This November presents perhaps Portland's strongest assortment of shows in years and it is the last day for the Archer Gallery's, I Say, "Radical!"
You Say, "Feminist!"
exhibition. I suggest you get out there and soak it all in after this week of election drama. Somehow, art gives perspective to all the turmoil and distills it.
Let's declare this month Victember! Victor Maldonado's Liberation Stories at Froelick Gallery is one of the strongest painting shows Ive ever witnessed in Portland, which is interesting because the artist tends to be more of a conceptualist than bravura paint slinger
. Despite that, here he's become visceral, engaging the history of street art, Philip Guston, Baselitz, Guggenheim Mural era Pollock and perhaps even Hermann Nitsch? The thing is it all comes from being the city of Portland's most visible Mexican/American artist who is paradoxically, "not Mexican enough," for so many including the Mexican community (seriously what?
). At the same time he is nearly always summoned to be on any important multicultural panel.
Maldonado has become the essential voice who is always on the panel but never given the award, which makes me furious. The truth is Victor has always walked a tightrope, being a bit of a provocative troublemaker as an artist and as a great ombudsman as an administrator. It is a tremendous push and pull but it seems to have made this new work with its Swiftian satire and serious sociological bondage feel immensely present.
The Fallen (detail)
These paintings just burn through all the stereotypes and their tornadic vorticies coalesce into body slammed wrestlers... or are the dead? Always too smart, too nice, too handsome, too considerate and too perceptive to sit into left and right wing political schemas Maldonado's works are troubling and put the viewers on the ropes in paintings like The Fallen and Ofrenda. The largest work on display, Sala Roja, is a bloody landscape recalling both Guston and a Mayan Codex but more than that it also feels like a strange portal through something when most of the other works feel like barriers or prisons full of bound figures in fetters. I like this newfound confidence, now only on display despite many years after earning his US citizenship. Suddenly, Victor is taking the victory lap nobody seemed to be willing to give him (including himself).
True, he's a friend and I couldn't be prouder of him but ultimately this is a cultural comeuppance. Victor's paintings simply cannot be ignored... and in any other progressive city besides Portland would have been celebrated more. But Portland's institutions do not acknowledge true provocateurs like Victor... yet it is exactly what the smugly woke need. The "liberation" here is the fact that Victor has been crucial for over a decade and somehow despite not really thinking of himself as a masterful painter has become just that. The sheer economy and bravura of works on display aren't about revisiting traumas... they are a all in your face testaments to the considered vitality paint can convey. They are simultaneously visual spells of action and memory. They rehearse themselves in the present like theater dress rehearsals. No more hiding, this is the strongest solo painting show in years from the Pacific Northwest (only about half of the recent works are on display).
Liberation Stories | October 30 - December 1st
714 NW Davis
Work by Sonnenberg, Dwyer, Endo and Maldonado
I Say, "Radical!" You Say, "Feminist!"
is one of those shows about gender, identity and the human body that you'd think had been done a million times in the Portland area, but in fact I havent seen this sort of edgy survey of artists working in the subject attempted in a very long time. Way to keep a keener edge 'Couv (nickname for Portland's direct neighbor city in Washington State) and people who are really fired up should find it to their tastes.
At the Archer you will find a who's who of up and comers as well as experienced guides like: Roz Crews, Kelly Bjork, Wynde Dyer, Emily Endo, Alexa Feeney, Klara Glosova, Junko Iijima, Tyler Mackie, Victor Maldonado, Patricia Melton, Matthew Offenbacher, Alyson Provax, Kelly Rauer, Maggie Sasso, Paul Mpagi Sepuya, Ann Leda Shapiro, Naomi Shersty, Alisa Sikelianos-Carter, Anthony Sonnenberg, Alexander Wurts. Though to tell the truth they could probably restage the show every year without repeating the same names. The thing is the show seems to be actually curating work that invigorates and bounces off each other... none of the old, "who can humblebrag the best" that has become a cul-de-sac of tepid liberal elite thinking lately. With today's news nothing could be more relevant than visiting this show.
That said ,the exhibition is a bit overhung and some of the best works are in too much competition for space. The highlights include Anthony Sonnenberg's big sparkly naked men, Victor Maldonado's Lucha Chapel, Alexander Wurts's festive Current Vibe video, Junko Iijima's big pink fabric adventures, Naomi Shersty's hauntingly retro The Following and everything by Wynde Dyer with drip with attitude and savvy. Perhaps with some editing this could have been an all time great show for the region but being too ambitious for the amount of space it suggests larger venues (like the old Art Gym) should have taken this large scale project.
I Say Radical, You Say Feminist | September 25 - November 10
Closing Reception November 6 2-4PM
1933 Fort Vancouver Way
Abigail DeVille at PICA
Ever since PICA shortsightedly abandoned their excellent space in the Weiden + Kennedy building in 2004
we've been hungry for them to reinstate a regular visual arts program and over the years they have done it with fits and starts. Now with a home they own those expectations have finally come to fruition
. PICA's latest exhibition, Abigail DeVille's The American Future, brings something timely and ambitious in the massively caverness warehouse space PICA now inhabits. DeVille is a rising international star and the exhibition's sheer theatricality is a major payoff for anyone visiting.
