Portland art blog + news + exhibition reviews + galleries + contemporary northwest art

recent entries

Late May Institutional Links
Early May links
Ending April Institutional Links
Weekend Picks
Thoughts on Tuski leaving PNCA
Mid April Links
America's Whispered Truths closing at Archer Gallery
Early April Critique of Institution Links
Spring Cleaning Cluster Reviews
Spring Calls
More Spring Cleaning

recent comments

Double J



Book Review
Calls for Artists
Design Review
Openings & Events
About PORT

regular contributors


Tori Abernathy
Amy Bernstein
Katherine Bovee
Emily Cappa
Patrick Collier
Arcy Douglass
Megan Driscoll
Jesse Hayward
Sarah Henderson
Jeff Jahn
Kelly Kutchko
Drew Lenihan
Victor Maldonado
Christopher Moon
Jascha Owens
Alex Rauch
Gary Wiseman



Guest Contributors
Past Contributors
May 2019
April 2019
March 2019
February 2019
January 2019
December 2018
November 2018
October 2018
September 2018
August 2018
July 2018
June 2018
May 2018
April 2018
March 2018
February 2018
January 2018
December 2017
November 2017
October 2017
September 2017
August 2017
July 2017
June 2017
May 2017
April 2017
March 2017
February 2017
January 2017
December 2016
November 2016
October 2016
September 2016
August 2016
July 2016
June 2016
May 2016
April 2016
March 2016
February 2016
January 2016
December 2015
November 2015
October 2015
September 2015
August 2015
July 2015
June 2015
May 2015
April 2015
March 2015
February 2015
January 2015
December 2014
November 2014
October 2014
September 2014
August 2014
July 2014
June 2014
May 2014
April 2014
March 2014
February 2014
January 2014
December 2013
November 2013
October 2013
September 2013
August 2013
July 2013
June 2013
May 2013
April 2013
March 2013
February 2013
January 2013
December 2012
November 2012
October 2012
September 2012
August 2012
July 2012
June 2012
May 2012
April 2012
March 2012
February 2012
January 2012
December 2011
November 2011
October 2011
September 2011
August 2011
July 2011
June 2011
May 2011
April 2011
March 2011
February 2011
January 2011
December 2010
November 2010
October 2010
September 2010
August 2010
July 2010
June 2010
May 2010
April 2010
March 2010
February 2010
January 2010
December 2009
November 2009
October 2009
September 2009
August 2009
July 2009
June 2009
May 2009
April 2009
March 2009
February 2009
January 2009
December 2008
November 2008
October 2008
September 2008
August 2008
July 2008
June 2008
May 2008
April 2008
March 2008
February 2008
January 2008
December 2007
November 2007
October 2007
September 2007
August 2007
July 2007
June 2007
May 2007
April 2007
March 2007
February 2007
January 2007
December 2006
November 2006
October 2006
September 2006
August 2006
July 2006
June 2006
May 2006
April 2006
March 2006
February 2006
January 2006
December 2005
November 2005
October 2005
September 2005
August 2005
July 2005
June 2005

contact us


Contact us






powered by


Movable Type 3.16

This site is licensed under a


Creative Commons License

Sunday 01.21.07

« Indoor Wildernesses: a thematic art walk in Chinatown | Main | Social Calendar • Jan 22-Jan 26 »

Mao Chairman Mao: Jim Riswold at Augen Gallery

Detail from "Mao Home and Garden" Exhibition, Jim Riswold 2006

What is Power? Where does it come from, and who really has it? What grants it to those that wield it, brandishing the formless, seething orb with the stealth of the keenest guru? The power of Grayskull? Good fashion sense? A dashingly short moustache and celebrity smile? The color red? What is it exactly that places the supposed powerful at the top of the power-hungry food chain, and when are they removed from said salty pedestal only to be replaced by another? It is an invisible battle of quite abstract yet very human ideas, yet one we are all susceptible to, as it runs rampant and virile throughout the very threads of our society. From our earliest days, these hierarchies plague and organize us, elevate and destroy us, and cause us to analyze why the hell we take ourselves so damn seriously.

