolerances and maybe I'm attracted to them because of the current slap dash fetish of a lot of contemporary art now. (L) The Medium is the Message and (R) Chain of Events Cage
by Mike Walsh
Last but not least, the Mike E. Walsh show Timeline (which ended on March 30th) at the
Maude Kerns Art Center
was very provocative. Situated in a reconnoitered church, this show of 35 years
of output seemed to pack every inch of the space. The artist, an Oregon native
and Columbia University grad presented 2 distinct but related bodies of work;
dioramas or vitrines and installations. Both genres tackle sociopolitical subject matter like;
ritualism, HIV Aids, burials, the Vietnam War, Australian Aboriginal culture
and pop culture with characteristic 70's pluralism.
Here is a tour of some highlights:
Many of the vitrines and dioramas are very accomplished assemblages and works
like Standard Scales, 1981
or Palt (Together Alone), 2001
display a real sensitivity
for ritualized material usage that belies their syncretic cultural combinations. Peewee Myth (1990)
Other favorites were Peewee Myth
and It's the Law
all of which all
feel like HC Westerman meets Jennifer Bartlet by way of Roy Lichtenstein.
But it's his grittier earlier works like attachment #35, 1975 or The Medium
is the Message
, 1972 which really shine with their Joseph Cornell meets Robert
Rauschenberg poetics. This took a more ritualized memorial turn in 1976 with
Ritual Burial Project
which was included in the 1978 Oregon Biennial. In 1980
he completed Chain of Events Cage
, it works perfectly with The Medium is the
but it seems more personal. Walsh, a decorated Vietnam Veteran and world traveler
has had plenty of opportunities for personal reflection in the last 35 years and the depth shows.
His installation work addresses Vietnam and HIV AIDS expanding upon and complicating
the vocabulary of the more portable pieces. His Lest We Forget: a dialog on
, is pure social conceptual art but it is spatially conceptual by bringing
elements of the outdoors, like leaves, indoors. It's also symbolic of the lives
lost and the continuing tragedy of AIDS. Lest We Forget: A Dialogue on AIDS
The show ended March 30th but an institution in Portland should consider him
for his 40 year retrospective.
*update: Port's review and pictures of the finished courthouse by Thom Mayne
Mike E. Walsh's socially engaged conceptualism has been doing and saying what it wants for 35 years. He keeps his course, changing the forms, adjusting the themes, renewing the commitment. In his new 2006 installation "Palace Walk: Codex B, Egyptian Series," picturing 92 American soldiers killed in Iraq, he carries the case for art as political agument into the post 911 present. Walsh is one of the most engaging artists currently working in the Northwest and for that matter the US.
Visual artists of the 21st century, like Mike E. Walsh, refuse to repress the realities of AIDS - his seven AIDS installations, in his recent retrospective, date from 1985-2006, and insist on testifying to the truth of AIDS. The great loss to the arts community regionally (Portland gallery director/artist: William Jamison; Portland painter: August Encalada; Portland actors: Jerry Leith, Terry Nelson, Dennis Spaight, Rex Rabold, Jerry West; Portland opera singer: Ariel Rubstein; and Seattle painter: Michael Ehle) and nationally (Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Keith Haring, Robert Mapplethorpe, Frank Moore and David Wojnarowicz) - and the list goes on and on!
Walsh's memorials to artists, "Lest We Forget: A Dialogue on AIDS," teaches us much that we need to know about dying while giving permission to mourn. And after all, to be mortal is by definition to have to learn to mourn. In the next century art historians will look back at Walsh as a pioneering social conceptualist who dared to make a difference.