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Sunday 01.11.09

« PMMNLS: Daniel Bozhkov | Main | Making Iconoclasts »

PORT's staff review of 2008

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, videos with zebra suits, lots of photography, The Natzler's ceramics, a condo for bats, 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, Worksound, Gallery Homeland, Jace Gace and the not so alternative turbo charging of PNCA's level of seriousness. Then there was NAAU's Couture series, 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 enough but an increase of 12.5% over 2007 can't be overlooked.

The only true loss in 2008 was curator/photographer Terry Toedtemeier, 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…. So 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 here.

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 Boadwee, Bruce Conkle and Johann Neumeister.

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 to recognize 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 excellence.

Honorable mentions: David Reed and Jacqueline Ehlis (both very influenced by Ruscha in the way they twist surface and intension while turning individual contemplation into cinematic levels of existential glamour)

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 worked.

Curator of the Year: Terry Toedtemeier, who literally gave his life to his work

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 Tilt.

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 Elliason and Jean Tinguely for more poetically succinct and less gadgetry driven gimmicks… 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.

Sean 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 lifestyle.

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 Rist 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 LTD 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….you achieved 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 thing.


Arcy Douglass:

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 Ruscha show 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 the Contemporary 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.

Amy Bernstein:

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

Jonathan 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

Ryan 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


Ryan Pierce:

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 Portland).

1. Amjad 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.

2. Jessica Jackson Hutchins at Small A Projects.
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 and makers.

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 goes through.
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.


Alex Rauch:

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 Terry’s 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 & Auction

Megan Driscoll:

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

Posted by Jeff Jahn on January 11, 2009 at 14:15 | Comments (7)


nice review ! We know now where to go !

Posted by: Modou [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 12, 2009 02:54 AM

Jeff, last but not least ...
lets not forget, it would have not been the same in PDX 2008 without Mk Guth and the MFA studies at PNCA , Harrell Fletcher/Monday night lecture series/Social Practice Program.
it brought to us critical thinking -young artists who mean business and first class lecturers .
the kids are alright!And one to watch! Cyrus Smith .

Posted by: Modou [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 12, 2009 03:13 AM

I think that portland writters have way overrated Terry Toedtemieiers show at PAM. I hope this nonstop praise is because you all think it was an incredible ART show. The mistake I wonder about is that Terry being dead makes his show worth more. In my opinion the show was Blah (In fact,awful) and the worst thing I've seen at PAM in a long time. WHY I thing that is so is less important than the fact that His death does not make his work beyond judgment.

Posted by: JDavid [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 12, 2009 01:24 PM

I think that portland writters have way overrated Terry Toedtemieiers show at PAM. I hope this nonstop praise is because you all think it was an incredible ART show. The mistake I wonder about is that Terry being dead makes his show worth more. In my opinion the show was Blah (In fact,awful) and the worst thing I've seen at PAM in a long time. WHY I thing that is so is less important than the fact that His death does not make his work beyond judgment.

Posted by: JDavid [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 12, 2009 01:25 PM

Let me be absolutely clear about this... Wild Beauty would have been the show of the year and earned Terry "Curator of the Year" even if he hadn't died. After about 10 minutes in the exhibition during the press preview I was completely convinced of the importance, depth and stellar execution of the show.

You are entitled to your opinion of course, just know that my decision was all but formally made way before he passed on.

Posted by: Double J [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 12, 2009 01:42 PM

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

Posted by: Brian Costello [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 12, 2009 05:43 PM

Thanks Brian,

Nobody was minimizing the important role that PICA continues to play. In fact, I think of PICA as somewhat different than the institutional model, which (to me) implies year round brick and mortar exhibition space. PICA's decision in 2004 switched from that brick and mortar model to a festival model. It made sense but also left a gap. Both models are very important and needed but one can't argue that they are analogous, just different. I argue a city of this size and ambition needs both.

Thus, I believe my definition is very accurate and year round visual arts exhibition space at mid level will remain a major hot button topic in Portland.

One more thing, mid level institutions require more mid level donors (10,000 -50,000 per year) than we currently have. PICA rightly saw the problem and moved to a model that relied more on ticket sales.

Posted by: Double J [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 13, 2009 10:38 AM

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