flying the Portland flag high in 2008
Worth the wait, 2008 was the most varied and adventurous year of art exhibitions
since I moved to Portland nearly 10 years ago. You name it, I saw it; pornographic/existential
beer signs, arch minimal multireferential ruminations on the
corner of a room
Ed Ruscha's latest paintings
, TV stations that broadcast a whopping 20 feet,
with zebra suits
, lots of photography, The
, a condo
, too many good lectures and lots of gallery shuffling. Things that
were lost in 2008 like PAC
and Small A Projects were replaced by equal or better
things like Disjecta version 3.0
(though it's going to take a year of solid programming and low drama to begin to rebuild faith) and Fourteen30 to the point they didn't leave
any new holes in Portland's still actively developing cultural fabric. Hint, keep efforts modest in physical scale with ambitious programming.
Maybe it's because the real stars of 2008 were the alt spaces like Rock's Box
, Gallery Homeland
, Jace Gace
and the not so alternative turbo
charging of PNCA's level of seriousness
. Then there was NAAU's
, which managed to steal the show from every gallery and museum
in town by plunking down a modest 40 grand in stipends for 5 deserving artists
in 2008. Has RACC ever achieved similar effects? That isn't a fair question
because Ruth Ann Brown isn't constrained by committees, public process or the
demands of public art but it is an interesting one. RACC does get a huge gold
star for raising and dispensing a
record amount of cash in the service of culture in 2008
, it still isn't
an increase of 12.5% over 2007 can't be overlooked
The only true loss in 2008 was curator/photographer
, whereas the tanking of the economy will likely refocus
the art world on interesting ideas rather than sales. It's gonna be tough for
galleries but I suspect the shock of the last 3 months wont keep true collectors
from buying art completely (though it's likely to be more a measured decision).
The fact is artists are very adept at doing most anything with nearly nothing
and Portland tends to gain a lot of talent from bigger cities whenever there
is a recession. Portland is an artist's city and we are curious how the new
Mayor Sam Adams either does or does not support their contributions?
Also, Portland's activity is now large enough so that is tough to gage. It's
simply impossible to see everything anymore and to complicate matters many of
the Portland's best artists exhibit more frequently outside of town
paradoxically you have to travel to really understand what is happening here.
Despite a great 2008, 2009 is going to be a litmus test for all galleries,
for and not for profit alike
and it's time to determine what's important
and what might benefit from a little more underground wood shedding. Should
galleries resort to group show after a group show in an attempt to sell something?
Or is it better to take some exciting chances now that the market is wobbly?
Isn't half the battle getting people to come into the gallery in a receptive
and intellectually expectant state? Certainly extremely strong solo shows create
sales in a way that more sporadic efforts do not. Selling art has always required
conviction, it's a tough business.
My 2008 list:
Show of the Year: Wild
Beauty at PAM
with its expansive depth this is exactly what we expect
from a major museum show (It ends tomorrow, go now and or go again).
Quirkiest Installation art show: The Video
Gentlemen's Bruce Naumanesque TV station in a gallery
@ NAAU. Nothing beats
transmitting analog signals 20 feet to 5 old TV's for a packed room of art people
who probably watch very little TV. Coen Brothers levels of weird & hilarious
Least understood term: Mid Level Institution
. Portlanders need to have
more honest expectations for this hot button term, which describes a visual
arts institution we currently lack.
...For what it is worth, here's my definition
a mid level institution has
a budget between 300 thousand and 2 million dollars, has a professional curator
(or extremely knowledgeable director) with a serious program of regular year-round
shows. It also has a reputation remarkable enough for people from outside Portland
to want to travel to. Anything less is an alternative space, anything more (especially
with an endowment, collection or real-estate assets) is a museum. PICA under
Stuart Horodner was the last to fit this mid level definition. Bright spot for
2009: collector Sarah Meigs agonizingly awaited Lumber Room will probably fit
the mid level institutional definition
PS it's the buzz in LA right now.
Best alt space Rock's Box does it right with shows like: Keith
, Bruce Conkle and Johann
Other exciting alt spaces: Worksound, Gallery Homeland, Igloo, Newspace, Ogle,
Tractor, Disjecta and Jace Gace + Tilt (which will both be missed). The health
of a city's art scene can best be defined by it's alternative spaces and by
that definition Portland is definitely still very healthy.
