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Thursday 06.11.09

« Kevin Yates @ Ditch Projects | Main | anything's possible »

Ben Young at Tractor

On cue, the relentless Summer group show season is upon us with; STORE for a month, all the BFA and MFA shows, Green Oregon (a nice lil roundup of the Portland art scene's mindset), Lesbian Art Show (a dual show), Town and Country ... and for a big historical survey there is PNCA at 100 at PAM, which exposes Portland's long tradition of being an artist's enclave. Besides that sampler aspect, group shows often act as social mixers or reconnectors and thus provide an important opportunity to tease out trends and renew friendships... but for me it's the solo shows that provide the more satisfying art viewing experiences.

Ben Young's Platonically Imperfect at Tractor

This June was short on new solo show excitement with, DE May at PDX and the interesting and well hung debut of Joe Bartholomew ... but overall the solo offerings seemed very minimal, pun intended. Then I came upon Ben Young's Platonically Imperfect at Tractor, probably the most surprising, almost magical...yet rigorous debut I've seen in years at the Everett Station Lofts. Tractor is a space to watch, having formerly been home to the Field and Nil galleries that launched a lot of careers. I like the renovations (like walling off of the stairway) that proprietor Charles Olsen has undertaken... it lets him put on tight solo shows and its part of the reason The New York Times briefly noted the space (as they continue to stalk Portland). Of course, PORT told you about Tractor over a year ago.

More of Ben Young's Platonically Imperfect

Now onto Ben Young's philosophically and aesthetically astute debute:

The show itself consists of a series of geometric steel forms that collectively fill the small gallery's volume completely. It was a deft move to weld the forms on site as it allows for forms much larger than could be fit through conventional single or double doors. This creates a series of volumes that require the viewer to navigate through to take in the show and if one touches them they vibrate all around the viewer like a struck tuning fork.

This vibrating kinesthetic obstacle course experience is really wonderful... both making the viewer more aware of themselves and the geometric form around them. Also, the title indicates that Young has more than a passing interest in Greek Philosophy... and these open geometric forms are in fact fine examples what Plato would have considered imperfect as opposed to "ideal" (because they have been rendered out of materials in the real world as opposed to some mathematical algorithm... Plato believed that truth was an abstraction and an algorithm is an abstraction). Plato was a huge admirer of Pythagoras whose studies of geometry weren't just mathematical, but philosophical... leading him to create a secret religious society called the Pythagoreans devoted to understanding all things through mathematics.

Michael Heizer. North, East, South, West, 1967—2002, Photo: Tom Vinetz

There aren't any religious overtones in Ben Young's exhibition though and Platonically Imperfect reminds me a bit of Michael Heizer's North, East, South and West at Dia Beacon... a masterpiece in large scale kinesthetic/mathematical awe. Both have a somewhat magical effect, though Ben Young's piece isn't as developed or dangerous to viewers (those concrete pits at Dia Beacon are 20 feet deep). Young has made a lot of good decisions here and I'd love to see where this goes as an installation art series.

Through June 25th at Tractor

*Update In many ways this review unintentionally rebutted Chas Bowie's doom laden and factually convenient review of STORE for a month so I think it is important to let the facts address it directly. Facts are Portland's alt spaces like Tractor, Rock's Box, Gallery Homeland, Igloo, The Life, Disjecta, Appendix and Worksound are actually more numerous and professional (aka curatorially driven) than they were back in 2003... ie there has been no backslide (how about Green Oregon for a tight group show rather than a merely inclusionary one).

Instead of taking the whole scene into account, Bowie's review misplaced the implications and intended goals of Brodie's STORE. So instead of being a backslide, STORE is just part of the seasonal group show bonanza and a low pressure civic art scene mixer, nothing more, nothing less. Seriously, all vibrant art scenes switch to lower-pressure group show mode at least once a year. More importantly, the O's article conveniently ignores that these increasingly improved alt spaces have always been the primary driving force in Portland's scene... not the museums or PADA galleries, which are also important (but haven't taken the lead).

What's more Bowie's list of defunct galleries reaches back 5 years to try and make its point... but those closures though sometimes painful (other times expected as in Everett station Loft galleries) are just part of the natural cycle, but now with NAAU, Fourteen30, Charles Hartman, Blue Sky's infinitely improved new space and Fontanelle, we have added strong new professional venues (not that the current environment isn't difficult, but technically isn't a backslide... just a dig your heels in and tough it out moment).

What's more, with the addition of the Desoto Building, Jubitz Center (with the Miller-Meigs Series) and PSU's current art dept renovations, the soon to open U of O "White Stag" block galleries, PNCA's continual expansion and the eventual Lumber Room opening I argue Portland is gaining more and more professional infrastructure. Compare 2003 to 2009 and it is no contest... the Portland art scene in 2009 is has more venues, is more professional and is better funded (NAAU's Couture series + RACC's increasing budgets anyone?) than it has ever been. Yes, the O seems to be trying to craft a story of the art scene's withering but the facts still don't support it. It is being tested sure, but wither?.. I call BS.

PORT invites the O to a hearty public debate over this if they'd like to make this a more productive discussion. Yes there is always room to improve, but it is wrong to ignore advances for the sake of an angle or slant for a story. The facts simply don't support it... are these tough gritty times with a little steam blown off at Brodie's STORE, yes... doom-laden backslide to 2003 no.

Posted by Jeff Jahn on June 11, 2009 at 15:59 | Comments (1)


very interesting ...
I will host a debate for sure .

Posted by: Modou [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 12, 2009 11:51 AM

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