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

recent entries

Early September Links
Labor Day Weekend Picks
Museumy Links
Wendy Given at Vernissage
Mid August Links
Grace Kook-Anderson in Conversation
Portland Art Adventures
Early August Art News
August must see picks
End of July News
Alia Ali's Borderland at Bluesky
Mid Summer Reads

recent comments

Calvin Ross Carl
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
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

Thursday 06.21.07

« Artist Talks | Main | Great to be back »

Getting You to See What's Right in Front of You: Alison Owen at TILT

Alison Owen at TILT

One of the first things that you notice when you walk into the TILT Gallery and Project Space for New York artist Alice Owen's show is the room is practically empty. The room is very sparse and there are two large blank pieces of paper pinned to the wall.

No paintings. No drawings. No sculpture. No art. Just an empty room. Or is it?

Getting You to See dt 1.jpg
Detail of Alison Owen at TILT

After getting over the initial shock, you begin to notice strange little things as your eyes moves beyond the sheets of paper into the properties of the space itself. The baseboard seems to be a little thicker normal, there are strange pieces of architectural molding then begin to run over pieces the pieces of paper, and the large overhead beams seems to be dangerously close to splintering apart. Things might not begin to make much sense yet but you begin to realize that something really strange is happening here.

Alison is smart. She understands what it is like to go from one gallery to the next until we are so saturated with art and information that the experience becomes a big blur (except for PORT writers, of course). There is a certain language to art galleries: beautiful spaces, more or less white walls, things that look like art on the walls or on the floor. The space is important but only in its service to the work. The space of the gallery is designed to make the art look good as it's the art for sale, not the walls. You could almost say that, in most cases, the language of art exists in what is placed on the walls and not in the space itself. The spaces become interchangeable while the work remains unique.

Getting-You-to-See-dt 2.jpg
Detail of Alison Owen at TILT

But what if the work was the space? What if the conceptual ideas that drive a work are based on the physical characteristics of the gallery? It would mean that the work becomes indistinguishable from the physical space of the gallery. That everything could potentially be art: the shadows on the wall, the colors and shapes of the baseboard, the color of the columns and beams that support the ceiling, or even the colors and shapes of the road construction out the front window would all be fair game. Nothing would be taken for granted because you would never know if it was art or not. You would never know if the artist hand already been there before you, scouting out territory.

Well, this is what Alison has done with the front room of TILT. The baseboard that runs along the perimeter of the walls is thicker because she built a second baseboard on top of the first except that this one is broken into smaller, disjointed, sometimes painted to match the original baseboard and sometimes painted to pick up on the colors of the construction site outside. The colors and the forms are not invented but taken from cues in the gallery itself. The overhead beam is not really splintering, she had just built a second construction lower down the walls that riffs on the existing columns and beams. The space of the gallery is subtly reordered to create a construction that can convey an idea about art rather than architecture.

Detail of Alison Owen at TILT

Alison leaves this for you to discover for yourself although the blank sheets of paper are a big give away. It is almost like they are saying that if you are looking for art, you should look somewhere else because it is not in a blank sheet of paper no matter how large. But if you move to the edges of the paper, you can see the where she painted in the shadow so it creates a really complex interrelationship between what is art and what isn't. The great thing about the show is that you are never sure, but you have to discover the interventions and then decide for yourself.

Detail of Alison Owen at TILT

I think this where she is generous because she lets you have your own experience. You can draw your own conclusions about how you choose to interact with the space. The hierarchy between art and gallery wall completely breaks down. If you want to get down on your hands and knees to follow the baseboard around room, that is possible. If you want to stand back and try to take in the room as a whole that as is possible as well because there is no right way to experience the space. It is completely open ended. The definitions of what is art in the gallery context slowly erode away as the boundaries between art, space, and architecture all begin to blur. The experience is open ended but the trade off is that you have to be slightly on guard because as you walk around the gallery you are never sure where the art will turn up next.

Alison Owen at TILT Gallery and Project Space until June 30, 2007

Posted by Arcy Douglass on June 21, 2007 at 23:09 | Comments (7)


I liked this but I wasn't convinced the paper worked.

Owen is allright but Sarah Bostwick: http://www.gregorylindgallery.com/artists/bostwick/ is THE monster in this sort of thing.

