Today, the Portland Art Museum announced the 2008 Contemporary Northwest Art Awards exhibition recipients:
My general reaction to this list is it's... solid, somewhat conservative (except for Clifford whom I was rooting for as an underdog) and very Northwest art-ish (aka lots of wood, craft, animals and tree references). For context, more agressively contemporary and less regionally placeable artists like Alex Schweder
, Sean Healy
, Jack Daws
and Chandra Bocci (list goes on forever) were not of the 28 finalists
from which these 5 were chosen so this list isn't really a surprise and curator Jennifer Gately has a very tricky balancing act to do. Her statement that she decided on, "works that resonate on distinctively regional yet universal levels," explains things rather well... to me that means a show which big time donor/collectors can be both challenged by and yet find familiar. A completely respectable list, but not bleeding edge.
The balancing act is very difficult in Portland as a fair # of the best artists don't want to be considered "Northwest" artists at all. Also, this might be seen as a snub for James Lavadour and Storm Tharp... both of whom are doing work that absolutely outclasses anything similar internationally, yet are very popuar here and on the list of 28. Maybe Lavadour a Tharp were too obvious? So there's your controversy... the actual show should be solid and smart but it will polarize the debate on why chewing gum isn't a "Northwest" enough material or if ergonmics are not folksy enough to be considered part of the regionalist canon. Regionalist canon... now that's something that deserves to be debated and it will probably overshadow debate about the work these artists show. There is a tectonic grinding and slippage between the terms "Contemporary" and "Northwest" in the CNAA's and that inherent fault line pretty much sets the tone for this inaugural show. Middle ground is a smart move but the ultra-conservative and the bleeding edge crowds in Portland and Seattle wont be thrilled. I also think this should silence those who think PAM doesn't do enough for regionalist artsists, now some will complain they do to much. Overall this is pretty much an educational opportunity rather than a fracturous taste making move and it makes much sense as the inaugural version. Hopefully the artists will make certain the actual exhibit isnt too sensible, it's in their hands now.
"The Portland Art Museum's commitment to collecting and exhibiting the art of the region dates to our founding more than 115 years ago," said Brian J. Ferriso, the Marilyn H. and Dr. Robert B. Pamplin, Jr. Director of the Portland Art Museum . "It, therefore, gives the Museum great pleasure to reaffirm that dedication with the Contemporary Northwest Art Awards, which is part of a larger, evolving strategy of collecting, presenting, and educating our audiences about contemporary Northwest art and artists."
Recent and new work by these five artists will be featured in the Museum's inaugural Contemporary Northwest Art Awards special exhibition, June 14 through September 14, 2008, which will be accompanied by a full-color catalogue and Museum programming. Each award recipient will receive an honorarium. During the exhibition's opening celebration, one artist will awarded the Arlene Schnitzer Award for Northwest Art, a $10,000 cash prize named in honor of philanthropist and longtime Museum patron Arlene Schnitzer.
"We are extremely grateful to Arlene and Harold Schnitzer, whose lifetime commitment to the art of the Northwest and the Museum have provided the necessary support to realize this newly conceived awards program," said Ferriso. "With this program, we are confident that audiences locally, nationally, and internationally will be informed about what makes the Northwest a unique and important art-making region."
Here is some more background from the museum's press release:
Since the first Oregon Annual in 1949, the Museum has been committed to celebrating and exhibiting Northwest art. The Contemporary Northwest Art Awards furthers that 58-year commitment by honoring emerging and nationally under-recognized artists living and working in the region. Developed and curated by Jennifer A. Gately, the Arlene and Harold Schnitzer Curator of Northwest Art, the biennial awards exhibition aims to contextualize contemporary art in the Northwest within the national dialogue by providing a deeper understanding of the diverse concerns and creative practices alive in the region.
"Narrowing down the already impressive list of finalists was far more daunting than anticipated. In the end, the award recipients were selected for the quality of their work, and their innovation and evolving studio practices. But perhaps more notable are their abilities to maintain a cohesive vision across a variety of media and to create works that resonate on distinctively regional yet universal levels,"
said Gately, who will work closely with each award recipient during the next several months to select work for the exhibition.
The awards process began with the Museum inviting a wide range of community arts professionals to nominate artists in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming on the basis of quality, innovation, skill, and relevance to community or global issues. After receiving 259 nominations, the Museum invited the nominees to submit applications. Gately and guest curatorial advisor James Rondeau, Curator and Frances and Thomas Dittmer Chair of the Department of Contemporary Art at the Art Institute of Chicago, reviewed the nominees' materials and selected 28 finalists. Gately then conducted studio visits with the finalists before announcing this year’s awards recipients.
The list is about what I expected it to be, and all the work feels a little too "Cascadian" for my liking, but this are all great artists. I had the privilege of meeting Marie Watt yesterday, and she seemed ecstatic about the opportunity (and rightfully so). After her last show at PDX, I am truly a very big fan of her work.
I am also surprised that James Lavadour didn't make the list. I really expected him to be there in the final cut, since his work is very regional, yet also progressive enough to keep it interesting. And I was really crossing my fingers for Storm Tharp. Funny that all the artists I have mentioned show at PDX.
Overall, I am excited about the list, and I hope it comes to be a well curated show for the museum. This is going to be a very huge deal to PAM, and will be a great possibility at increasing their donor base.
I dont know if it will increase their donor base but it will certainly bring greater awreness of how more progressive contemporary concerns are tied into lonheld regional affections... IE lets look at contemporary art not dead french art or gilded lilly shows. It bridges-in gaps between donors and the aesthetic concens of the city as a regional and increasingly international art center.
It will be solid.
could someone pick 5 artists from Portland and Seattle that would make this look tame... sure ... but I think Gately is trying to bridge a fault line between regionalists and internationalists. There really isnt much difference since tree and wood art is are big both regionally and internationally.
Portland is THE premier urban forest.