May has been an exceedingly good month for shows in Portland and even though
have ended there's still time to catch Scarecrow
and other extra worthy shows. Honestly, I can't a remember a month in Portland
when we've had so many high quality or at least provocative shows both local and
international in scope? In fact, both the Everett Station Lofts and Last Thursday
delivered strong surprises (which somehow weren't sniffed out by the recent attempted/impossible
survey of the scene).
Here are a few quick reviews that give one a taste of what else was going on
in the Portland art scene for May:
Hometouch at Littlefield
Zach Rose's Hometouch
, the artist presented a hilarious mock trade show/infomercial
sales situation. The three sleek blinking black boxes on pedestals promise
some sort of technology and the cheesy pot ash tree gives the whole affair an
air of corporate ennui emphasized by the sign which is expertly presented as
anything but home-y. The installation raises lots of questions with no answers.
Might one of the black boxes be a game console that can help you exercise or
play tennis without leaving the home or is it a wireless controller
that will organize the activities of every electronic device in the room? No
answers here, just crickets and I enjoyed the near perfect deadpan presentation.
It wouldn't be as effective in a traditional white box gallery either.
Overall, technology can be considered an endless incursion into one's personal
and or home life and Rose's mock celebration/exposition makes the utopian deus
of technology into a kind of asymptotic rebus of wish fulfillment.
In this installation we can project any expectations upon these slick black
boxes with their blinking LED lights and eventually someone will manufacture
something to satisfy that desire. The whole thing feels like a Becket play with
Dave Hickey as director
call it waiting for Godot.com?
Travis Fitzgerald at Appendix
Travis Fitzgerald's latest installation of uneasy combines showed great promise as an Arte
tinged conflagration of painting and cheap materials all Isa
. I particularly liked a cellophane wrapped bag of pine needles and
it was poetic and reminiscent of Richard Tuttle but a similarly
wrapped hay bail stole the show. Propped up in an alleyway it was Art Informel
a kind of Anne Truitt meets Robert Rauschenberg moment outside
the white box. I hope Fitzgerald ditches the gallery construct all together
taking it beyond the whole Unmonumental fetish of cheap materials in the white gallery... a conceit popular for the past 8 years or so. The show is wildly uneven but he's one to watch.
Michael Mandiberg at PNCA
At PNCA's Feldman Gallery Michael
Mandiberg's The Great Recession
is a well presented but not particularly
deep exploration of the aura surrounding today's financial lending institutions,
both international megabanks and more local savings and loans. Since all are
symbolically represented by similar sized books there is a sense of inscrutable
equanimity here, begging the question of culpability between Wall Street and
Main Street via this obfuscation. Yes, we would all love to "close the
book" on this chapter of economic history but of course it's impossible
and the "bank logos are burned into the covers" of our consciousness. I enjoy
this show but the readily accessible puns reveal its limitations as a too academic
exercise in logo slinging. The video, etc. doesn't really expand the discussion
either though someone burying his money in the woods is equally topical.
Ultimately it's the book and pop logo fetish that makes this show palatable
as an exercise in design as a form of mild institutional critique. Go see it
now because after this recession ends it won't age well. Luckily for Mandiberg
it probably has another year or two of relevance.
Liva Corona at Bluesky
show is a smart exploration of humanity and scale (one
of photography's best attributes
..). In Liva Corona's show her photography
presents a series of encounters with dwarf bullfighters from Mexico. I particularly
appreciated the way both the small format and giant format prints all presented
their subjects as figures to be encountered by the viewer, not merely as subjects
of the lens
i.e. passive images merely presented for voyeuristic apprehension.
Here the figures meet your gaze. Also, the kinesthetic shift of scale effectively
makes scale a moot issue and refocuses our attention on the humanity present.
It's just like fighting fire with fire or a black comic using the N word.
What's more I've noticed a steady increase in the strength and presentation
of shows at Bluesky since their move to the Desoto
and subsequent phases of increased professionalization. It's putting
them on course for becoming Portland's third major museum space (PAM and MoCC
being the other two). In the past people confused them with being a co-op but
with deft shows like this by international artists (with subsequent international
expenses) it seems like Bluesky is more of a kunsthalle
for photography in this
vibrant art city.
