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Saturday 10.28.06

« Apply! | Main | All of tomorrow's art-y's, W's first art issue »

Last chance to go solo in October: Guth, McCormick, Pack etc.

MK Guth's Braid at Elizabeth Leach Gallery

Group shows are important as social mixers and as an opportunity to see a lot of different artists but now Portland's ever-maturing art scene's focus has increasingly shifted to solo shows where artists are truly gauged. Even the Oregon Biennial was quickly supplanted attention-wise by numerous solo shows this summer.

That said it is the last day for these worthy solo shows:

MK Guth's Growing Stories at Elizabeth Leach Gallery marked the return of one of Portland's brightest installation artists after years of collaboration and video work. There was a palpable buzz of excitement at the opening but its best to catch this work in less crowded circumstances during its last day today.

Growing Stories focuses on pop culture, expectations and the sort of personalized fairytales that people tell themselves to get through the daily existential grind. The familiar fairytale "Rapunzel" with her famously long hair in a tower is the thread that quite literally ties it all together.

The most direct piece in the show is a video where Guth, dressed in crazy long blond braids acts in the role of a cloistered peasant woman who seems to learn about the world through TV shows, movies and the internet. Physically, the viewing environs for the flat screen it is presented on seems to be a bit crowed but the video gets its point across with numerous "walk on" appropriated TV shows and movie moments while Guth's Rapunzel character talks about how she could have made her life turn out differently… maybe.

With a constant barrage of received secondary experience the video doesn't really seem to take off until the Rapunzel gets off the couch and closes the distance with the viewer. I preferred the more open-ended works in the show, possibly because the video was purposefully oppressive and literal.

The centerpiece of the show is the installation Braid. Reminiscent of seminal works by Louise Bourgeois (the larger spiders and woven works), Jenine Antoni and Eva Hesse's rope piece, it's a proliferating string of braids which start from a central point in the room. The resulting net of hair runs the color and material gamut from blond to brunette to blue fabric. Like most good fairy tales it is whimsical but with a dark and foreboding streak. From a formal standpoint Braid works by tying up the whole room but it's the conceptual part that makes it work. Each braid open-endedly signals as series of metaphorical decisions and commitments, this is what life is about and the association to rope is an appropriate one. It could mean anything and probably does, from girlish little house on the prairie style pigtails to the "Swiss Miss" it's all about a hairstyle few grown women wear, unless they are playing Brunhilde in Wagner's Ring. As both a signifier of young women and an out and out ass-kicking valkyrie Braid is a very successful melding of power and powerlessness as a series of metaphorical decisions.

Guth's Kelly and Dave (lenticular photograph)

As a compliment to Braid the dual image "lenticular photographs" where the figures are locked in a constant tug of war (with a braid) only reinforce this rather adult fantasy where there is no happily ever after, just the struggle to keep up the struggle. Nice, existential and always relevant, I still preferred the one photograph where the two character's hair is braided together. The photograph captures a moment of inertia and holds it in stasis that captures the struggle of the lenticulars with a dryer sense of humor. Overall, a very complete show that also sold very well, an impressive coup for the gallery and artist.

Detail of McCormick's Visual Language II

At the New American Art Union, Rose McCormick's The Bushwick paintings show her growth after spending a year in New York painting up a storm. She has tightened up her imagery and technique considerably with her multipart painting Visual Language II being the standout. VL2 is series of pictograms labeled; wisdom, justice etc. and instead of becoming some hackneyed tarot card knockoff VL2 really worked. It came off like some gifted interpretation of Paul Klee and Philip Guston and nearly all of them succeeded. Instead of her old skumbled surfaces her technique is now clean and precise. The effect is more confident and doesn't seem to be asking for the viewer's empathy to carry the day as it did in the past.

Overlap (2006)

Less inspired was her "Paul Bunyan and the Big blue Ox (featuring the bull from Guernica), yes it's funny-ish but mixing a lumberjack with a bull that signified the Spanish dictator Franco is just plain bad taste. Much better was the egg Tempera on linen "Overlap." It has that great Andrew Wyeth longing to it wit a no nonsense and poetic figure to ground interplay. Overall though the show keeps switching styles so often it is tough to get a read on her output. Her best stuff is very strong, with a Morris Graves-like sense of mystical poetry but complicated and updated with a very dry sense of humor. She finishes the painting she's been doing in the space on Saturday so check it out. Next time if she buckles down to produce a coherent show of all mysteriously funny and mystically poetic paintings and stops using Picasso as a crutch she will be one of the best figurative painters I have seen emerge in years. This time out she gave us a glimpse that such an achieving isn't out of the question in the near future.

Time to wait and see.

Jen Pack's Harriet

Similarly, Jen Pack at Pulliam Deffenbaugh has grown by leaps and bounds and unlike McCormick has put on a completely sustained show. Works like "Harriet" and monolith own the space and the entire installation feels like stumbling across a sublime kite convention at the beach. Utterly pleasing it has none of the fussiness one sees in a lot of fabric art. Sometimes art is there to make us feel better and more alive, Pack achieves that goal in spades as a kind of channeler of Eva Hesse and Paul Klee.

Last, but certainly not least is Paula Rebsom at Tilt Gallery which I reviewed earlier this month. It is simply the best presented show in Portland for the month of October (excepting Pierre Huyghe at PAM). Actually, both seem to be studies in the conceits made to the viewer. Of the two Rebsom is much less of an "entertainer" and there is something I really enjoy about that.

Posted by Jeff Jahn on October 28, 2006 at 10:47 | Comments (2)


McCormick's painting of Paul Bunyan with the Big Blue Ox from Picasso's editorial cartoon is too perfect. I wondered why I hadn't seen it before. She should make t-shirts or prints. They would probably sell like hotcakes. I'd buy one.

Posted by: jerseyjoe [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 28, 2006 05:59 PM

MK's Braid will be shown (and grow) at Linfield college next month.

Posted by: Double J [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 30, 2006 09:59 AM

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