I've made no secret that I'm a little tired of the curatorial crutch of installing grayscale work (photography exempt of course) but two shows this month, titled Memory and Anonymous explore both the reasons for my antipathy and a secret appreciation for the underlying aesthetic. These conflicted feelings are interesting as less colorful shows always seem to be both an easily achieved form of elegance and a well worn road to generic art world accessibility.
First off is Memory by Jerry Mayer and Ellen George at the Nine Gallery
housed within Bluesky. Extremely simple and elegant the show consists of one large sheet of paper that has been folded and unfolded so much that it resembles a topographic map of the Himalayas. This is riffing on the trope of art as palimpsest as the paper records the wear and use of each move. The end result is lived-in, like a favorite article of clothing but the whiteness and light paper of the entire enterprise presents itself as a kind of relief after the existential burdens of the past signified by the paper folds. Here a past survived is a past with no sting. The folds also resemble the synaptic structures of the brain.
George and Mayer have created a piece that shows just how memories of difficult times (which they like most people have overcome) can become sweeter with time. Also, it was the right decision to show only this one piece in the gallery. Serializing the work would have diminished it.
As an existential road map the piece's shadows and texture are mesmerizing and takes the avowed ideas at play in the physical abstraction show Interior Margins (a few blocks away) up a notch and reminds us why Ellen George is one of the five most interesting/challenging/accomplished ladies of kinesthetic abstraction in Portland. (Eva Speer, Midori Hirose, Linda Hutchins and Jacqueline Ehlis are the other four if you must know,) .
Abstraction and memory have a long history and having recently seen the de Kooning retrospective last year at MoMA only reemphasized this relationship. His late period (dementia) works are particularly chilling and interesting but Mayer and George's work is different... closer to Agnes Martin and Dorothea Rockburne's more intimate practice. All that said Memory is one show you should not miss this month. Itis unforgettable because it so nonspecific, leaving room for the viewer's cognitive response.
Anonymous at the Art Gym
Anonymous, a group show at the Art Gym
curated by Micah Malone operates along some parallel conceptual and aesthetic lines as Memory. Granted, Anonymous is a heavy handed curatorial construct where the artist have all signed a contract to never reveal that they took part in the show. By giving up their identities and exhibition histories they are then in turn given a certain carte blanche
to do whatever they wanted. It is interesting how that freedom is used to explore some of the more hackneyed ideas that float around the art world. In fact, the option to pursue dead end ideas is the strength of the exhibition.
For example Artist D made the logically flawed but resonant with the times mural Untitled (terrorism). Another, artist F, grabbed the Occupy Portland theme and ran with the anonymous (aka leaderless) theme to poetic effect. Then there were the photos of light bulbs and a chair filled meeting room with a single spotlight... mocking and reaffirming the premise of the exhibition itself. These are works that are resonant with the times but somewhat too reliant on predictable agitprop to build a career on.
So what did the rest do with this so called freedom? Most of them decided to create works that are even more generic art school cliches. I've seen these works seemingly thousands of times; A guy huddled in a sleeping bag... check, the ever popular mock modernist string piece... check, action figures on a mirrored surface... check, graphic representation of a marijuana leaf and other pop culture spoofs... check, blocks cut from two by fours covered in white gesso... check, some art about the omnipresent influence of Duchamp, Judd and Beuys... check. It is particularity telling that most of the artists chose a black and white color palate as if to engage the generic qualities of such work and the mind races with questions as to who did what? Did Micah Malone simply make all of this work himself... no, but that would have been excellent.
Instead, little clues and the fact that Malone and I have similar social circles give me some possible clues as to who is who here but I'm not going to ruin anyone's fun (TJ Norris, Patrick Rock, Sean Healy collaborating with Joe Thurston and Todd Johnson are all good candidates, as is Bruce Conkle but I think he sat this out and others made work that looks like stuff Conkle made during his BFA years... which is hilarious). In fact artists like Bruce Conkle, David Eckard, Emily Ginsberg, Melody Owen, Pat Boas and Tad Savinar have shown at the Art Gym so much an anonymous show might be the only way to to do another Art Gym appearance? (all of them do good work and most have a somewhat approachable presentation style, ie nothing too in your face or hard nosed) See the show has me dissecting the Art Gym's programming not the show itself? It is important to note that grayscale work was not stipulated and no I have nothing to do with the work in this show... aaand no I'm not protesting too much, I'm simply yanking a chain.
Artist F, Protester in January
Which raises an important question about Anonymous, how does a curator get an artist to participate in a show that does not further their careers yet has the typical opportunity costs of time and other scant resources? Hint, personal connections, cheap materials and a dry sense of humor help.
The story here is that most of the artists (some who undoubtedly have shown too much in Portland already) used the opportunity to explore things they rejected as outside their idiom or simply too generic. On paper that looks like a dull show but it is not. Instead, because all artists have a brand or career that they manage, Anonymous becomes a kind of monkey wrench in the cogs of our local art scene... go see it and please avoid repeating most of it (not because it is bad but because it is predictable). For art students this exhibition is mandatory.