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Friday 07.28.06

« Organism launch event | Main | Weekly Web Round-up »

Your Insider's Guide to the Oregon Biennial

Federico Nessi's Hero #1

The Oregon Biennial opens Saturday night. Here is your insider's guide:


Brad Adkins (Portland)
Marcy Adzich (Eugene)
Holly Andres (Portland)
Pat Boas (Beaverton)
Chandra Bocci (Portland)
Michael Brophy (Portland)
Benjamin Buswell (Portland)
Grace Carter and Holly Andres (Portland)
Houston (Portland)
David Eckard (Portland)
Andrew Ellmaker and Mark Brandau (Portland)
Ty Ennis (Portland)
Anna Fidler (Portland)
Emily Ginsburg (Portland)
Heidi Preuss Grew (Salem)
Jesse Hayward (Portland)
Mark Hooper (Portland)
Jo Jackson (Portland)
Kristan Kennedy (Portland)
Zack Kircher (Portland)
K.C. Madsen (Portland)
Federico Nessi (Portland)
Lucinda Parker (Portland)
Matthew Picton (Ashland)
Brittany Powell (Portland)
Shawn Records (Portland)
Vanessa Renwick (Portland)
David Rosenak (Portland)
Storm Tharp (Portland)
Mariana Tres (Portland)
Laura Vandenburgh (Springfield)
Bill Will (Portland)
Amanda Wojick (Eugene)

(PORT brought you this Oregon Biennial list first)

As the curator Jennifer Gately states in her essay, " Those who track the scene here will find relatively few surprises." That probably means you PORT readers. Overall though this roster is both refreshing and reassuring, pretty much guaranteeing that Gately wont be tarred and feathered (yes people were that testy in 2003).

Gately's apparent survival is good because she's likeable, smart and gutsy (the actual installation will show us how gutsy though). Juggling 35 artists is tough. Still the list isn't very radical and is basically a recap of the last 5 years… Here is some stuff that will prep you further.

Chandra Bocci's Gummi Big Bang II

People with amazing but under exposed solo shows like Mariana Tres, Emily Ginsberg, Ty Ennis (although it was a bit green) and Pat Boas are here for good reason. Also the defunct but awesome Haze Galley of 2004 is well represented with Chandra Bocci, K.C. Madsen and Jesse Hayward.


The biennial only has a few A list stars and a lot of interesting, attention worthy B team artists who are making a play for the A leagues. This is what biennials do; politically it would be boring to just take Oregon's A team. Yes James Lavadour, Tom Cramer, Jacqueline Ehlis , Gregory Grenon, Dianne Kornberg, Sean Healy, Dan May and Brendan Clenaghen etc. are the proven economic/artistic powerhouses in Portland (and sometimes beyond) but they have all been in biennials before.

The Stars:

This year three artists will predictably be the lightning rods for adoration and ridicule: Matthew Picton, David Eckard, and Chandra Bocci. All have been noticeably absent from the last 2 biennials while creating some of the best installations seen on the West Coast. Picton already has won high critical praise in very important places. Yes, the museum is slow to pick up on the obvious "installation art" trend in Portland but that's what museums do… they come late to the party but look grand doing so. Better late than never I say. Let's give them a break while wearing the "I told you so," grin…. they know, they know, oh they know... they knew back in 2003 after the last biennial, now everybody knows. Let's all enjoy the fact we all know what we know.

Matthew Picton

Matthew Picton systematizes and translates the natural entropic processes like cracks forming in asphalt. It's this translation that makes his work so interesting… It's like a parallel universe where negative space is positive space and its "transcription" has a profound relationship to the very common process of scanning things digitally. Yet this is all analog so it qualifies as hyper analytical craft.

David Eckard makes kinky down on the farm sculptures. But it's his recent focus on civics that makes the newer work exceptionally strong.

Chandra Bocci will be reprising her Gummi Big Bang installation of 2003. It wasn't her best but it was a crowd pleaser. I like its focus on the creation myth as saccharine popsploitation installation. Her more recent dioramas are smaller and in many ways more decisive. She is a true virtuoso who operates between the love of advertising and disgust of the obvious come on inherent in the presentation of commodities. With her work you get both full force. She's more related to Warhol than Judy Pfaff, Phoebe Washburn or Sara Size are.

The Obvious:

They are so ubiquitous and such pillars of the community that Lucinda Parker and Michael Brophy's inclusion may make some groan, but I'm not one of them. It's an Oregon biennial and their take on the landscape is a defining part of the local landscape. I consider Brophy to be underrated still… even after the museum shows and Artforum review but he really needs to stretch himself. I think both of these artists get taken for granted here and their inclusion is a kind of "take a bow."

Storm Tharp is also obvious… he's so talented that his best pen and ink work simply blows away the New York doodle artists, yes all of them. He's more talented than a less inventive portraitist like John Currin but he needs to buckle down to achieve anything similar success wise. Instead, Storm doodles like the unholy combination of Franz Xavier Messerschmitt and Bernini with the shared art direction of Charo and Andy Warhol…. Which means he doesn't doodle at all. He's so fantastically talented he has yet to really do a big solo show that coherently makes his strengths apparent to the dimmest of viewers. Since this is a giant group show we won't get that here.

Amanda Wojick: she was a new star in the Oregon Biennial (all of these "obvious" artists have been in one before). She will be in competition with her last biennial appearance.

