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Thursday 11.26.09

« Wednesday Links | Main | Susanna Helke »

A gaggle of November reviews

Because of the holidays November is often overstuffed with worthy shows and not enough time to see or review all of them properly... so I thought I'd put together a series of shorts on things you can see while shopping or walking off the turkey. Besides the highly recommended Broadcast at Lewis and Clark College and China Design Now at PAM here are few things that go beyond art school posturing. As a bonus a great deal of the work comes from around the globe, Portland definitely isn't navel gazing;

I particularly liked Arnold Kemp's debut at PDX Contemporary. Perhaps the tightest show put on in that gallery since Storm Tharp's 2007 tour de force, Kemp's effort is an interesting kind of rehabilitated formalism related a tiny bit to Yves Klein... it is obsessed with the color black while inviting all its myriad associations (rather than a proscriptive prophylactic discourse). I like the approach. Even the all black paintings went over well on 1st Thursday. Sure, Kemp's 2007 solo outing in PNCA's Swiggert commons for TBA may have been scale challenged mess of an exhibition but here the glitter, photos, black paintings and googley eyes play with the graphite black floors in meaningful ways. Often curators who make art end up juxtaposing disparate yet related bodies of their own work and Kemp's first PDX outing shows just how well this can be done. Most of Portland's artist curators do solo shows that include too much but this is a focused myriad... not simply an unchecked exercise in pluralism.

Across the street at Chambers Fang Er & Meng Jin's The Hidden Depth video is an intoxicating semiabstract animation similar to the one included at The Portland Art Museum's China Design Now show. See both but this installation of the video allows for more focused viewing.

Crystal Schenk and Shelby Davis' West Coast Turnaround at Milepost5 is a Tom Sachs-ian effort that half transforms room 405 into I-405. It's an ambitious simulacra but idea-wise it needs more developing (the condo location is inspired though). Over the years I've seen busts made of an artist's blood, puppies as giant topiary sculpture and anything you can think of made of cardboard or paper mache so this feels a tad anticlimactic. Still, these two are worth watching. It's even worse that such a large scale enterprise is up for only 8 days (ending Nov 29th). Seriously, it often takes people 3.5 weeks to make a pilgrimage to even close in galleries and this is way out on 82nd... part of respecting the art is allowing its audience time enough to find their way to the work. 8 days is unfortunate and should be reconsidered.

Raphael's La Velata at PAM. Ok is it worth it? Absolutely, unequivocally yes. It is breathtaking and complex study in poise, slowburn-lust/love and restraint. No painter in town should miss this as it is one of Raphael's most important paintings etc. I also like how this doesn't feel like a blockbuster but a cozy viewing room. I even got to spend about 10 minutes alone with painting before a midweek crowd filed in. I especially love how Raphael painted the dark side of her face with sharper focus and the light side of her face with a softer look. It creates an effect completely foreign to photography and activates the painting structurally. Overall, the painting reveals itself slowly... it's a study in subtlety, both tender and a bit wicked. It's also interesting how it makes most of PAM's other Old Master paintings look like trash. I'm terribly sad that both the Apex and Miller-Meigs spaces do not have curated shows rotated into them... it's the economy and it hurts but the Raphael doesn't still provide a reason to hit the museum... China Design Now too. Hopefully Apex and The Miller-Meigs series will start again soon, it's a major cultural loss if it doesn't happen soon. The museum is free on Black Friday from 5-8PM. China Design Now will be free too but only so many people can see it... so 1st come first served. Timed Tickets for the raphael are free then too but they are sold out already.

Jim Neidhardt's Book Drunk at Blackfish is a hoot. At first glance this show looks like Barnett Newman's stations of the cross revisited until it clicks that these are book spines... fetished subtly and formally in a half ridiculous way. I particularly like the way one installation falls off the wall mixing expectations for object and image.

The Twitter Anti-painter video in Blackfish's fishbowl gallery window had a ponderous air of inevitability...

Half/Dozen's show of Brooklyn artists predictably titled, "Antler Necklace" is worth checking out. It has all of the typical Brooklynisms like yarn, trees, antlers, psychedelia and ironic illusions to preciousness... yup it's just like art from San Francisco, LA and Portland (we do it with less irony though). This is an exciting new space in the Everett Station Lofts with probably the best space of the bunch. Everything looked professional.

Also at the Everett Station Lofts May Juliette Barruel's "And Now We Do What We Do" at Igloo was an amusing turn at Tracey Emin lite. It has the Emin style righteousness without her poetic pathos and by not showing it's vulnerability seems a bit brittle. Interesting, hopefully the art will progress in it's depth. With Emin we pity her, then realize we are being played, then get smacked in the face... she's a mess but she's a truly complicated one. This show felt a little too in control, the good news is it has got potential.

Queer Gaze at Fontanelle. Ok I've seen hundreds of shows like this... but it doesn't disappoint. For whatever cosmic joke of a reason all human interactions involve some sort of gender/preference typecasting and this show does a good job showing both the tender and the symbolic public face in a profoundly humanistic way. Perfect for Thanksgiving weekend if you are downtown.

Anna Fidler's "The Game" at Disjecta is probably the first fully realized show I've seen in their over a year old Kenton space. Previously the constant string of BFA and MFA shows + other unevenness was mostly as expected but here Fidler makes the large space work by not overhanging and keeping the corners of the room dark. Overall, it has good scale and plenty of impressive skill on display but one wonders where this body of work is going conceptually? Many were worried Fidler going to jump the shark, which she avoids... but where does one go after going playing the fan card? These Barnaby Furnas meets LeRoy Neiman style works are psychedelic and successfully convey some of the appeal and intensity of Portland's NBA basketball team... but it's a spent force. They don't tell me anything much beyond a series of game highlights and the fact that I like Fidler's aesthetic better than Blazer athletics but I think that's part of the provocation here. This show succeeds but it looks like it could be a dead end?

Jim Riswold at Augen Gallery is still trying way too hard. Besides, making art about the artworld often creates the artistic equivalent of planned overs. Honestly Riswold can do better than this current exercise but he needs a more suitable target, something worthy of withering critique that hasn't received it yet. Here the targets (Hirst Lichtenstein, Koons etc.)are simply out of Riswold's reach. William Powhida's recent takedown of the New Museum is a perfect example of a real artworld takedown that lands its punches.

Both Gallery Homeland and Worksound displayed German art to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall this month. Overall, I was most impressed with Sanna-Lisa Gesang-Gottowt's To Suggest a Difference (Writings on the wall) at Worksound. As a temporary memorial and exercise in historical mimesis this works. If it were more permanent it wouldn't work.. which is interesting.

Posted by Jeff Jahn on November 26, 2009 at 0:35 | Comments (0)


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