One of the best things about Portland's scene is how some very good shows just
seem to appear in new venues when they are least expected. Even more surprisingly,
this sometimes occurs at major institutions with little exhibition history.
Let's just say there are holes in the cultural landscape that are continually
The University of
Oregon's White Stag Blocks
building is one such example. Sure, we all expect
great things from a really nice building like the White Stag, but the formal
gallery spaces are not even finished yet (I'll be curating something significant
in them next spring as part of a singularly major cultural/intellectual/art
historical event). Till now, episodic moments like the Glen
and some of Matthew Stadler's events at the building have been
a bit of a very promising question mark as to how the U of O will fit into Portland's
very active civic fabric.
That's where the show, "An Expeditionary Journal: Artifacts of an investigation
of new technology, undertaken in the open spirit of Enlightment experimentation,"
comes in. It doesn't require a formal gallery and instead is presented a bit
like the remains of a workshop in one of White Stag's common areas the Fab
. The effect works surprisingly well, keeping this work grounded in experimentation
so its investigatory élan isn't traded for white box preciousness.
The show, a collaboration between Brian Gillis and Mike Miller consists of three
table-like constructions balanced upon a series of IKEA-style saw horses. The
effect is more Kurt Schwitters Merzbau
Bove' s more sorted strategy
but it calls to mind both as quasi anthropological
presentations of artifacts. Haim Steinbach and Joseph Cornell are both related to this form of anthropological accretion art as well.
The entire proceedings look like the remnants of some massive brainstorming
session, which apparently it was.
Upon the varied wooden and metal table surfaces, Lazlo
-like circular forms, images of explosions, forms resembling
molecular models that fit ergonomically into customized bases and odd piles
of plastic shavings like the fur of some acrylic yeti are all on display.
It is design as organized detritus; the sort of thing an anthropologist might
try to recontextualize to understand its purpose
except this show's pure
purpose is exploration and curiosity.
One recognizable and repeated image is the iconic White
which sits atop the building. Tellingly the sign is bereft of
writing, which probably alludes to the city councilman Randy Leonard driven hoopla
over the sign's lettering. Notably, I see many presentations where a firecracker
explosion punctuates the general area where the city of Eugene would be on the
Another recognizable image is an explosion plume similar to Mt. St Helens or
an atomic weapon. Let's just say there has been way too much grist for the mill
over the fact that the U of O's main campus is in Eugene, not Portland. It seems
like a retrograde talking point as Portland has generally been upgrading all
of its larger art programs from PSU to OCAC to PNCA's impressive expansion plans.
The important thing is that all of Portland's art and design schools have upgraded
their facilities. When I moved here over a decade ago all of the art schools
needed serious upgrades. I'm glad it happened and no one school dominates as
Portland is a thriving destination city not a more one dimesnsional college town with one dominating cultural edifice.
My favorite of the three untitled tables is the black and white yin and yang
construction. It feels like what would happen if architect Daniel Libeskind
made a horizontal wunderkammer
. The stark black and white plays with the floor
it stands upon and the cut acrylic maquette constructions shimmer like plans
for some Olympics stadium or futuristic desk organizer. The effect speaks of
creative activity, problem solving and a general air of experimentation.
Overall, though the hyper-regional content of the white stag sign might limit this
show's direct referential involvement to Oregon it's interesting to consider the work anthropologically.
What does it say about Oregon right now? Probably that we are interested in
innovative solutions, new combinations and not afraid of a little ruckus in
the IKEA store.
The bigger point being asks if Oregon's progressive ideals a kind of American
update of Northern European aesthetics and ideals? An Expeditioionary Journal
certainly looks that way.
It reminds me of the time back in 2002 when Peter Schjeldahl called Portland,
"Sweden with SUV's"
whereas I liken Portland and Eugene as America's
Switzerland. Of course we have our own identity but it's high time for Portland
to step up and own the reputation for the national level leadership that being
a progressive Oregonian has come to imply (things like Death with Dignity, urban growth boundaries, green industries, mass transit and serious design... etc). In a way this show adresses a similar willingness to experiment and it's a welcome sight.
I suppose it has been done already but Welcome U of O to the White Stag and
Portland's old town, what a wonderful show of curiosities.
Through September Open Monday - Friday 8.00am to 5.00pm, Saturday 10.00 - 5.00pm,
and Sundays 12.00 - 5.00pm.
White Stag Block, UO Portland
70 NW Couch Street 97209
503.412.3718 | firstname.lastname@example.org