Jesse Hayward

Exciting break outs:

Jesse Hayward will have the most over the top thing likely to ever appear in an Oregon Biennial (which may mean it will suck massively). Its an island of paint and frames called the "Large Pod Project." It is literally an island of paint. He's systematic like Picton but completely different in that he creates systems of painting logic instead of applying translation systems.

One famous artist in town refers to his work as "kindergarten superstar" but I think that's a good thing. Tom Cramer and Sean Healy think a lot of him, and I think he might become a force to reckon with. Yes we play tennis together and I'm expecting him to wow me, he's always been promising but I want something that lays out his aesthetic both forcefully and with enough sustained moves to get his sophisticated and hyperactive vocabulary across. If Picton is the dry and restrained Lou Reed of this show Jesse could be the Iggy Pop. We shall see.

It sounds like PAM's curatorial staff let Jesse go for it. I've worked with Jesse and he brings everything including the neighbor's kitchen sink to the table but refines his ideas as he installs, curatorially this edit on the fly M.O. requires trust. At the end of the day though this is Jesse's chance to grab some of the spotlight and that is what biennials are really about. He has yet to fully convince me (although his Fresh Trouble piece was real good) but every time he creates a new body of work he is a little bit stronger, a good sign.

Still From Jo Jackson's History: the Complete Drawings

Jo Jackson, this is sad but at least 50% of quasi arty Portlanders don't realize that Jo Jackson is a famous artist, yes everywhere but where she lives… hilarious. She's married to Chris Johanson who is even more famous. But all that is besides the point, she is a good artist and a nice person to talk to. Jackson's "History: the Complete Drawings" video is really a wonderful distillation of the present obsession with looking how we got to this mixed up point in history. So much for the end of history all you 80's theoreticians! Let's just say you can't remove the past, it's a battle that can't be won no matter how well the paper is written. Especailly when the Middle East is getting attention. There is an interesting essay in the Postmodern denial of history and the general glossing over of middle eastern politics and oil during the 80's. Probably something there.

Pat Boas, she used to be a bit too academic but these mutating drawings, reviewed on PORT last year are amazingly good. Few people saw the Sylvania show so this is great for her.

Grace Carter and Holly Andres video "Dandelion." I have a soft spot for the flower… maybe it's my love of "Dandelion Wine" by Ray Bradbury? From the video stills the massive, rather straight forward summertime nostalgia should be a huge hit. Who in Oregon really hates summer?

Federico Nessi's photographs have a similar nostalgic feel with a little bit of Justine Kurland to them too, should be exciting.

Heidi Preuss Grew is a talented and witty ceramicist with a fairytale vibe, looks good from the pictures.

I really want to take in Vanessa Renwick's video before making any judgement but I'm excited to see it.

Benjamin Buswell mines the well worn Richard Prince meets Tom Freidman vein...

Some Trends:

Ok the trends here are generally the same as any other place with a good art scene: Fantasy, Landscape (Oregon's art scene can do this better than most any other place, a show would practically curate itself), self conscious portraiture (Marcel Dzama followers), drawings on paper (first Dzama then San Francisco in the late 90's then Brooklyn) , nostalgia (2004 Whitney Biennial), Joke Art or visual Bon Mots? (Richard Prince, Dzama again, Martin Creed, Sara Lucas and Tom Freidman devotees), History, the previously mentioned installation proliferation and Oregon scene's other best thing, abstraction.

Yep, I'm half tempted to host a night of drawings using nothing but root beer… call it the Dzama-ripoff-o-rama. No that "so over it's now a parody of itself" trend isn't exclusive to Oregon but at least we can acknowledge its omnipresence through ridicule. Maybe it's a bit like the amusing idea of having Richard Dean Anderson (aka MacGyver) and Tom Freidman to collaborate on some exploding duct tape project.

Actually the fact that all these trends are here is a form of acknowledgement.

Yes the 2006 Oregon Biennial will be all over the map and that's the point. The really telling moment will be who has strong solo shows after.

I've heard rumblings for Picton, Hayward, Adkins… Tharp and everyone else with galleries will have them too.

Posted by Jeff Jahn on July 28, 2006 at 19:45 | Comments (1)


Verdict, a solid effort that due to all of the "already seen" work won't have all that huge an effect. 1999 changed Portland and 2003 was massivly contentious. This is more like a recap with some fresh bits. Ill need a few less crowded visits to really do any kind of proper review but here are some impressions.

The Schnitzer Sculpture court is more physical and more bombastic, the Wilson-Collins gallery space can generally be characterized as restrained. The layout of the spaces set up curatorial rules and generally dont break or test the limits of those forms so much as fill them out.

For example, there isn't much adrenaline in the Wilson-Collins gallery, not that adrenaline is always a good thing but it does seem like a bit of bi-polar extraverted/restrained meme. With so much work this had to be intentional.

Favorite works: Renwick*, Picton*, Bocci, Hayward, Boas, Jackson*, Eckard, Tres and Nessi. Only Renwick's video and Nessi's photos were new to me. A lot of the other new work was sub par. "*" = would really enhance the museum's collection.

There is some very obvious MFA stuff here that falls flat... except Maraina Tres, whose MFA work last year was very mature.

Brad Adkins deserved a better placement/presentation.

Bocci and Hayward win the all important "hey look at me" presentation war in this complicated group show.

Picton absolutely owns the sophisticated restraint award.

Renwick's video is major... expect it to be included in any major show based around the theme of "Energy" or the edifice of man. Bonami must be notified of its existence.

Posted by: Double J [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 30, 2006 11:48 PM

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