Regionalism is a tricky paradox, one which I explored at length in this essay on PORT a few years ago
. Simplistically, in a very global and connected art world, regionalism exists as a matter of stereotypes and conveniences but upon further examination these always seems like a red herring.
With that in mind, the third version of the Contemporary Northwest Art Awards
opens this Saturday at the Portland Art Museum (there is a private reception/award ceremony Saturday night
...BTW the 1st one was quite public).
For background, the last CNAA's were an unmitigated critical disaster (because it fit so completely within NW stereotypes prompting many to call it the Conservative Northwest Art Awards). It wasn't just critics either... everyone from major patrons to artists who were friends/fans of those in the show to other Northwest museum staff made a point of telling me how much they "did not like it" at the opening. In the rather polite Northwest this simply does not happen. Let's just say there may not be a "Northwest" style of art but there is apparently a stereotype of Northwest curation that a most under 60 are anxious to move beyond. The question will be, "does this one deliver?"
This time around the 6 artists chosen: Anne Appleby (MT), Karl Burkheimer (OR), Issac Layman (WA), Abbie Miller (WY), Nickolas Nyland (WA), and Trimpin (WA) should avoid a complete repeat but not act an antidote as I explained here in this link when the list was announced
. Still, let's see the show before fully judging it? It is a conservative list, perhaps even moreso than 2011's but it also seems to understand that installation art, relational aesthetic and digital imagery are crucial to the discussion today... Overall, survey shows at institutions are often more about the institutions themselves than that which they survey!
What I and most people who enjoy contemporary art will be looking for is a show that is contemporary... i.e. conceptually porous/curious with work that isn't so much a completed thought or experience but one that questions itself and the region and doesn't feel like a prepackaged tour from decades ago. The Northwest and in particular Portland has changed so much in the past decade. Shows at PAM like the excellent Sherrie Levine show currently on view present some very tough questions by which these CNAA's will be judged. Also, the fact that there is only one Portland artist (Burkheimer, who is solidly mid career and works traditionally/excellently with wood) puts too much pressure to accurately represent a city which is very active in new media art. True, Abby Miller from Wyoming is the young wild card but her craft based work likely doesn't involve enough computer algorithms, geek culture or non object related conceptual wrangling to put her on the radar of the own age group here. Appleby is an excellent and very established international name, which makes Trimpin a bit redundant when a lesser known/fresher new media artist artist could have given this another dimension. Layman's work is almost a caricature of contemporary photography, which is why most people who like contemporary work appreciate seeing him here (like I do). Nyland is another wildcard and the relational aesthetics (fond of things that look half formed) inclusion here.
The public can see the show September 21th when the museum opens.
*Update: here are my initial reactions and some views of the 2013 CNAA's