I also wonder if the white gallery space might be less interesting for this kind of work than waiting rooms living rooms, offices etc.

Posted by: Double J [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 21, 2007 11:30 PM

I agree, the work would probably find itself more revealing if the setting was actually a space were it's purpose is clearly ment for something other than veiwing art. For me the work had to compete with the variances,scars, and irregularities of the space. Some elements I questioned as being part of the show intentionally, or left over elements of space repairs, from previous shows. The smell of food while I was there also brought another element into the space, that the work was not prepared to deal with.

Posted by: bnoodle [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 22, 2007 09:31 AM

I understand what you mean about the space but I do not agree with you. To me, because it was in a context meant for art we are forced to read and respond to the space in a way that we do not normally do when we go into an art gallery. I enjoyed the ambiguity about whether something was intentional or not, or whether something was art or not.

A piece of art, whether a drawing, painting or sculpture can never be anything more than you are willing to bring to it. Both times I saw her piece I had the room to myself so perhaps I had a different experience than you did.

Posted by: Arcy [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 22, 2007 12:23 PM

I thought it worked in the white box but I could see this being used to infest and subvert non gallery spaces... possibly with even more effect... what happens when you aren't expecting art at all?

Posted by: Double J [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 22, 2007 01:22 PM

I think it is interesting to think about what an installation like this would be in a situation outside of a gallery. It makes you wonder if you could take the language of an installation and then overlay it on to a "neutral" space. Would that overlay be able to redefine or transform the original space? I suppose it would depend on the installation and the space that it is put into.

I know that alot of people will disagree with this, but when I think about my best experiences about dealing with art very few if any have been public art. Maybe the blue chain link fence thing that Robert Irwin did at UCSD was pretty cool but I think it is difficult to generate a critical density of attention in an urban environment that makes looking at art really engaging. Perhaps there is too many distractions. This is just my opinoin though.

Maybe a good example, would be Michael Heizer's Double Negative. Let's say that you are driving in the desert, and you don't know where are you, and you suddenly come across these two giant slots cut into the earth. The slots relate to one another across the valley but other than that, if you did not pay attention in art history class, you do not have much to work with.

You might eventually conclude it was man made, that is has something to do with drawing, and about the interchange of positive and negative spaces. If you did not think it was art, you might think that you stumbled on a giant construction project from the sixties. But in either case, there is exchange of experience between you and the environment that may or may not be an art experience, whatever that is.

Now if you were take Double Negative and put it on Las Vegas Boulevard. It becomes about something else than it did when it was in the desert. Not necessarily better and not necessarily worse, but definitely different. Also remember the whole controversy with Richard Serra's Tilted Arc.

I think that what it comes down to, is that art makes you engage it on its own terms. I think that alot of artists look for ways to engage the general public but I am not sure that the general public is looking for ways to be engaged with art everyday. I think that alot of artists are interested in blending those experiences but I am not sure that there is a reciprocal audience. But just because there is not an audience does not mean it shouldn't be done.

I mean how many people make the trek to got to Spiral Jetty, Double Negative, or Heizer's Complex One (if he would let you in)?

It would be interesting to hear what people have to say about public art or art in public places. They may or may not be the same thing. When I think of public art, and what I think Jeff is referring to, is art in an urban environment or a public building. What are some of the best and worst experiences that people have had with public art?

Posted by: Arcy [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 22, 2007 05:11 PM

My first instinct when I walked into Tilt was that the paper was completely unnecessary. However, after playing an enjoyable game of "search for the artwork," I noticed the painted shadow, and any negative thoughts I had about the paper nearly vanished. Yes it possibly spells out the focus of the show, but the shadow made that obviousness smart and witty. As always, great show at Tilt.

"...artists look for ways to engage the general public but I am not sure that the general public is looking for ways to be engaged with art everyday..."

Arcy, that is the exact reason I would hate to see this work in a public space. Personally, I think it would lose all its power, and it would just be written off as a spectacle then.

Also Arcy, you accidentally typed "pubic building." I wonder what that would look like. Swimsuit-part jokes never get old. :)

Posted by: Calvin Ross Carl [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 22, 2007 09:20 PM

Sometimes I type too fast. Things slip in or slip out as the case maybe.

Posted by: Arcy [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 23, 2007 06:14 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