Portland art blog + news + exhibition reviews + galleries + contemporary northwest art

recent entries

Giving Thanks Readings
Meet RACC's new leader Madison Cario
November Reviews
Early November Links
Spooky reviews
Countdown to Portlandageddon?
Mid October Links including PNCA/OCAC merger talks
Paul Allen, philanthropist and arts champion dead at 65
Midwest Art Initiative Tour
Haunting October Picks
End of September News
September review cluster

recent comments



Book Review
Calls for Artists
Design Review
Openings & Events
About PORT

regular contributors


Tori Abernathy
Amy Bernstein
Katherine Bovee
Emily Cappa
Patrick Collier
Arcy Douglass
Megan Driscoll
Jesse Hayward
Sarah Henderson
Jeff Jahn
Kelly Kutchko
Drew Lenihan
Victor Maldonado
Christopher Moon
Jascha Owens
Alex Rauch
Gary Wiseman



Guest Contributors
Past Contributors
November 2018
October 2018
September 2018
August 2018
July 2018
June 2018
May 2018
April 2018
March 2018
February 2018
January 2018
December 2017
November 2017
October 2017
September 2017
August 2017
July 2017
June 2017
May 2017
April 2017
March 2017
February 2017
January 2017
December 2016
November 2016
October 2016
September 2016
August 2016
July 2016
June 2016
May 2016
April 2016
March 2016
February 2016
January 2016
December 2015
November 2015
October 2015
September 2015
August 2015
July 2015
June 2015
May 2015
April 2015
March 2015
February 2015
January 2015
December 2014
November 2014
October 2014
September 2014
August 2014
July 2014
June 2014
May 2014
April 2014
March 2014
February 2014
January 2014
December 2013
November 2013
October 2013
September 2013
August 2013
July 2013
June 2013
May 2013
April 2013
March 2013
February 2013
January 2013
December 2012
November 2012
October 2012
September 2012
August 2012
July 2012
June 2012
May 2012
April 2012
March 2012
February 2012
January 2012
December 2011
November 2011
October 2011
September 2011
August 2011
July 2011
June 2011
May 2011
April 2011
March 2011
February 2011
January 2011
December 2010
November 2010
October 2010
September 2010
August 2010
July 2010
June 2010
May 2010
April 2010
March 2010
February 2010
January 2010
December 2009
November 2009
October 2009
September 2009
August 2009
July 2009
June 2009
May 2009
April 2009
March 2009
February 2009
January 2009
December 2008
November 2008
October 2008
September 2008
August 2008
July 2008
June 2008
May 2008
April 2008
March 2008
February 2008
January 2008
December 2007
November 2007
October 2007
September 2007
August 2007
July 2007
June 2007
May 2007
April 2007
March 2007
February 2007
January 2007
December 2006
November 2006
October 2006
September 2006
August 2006
July 2006
June 2006
May 2006
April 2006
March 2006
February 2006
January 2006
December 2005
November 2005
October 2005
September 2005
August 2005
July 2005
June 2005

contact us


Contact us






powered by


Movable Type 3.16

This site is licensed under a


Creative Commons License

Friday 08.27.10

« The Radiant Child | Main | like smoke and holy water »

Kertesz and Waselchuk exhibitions

Though this August has been littered with weakish summer group shows two excellent solo photography exhibitions next door to one another should not be missed, it is their last weekend. At Charles Hartman Fine Art there is a fantastic museum level exhibition spanning the entire career of master photographer Andre Kertesz. Next door at Blue Sky Gallery it is the sobering prison hospice care documentation of Lori Waselchuk.

Andre Kertesz Washington Square, Winter (1966)

At Charles Hartman the roughly chronological display covers classic Kertesz images like Lovers (1915) taken in Budapest to the iconic Mondrain's Glasses and Pipe (1926) from his Paris years to the fantastic Washington Square, Winter (1966) Taken in New York City.

Kertesz is a master of geometric composition as Mondrian's Glasses and Pipe demonstrates with its asymmetrical table corner forming a tense pyramid on which the ascetic circles of the bowl, pipe and glasses rest in a seemingly offhand repose. Those three elements form another implied triadic form that along with the table makes a diamond referring to some of Mondrian's own paintings.

Mondrian's Glasses and Pipe (1926)

Victory Boogie-Woogie 1943-44 Piet Mondrian

The image of Mondrian's glasses is so poetically deft and nonchalantly tense that it had to be taken by someone with a very intimate sense of Mondrian and his world as Kertesz was. Arguably, Kertesz's image is a portrait of Mondrian through his personal effects, which channels the a sense of the contemplation the master painter must have apprehended his own works with. Somehow Kertesz has captured the artist in his studio looking upon the tabla rasa of a primed canvas, except it's not... it's furniture and the painter's proxy possessions making the portrait way more telling than a can filled with Mondrian's brushes. It's as if Kertesz allows us to see a blank white surface in a way similar to Mondrian did.

Also from 1926, in Satiric Dancer the photographer's model pantomimes a now classic Matisse showing even more of the inter Parisian artist humor on display in Mondrian's Glasses and Pipe. To the contemporary viewer these images seem historic and nostalgic but at the time they were taken they were cutting edge facets of modern life, full of the wit and humor of the age. It stands as a celebratory act or toast rather than a form of veneration. To view this image I feel like I just had a glass of red wine with both Matisse and Kertesz and 10 of their other friends.

