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Looking back at 2012: best and worst
Top Posts for 2012
Last Minute Gifts and Book Reviews
Nativity 3.0
Interview with Bruce Conkle
Making a list?
Fighting Men at Lewis and Clark
Weekend Openings in December
Friday links
That's a negative?
Monday Links
Bruce Conkle at PSU's Autzen Gallery

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Monday 12.31.12

Looking back at 2012: best and worst

Bruce Nauman, Basements at Reed College, (far left) Wall-Floor Positions, 1968, (large center) Dance or Exercise on the Perimeter of a Square (Square Dance) 1967-68 (photo Jeff Jahn)

2012 held what was perhaps the highest quality collection of exhibitions in Portland's history... partly because most of the major institutions really stepped up their game when it came presenting major artists (since when does Portland ever have 2 Bruce Nauman shows in one year?)... while the very vital street level contemporary scene added a great deal of new intrigue and conceptual rigor to the mix. I also penned an Op Ed in the Tribune about Portland's current cultural prominence and how to keep that momentum going.

Still, there is a schism between Portland's most cutting edge artists and its top tier institutions/awards who seem more comfortable with mid-late career and academic concerns than challenging/interesting art with a fine edge (the kind that most professors have trouble keeping).

(... much more with; Rothko, Nauman, Kelley, Arnold, Cornaro, Schenk, Thompson etc...)

Posted by Jeff Jahn on December 31, 2012 at 21:11 | Comments (0)


Thursday 12.27.12

Top Posts for 2012

I'm still compiling PORT's best and worst of 2012 list but it was a year full of art news, reviews and interviews so here are our top 6 most read posts for 2012:

It is surprising that a review of Vicky Lynn Wilson's Cumulus at PCC Sylvania is our most read post of 2012... until you factor in the effect Hurricane Sandy had upon the American psyche.

Every few years I like to do a post introducing some new faces to watch in the scene. Our 2012 edition of fresh faces to the Portland art scene was extremely popular. In many ways it heralded this post commenting on Peter Plagens' article in the Wall Street Journal, in May 2012 (also a popular post but not even in our top 10... which is good because PORT readers already knew plenty about the Portland art scene).

After years of trying to be as itinerant as Portland's alternative spaces PICA finally grew up and stopped couch surfing in Weiden + Kennedy's basement... moving a few blocks away to a building that many design conscious Portlanders have come to love. They learned their lesson the hard way and 7 years is a long time to go without a signature space.

My review of Mike Kelley at the Portland Art Museum, capped off a wonderful but bittersweet moment in 2012. Kelley will be missed.

Paul Middendorf finally scored that interview with Richard Serra we've been waiting for.

My review of Heidi Schwegler's The Known World at Chambers was a complicated review of a complicated (some would say turgid) show that purposefully tried to make the viewer feel like a bobble head bouncing along a rough road in some remote part of the world.

It is funny how some of the more critical reviews attracted more eyeballs... posts on Rothko, the Mayoral & City Council races, Paul Schimmel/Jeffrey Deitch and my unfinished essay/discussion opener Priming the Cultural Pump were not far behind.

Posted by Jeff Jahn on December 27, 2012 at 10:27 | Comments (0)


Sunday 12.23.12

Last Minute Gifts and Book Reviews

Just before Christmas many people are running out of time and ideas, here are two books that most anyone with an ounce of creativity in their being will find fascinating.


My first suggestion is the fantastic limited edition Clouds by artist Ben Young and Container Corps. Using a rare and out of print cloud atlas (not the horrible movie) Young then created sculptural examples of the various types of clouds. They range from your typical "fluffy" cumulus to the much more interesting cirrocumulus floccus which combines the high thin quality of the genus cirrus with the species floccus, which resembles and derives its name from fluffy handfuls of sheep's wool but is made of high altitude ice crystals. Young's example looks like it could be made of flour or powdered sugar but it is also completely convincing, turning this into an inverted zen rorschach test.

The fantastic thing about this project is the way it calls Stieglitz's Equivalents Series of photographs while being a handy compendium for anyone who looks into the sky and wonders. Who says contemporary art is useless and wholly self serving?

... (More including Ai Weiwei)

Posted by Jeff Jahn on December 23, 2012 at 23:46 | Comments (0)


Friday 12.21.12

Nativity 3.0


For their 3rd year Xhurch's radical nativity series Nativity 3.0 features Portland's MSHR and the Hair and Space Museum. Last year's blasphemy deluxe was alien themed but this year it is much more abstract and technodelic, including the theme of "Imortality (through technology)."

