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

recent entries

2019 1st links
2018 Summary
End of 2018 Links
PNCA + OCAC Merger Off
Loss of Material Evidence at Hoffman Gallery
Hoffman Gallery Changes at Lewis and Clark?
1st Weekend Picks
Meow Wolf The Movie
Giving Thanks Readings
Meet RACC's new leader Madison Cario
November Reviews
Early November Links

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
January 2019
December 2018
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

Wednesday 09.07.11

« 20 Years of Bonnie Bronson Fellows at L&C | Main | TBA:11 Visual Art Picks »

In preparation for Jesse Sugarmann's "Lido (The Pride Is Back)" at TBA

The original Hawthorne Streetcar

There was a time when trolley cars and electric trains ruled the cityscape. Then, with the help of Standard Oil, Firestone Tire and other companies, General Motors went on a buying spree to purchase many of those transit systems and replace them with their own buses. To compete with Ford's Model T, GM bought up a lot of other car manufacturers (including making an early bid for Ford) in order to offer a variety of models and colors. So, when given the choice between riding in something crowded and stinky or something roomy, shiny and speedy, what followed (if not in as a direct line as this brief synopsis indicates) was our fascination with all things cars.

Granted, GM didn't manage this feat of cultural obsession single-handedly. Cars were more freeing, and, one might argue, with that freedom came a greater sense of the individual, a little of the ramblin' man and the competitive spirit rolled into one. Ad campaigns fueled the perceived need for this luxury, and continue to do so: An attractive woman sits close to her man, the rag-top down, the wind almost non-existent heading down the highway, and both smiling as if they shared the secret of perfect joy. Or, consider the family of seven on their way to Yosemite in a station wagon. Even their dog is having a good time. Selling a dream, they are. An illusion we jump through substantial financial hoops to embrace.

What we have instead is a love/hate relationship with our cars, perhaps because the reality runs so contrary to the promise. Instead of liberation, we remain largely dependent on these vehicles. The ads don’t sell the planned obsolescence, just the newest styles; nor do they show the fights over that extra inch of the back seat between three preteens confined for 230 miles with no toilet break and the consequent threats from the driver to pull over. Well, if a bush is nearby after the whippin' ...

Subaru Wreck, 2009, Single channel video

Threats to domestic bliss and the potential for worse outcomes lay just under the surface in Jesse Sugarmann's art. The first clue we have is "Subaru Wreck," in which he pushes said make of car off of the tall wood blocks on which it is precariously balanced. The video begins with the car up on the blocks, when suddenly Sugarmann enters the frame and gives the car a hefty shove.

A more reflective sort of violence is seen in his video, "One of These Nights." I'm not going to ruin it for interested readers. Go to jessesugrmann.com and watch it. And while you're there, check out "I'm on Fire," a transitional piece from his early work.

Sugarmann is one of the poster kids this year for Portland Institute of Contemporary Art;s Time-Based Art Festival. Featured in the press materials is a still from his 2009 video, "Voyager Union." An older Voyager minivan has its backend propped up by pieces of lumber so that the van’s front bumper is touching the ground. The image calls to mind a performer on stilts, and even though in the video the inevitable occurs, it is in the still image where the tenuousness of the moment is most keenly felt. It’s all going to come crashing down, and we want to watch.

Automobiles are so much a part of our every day life that many of the associations and issues surrounding their impact and place in our lives, when brought to and imbued with meaning through an art practice, can readily fall victim to cliché or be overly pedantic. Sugarmann's earlier pieces come dangerously close when he addresses the environmental impact (the "Fresh Aire" series) of car exhaust and makes the fumes more real for us. However, his performances are done with a mix of futility and humor (at one point a cop approaches and asks what, exactly, he is doing), and therefore are more like tragicomedy.

Silver Anniversary #3 (for S. Christa McAuliffe) , 2011 (Production still)

Anticipation is key to much of Sugarmann's videotaped performance pieces, and therefore they require patience for the promised calamity. Yet, while destruction is often the end result with his earlier work, his more recent series, "Silver Anniversary" (exhibited in early summer at Fourteen30 Contemporary) are more subdued. The "stunts" are more choreographed, more like a dance than a demolition derby. As in many of Sugarmann's earlier works, the vans are close to identical, calling to mind Ford’s assembly-line efficiency. Yet, the sameness allows for certain symmetry that enhances the performance and its overall meaning. In "Silver Anniversary #3" the rear end of a white minivan is sitting on a flatbed truck with the front end sharply angled toward the ground. Sugarmann uses a forklift to bring another van into the picture. Perched on the tines at an angle this van perfectly aligns, rear end to rear end, with the other, and the two vans thereby create a diagonal trajectory. Nothing more happens until near the end of the video when the forklift backs up, taking its van with it. No crash. In "#4" we see the same van positioned the same way again on the flatbed. This time the van on the forklift is lifted high enough for Sugarmann to pull up to the front bumper of the van on the ground. By simultaneously backing up and lowering the van via the tines, he is able to roll its back tires down the roof of the bottom van. In his second approach, he places the wheels on the front of the hood and rolls the tires to the back. Neither pass is perfect, yet again, no crash. There is instead a sort of simple yet practiced elegance. It is only after reading the subtitles for these two works that we receive a jolt, for one is dedicated to S. Christa McAuliffe and the other to Judith Resnik, both astronauts who died in the Challenger explosion in 1986. The collision occurs between Sugarmann's graceful maneuvers and the televised, arching image of the tragedy that lives on in our collective mind.

Sugarmann is quite capable of subverting our expectations, and he can also be content to let a certain degree of chaos create its own spectacle. Just as "The Allure of the Automobile" is winding down at the Portland Art Museum, Sugarmann is presenting "Lido (The Pride Is Back) for TBA. An expanded version of his "Red Storm Rising," "Lido" consists of three Chrysler minivans parked upon forty-two air mattresses (fourteen for each). The mattresses will be simultaneously inflated, lifting the vans to a somewhat uncertain fate while also creating monuments of/to the vans.

I have not nearly enough addressed the sculptural aspects of Sugarmann's work, when, in fact, he has a fairly large body of themed work that does not rely on video or performance. While a piece like "Dad Effigy" is certainly emotive, it elicits empathy, which is quite different from the vicarious thrill of his kinetic works. One gets the sense that Sugarmann is aware of this impulse for the thrill, which might be one reason much of his more recent works subvert our wanton desire for destruction.

After working with automobiles and auto parts for several years now, I wonder if Sugarmann might be nearing the time when the trope of the car becomes exhausted. Perhaps not, for as his homage to dead astronauts has shown, so much of our psyche is tied into travel, discovery, speed, design, and heck, with a nod to J.G Ballard and drive-in movies, even sex. His journey may have just begun.

Posted by Patrick Collier on September 07, 2011 at 22:17 | 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