Biggest news: PNCA
gets 511 building
... paving the way for the purchase of the Goodman building
(the biggest Portland art story of the decade, PORT was the first publication
the 511's importance to Portland's art community and creative economy
Best Painting show: Ed Ruscha at PAM
his 2 latest paintings (on loan
from the Broad Foundation) showed he's still at the height of his astonishing
powers. Also, this was perfectly installed with the two principal paintings
forming a corner of extreme intension, virtuosity and dead pan nonchalance par
Honorable mentions: David Reed and Jacqueline
(both very influenced by Ruscha in the way they twist surface and
intension while turning individual contemplation into cinematic levels of existential
Best use of 40 grand: New American Art Union's Couture series. The gutsy decision
turned this eastside space into the must watch visa art series in the city and
its understandable that some other dealers would resent the approach. Yet, it
Curator of the Year: Terry Toedtemeier, who literally gave his life to his
Runner up: Patrick Rock
curating the most consistently exciting space
in the city, Rock's box. This is how alt space programming should be executed.
Shows by Keith Boadwee and Jacob Neumeister stood out. Rock is also curating
PSU's Autzen and MK galleries.
Best artist talk: David Reed at Reed College
his multimedia production
was the gold standard this year full of lectures.
Handsomest new gallery space: Chambers @ 916
this wonderful space by
architect Rick Potestio shows why this guy is the best art gallery architect
in the Northwest (previous projects include Pulliam Deffenbaugh, NAAU, Bluesky)
Passed over by critics but still had deserving shows: Mark Smith at Elizabeth
Leach, Roxanne Jackson at Gallery Homeland, Asmundur Asmundsson at Rock's Box,
Brian Borrello at Pulliam Deffenbaugh.
Most compelling solo photography exhibition: Corey
Arnold at Charles Hartman Fine Art
Runners up: Robert
Rauschenberg at Bluesky
, Roger Ballen at Quality Pictures, Todd Johnson
at PNCA, Alan Maertz at Chambers @ 916, Dianne Kornberg at Art Gym
Most Overstuffed show (Tie): Even Greener: Beyond Green at Lewis and Clark
College, Suddenly at Reed's Cooley gallery, both were good despite the claustrophobia
Look, an institution needs a full-on university museum expansion if your gonna
put 15+ artists in a room. I'm not holding my breath but you never know. Realistically,
this will take at least 1 university trustee with a lot of art and deep pockets.
*Note: Peter Norton is a Reedie.
Least Overstuffed show: Paul Sutinen at 9 gallery
Most Overexposed: Jesse Hayward who turned a staggering array of Portland's
galleries into his studio; Art Gym, Jace Gace, Worksound, Gallery Homeland and
Artist who should have a major solo show: Patrick Rock
Suggestions to good artists whose 2008 shows could have been improved:
Dan Gilsdorf's promising foray at Disjecta, whose kinetics were often too gimmicky
please see Olafur
and Jean Tinguely for more poetically succinct and less gadgetry
ie make it more about the effect than the act of creating
a contraption. This was a good show with too many works with too similar ideas
. Also, Disjecta's rather grand scale wasn't properly addressed. Next time cut
out half the works and expand the ones you keep in to address the space.
Healy at Elizabeth Leach
: See Martin Kippenberger
ie use less precious
materials, use everyday items to define space in quirkier, less spatially passive
ways. Doing so makes for more porous and engaging work. *Note don't follow Kippenberger's
Victor Maldonado: Sigmar Polke and Warhol have sooo been there already.
Holly Andres: The most improved artist of 2008, still her show Sparrow Lane
lives in the shadow of Gregory Crewdson and a hoard of female photographers
from Yale's MFA program. Andres has a nearly obscene penchant for pattern and
color that she could harness into something more thoroughly original.
TJ Norris: Infinitus was a worthwhile but under edited show obscuring the bones
of a much better show or three. There were simply too many competing aesthetic
languages, disciplines, collaborations and etcetera shoehorned into a small
space, while paradoxically making gestures at minimalism (it's more than clean
lines). The net effect dabbled in genres and the show's key video elements were
presented in a compromised way (too small on a distracting surface). If you
haven't seen a lot of grant driven multi media shows this was probably a fine
experience but to an experienced eye it looked capricious. By contrast
TJ's photography is mature and achieves and unifies all of the effects found
in Infinitus with greater economy of means. Similar, more mature multimedia
installation artists like Lee Bul or Pipilotti
focus their experiences more effectively.
