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