Tonight's opening ceremonies features Cloaks and MSHR beginning at 7pm.

Here's the PR: "Planned in conjunction with Seattle's reputed Hair and Space Museum, Nativity 3.0 promises to "top out" in both conceptual scope and visual splendor. In 2010, Xhurch staged a quaint and traditional Christmas Nativity which drew friends and a few neighbors. Last year, Alien Nativity attracted hundreds of visitors and garnered international media attention with its kitsch extra-terrestrial motif. This year's installation will abstract even further away from the original, presenting a visual feast while riffing on topics like Infinity, The Coming Technological Singularity, Immortality (through technology), modern Spiritualism and THE END OF THE WORLD AS WE KNOW IT!"

...ummm ok, that does beat 3 wise men and some live camels.

Opening December 21st 7-9PM
Nativity 3.0: December 21-25th | 5-9PM nightly
Xhurch | 4550 NE 20th

Posted by Jeff Jahn on December 21, 2012 at 11:57 | Comments (0)


Thursday 12.20.12

Interview with Bruce Conkle

Mystic Mitt (Earth), 2012 from Tree Clouds

Although today Portland is full of conceptual and new media artists, when I first moved here there was really only one active practitioner on display, Bruce Conkle. His phantasmagorical time and sense scapes have evolved over the years making him the dean of eco art in Oregon. All the while his work has celebrated the odd boundaries between the natural and unnatural, ideal and real in his work and life (he does have a mock wood grain tattoo after all).

Conkle's work isn't shrill or a scold so much as a court jester putting on a subtle Blackfriars style roast regarding the state of the planet and humanity's role in its current situation. Thankfully nature isn't always portrayed as friendly. As an artist he has exhibited at Brazil's A Gentil Carioca, New York's Jack the Pelican, Living Art Museum in Iceland as well as the Gobi Desert with Eco-baroque, his collaboration with Marne Lucas. He's also the lone conceptual/new media artist (ie craft or handling of media is downplayed to play up conceptual content) to receive the Hallie Ford Fellowship (in 2010). The first crop of 9 Ford Fellows will have an inaugural exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Craft in January 2013.


Posted by Jeff Jahn on December 20, 2012 at 12:20 | Comments (0)


Tuesday 12.18.12

Making a list?

So it is end of the year list time... what were your favorite shows this year? I wasn't that into the various group shows but 2012 with solo shows by major artists like Rothko, Mike Kelley, Kara Walker, two by Bruce Nauman and Gerhard Richter will be very tough to top. I'll have a complete list of my favorite shows (including locals) soon.

Christopher Knight lists his favorite museum shows in LA for 2012.

Architizer lists their top 10 architecture controversies for the year.

Posted by Jeff Jahn on December 18, 2012 at 11:27 | Comments (0)


Monday 12.17.12

Fighting Men at Lewis and Clark

Fighting Men, (Foreground L to R) Peter Voulkos Untitled ice bucket 1998 and Leon Golub Interrogation I (2), 1980-81, Acrylic on linen, 120 x 176 inches, The Broad Art Foundation, Santa Monica, Art (c) Estate of Leon Golub/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY, (Background L to R) Voulkos, Kirby, Kirby and Kirby (photo Jeff Jahn)

At first glance, Fighting Men at Lewis & Clark College's Hoffman Gallery appears to be an amalgamation of modernist ideals, the ruptured functionality of ceramics seen in the work of Peter Voulkos, the futurism of the early comic books of Jack Kirby, and the eerie, abstract depictions of war in the paintings Leon Golub. However, the three distinct bodies of work play off and compliment each other by building dialogues around dissent, power, violence, masculinity, and authority. An overarching power struggle between the work is what brings this exhibition to life.... (more)

Posted by Drew Lenihan on December 17, 2012 at 1:57 | Comments (1)


Friday 12.14.12

Weekend Openings in December

Will Work for Representation, Sam Guerrero

There are a few ways to combat the self-absorbed character of Modern art. One such avenue has been a looking outward, the disappearance of the author's hand as it recedes in favor of a brutally anti-aesthetic void. In a less 'subverting' gesture, some artists have moved towards a deeply reflective (if not hyper-critical)investigation of the social underpinnings that afford them their privileged place in our culture. White Pride? is an exhibition opening at Place with a quality line up of artists that have supposed to take on that challenge. "A thorough examination of how we personally benefit when we step into narratives of privilege is necessary if we want to create new scripts in how we navigate racially. Scarily, this means we have to sometimes stop congratulating ourselves and get a bit more introspective."