Lastly, the art writing In Portland was better towards the end of 2008. Writers
like Brian Libby and John Motely consistently worked hard to understand what
they encountered. Often art writing is about asking good questions because the
best art tends to push us out of our comfort zones. I'm glad Richard Speer has
found a way to write more outside of the WWeek in places like Art News and Art
because he's losing space at the WW. Kudos to the Mercury and Oregonian
for maintaining coverage.
I'd also be remiss if I didn't mention how PORT's writers did some amazing
work in 2008
, thanks crew
Amy, Alex, Arcy, Megan and Ryan
something remarkable and it should not be "taken for granted". Which
also translates to, "Thank You Sponsors, we couldn't do it without you."
Even David Row seemed seemed reenergized after a 2007 where he griped about
young artists (as if youth is a flaw). In late 2008 DK's
obituary for Terry Toedtemeier
was a supremely nuanced bit of writing, with
lots of appropriate cut, understanding and truth. I actually prefer to defend
the guy and for a brief shining moment there was an impressive critic's hand
at work in that obit. Still, his interview with Jennifer Gately was simply not
fit for publication and Jen Graves in Seattle managed to do a far superior job
with the exact same subject. I'm not speaking just for myself here, Portland
simply expects a higher level of inquiry relevant to the topic. It is a respect
The End of 2008 and Looking to 2009
The APEX Gallery
at the Portland Art Museum has done a great job of giving talented
local and regional artists a platform at the museum to show their work. I thought
that that MK Guth's show following on the heels of her appearance at the Whitney
Biennial was great. Jenene Nagy's show was also a great application of the ideas
that are currently driving her work and was well served by being shown in the
context of a museum gallery. Even the brochures that are available with shows
are very interesting and a great way to make the work accessible to the broadest
possible audience. I think that the program has been an excellent way for the
museum to tap into the interests and skills of the local Portland arts community.
For me, I think that the APEX gallery is probably one of the most important
programs and venues for contemporary art in Portland right now. It might be
even better if the program could reach out to even more local artists dur ing
the course of a year. Perhaps there are underused spaces in the museum in which
the APEX can spread throughout the entire museum even if it is only a small
work or two.
Since we are on the topic of the museum, I think that the Miller Meigs Contemporary
Art series has been excellent this past year. The Ed
was fantastic and it was great to see the Jonathan
Lasker paintings in Portland
. Richard Deacon also both made a big impact
when their works were on display. Also Bruce Guenther has been inserting some
jewels into the contemporary art collection recently. Besides Barnett Newman's 18 Cantos
there have been some gorgeous Gerhard Richter paintings and the
two gold shadow paintings by Andy Warhol's are absolutely spectacular. It is
great to have this work in Portland even if it is short lived. There has also
been the excellent Agnes Martin paintings that been periodically coming on vi
ew and the white Ryman cardboard paintings are pretty cool as well.
It was excellent to see the Pat
Steir paintings and drawings at Elizabeth Leach
a few months ago. It was
great that a local gallery was showing work by local and regional artists alongside
more established artists. The established artists have an opportunity to tap
into a different market and it is good opportunity for the local artists to
show what they are about. It is similar to the model that Peggy Guggenheim used
for in her gallery. In the Art of this Century where local New York artists
(read Jackson Pollock) was shown alongside more established artist from Europe
(read Max Ernst and Mondrian). If it worked for New York, why wouldn't it work
for Portland? If it was possible, it would be ideal if more galleries could
occasionally incorporate this type of programming into their schedules. It would
be useful for the more established artists and the local collectors while it
would be a unique opportunity for the local artists.
Looking back after six months, I am still not sure how to gauge the impact of
Northwest Art Awards
. If the APEX program is already excellent, shouldn't
the CNAA's been 10x better? I am sure that some readers would disagree but it
seems like that artists that participated in the APEX program were better served
than those that participated in the CNAA's when the CNAA's could have been the
super deluxe version of APEX. Part of that might have been Jennifer Gately leaving
but it might also be that the CNAA's never made the local connection that APEX
is so good at establishing. It will be interesting to see how the program evolves
over the next few years. Also could there be a mechanism to allow museum goers
and the local arts community to vote on the artists as well?
I think that the museum was right to go with the CNAA's and I am happy that
they exist but it raises the question about whether Oregon (or Portland) still
needs some version of the Oregon Biennal. One of the questions that I have been
thinking about is what is the impact on the Portland art community in not having
an Oregon Biennale? I think that it is part of the history of being an artist
in Portland. For all of its flaws and difficulties there seems like there is
something lost when we do not have one. Also, I think that it is okay if it
is not associated with the museum especially as the museum has full plate as
it is. There is a tremendous opportunity for another institution to step up,
or perhaps one needs to be created, to take advantage of a unique part of our
Oregon art history.
