Josh Smith's The
Righteous Foundation of Us
is yet another exciting installation in the Manuel
Izquierdo Gallery at PNCA (the only gallery in Portland cool enough to require
a buzzer). In this case the show is a multilayered rumination on the goals of modernism,
materials, intellectual positioning and it's relationship to us now, aka a generation
that must rebuild things taken for granted like the American Dream.
has been a fixture in the Portland art scene for many years now as one
half of the Tilt Gallery's curatorial team with his wife Jenene Nagy
PORTstar) and as the
unofficial spokesmodel for OCAC
where he graduated from last year. Thus,
this is an important first post grad school show.
A small sculpture before the main gallery is simply too reminiscent of Isa
The main piece in the gallery's idiomatic space was sited intelligently by situating the work slightly off center in an activating way. It also uses
a defining a yellow rectangle that emphasizes the corner of 2 walls. This install
really works because the gallery is the mixing chamber between the metal, wood
and ceramics shops, giving the space a bauhausian air of experimentation. Often
exhibiting artists do too much in this space but that isn't a problem here. Instead, it feels
like a thought provoking prototype on display for colleagues as they go about
Smith is particularly interested in hive like modernist living arrangements. As such, Smith's sculpture alludes to things like Moshe
...all of which used collective conglomerations and or round "hat
box" like structures.
Still of Sculptured House in Woody Allen's Sleeper
It also evokes an arbitrarily idealized future that evokes things like the
Woody Allan's Sleeper. The film is littered with futuristic buildings but the
one that most fits Smith's show is the awesome Sculptured
House by Charles Deaton on Genessee Mountain in Colorado
. Deaton was famous
for saying, "People aren't angular, so why should they live in rectangles?"
In this show Smith sidesteps the issue by not necessarily producing a model
for buildings, it could just as easily be a shelving unit
. though an awesomely
inefficient one at that. In fact, Smith's introduction of plastic over the open
edges implies a certain arbitrary ineffectiveness as well. The plastic is somewhat
unconvincing barrier too and I'm not certain that part really works for the
sculpture... it doesn't fail hard enough like it does with Genzken or Richard
The entire assembly stands on faux clamp stilts, which seem to have white paint
dripping down them. It evokes Jim
but where that work implies a personage as painting this is
more like a construction scaffold and a bit of a craftsmen's inside joke. It
isn't as effective as Lambie's stilted constructions because it leans towards a too obvious narrative about
making stuff and showing off while doing it (a less developed form of Roy McMakin
that in itself
seems like an end game).
As a gesture it is interesting though, elevating construction for snarky construction's
sake above any usefulness or utopian idealism.
Jesse Durst at Fourteen30 (foreground)
All of this is similar to Jesse Durost's current show at Fourteen30
but somewhat more successful
because Durost's constructions merely evoke or reference Sol LeWitt, Buckminster Fuller and Robert
Irwin's scrims without anything approaching their rigor (I want to like it but can't quite yet, unless he builds more purposesful entropy into these imperfect un-dioramas). Unlike Durost here, Smith obviously has
years of hard won shop rigor and everything is pretty solid but some of these moves still seem tentative as if
this prototype still requires reworking. Still, it succeeds because it is more reflexively
self-aware of it's flaws. For Durost it's an engineeering issue, some are quite nice, but they just need stronger materials in key parts. Model sized work invites tight scrutiny.
In the past a lot of Postmodernist rhetoric by French theorists like Foucault, Deleuze
etc. tended to create paper tiger arguments against Modernism's idealism and often claimed monogenic viewpoints (???Le Demoiselles D'Avignon was hardly idealistic or monogenic and neither was Pollock) but that view has really lost credibility with artists in the past decade... without definable idealogues like Greenberg to hijack and or demonize it seemss like a legitimate pluralism not postmodernism seems to rule the day now. Besides
with the horrors of The Holocaust can anyone really blame those mid century architects (who really didn't speak for the painters even though they made their museums) for trying
to show how planning and mobilization of a workforce could be used for something
good instead of genocide and war?
Because of the dissolution of the old Modernism/Postmodernism debate, Josh Smith
(like a lot of Portland artists), is right to address space as a kind of idea
creating BF Skinnerian issue. For example those antiseptic, even clinical "white
box" Postmodern galleries ala Richard Meier and others seemed to fetish
a kind of disconnected failure, whereas this show feels different
new blood coursing through some borrowed old veins and possibly bursting old blood vessels.
Maybe it's all staged to see if an EMT
Overall, I'd consider this a minor palpitation in modernism's mummified
heart (which is Postmodernism's heart as well). Time will tell if Josh Smith
can produce something wierder and more akin to a stroke, heart attack or seizure in the