White Pride? | Nadia Buyse, Chris Freeman, Sam Guerrero, Michael Martínez, Mark Martinez, Christine Taylor, Chloé Womack
Opening Reception | 5-9PM
Place | 700 SW 5th Ave 3rd floor

More behind the cut! Ben Young + Gary Robbins @ PICA and Seth Nehil @ FalseFront

Posted by Tori Abernathy on December 14, 2012 at 20:15 | Comments (1)


Friday links

We should have a nice long review of a very interesting show posted soon but till then here are some links:

Hyperallergic gives a look at Ann Hamilton's latest.

The I-5 Columbia River Crossing will need to be over 20 feet higher clearance than originally designed, begging the question... "how does one miss that kind of design detail?" Had they gone with the better design (seismically, aesthetically, smaller # of ecology changing piers and functionally for boat clearances, bicycles and pedestrians) they would not have had a problem. The whole design process was backwards (leading to ineptitude) and the project should be scrapped or completely redesigned with use, northwest values and seismicity in mind. The funding for this poor design (which creates a below decks dungeon corridor for bikes, pedestrians and criminal activity) hasn't materialized because its design simply isn't well thought out. Besides, not choosing the highest performing seismic design (cable stay) makes it an idiotic use of taxpayer money. What could have been a showcase of northwest problem solving, values and design has become a never ending taxpayer boondoggle nobody seems to like. Confidence in this project is incredibly low, even amongst those like I who see the need for a new bridge (fix snarls, add light rail and seismic survivability when a 8.5+ eventually hits, right now if a 7.0 hits a lot of people could lose their lives).

Onetime Oregonian Josh Faught gets a SECA award. Congrats Josh! If only the CNAA's had a similar national level reputation... remember, when it replaced the Oregon Biennial the CNAA's were touted as being patterned after the SECA award.

Posted by Jeff Jahn on December 14, 2012 at 10:56 | Comments (0)


Tuesday 12.11.12

That's a negative?

The critic Robert Hughes, who died at age 74 earlier this year.

Most artists completely misunderstand criticism and the motivations of critics... especially the ones who try their hand at criticism themselves (usually to flatter friends and potential friends). Usually, the flatterers stop somewhere between 6 months and 2 years because they begin to understand or feel the blowback. Basically, criticism is a benchmark and a vantage point for a certain type of perceived understanding. Academicians (as opposed to intellectuals) like to describe a crisis in criticism... which is a paper tiger fabrication. Criticism is crisis. It thrives on being on the edge of relevance and the inane because it helps sharpen the delineation between the two. A good critic writes negative reviews and even takes issue with aspects of shows they like.

The Huffington Post just did a list of their favorite negative lines from 2012.

The HuffPo's list is ok but I much prefer this one:

Roberta Smith on the Met's Cloud City "It can be interesting to read about Mr. Saraceno's art, especially the incredible effort involved in realizing it, but as you read quotations from his highly knowledgeable, skilled, enthusiastic collaborators, the works also assume a too-big-to-fail aspect. Too many people enjoy working on, bouncing on and navigating these things. They must be good."

How about PORT? Here's a key bit from Amy's critical review of Interior Margins: "The direction of the reader's attention to the artists' body is a reason to give pause. How exactly do they "enact the female body?" What "swelling forms" exist within this exhibition? Perhaps Judy Cooke's graphic black shapes could be seen as "swelling," but this is a stretch. The language is almost strange, irrelevant sounding. If this was a group of male abstractionists, no such reference to the artists' bodies would have been made at all. It is almost as if the celebration of the rarity of female artists working in an abstract vernacular gives allowance to highlight the physicality of being female. The impetus for these abstractionists does not visibly have to do with being female. This is not an exhibition concerned with gender identity. These artists are dealing with ideas of material and language, existential philosophies, and meanings of process- as so many artists who make abstract work do. The fact that these artists are female is an exciting reason as any to have a show; it is simply that the show's statement seems to deflate the intellectual aspect of this experience somewhat and replace it with the body. It is misleading. The interesting aspect of the female part of it is to see the continuation and variety of the tradition of women making abstract objects and images and to gather them together to see what is happening now. This is the essence of Interior Margins. What is feminine about the show is indefinable, perhaps because femininity itself is indefinable. Yet then again, so is personhood. There is an eloquence to the show, an essence of tactility, and an utter lack of violence. There is a thoughtful measure and a graceful formal consideration that is clear and well designed." In Portland only PORT had the will to critique a somewhat polite show for what it was, interesting but missing key components of the discussion. It is completely constructive by being less than purely celebratory.