The show is grandiose. There is a ziggurat made from piles of Street Roots newspapers, a Death Star like version of Pioneer Square's Federal courthouse looming over a re-imagined approximation of "Portland's Livingroom" Pioneer Square, as well as art by PEAR's at-risk youth on the walls. The whole show is more of a series of set pieces and it tries hard, perhaps too hard to ingratiate itself with its Portland audience? Then again, when a dystopian sci-fi version of reality feels comforting you know there is something wrong with reality and DeVille plays off that. One criticism has to be levied, why must every PICA show come off as a big scavenger hunt that ends in some assemblage of readily available materials? Can they just bring Thomas Hirschhorn to Portland and be done with it?
It also recalls William Pope L's eRacism show, which was and remains the greatest thing PICA has ever exhibited. DeVille even has walls of stuffed animals like that Pope L. show and isnt anywhere near as nervy or edgy. All that said the sheer ambition of scale and the various sets makes this different and I am heartened by this effort, if still wanting for variety. Sometimes history does repeat itself, so why cant art? After the election its a great place to wander and ponder these things.
The American Future | November 43 - January 12, 2018
15 NE Hancock St.
Far Right Nancy Grossman's Cob I, at PAM's Modern American Realism from the Smithsonian Museum
Perhaps one would expect a show titled Modern American Realism: Highlights from the Smithsonian's Sara Roby Collection
to be about staid Americana but the opposite is true. In fact one could just as easily call this American Surrealism. The iconic Edward Hopper has such a mood, Louise Nevelson's work is like a gothic child of surrealist assemblage and wood from the first portion of the industrial revolution and Paul Cadmus owes a lot to Georgio de Chirico with its long shadowed architectural arcades. Jack Levine's Inauguration is a surreal fantasy combining three separate presidents being sworn in, playing with the electorate's projections of the assumption of power. But the best cases are Nancy Grossman's Cob I and Theodore Roszak's works, which all the Goths are gonna love.
The exhibition is full of first rate works coming from the Smithsonian and it is a wonderful reminder of how weird American Realism can be.. and still is. It is a national strength, the acceptance of so many alternate realities and it is a perfect show for these scary times and looming election, whatever your politics.
Modern American Realism | October 20 2018 - April 28 2019
Portland Art Museum
1219 SW Park
Works by Mickalene Thomas, Julie Mehretu, Ririrkrit Tiravanija and many others at HFMA
Witness: Themes of Social Justice in Contemporary Printmaking at the Hallie Ford Museum in Salem could not be a more timely and relevant subject. The show begins eponymously with a tiny but poignant Maire Watt print Witness (Quamichan Potlach, 1913)
, then opens into a catalogue exploring a seemingly endless look at what makes individual passions and histories relevant. Highlights include a Martin Puryear book, Cane
, Hung Liu, Nicola Lopez, Wendy Red Star, Roger Shimomura, Kara Walker...even a room featuring Mickalene Thomas (read our interview here)
, Julie Mehretu and Ririrkrit Tiravanija and so many others that it is hard not to find something that resonates. My personal fave by Enrique Chagoya called Histoire Naturelle des Espécies: Illegal Alien's Manuscript
" is actually in the lobby and couldn't be more cutting with its intense sardonic bite-down on the meat of the moment (read PORT's interview with Chagoya here
). All of the works come from the collections of Jordan D. Schnitzer and His Family Foundation (a PORT sponsor) but don't let that inspire be cynical thoughts... caring about the individual histories and understanding how they matter IS crucial to the fabric of American life.
Nobody's ancestors give them a right to be heard above one another and the great thing about Art is it can present the personal in a way that goes beyond race, demographics and every other term that is used to divide because art comes from individuals not some faceless group or agenda. Instead, art translates experience and shares it equally, without judgement... even if the artists themselves could not do the same. Justice has to be blind? If so, art can be seen but it is blind too.
Witness | September 15 - December 20
Hallie Ford Museum of Art
Jeffry Mitchell's Tyger! Tyger at PDX Contemporary
Once hailing from Seattle and now in Portland, Jeffry Mitchell is on a roll and one had better be to intone William Blake's great poem by calling his latest at PDX Contemporary, Tyger! Tyger! What makes this baroque conglomeration of delicate ceramics and wall works the the way the ceramics feel like folk art. Somehow Mitchell's latest works feel like they are pantomiming the often touted schism between western art and the far east rendering the argument moot. I enjoy that and by using folksy spun lathed stools as plinths Mitchell purposefully confuses crockery, mysticism and furniture. He's been doing some of the very best art of his long career lately
Tyger! Tyger! | October 30 - December 1
925 NW Flanders
Mark Smith and Maria T.D. Inocencio at Lewis and Clark College
Arguably the strongest and easily the most intensive two person exhibition in Portland this month is Loss of Material Evidence
by Mark R. Smith and Maria T.D. Inocencio at Lewis and Clark College's Hoffman Gallery. It is a tour de force in material as memory and pattern as personality translated via sustained activity/interaction with family members and other loved ones. This exhibition successfully goes into places where contemporary art often fails, specifically the persistence of the personal and the building of meaning. It doesn't hurt that the two artists themselves constitute a family unit but I also appreciate how they both integrate and separate their individual voices. Perhaps, one can think of this as a memorable Thanksgiving dinner? For myself that what this constitutes, an extensive extended family feast... with all the simmering conflicts and savored time spent in reminiscence.
Overall, the Hoffman Gallery serves up a meal of materials and one collaborative piece Perennial Host even served up fresh apple pies at the opening. That's pretty down home. I'll write a much longer review but this show starts strong with Time Tunnel and builds to two of the most brilliantly expressive works Portland has seen in years. This show deserves to be seen several times and is perfectly timed for the Fall season.
Loss of Material Evidence | September 8 - December 9
Lewis and Clark College