Gus Van Sant at PDX Contemporary Art
Gus Van Sant's
Cut Ups show at PDX Contemporary Art
is surprisingly good... just because
he's a good sometimes great director doesn't mean his still photos will necessarily
translate, but here they do. His screen-test photos digitally mashed up recall
the fragmented drama of Francis Bacon and fiction
of Storm Tharp
as well as Picasso. Still, the big difference between those
artists and Van Sant is the characters he constructs are ultimately pieced together
in a way that makes the figure seem more vulnerable and evocative of sympathy
rather than the sadism of Picasso or fiction in Tharp or Bacon. Think about the narcoleptic character played
by River Phoenix in My Own Private Idaho
or the death scene in Last Days
the main character leaves his body and climbs away. Those scenes should give a reference
for these Frankenstein like accretions of personalities.
Snellman's Face Facade
Snellman's latest show at Fourteen30
is a little too predictable for its
own good but the back room is more successful than the front. The front room
is full of works that combine 3 popular contemporary memes; the voyeuristic
vampirism of Hollywood, mild S&M and art heavily indebted to Rachel Harrison
and other artists in the Unmonumental show. It just looks like the sort of art
you are certain to see when gallery hopping in LA, making it a tad anonymous.
The back room continues the themes of the first but houses only two works, which
happen to be the strongest in the show. The back of Shirley Temple's head is
apparently a famous icon (I recognized it immediately) and her tender, fragile
situation is highlighted by the colored bruise of fame Snellman has placed in the part
of her hair
is this child star damage? Temple had a non alcoholic drink named after
her and eventually became a US ambassador, for her Hollywood was a place to
be a child and politics a place to be an adult
it's usually the other
The hanging piece, Baby Take a Bow (suspended)
successfully fuses a fetish
for black netting, and tinted window glass
it's a kind of rumination on
the delicate balance between privacy and sexual fetish. Nicely done (unlike
some of the easier stuff in front) but I still have to wonder, what's the point?
This show isn't sexy or vulnerable enough to compete with the Hollywood we see
regularly in film. Hell, it's still not as cool as a Robert Palmer video (which
Snellman and I both like a little too much). She's talented but needs to push
the envelope a lot more if she's going down this well worn path. WWRPD?
Exploring Glee and it's fans at Tribute
Gallery's Marginal Strands
show is the second of Dustin Zemel's Stare Hard
this time taking on the phenomenon of Glee. Honestly, I liked this
exhibition more than the actual show since I'm more interested in the cultural
phenomena than yet another high school drama on TV. My impression is one of
obsession and intense identification and it reminds me a little bit of Candice
Breitz's Soliloquy Series, just not as convincing, clear or mesmerizing. Then
again Glee doesn't have Nicholson or Eastwood acting in it, yet.
Artura Silva at Half/Dozen
Half Dozen's Artur Silva exhibition of arcade machines, video and mayhem titled
was one of the most ambitious shows I've seen at the Everett Station
lofts in recent memory. Consisting of numerous classic arcade games, one tipped
and spewing smoke, and a video collage of snarky arcade play action the show
has that typical Brooklyn-style attitude and subculture mining one doesn't see
frequently from local art school graduates. That's either a good thing or bad but it is welcome variety this time.
This is another enjoyable show that isn't terribly deep I but it does signal
that Half/Dozen is now the gallery to watch in the Everett Station Lofts.
Mark Steinmetz at Charles Hartman Fine Art
Mark Steinmetz's show
at Charles Hartman Fine Art
is a wonderfully nuanced study in the compressed
horizon of opportunities one finds in small towns. Generally as a kind of formal
metaphor for fate there is an intense horizontality to the compositions and even
when a ribbon and pole bisects a picture there is a sense that yes, one can possibly
transcend this place but not today. His photo of a young man sitting in a too
small hotrod kiddie ride might be very staged looking but it also feels true to
my own experience with small rural towns. Steinmetz's highly geometric compositions
serve to enhance the sense of fate hanging in these photographs, he's a kind kind
of photographic Thomas Hardy.