...(More, including Joe Macca + Gary Robbins and Travis Fitzgerald)

Posted by Jeff Jahn on December 11, 2012 at 11:33 | Comments (0)


Monday 12.10.12

Monday Links

This NYT's story on the New Yale University Museum galleries and director Jock Reynolds is a must read. Sure it starts of as your basic "New Wing Building" article but the way it then focuses on Reynolds is inspiring. Imagine that? ...a museum director with a great eye and extremely tactical use of empathy. Then there is the fact that he seems to take the high road with a big picture approach. I'd call it a low key but pervasive and serious approach. What a fantastic steward. Which, makes me ever so more curious about how the Portland Art Museum's next move will be executed. 2017 is the museum's 125th birthday and plans are somewhat quietly under way. The deciding factor will be how Portland's patrons respond? Every trustee at PAM (or any other art institution) needs to read this article and take it to heart. Quality of intention and display are one and the same, becoming the most self-evident thing a museum can offer.

These offices in Spain are simply gorgeous. The sky and earth seem to be sharing a dream together. What an exceptional design, recalling Mies' Barcelona pavilion and Farnsworth house with a dash of Robert Irwin and Michael Heizer and Judd's 100 Mill Aluminum pieces a as well.

Art Basel Miami Beach happened... Artinfo has some images. It doesn't look that different from previous years. Always an important event to be sure but somehow it punctuates how something different seems to be on the horizon. This interview with Todd Levin gives some perspective on the art market's yearly beach party.

Posted by Jeff Jahn on December 10, 2012 at 10:12 | Comments (1)


Friday 12.07.12

Bruce Conkle at PSU's Autzen Gallery


It has been a little while since Bruce Conkle has treated us to a full solo show in Portland... but he has been in Mongolia (with Marne Lucas for an Ecobaroque project) so he has an excuse. (Is Mongolian excuse an actual term? If not it should be!) Regardless, Bruce is one of the few award winning multi-media artists in the Northwest that focuses primarily on the conceptual nature of the work... which explains why his work finds traction outside the Northwest Craft Bubble. (That's right I just coined the term "Northwest Craft Bubble"). His shows are always phantasmagorias of eco-tech-witchery wrapped in a hilarious conceptual shell so you will want to see this.

According to the PR: "Tree Clouds is an exhibition of new sculptures and mixed media drawings constructed by Bruce Conkle with his own peculiar brand of dark humor. The title 'Tree Clouds' refers to the smoke produced when aromatic resin from trees is burned. The scented clouds are literally puffs of smoke that had their origins from within the trees. Several of the sculptures are bronze incense burners, and periodically during the exhibition they will be used to burn aromatic resins collected from trees native to the Pacific NW as incense. Conkle has gathered the aromatic resins from various trees of the Pacific Northwest- including Sitka Spruce, Douglas Fir, Ponderosa Pine and Shore Pine. He will be burning some of the collected incense at the reception." Let's hope he doesn't burn hemlock?

Tree Clouds is made possible in part through a Project Grant from the Regional Arts & Culture Council.

Tree Clouds | December 8 - 20
Opening Reception: Saturday December 8th 6-8PM
Autzen Gallery | Portland State University
Neuberger Hall | 2nd Floor Room 205
724 SW Harrison St. @ Broadway

Posted by Jeff Jahn on December 07, 2012 at 11:47 | Comments (0)


Thursday 12.06.12

A Seat At The Table? Considering Soft Power: MK Guth and Mark Smith

"Only through art can we emerge from ourselves and know what another person sees" -Marcel Proust

Proust is utterly wrong with that quote of course, but it is a sentiment of yearning and perhaps a tad religious one at that. Instead, Art tends to be as subjective as anything else... though visiting someone's home or having a meal together is a kind of shared experience that is similar to looking at art or a performance together. In fact, all meals are performances and there is a power in such communion. The point being that art doesn't have any special authority, only that it has license to make unexpected demands on those that experience it. Sometime between the time of Lascaux and Titian though, art experiences became increasingly elitist and about projecting power. This was the hard power of class authority or social station.

latour_porridge _eaters.JPG
Georges de La Tour, Porridge Eaters (1625)

In the 1600's a painter by the name of Georges de La Tour broke from the traditional baroque painting subjects like academic history scenes (history through the lens of those in power) and patron portraits to focus on genre scenes of commoners at work and play. Rather than using the image to project authority or hard power in an icon it projected a pervasive or soft power of secular domestic life and simple everyday pursuits.


