Portland art blog + news + exhibition reviews + galleries + contemporary northwest art

recent entries

Early September Links
Labor Day Weekend Picks
Museumy Links
Wendy Given at Vernissage
Mid August Links
Grace Kook-Anderson in Conversation
Portland Art Adventures
Early August Art News
August must see picks
End of July News
Alia Ali's Borderland at Bluesky
Mid Summer Reads

recent comments

categories

 

Book Review
Calls for Artists
Design Review
Essays
Interviews
News
Openings & Events
Photoblogs
Reviews
Video
Links
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

archives

 

Guest Contributors
Past Contributors
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

search

 


syndicate

 

Atom
RSS

powered by

 

Movable Type 3.16

This site is licensed under a

 

Creative Commons License

Wednesday 04.18.18

« Art People Links | Main | End of April links »

JSMOA's Crimson Cube at WSU

JSMOA-WSU-image-Bob-Hubner.jpg
the new "Crimson Cube" at WSU (photo Bob Hubner)

A little over a week ago I was fortunate to catch the opening of the new Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art at Washington State University in Pullman. Nicknamed the "Crimson Cube" for the structure's exterior it gives students and other visitors a landmark to navigate by. It is a nice touch since so many other University art spaces are hard to find and seem tied only to art departments, which often have little pull on campus politically and makes the susceptible to cuts. No problem with that here because the cube is intentionally at the heart of things at WSU. 20 years ago this sort of reflective glass structure would have read as corporate but the cantilever that is subtly off other building's grid axis and the red color are distinctly more curious than an office tower's comportment. The overall effect is, "what is that?" and the JSMOA's comparative minimalism recalls David Chipperfield's excellent library in Des Moines. That curiosity prompt is a good place to start for any art museum and has its roots in Robert Smithson's mirrored displacement works without the specificity that Art has. That is left for inside.

Red_Box_WSU1_sm.jpg
The skies over the JSMOA influence how extroverted the building behaves and its branding is low key, prompting questions.

What's more this cube is the only art museum for a large area, making the facility crucial, not just to the college but for younger students. Think of it as a lighthouse for those looking for a different perspectives. At a time when so many Universities are shortsightedly phasing out art exhibition spaces this is another of many university museums (eponymous or otherwise) that Schnitzer has made a focus of opening or expanding. Disclosure, the Jordan Schnitzer Family Foundation is a PORT sponsor but all should know he puts no pressure on us... if anything we both seem to have a distinct ken for museums far from major art cities and the role they play in society.

What is special at WSU is the way the structure and staff have activated its spaces, in stark contrast to the way a lot of new art spaces are trying to out "humblebrag" each other with "engagement nodes" that always feel like institutional footnotes and token gestures at things that happen better elsewhere. Here the museum is one big unmistakable edifice of engagement with its red reflective surface (a nod to Anish Kapoor?) and still operational garage door bays that say come on in. The cube area contains the controlled and pristine exhibition spaces that aren't undercut with engagement gimmicks... it promises, "Im a museum experience" with all the heightened sensibilities that entails and it delivers inside. Outside, its just a big mystery that asks to be unwrapped. Technically, it isnt even a true cube... in the tradition of college nicknames it's more of a fond familiarizing gesture and not official.

Red_side_sm.jpg
The Anish Kapoor-like red reflective surface breaks up the visual monotony of brick and concrete on WSU's campus. The cube itself is off axis from the campus grid ensuring that passers by will notice the optical effect. Simple and effective it doesnt try to be Art. I like it when architecture knows its place but operates boldly without hubris. This cube isnt trying to be the fanciest museum either and doesnt write any checks outside that it cant cash inside. Of course crimson is one of Washington State University's colors, so the heraldry is appropriate.

WSU_Director_sm.jpg
JSMOA Interim Director Anna-Maria Shannon at the dedication utilizing the pavilion space. It is a former campus safety garage that still sports a roll up garage door. I like how this choice to retain a garage removes barriers and is open for various programming. This lack of pretension was just right for a campus museum and I expect that many attending had just strolled in during Mom's Weekend.

Trimpin_WSU_sm.jpg
Another view of the garage pavilion which has a permanent Trimpin interactive sound sculpture. I am not much of a Trimpin fan but this one called Ambiente432 works well. When the space isnt in use by a speaker it subtly fills the room with curious oscillations while its bright orange baffles seem to pronounces the opportunities that open, flexible space proposes. What's more I love this very open site specific use of art in a museum. The horn flanges themselves seem to prime viewers for the other galleries, listen and look is a fine way to welcome students and the community. Rarely does semi-public art work this well.

Persona_sm.jpg
Press briefing in the Person(a) exhibition in the Harmon/Wright Gallery

I like how Schnitzer and WSU brass sort of integrated themselves into the installation for the press. Schnitzer was quick to point out that though his name is on the institution and his collection is featured for Person(a) he's hands off on programming. Person(a) itself is a great introductory show... featuring portraiture from everyone like Warhol, Beuys, Julian Opie and Richard Prince. The exhibition is a nice encyclopedic show and very well installed. Frankly, this University Museum did a much better job hanging its inaugural exhibitions than most major museums. That added extra effort to play strength against strength as far as pieces go made works and the various shows speak to each other. Curatorial students were involved in picking works for the show too. The question is can they keep it up? Speaking with the director and staff they seem to know the strains and are keeping shows up for 6 months. Its a good move as high turnover usually just leaves exhibition spaces succumbing to the demands of changeover grind rather than the thoughtful presentation of work.

