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

Tuesday 12.17.13

« Oregon Arts Commission Vis Art Fellowships | Main | NW Theme Artist Calls »

Ben Buswell at Upfor

Ben Buswell's We Live Only Through Ourselves (all photos jeff jahn)

Since Picasso and Braque's introduction of analytical cubism, followed later by Robert Smithson and today Doug Aitken, Josiah McElheny etc. , faceted images and the subsequent defraction or dislocation of experience have established themselves as important threads in contemporary art.

To that pedigreed history add Ben Buswell's first solo show at Upfor gallery, which mixes the artist's personal history with design and landscape as Smithsonesque crystalline objects. To varying degrees these forms mitigate the present so as to allow the vastness of time into the cracks of experience. In other words the works often conjure the romantic sensibility of the sublime, though it is hardly uninterrupted. Instead, that vastness or otherness is cracked and suffused with a melancholy, some of which is obviously so personal that the only way for the viewer to participate is to project their own personal history as an act of simultaneous forgetting and remembering. It is very similar to religious sacrament... or votive candle burning, which is popular during these Western Civilization holiday times.


Perhaps the most striking work in the show is Passenger, a floor bound quadriptych of embellished photographs that sits in the room more like furniture than wall based photography. This decoupling of the floor and wall in the work recalls Donald Judd but it lineage comes more directly from Robert Smithson who would often use mirrors to dislocate the viewer.

Passenger (detail)

In Buswell's case he embellishes the photographs with a subtle texture beneath the glazing and the four facets of seascape constantly shift the viewer's attention. It operates in much the same way waves upon a body of water create a moire like field. These fractal moire effects have a calming zen-like quality that come from a mindful dissipation of self into a visual field of vastness. It works here though the actual wooden constructed part could become more nuanced... right now it lacks the proportional finesse of Judd and Smithson.

First there is a mountain

Other photographic works like First there is a mountain and Then there is no mountain use sand dunes to a similar effect, though the annoying musical reference to Donovan is superfluous except perhaps as a marketing ploy to aging boomer hippies contemplating their own mortality? It undercuts the seriousness of the work to make it cognitively accessible. Other than that I very much enjoy these works and I feel like they are his most accomplished to date.

In all three faceted photographic works I like how Buswell leverages the way objects encourage subjective readings, whereas photography poses a false promise with the wink of sharable experience. Of course photographs are subjective objects as well. Still, in all three the panes of glass represent the defraction of the personal and any sense of a shared absolute (a Smithsonesque purgatory-landscape?). Overall, I find Passenger the most compelling because it is the oddest... though it is a tad clunkier than the wall based works from a design standpoint.

When the Cathedrals Were White (FG), Your Quality is My Value (BG)

The piece with the highest design language quotient, When the Cathedrals Were White is a tent-like scrim with a white mat. Is it another votive lantern? A prayer mat? An indoor fort to a long passed innocence? It definitely reads like a large somewhat ineffectual protective case for some Apple product. It also seems to interrogate the all too easy use of monochrome white, often a hack art/design crutch. Even Apple has moved away from what it called it's iconic "Snow White" design schema.

A two part photographic work Your Quality is My Value leverages mimetic marketing speak as a design shorthand and formally might allude to Stieglitz’s important Equivalencies series of photographs. It's seductive textures are more fleshy than the white or grey works in the show but make the Donovan titled works read as flesh as well. It seems odd when the show is so Generation X in tone.

A Sooner Urn

The most quixotic piece on view, A Sooner Urn is of such a different language than the rest of the show that it reads as either a stray or posits itself as a key to the otherwise ciphered exhibition. It is white and textured in waves of ceramic and apparently a family heirloom was immolated within it when fired. Ok, all families have secrets and perhaps this whole exhibition is a ritualistic shrine for the person who bequeathed this now destroyed object to the artist? Perhaps it brings closure (though I doubt such a thing exists) or at least its offering somehow contains the paradoxes that relationship once held for the artist. Still, it somewhat puts off the viewer... unless they care about settlers in Oklahoma or their state football team. Basically, this is work for the artist alone, which is a valid approach. Viewers shouldn't be the nexus of all art production. Perhaps, that is the point of a solipsistic exhibition titled We Live Only Through Ourselves... but the thing is the best art eventually moves far beyond that point.

Buswell has a great deal of talent and sensitivity but that can be a burden that many artists have trouble overcoming. In their vanity (we all have it), they present the personal as an imponderable when it is merely mundane arcana. Buswell's show isn't that kind of dead end, it is a transition show as he is now discovering his true subject matter and it is exciting to behold (I've waited at least 5 years for this show). What I can say for certain is that Buswell's next body of work will likely be the most crucial in his career. This show is completely worthy of attention and speculation but though We Only Live Through Ourselves, one could counter with Art Only Lives Through Others. Buswell, like a lot of artists using design vernacular (in Portland there is a large group I've pointed out many times) is beginning to reconfigure his work not as a series of objects but as a series of experiences that are active and loaded negotiations with the viewer. The difference is akin to industrial design.... young designers pin a lot of hopes to their work but over time the truly talented ones enter an ongoing vernacular that fluidly communicates back and forth between the user and designer.

Posted by Jeff Jahn on December 17, 2013 at 10:47 | 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