Posted by Jeff Jahn on December 06, 2012 at 13:17 | Comments (0)


Wednesday 12.05.12

First Thursday on December

The Reader @ White Box

The artist and graffiti writer known as The Reader, acclaimed for his work outdoors moves into the White Box for the exhibition Affective Duplication. Here "The Reader employs painting, screen-printing, collage, and sculpture in varied combinations; a new video work will be debuted; architectural elements will interrupt the space allowing viewers to become more intimate with smaller works within a larger site-specific installation." This follows an exhibition earlier this year of The Reader's work at Ditch Projects in Eugene.

Affective Duplications | The Reader
Opening Reception | December 6th | 6-9PM
White Box | The White Stag building | 24 NW 1st Ave

Binary Lore @ Feldman Gallery

"For Binary Lore, Feldman Gallery curator Mack McFarland and Shannon Stratton, curator and director of Threewalls, have collectively selected two artists [sic] from their respective cities for the dual exhibitions." Those in Portland are likely familiar with Brenna Murphy from her work as one half of MSHR and as part of Oregon Painting Society. Edie Fake, on the other hand, is known in Chicago and elsewhere for his illustration work that makes light of the challenges facing queer culture. "Together Edie Fake and Brenna Murphy present two multi-faceted approaches and distribution methods to unpacking our definition-dodging time. In addition to a display of his own work Edie Fake will bring to PNCA a selection of comics from Chicago Alternative Comics Expo (CAKE), which Fake co-organized in June 2012." If you're in Chicago, check out the show at Threewalls in June of 2013.

Binary Lore | Brenna Murphy (performing with Birch Cooper!) & Edie Fake
December 6th | 6-9 PM
The Feldman Gallery | PNCA| 1241 NW Johnson St.

Also behind the cut, City and County employee exhibition, Louie Palu at Bluesky, and Chemical Landscapes at Multiplex

Posted by Tori Abernathy on December 05, 2012 at 18:51 | Comments (1)


Monday 12.03.12

Monday Links

It is true I was super busy in November getting things ready for exhibitions of Portland artists outside the region but that just means that PORT's backlog will just lead to more in-depth reviews interviews and essays for you in December. First one comes in a day or so but till then here are some links:

Christopher Knight wonders if curators are becoming endangered species? Answer = Yes (it isn't just LA) and I believe it is related to the diminishing # of serious art critics who cover a beat as well. I have been at work on an essay about this trend for a few months so stay tuned. Let's just say if one is trying to quantify the role of dedicated curators and critics in a short term business balance sheet way we lose long term perspective and the civic IQ these jobs represent will be lost.

Memorial Coliseum vote looms on Thursday

Brian Libby writes about the importance of the Memorial Coliseum and the impending vote on its future this Thursday. Brian is right... the integrity of the design needs to be maintained when updating this mid-century gem. (Though being an architecture critic who takes a stand doesn't in any way adversely effect your role as a journalist. Lets just say journalism and criticism are at odds in some cases and ultimately journalism when effective must take the stand like a critic in order to be valid (if one never takes sides, arts writing becomes meaningless). You did the right thing Brian. Portland as a design city has to respect its special instances of exceptional design and the Coliseum with its bowl in a glass curtain wall is a clear case in point.

Did you catch Portland photographer Holly Andres' photos in the New York Times this weekend?

And the Turner Prize goes to Elizabeth Price, whom the brits complain is cutting edge but not controversial. Whereas, in Portland our awards like the CNAA's or the Ford Fellows etc... generally are vacillating between the academic and craft in an incredibly staid late mid-career package. Academia, craft and late mid-careerness are all fine, even good things in small worthy doses but the three together are an often recipe for mediocrity that completely misses the dynamicism of the very internationally engaged Portland art scene. Hence, the reason our awards generally do not predict future success despite the fact that Portland artists are turning up in increasingly higher international profile venues. Instead, our awards tend to reward artists with consistent long term institutionally enmeshed/academic careers.... which is fine but we need things like the very successful Couture series again (which has been an interesting, catalytic & risk taking predictor).

Posted by Jeff Jahn on December 03, 2012 at 10:44 | Comments (1)

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