Hello Everyone and Happy New Year!
These are my faves from this crazy 2008:
The PMNLS (psu's monday night M.F.A. lecture series), in particular Storm Tharp
David Reed Lecture and Showing at Reed
Stephanie Snyder's curatorial savoir Faire at Reed's Cooley Gallery
Lasker at PAM
White Bird's rich and nutritious programming
The new employment of the Left Bank
NAAU's Couture lineup ( of particular noteworthiNESS (so far), Jacqueline Ehlis'
Serenade and and The Video Gentlemen's BYOTV)
Antony and the Johnson's performance at TBA
Trecartin at TBA
The Artistery's die hard enthusiasm and undeniable future
The altruistic vision and promise of the Milepost 5 project
Ed Ruscha at PAM
I was looking back on the archives of 2008 and thinking, "Damn. I think
I missed a lot of good shows." But that's so much more exciting than feeling
like I saw it all, right?
Here are ten (or eleven) things that stand out for me about the last year (in
Faur at PDX Gallery
This young artist was featured in the window project last year, and again in
a group show in 2008. It's stark and elegant, as dark as anything Serrano would
shoot, but Faur leaves it all implied.
Jackson Hutchins at Small A Project
I hated this show so much I had to look at it again. And again. It was so abject,
so mundane, so skin-crawlingly crappy that it squirmed into my mind and revealed
a beauty that seemed incidental yet so honest that I felt very obsolete.
3. Dan Attoe at Portland Art Museum (Contemporary
Northwest Art Awards).
Attoe's work says a lot about the Pacific Northwest's shifting identity. It's
got owls and ATVs, strippers, cheap beer, big Doug firs, superior craft, self-deprecating
humor, and loneliness galore. His Michael Brophy-marries-David Lynch imagery
mines the truth from our regional cliches.
4. Emilie Clark at Elizabeth Leach Gallery.
Emilie Clark has a research-intensive practice that unites her zoological observations
with historical perspectives of women naturalists. Cool.
Also? They are totally weird and gorgeous. Like, smiling-retarded-jaguar weird.
5. Dan Gilsdorf at Disjecta. http://www.dangilsdorf.com/index3.html
This show was even more focused and ambitious than Gilsdorf's last show (at
Gallery 500 in 2005), and felt both confident and poetic. I would love to see
Gilsdorf's work in the Apex space- I think he's due to gain momentum and recognition.
Also, kudos to Disjecta for letting him hack into their pretty new walls.
6. The Nines Hotel.
Just kidding. This place is disgusting. But they did pick some great art for
the rich people to ogle. I particularly like Melody Owen and Ian Gilula's Bird
Song Chandelier. The idea of sonic waveforms from local birds finding their
way inside a luxury hotel feels oddly subversive.
7. Brave Young Galleries Hustle.
This year a lot of young or emerging curators and gallerists worked harder than
me. I saw strong shows at Worksound, Gallery Homeland, New American Art Union,
Fourteen30, Fontanelle, Rocksbox...beyond providing venues for local artists,
these spaces prompt dialogue amongst local artists, which makes us better thinkers
8. Portland International Film Festival
I make sure to get unemployed every year in time to spend two solid weeks in
February watching movies. This year was the best yet, and standouts included:
XXY (a totally hot date movie), Silent Light (a Mennonite date movie), 4 Months,
3 Weeks, 2 Days (NOT a date movie), Beaufort, The Band's Visit, and Mongol (good
for a certain 'rugged' kind of date...).
9. Mike Daisey at PICA's TBA Festival
Daisey took the torch from Spalding Gray and both of his monologues for TBA
were comic and deeply affecting. His pacing is great, his face is made of Play-Doh,
and I never get tired of witnessing distant thematic strands wrap tighter and
tighter until they come together into one strong lifeline. Don't sit too close
though- he spits a lot.
10. Art Market Bites the Dust
Now we'll know who's in it for the right reasons.
11. Orange Alert
(This sort of doesn't count because I'm married to the artist...however!)