Jim Riswold's latest show at Augen Gallery, Mao Home and Garden, explores, questions, defuncts, makes fun, and punches in the gut and runs with the notion of power and the powered. The former advertising master mind who once worked for ad giant, Weiden and Kennedy, Riswold is cunningly adept at creating an extremely readable and clear, poster-like visual language with which he subversively castrates his subjects. Upon entering the Augen, Chairman Mao (Ha!)

Installation Shot from "Mao Home and Garden" Augen Gallery 2007

greets the viewer times ten, each time engulfed in the most saturated red, each time scale-bending your mind and eye as the six foot flawless photographs appear to be much more figurine than statue. Here, form and content marry for the first time within this show and live happily ever after throughout the gallery, somersaulting kaleidoscopically and exponentially throughout the space of the Augen. The smiling face of the great dictator is hooked into a rug on the floor that will be walked across, and his heroic figure has been painted on a set of China (double ha!) atop which hamburgers and fried chicken props are placed. Greasy leftovers upon such historically sacred ground are dangerously imminent.

Riswold understands his audience as well as his maniacal subjects did. Next to each piece, he adds the element of written text that mirrors the ideas behind his images. Coincidentally, the language of political manifesto and advertising are combined, suddenly existing on the same plane. By doing so, Mao's words are a ridiculous sales pitch, contradictory to themselves and blatantly wanting something from their targets. Once again, context is everything. Working in the veins of Pop Art and Warhol, Cervantes, Kubrick, Goya, the creators of South Park and Team America to name a few, Riswold satirizes language and rearranges contexts to displace accepted hierarchies and monsters and remind us why we might even want to step on the American flag occasionally to keep ourselves in check. There is imminent danger in not having work like Riswold's around. He warns us not to forget to question, to make fun, to take the power out of that which declares itself powerful. However, one cannot help but wonder why such a culturally savvy and politically interested artist such as Riswold chooses only to deal with such dated subjects. So much of the weight of the purposeful displacement of these figures is lost in the context of history, which Riswold cannot entirely remove. Their atrocities, while merciless and awful, are distant, and thus, while Mao's image was once sacred, is (at least in the U.S.) not nearly so any longer. The work gambles with the icons of horror that may be too hackneyed to serve up the punch Riswold is seeking and, while conceptually and formally sound, breaks no ground.

Posted by Amy Bernstein on January 21, 2007 at 23:39 | Comments (2)


It is well known that artists in China were required to paint Mao with certain colors, and could only depict him as a hale, robust man. Artists began to stray from these requirements, probably at great personal and familial peril. I saw an exhibition of a group of Chinese artists in Salina, Kansas, at the Salina Art Center of all places, that were doing just this. These works had tremendous impact because of the risk involved and the fact that Mao affected their lives every day. The weight of history was on their side.

Not only is the "weight of the purposeful displacement... lost in the context of history," but the weight Riswold probably wanted didn't exist in the first place because of his relationship, or lack thereof, to Mao.

I don't really get why Riswold chose Mao when there are far more personally relevant tyrants to satirize.

Why not eschew the easy road, Mr. Riswold, and depict a public figure that is going to put some people on edge? How about Pat Buchanan? Even Dubya would be a little easy at this point. Let's push it a little and try Bush in that Communist-grey get-up, or a local public figure as extremist tyrant featured in a glossy-paged home-style magazine...

Posted by: graves [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 22, 2007 07:43 PM

Well, China as an economic superpower is the big topic for this century so I suspect Riswold is playing off the old 20th century stereotypes of Mao and modernism to be purposefully anachronistic. The show also seems to be an installation ... not just a series of individual pieces, also communistic.

Posted by: Double J [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 23, 2007 09:40 AM

Post a comment

Thanks for signing in, . Now you can comment. (sign out)

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)

Remember me?

s p o n s o r s
Site Design: Jennifer Armbrust   •   Site Development: Philippe Blanc & Katherine Bovee