Luckily, Casio has been a curator (science and technology oriented visual arts even) and not just a bureaucrat. The question will be if they will merely implement token multiculturalism or if Cario can make the agency become a more important cultural ally in keeping Portland's cultural edge keen? Till now many of its practices have had a dulling effect as Portland likes to pat itself on the back without really challenging the status quo (some important art does make people uncomfortable). Most of our exhibitions institutionally try a little to hard to soften their criticisms, yet the sharpest artists themselves have a great deal of edge. I call this Portland's Artist/Institutional schism and RACC is central in this discussion.
Now with City Council calling for an arts affordability plan (it needs to be an arts sustainability and retaining/encouraging creative edge plan) RACC is crucial to executing that effectively. To do that the agency needs a lot of reforms that the cultural scene has calling for decades now.
Here are a couple of things that really need to be looked at immediately:
Weve got a huge amount of stuff coming for you including reviews and Portlandageddon. But first lets look at some news:
One time Portlander and long time PORT pal Paul Middendorf has re-launched the institution he started in Portland and continued in Houston. Paul is the best kind of person and a hero of the Portland (artists into the city) and Houston (real water) floods... but some well known Portland art scene figures didn't support him (you know who you are, I'm talking institutional people and it wasnt simply money). Well he's proven himself in Houston (just like Portland) yet he's been appreciated more there. Portland's City Council and other leaders who are looking at Portland's art scene need to ask... huh, what could we have done better and apply it to those who are still in Portland? Sometimes Portland's art scene politics are detrimental in their parochial character. That said lots of new, great things have sprung up since, Open Signal, Carnation Contemporary, regime change at Disjecta etc. (History lesson = Paul was Disjecta's first and last non guest curator and the only male staff curator ...though Cris Moss did curate a biennial.)
Speaking of civics, the biggest story in Portland right now outside of the elections is the now planned merger of OCAC and PNCA. This is hardly a done deal though it is being presented as such. There has been precious little info with no public statements but Im of two minds on this and nothing has changed since my initial assessment. For history's sake I'll point out how I worried far more about the previous Museum of Contemporary Craft merger than any other media, which sadly turned out to be correct so take that into account. PNCA has informed their staff and students more than OCAC has, and OCAC is operating in a leadership vacuum with an inexperienced interim president and a board that likely got spooked by something after the State of Oregon's Attorney General started looking into the Art Gym's move to OCAC (timing suggests this). Non profit boards in Oregon tend to be That means a weak bargaining position. The thing is(just like the MoCC merger, and I was the only media to mention this) is they need a kind of autonomy and checks and balances that come from an endowment. I've heard numerous times about a 5 million dollar endowment drive, which is needed whether or not the schools combine. That's good as higher education is broken, with only endowments to support general fund, teaching positions and scholarships as the only protection. The thing is this merger really only makes sense if it produces an institution with greater vision than PNCA and OCAC already have. Considering the way committees seem to run higher education Im deeply suspicious of happening (which means Id love to be wrong/surprised). The way we are hearing only 1 narrative seems to be building suspicions among staff and alumni for both schools... and the way OCAC staff, students and alum are very wary of reprisals now is not ideal (all stemming from a weakness in the board and placeholder interim president (not slight intended she's been thrust into this and would be difficult for a seasoned pro). All that said the best MFA program in the state is the joint OCAC+PNCA Applied Craft and Design and a new combined school that keeps the core mountain village community that OCAC represents, with a more focused PNCA all under a new name (please no Portland Institute for the Arts and Crafts aka "PIAC") could be good if it has vision. Instead, right now I see something akin to a human relationship where both schools are afraid to be alone in some drive for 1000 students as a quorum of safety? So what happens after the holidays?
If this does happen, try to find a way to put the Craft Collection on better display (OCAC has a small but important collection too) and an exit strategy if it doesnt work out as planned because ultimately both schools problems are brought on by a broken higher education system. Otherwise I cant see how that narrative gets redirected to something more positive without some real visionary planning and some clear checks and balances (OCAC needs its own senior fundraising officer if it merges). Still waiting on details and a whole public mea culpa for OCAC's board has to be done just as it was for the MOCC, which held public meetings. It is delicate, I appreciate that but Portland is in no mood to lose another crucial institution without some transparency and it would be smarter to release some basic statements that set some expectations because with the MOCC failure most will assume similar outcomes. I personally dont believe that but as I speak to others that's the tone things have mostly taken. Of all the conversations Ive had only a few have expressed great faith in preserving what makes OCAC so special.... that's a failure in the rollout of this story, though it is correctable.
The Portland art scene is due for a thorough physical and KBOO's Joseph Gallivan interviews me as a bit of tease for what's in store today at 11:30AM. Look back later here for Part I of Portlandageddon a thorough anatomy of the scene at the moment and recent past with some predictions for the future. It isn't all bad news either. True criticism isn't a beat down, its a way to gain a more faceted and focused view to address concerns and shortcomings as well as celebrate and further support advances that have already distinguished themselves.
I take a look at most every major institution and trend in trendsetting Portland but if you want background and a refresher before then please check out these articles:
This critical look at what little we know about the potential OCAC/PNCA art school merger. So little is known but it is supposed to come before the boards of both schools by the end of the month.
1)Why the short time frame for such a major decision? How dire is this?
2)Is the current board at OCAC and interim President's administration still fundraising?