This summer Amy Harwood became the first person to hike the entire length of
the proposed Palomar Natural Gas Pipeline across Mt. Hood. Every so often she
took a photo of a swath of orange fabric representing the minimum width of the
FORTY-MILE PERMANENT CLEAR-CUT that would scar Mt. Hood forever if this proposal
People, this project is fucked. Wyden hates it. Kulongoski hates it. Farmers,
loggers, anglers, pornographers hate it. Fish and bunnies hate it.
You can, too
Don't miss Scott Coffey's movie at the end.
Prior to the last quarter of the year I was preoccupied (and hadn't started
being an art critic) and because of this I will only sum up the last quarter
of the year.
Best in Show (AKA-Show I spent the most time with): Wild Beauty
The show is so massive that I have spent over twenty four full hours with the
show and have yet to fully grasp it.
The runner ups: Library of Dust (Blue Sky and PAM), Manuf®actured (MOCC) and
Selections from ME9 (Woolley)
Best Curator: Terry Toedtemeier (runner up Stephanie Snyder)
Wild beauty is Terrys life work. But the Daivd Reed show at read was
a perfectly mixed retrospective.
Best Lecture: Matthew Higgs
at PMMNLS. It was at times brutally honest but always provoking and entertaining.
Most fun at an art event: 30 rooms @ Milepost 5 and 2008 CAP Art Evening &
The Pat Steir show at Liz Leach was lovely.
Storm Tharp's show kicked ass.
MK Guth's APEX installation
Ethan Jackson's Couture show
Jim Lommasson's Couture show, Exit Wounds
Most Improved: Disjecta, and I really liked the Gilsdorf show. I also liked Diane Jacobs' installation in that space.
Manufractured at MoCC
David Reed at the Cooley gallery, Reed College
It goes without saying but... Wild Beauty
Thanks for the shout out's and recognition of Antony and the Johnsons, Mike Daisey, and Ryan Trecartin in these lists!
With all due respect, however, I think it's important to examine your definition of mid-sized institutions, your example of PICA, and the perception that Portland is lacking in this department.
While not a traditional white box model, PICA's unique and important presence is itinerant by design with a budget of approximately $1.2 million, a professional and emerging curator in Kristan Kennedy, and a year round program of lectures, residencies, and exhibitions. It may be atypical but it is most certainly a "mid level institution" by your definition.
Kristan has curated the visual art program for the past three years presenting work--much of it entirely new work--from artists such as Matthew Day Jackson, Arnold J. Kemp, Sarah Greenberger Rafferty, Marina Abramovich, Harrell Fletcher, Corey Lunn, Jacob Hartman, Lizzie Fitch, Ryan Trecartin and Guido Van der Werve. Many of these artists careers have grown and expanded because of PICA's support with Greenberger Rafferty in a exhibition right now at The Kitchen (http://artforum.com/words/#entry21729) in New York City, Van der Werve a recent recipient of a $25,000 grant from the Foundation for Contemporary Arts (http://tinyurl.com/7dmpu7) and Larry Krone with a new piece at The Project Gallery (http://www.elproyecto.com/).
Our residencies for the aforementioned artists such as Kemp, Hartman, Jackson, and Fitch combined with commissions of new work for artists as diverse as Lunn, Paintallica, Ryan Wilson Paulsen, and Larry Bamburg show depth, breadth, and inventiveness.
PICA's presence on the regional, national, and international landscape has grown with our involvement as an inaugural member of the National Performance Networks Visual Arts Network program. A program "created to establish opportunities for visual artists to travel in the United States and to exhibit their work in a one or two-week residency in a context of community engagement, based on the successful National Performance Network model for touring performing artists." PICA was only one of eight organizations chosen for this charter project due in large part to Kristan's leadership and vision and resulted in Arnold J. Kemp's amazing dual shows of "Space Is A Place" and "SuperNatural" in 2007.
We have collaborated with other Portland organizations such as Reed College, Portland State University, Museum of Contemporary Craft, and Pacific Northwest College of Art in year round lectures and programs. PNCA has even incorporated part of their freshman program with our TBA programming--both visual and performance--to better serve its students.
As a recent recipient of a Andy Warhol Foundation grant, along with support from the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation and the Doris Duke Charitable Trust, national funders have taken note too of PICA's importance not just on the regional scene but also on the national and international cultural landscape.
With over 30,000 people attending PICA programs annually and over 2,000 of them going to the visual art offerings, we know the people of Portland are supporting us too.
So while some may perceive us to be small, our reach and impact can be felt across the city and well beyond its borders--far beyond a typical definition of a mid-sized institution.
-Brian Costello, PICA