Hall_WSU_sm.jpg
The Great Hall features prints by Jim Dine who gave the University over 200 works in anticipation of this museum. Years earlier his Technicolor Heart sculpture was installed prominently on campus (the Walla Walla Foundry is just over 100 miles away). This way the heart sculpture is no longer some orphan art outpost on campus and in many ways helps visitors find their way to the museum. Art works though persistence, it plays a long game and follow-though is crucial. I've always liked Jim Dine, though not so much his hearts but this has me rethinking things.

Similarly, the way the "Grand Hallway" upon entering the formal museum galleries is actually treated as an important exhibition space with several Dine prints. The hall has a slightly dropped ceiling which upon exiting becomes taller. Its an old temple trick that Frank Lloyd Wright often employed and JSMOA architect Jim Olson admitted as much. Simple and effective the hall makes one's visit feel like a pilgrimage. So many museums are trying so hard to be relatable that they just feel like an inside joke the visitor is not in on. Here at WSU the visitor feels as if they have been expected and are being received... and cued that important things are to come. The large Harmon/Wright Gallery at the end beckons with a borrowed view of a walking Joseph Beuys print, which seems to say, artists are with you and of you. Nice install touch from curator Ryan Hardesty and its even more impressive since it had a lot of student curatorial input including; Mikah Chan, Alyssa Zili Chang, Taylor Hill, Lindsey Hineman, Aaron Hulburt, Jennifer Ladwig, Sidney Murphy, Sanaya Nordine, Julia Preston, Megan Rowe, Alex J. Scott and Isak Sullivan.

JM__waterfall_install_WSU_sm.jpg

In the two smallest galleries were selections from the True's video art collection and a solo show from Jeffry Mitchell titled The Death of Buddha. Mitchell is one of the Northwest's most talented and prolific artists and that sometimes works against him as he gets spread thin. Not here, DoB is one of his finest outings in recent memory. Particularly, it is the juxtaposition of heavy clay and light lanterns that dance above the viewer's heads that makes it work so. Even the contrast of light and dark makes it special, more like a festival than an art show. As the Buddha might say, "Be a light to thyself," indeed.

JM_WSU_det_sm.jpg
According to lore the Buddha dies achieving a state beyond nirvana and enlightenment and here Jeffry Mitchell turns an otherwise solemn death into a celebration. It isnt easy to make such a touching exit out of cartoonish bunnies, bears and chickens but Mitchell manages to give it the right blend of gravitas amid an overwhelming sense of celebration. The great artist Paul Klee taught at the Bauhaus that to master composition one first had to master gravity. In Death of Buddha, Mitchell's floating elephants illustrate how effective this advice can be.

Watt_1_WSU_sm.jpg
Similarly, Marie Watt employs animals to bring up touching sentiments. Her Companion Species (Underbelly) series exhibition in the large Creighton Gallery is ambitious and convincing. I would argue it is her strongest show to date and her most realized body of work overall. Her use of the Capitoline Wolf hearkens to the origin stories of Rome but other works are more personal. Like Mitchell's show, animals are relatable mythical proxies for more human tales. The hanging blankets make the central sculptures feel more activated, compressed but not smothered.

Watt_Back_sm.jpg
The back side of one of Watt's large blanket hangings recalls filial origins. Overall, a great way to approach students who are just finding their way in the world.

I often see Watt and Mitchell in Northwest museums, but this was just a better more fully formed effort from both of them.

Mickalene_hallway_WSU_sm.jpg
Overall it is the way all of the exhibitions speak to each other and glimpses of Mickalene Thomas with Jeffry Michell and Jim Dine in the background make it invigorating even for a seasoned viewer like myself. For a student viewin an art exhibition on their own for the first time I can't think of a better university museum hang. Question is can they sustain this? Art is a long game. That said this new museum opens up WSU's old main exhibition space for other types of shows, currently a student curated look at the University's permanent collection. Let's hope that the new Schnitzer Museum at Portland State University can follow in the same direction... PSU's Littman gallery is student run and seems to be constantly threatened with being ended, despite being consistently one of the best exhibition spaces in Portland for decades.

Egyptian_sm.jpg
Let's conclude with a witty corner of the Person(a) show where the curators (some are students) point out the heiroglyphic cross talk between Jane Hammond's Spells and Incantations and Alex Katz behind) among other contemporary works. Walk like an Egyptian indeed. Everything here makes for an auspicious debut and there is something about student curators who are more refreshing than most major museum curators in coordination with WSU's professional curatorial staff that makes this crimson cube an exciting addition to the campus and sets new standards for art museums in the Pacific Northwest. There's none of the counterproductive airs of the infamous "Seattle Chill" here or the the equally inconsequential humblebragathon or "Portland Polite" on display here at WSU (despite featuring solos exhibitions from artists hailing both of those cities). Instead, there is a genial and elevated sense of discovery at the JSMOA at WSU. Salutes to the Palouse and everyone involved with this project, every art institution on the planet should pay attention to how this was executed. Take a bow WSU's Crimson Cube, now continue at this level of execution and openess...

Posted by Jeff Jahn on April 18, 2018 at 9:00 | Comments (0)


Comments

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