Similarly Dubo, Dubon, Dubonnett shows a witty Parisian street scene of a street bench, an advertisement with a man in a top hat and an ad for liquid refreshment. The witty play on words reveals the gritty daytime Parisian street life pairing it with a promise of night life and the intermingling with the well to do. It's the democracy of the intermixing classes that is modern here, though we take it completely for granted in America today. Back in 1926 it was all very new... writers like the classic Parisian prowler Charles Baudelaire knew these scenes well and Art historian T.J. Clark has made this bourgeois/bohemian intermingling the subject of his most famous book, The Painter of Modern Life... except of course Kertesz is a photographer and it's photography's ability to document these street scenes that pushed the Impressionists, Fauvists, Orphists and Cubists into ever more removed visual topographies while photography soaked up the allegorical light of the moment... a more mechanical process in a more mechanical age.

Arm in Ventilator (1937)

Images like Roof Tops, Tiles 1927 and Arm in Ventilator showcase the loaded allegorical and compositional panache of earlier images such as Mondrian's glasses with a more anonymous mechanical ennui apropos of the late 30's with Europe moving steadilly towards all out war.

By the time we see Lost Cloud from 1937 we have Kertesz living as a European exile in New York City and the cloud might as well be his own restless wandering soul. It's also a fantastic flattening of the depth of field somehow making the cloud seem as near as the building.
Lost Cloud (1937)

By the time we see the witty Homing Ship, New York from 1944 we sense Kertesz feels much more at home in his new home. In fact, his compositions seem to take on a starker clarity, a logical consequence of the much starker rectangles that make up that new world city's grid.

This geometric acuity only grew bolder with time as my two favorite prints in the show illustrate; Washington square, Winter (1966) and Martinique (1972).

Washington Square, Winter is a simply stunning photo of Washington Square from one of the NYU buildings that surround it. I wonder if Kertesz saw the patterns on the ground first then sought out the appropriate vantage or if he simply caught a glimpse by accident from a lucky window. Something tells me this view was no accident with Kertesz waiting years just for the right dusting of snow with moderate traffic. The net result reminds me of aboriginal dreamings from which the earth bound painters compose the world as if they were floating above the earth. For practical reasons It has the same charm as looking at an ant farm experiment, seeing all of the passageways and routes created for practical concerns that also work as art.

kertesz_martinique.jpgMartinique (1972)

Martinique is by far the most mysterious and geometric of all of the compositions and Im glad the Portland Art Museum already has one in its collection. For me it reminds me of the Lost Cloud and Roof Top, Tiles with the same proxied abstraction and compositional strength of Mondrian's Glasses and Pipe.

Lori Waselchuck's "Grace Before Dying" series

Next door at Blue Sky Gallery (a.k.a. The Oregon Center for the Photographic Arts) Lori Waselchuk's "Grace Before Dying" series is beyond powerful as a coherent exhibition documenting the prisoner-run hospice program at Angola State Penitentiary a maximum-security prison in Louisiana. According to the exhibition text, “more than 85% of the 5,100 inmates imprisoned at Angola are expected to expire there and until the hospice program was created in 1998, prisoners died mostly alone in the prison hospital.” The hospice program may not defray the inevitable but it does induce a certain crucial human dignity. Waselchuk's photos are sober and heartbreaking and the image of one inmate whose socks and pillow are labeled Ghost in magic marker are incredibly tragic-comic. Gallows humor indeed... fact is, inmates serving out life sentences are essentially ghosts already and there is something existentially poetic about seizing upon the irony.

Also, according to the (in this case important) exhibition text now, “when a terminally ill inmate is too sick to live among the general prison population, he is transferred to the hospice ward. Here, inmate volunteers, most of whom are serving life sentences themselves, try to keep him as comfortable as possible. During the last days of the patient’s life, the hospice staff begins a 24-hour vigil.”

These vigils displayed in wide format high contrast black and white images have an incredible earth bound quality and read counterclockwise around the room take us from ghost to pall bearers to hearse and cemetery. Waselchuk's three year project was handled with extreme dignity and each image like the subject matter itself has an air of compositional inevitability. We don't sense a virtuoso at work here, Waselchuck instead flattens and humanizes the experience with a restrained lack of drama, as if her shutter button were simply being pressed by the hand of fate.

Pall Bearers

What is remarkable here is that something so invisible to the general populace is succinctly presented with clarity and reinserted into the human record. We all encounter death daily, but inmates and the terminally ill experience it in such a profoundly compressed way that everyone who encounters their situation partakes in a profoundly reflexive communal existential experience. There is something beyond compelling about the human will to live. It isn’t pity either. Instead, it's our strongest form of empathy... an interest in the human will.

Truly it is why we watch boxers fight and daredevils tempt fate, why we love it when babies or dates eat and old people act younger than we allow ourselves to... and yes we watch those with a death sentence of some kind fill out the hours with a mixture of awe and horror because it's a compulsion as powerful and consuming as our first breath.

See these two shows in the Desoto building (between NW Couch and Davis at NW 8th ave.) if you want to contemplate the human experience in its most distilled form.

Posted by Jeff Jahn on August 27, 2010 at 9:17 | Comments (0)


Post a comment

Thanks for signing in, . Now you can comment. (sign out)

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)

Remember me?

s p o n s o r s
Site Design: Jennifer Armbrust   •   Site Development: Philippe Blanc & Katherine Bovee