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Wednesday 12.07.11

« Plazm 20 years, closing reception | Main | Interior Margins conversation »

The Score III

There were numerous excellent shows I simply did not have time to cover over the last 6 months and The Score as an ongoing series of reviews is a way to catch up and take note. What's more, three very good shows; Museion, David Eckard's survey (feature article coming soon) and The Bonnie Bronson Fellows show all end this week.

Museion at Reed College (photo Jeff Jahn)

Museion at the Cooley Gallery ends today so it is your last chance to see what Reed has in the vaults. For example, they have a more varied and numerous collection of Milton Avery's than PAM has. Also, their Rothko is strangely fleshy like the Cezannes they are indebted to but way less arid. With numerous works by CS Price and Morris Graves Reed definitely hits the high points in good old Northwest art and the overall humanistic focus of the collection becomes crystal clear. A contemporary video piece Corundum by Allison Hrabluik further demonstrates the cohesiveness of the collection with its intense awareness of the human body and our proclivity for skin augmentation is presented as a contemporary grotesque.

Allison Hrabluik, Corundum, video (2010)

Overall, the most notable thing about Museion besides the quality works themselves is how well they are installed and it reminds me how much I love university museums. They give students a way to wander and continually reconsider a familiar set of objects in a permanent collection and Reed should have one. With alumni like super collector Peter Norton, curator Larry Rinder and artist David Reed you wonder why they don’t already have one? Could the faculty see a University Museum as a threat or distraction to their own funding and research? I can't imagine otherwise learned folk feeling that way... perhaps it takes a dedicated patron to push the idea? An updated and larger lecture hall than the current Vollum Hall is needed as well.

Kyle Thompson, I Hate The Sound of Guitars A: No Survivors (photo Jeff Jahn)

Perhaps the hottest new space in Portland is Recess gallery, which reminds me of a small scale scale P.S.1 with all of its exposed brick, stairwells and a warren of project space sized rooms. In September they put on a Space-Based Art festival and I was impressed that they even created a small publication for the event. There are some ringleaders from Reed, PSU and PNCA at work here and a lot of the work looked like the kind of Unmonumental style art that is the calling card of recent grads these days but Kyle Thompson's I Hate The Sound of Guitars A:No Survivors was a particular standout with its hypnotic, multireflection array fragmenting a video of a boat's wake. A suitable metaphor for the transporting power of experiential art and a healthy dose of existential doom.

Adam Sorensen at PAM, Tabernacle (2011) on the left (photo Jeff Jahn)

Adam Sorensen's show at the Portland Art Museum's Apex space is one of the very best they have ever presented, partially because the canvases on display represent a new level for the artist. The paint handling is better, with a penchant for serialized forms that appear to luminesce with an eerie graduated glow. The compositions although landscapes also manage to have a more all over, non-hierarchical structure that along with the luminescence recall Robert Irwin and other light and space artists. Then there is the color, which is starker with cleaner blues, blacks, greens oranges and pink. The result is alien, like art rock album covers for the band YES from the 70's but instead of being merely trippy they highlight the way we project ourselves into nature... but with a twist, there is no room for humans and it is difficult to tell what is mineral or vegetable. Even the brooding spatial compression of the work seems to keep the sky in check. These paintings are initially seductive like a psychedelic postcard image but ultimately remain beyond reach. In fact, it is difficult to tell if Sorensen's vision is idealized or horrific as a kind of meeting between Eva Hesse and Caspar David Friedrich? In particular the largest work, Tabernacle is a landmark piece and it would be nice if PAM could acquire it... since like most Northwest art collections it rarely possesses the best or key works from important artists (in a commercial gallery it would sell very quickly giving PAM little chance).

Thus, it is extremely refreshing to see a very relevant breakthrough moment happen within PAM's walls, so often they are late to the party. In this case they have chosen well with one of the key painters who moved here within the last decade or so. Question is can PAM build some momentum by featuring relevant “truly contemporary” artists as they make major statements? Can they get beyond traditional wall painting and floor sculpture to address the shift towards new media and less commercial work? What about edgier, less academic or less so-called “commercially viable” work? Lastly, how is the Apex Program to be defined in contrast to the Contemporary Northwest Art Awards? For a partial answer Sorensen's show is a tantalizingly relevant programmatic move but unless there is follow through it will feel like an anomaly . One of the best shows of the year, congrats!

Dustin Zemel at Worksound

At Worksound's current Shred of Lights show, Dustin Zemel's interactive installation Scoop 6am, consisting of fake TV news reporters (played by local artists) hits all of the right notes even though the tangle of wires could use either a little cleaner or even more cacophonous presentation (ala Jason Rhoades). There will be updated presentations in 2012 giving Zemel a chance to evolve the piece. So often the network news presents new stories in the same old formalized way, churning out boilerplate and anchorman hair in lieu of analysis that it has lost credibility... just wait for the next potential Snowpocalypse to hit Portland, with its relentlessly repeated footage of cars and people sliding where they shouldn't. Here Zemel gives us artists presenting the news and in these cacophonous times who is more qualified?

Bronson Fellows at Hoffman Gallery (photo Jeff Jahn)

At Lewis and Clark's Hoffman Gallery you have through Sunday to catch Bonnie Bronson Fellows: 20 Years. The show is necessarily an uneven grab bag of sometimes too academic or soft, sometimes refreshingly direct work (David Eckard, Nan Curtis, Christine Bourdette, Bill Will, MK Guth and Paul Sutinen for example). Historically the award has sometimes been an early predictor of a major international level mid career flowering so it is worth paying attention to. To look deeper, Nan Curtis is the most recent Bronson Fellow (who first showed in Portland in 1995) so one strength of this 20 year exhibition acts as a kind of catalog of Portland at the end of the 20th century. It also highlights how the the award has not yet addressed the immense wave of artists who have greatly re-imagined Portland since 2000. Perhaps the reason Nan Curtis' commissioned pieces for the recently passed Bronson Fellowship patron and advocate Joan Shipley are my favorites in the show is the way they literally crystallize the interaction between artist and patron. Thus, cementing the support for often non commercial work that the Bronson Fellowship has often supported... all while highlighting the fact that a new era is necessarily on the horizon. One thing is sure, the Bonnie Bronson Fellowship has been key to supporting mid-career artists who have changed shape of the Portland art scene and though Bronson and Shipley might be gone, the award's persistence links and clarifies the present and past in a crucial way.

Harmless Environments at Half/Dozen

For years Half/Dozen was the anchor of activities at the Everett Station Lofts but it's new and somewhat quirkier dual project spaces have actually made it even an even better if not harder to find venue. True I still miss NAAU as the East Eide's ultimate cutting edge art destination but Half/Dozen has become its most consistent heir to what was the most crucial gallery of the past decade. Not certain if h/d can or even needs to aim that high without lots of funding. Time trudges on though and my favorite show at h/d so far was Harmless Environments with Ellen Jane Michael and Megan Scheminske in August. Michael's bailed printed materials and Sheminske's photos of artist's studios worked incredibly well together... like a journal of human industriousness, the show was a poetic elegy to the way the production of culture greases the gears of civilization. Michael's objects had a very mortal quality, existing like the paper pulp's phantom memory for it's former tree form and Schiminske's off hand and almost incidental photos were very well done. Both are talents to be watched.

Posted by Jeff Jahn on December 07, 2011 at 12:12 | Comments (0)


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