3)It seems like PNCA and OCAC share the exact same problems regarding enrollment and the inherent issues all higher education seem to be awash in. I dont see how this improves either's situation except short term, so how?
4)We have seen a lot of institutional mergers and like the Museum of Contemporary Craft with PNCA they havent resolved optimally. How is the vision here different? How to ensure the identity of each is preserved? (hint it takes an endowment but if that's the case OCAC should just do an endowment drive itself... perhaps the board doesnt feel up to the challenge and is just being expedient... that isnt a good reason to do it).
*Update On Friday night a meeting with concerned OCAC Alumni and OCAC's Administration took place. By all reports it was one of those tough meetings that everyone was glad reconnect to each other with such dire news. Ive heard conflicting reports that attendees were, "asked not to discuss it with those who were not at the meeting ,"(they simply cant ask that and yes people are talking). Another report indicated they were encouraged to share info with other alums and the community. (so far there has been no official position for me to refer to, but both sides seem pretty clear in their own understanding). Apparently the meeting was open to press but was not indicated as such and those that understood it as a closed discussion, along with the timing drove many away that wanted to attend. I've also heard that OCAC never really indicated what was driving this rush to merge. More importantly, only one option "Merger" was presented as an inevitability. Many alumni and I myself question the lack of options and creativity in the situation. At this point both OCAC and PNCA probably need to make a public statement (that Oregonian article doesnt count) and my questions for OCAC's board remain.
How engaged is OCAC's board? It seems like only one option is being pursued... which seems like a board giving up on fixing it themselves and counting on PNCA to be a deus ex machina to save the school. Portland has seen a lot of that lately and lost too many crucial arts institutions like the Museum of Contemporary Craft, Marylhurst University, the art institute of Portland, The White Box at the U of O, etc (all without a proper fight to save the institutions). I also think City Hall should chime in on this and this is Chloe Eudaly's first test as the New Arts Commissioner. Mayor Ted Wheeler also needs to show an interest. If PNCA is the only way to save OCAC Id be behind that, but the case and details for it have not been made. Also, I worry about PNCA's health if a merger takes place (both schools share the same problems). Overall, Portland's very active residents are in no mood to lose or weaken the very core arts institutions that help make Portland what it is. It appears there is some crisis driving this, but a crisis creates special fundraising opportunities. There has been the customary talk of "transparency" but a lack of official statements and a limited meeting without key information indicate something else and this needs to be handled better. I do think everyone involved is acting in good faith but the main questions regarding vision, current situation and options are main questions for OCAC's board.
There will be more press on PORT and elsewhere
The Manny Farber exhibition and Helen Molesworth's final curatorial contribution at MOCA look invigorating. Why are museums so adverse to strong curatorial presences these days? So often today the major museum curators just subcontract out to guest curators and though I enjoy a good guest curated show as the next person I also see a lack of curatorial backbone with a preference for ingratiation in the practice.
David Anfam reviews a new Pollock book that is too academicized. Odd how being arch academic has become anti-intellectual, but it has been the trend for years now. Every artist who goes to art school to rationalize their use of hanging sausages, spray foam, stained tarps (dropcloths?), grotty ceramics and or raw plywood shelves, tables or plinths is also a product of this drive to out humblebrag eachother and its a wasted effort in a world that has so much serious stuff going on.
For me he always seemed like an arch geek (this is a compliment) and unlike most tech billionaires was very involved in the visual arts (including numerous Pacific Northwest art institutions). I reviewed part of Allen's art collection here when on view at the Portland Art Museum. I never met him or I might write more but as a fellow guitarist I imagined Id chat with him about those simple things someday. It wont happen but I hope this spurs others on to do more with the means they have... The problem with most cultural support in the USA is that it falls to too few donors to be deus ex machinas of culture.
Major landscape artists on display at PAM from Paul Allen's Collection in 2015
Some will complain that he was mercurial and to be sure less charitable sorts will complain about his on again, off again interest and support in projects and organizations but I maintain that sort of intense involvement also drew attention to the need for broader support to ensure continuity of programming. Allen dreamt big and sometimes cut things off abruptly but put his foot down to launch the Seattle Art Fair and other projects that loom large in Seattle and Portland (where he was very active). He did hundreds of more important things besides the visual arts but his passion was what I respected most. Without passion we just have a dull progression of culture, which defeats the purpose of culture.
Rest in Peace... if every tech billionaire got as involved as he did the arts and culture as a whole would be valued differently.
*UpdateBrian Libby interviews Brian Ferriso and one of the architects working on PAM's new expansion. I interpret all of this as a good direction. The original renderings were very vanilla, plain almost to a fault but now that the pathway is to remain open it also affords an opportunity. Ferriso and I have discussed connecting to the parkspace and the community for years now... with lots of warning from me about being "too museumy") and it seems like an enhanced level of that integration and transparency will now be a goal. Of course funding gets put into the mix there but it is a complicated site and requires some innovative thinking... an off the shelf museum-style solution isnt enough. Think like a garden amenity etc. Losing the staircase is good, it was clunky. As with all things becoming more obsequious/elegant in architecture costs more but only a little more and is worth it. I met with Vinci Hamp last winter and their interior details are impressive. I challenge everyone from City Hall to PAM and its architectural team to dream a little harder... it will make funding easier as the middle of the road is the best place to be hit by the bus of mediocrity. Yes, Brian you'll be my first call if I draw a winning lottery ticket to facilitate this and in liu I'm challenging PAM's patrons to expect a bit more as well. Museum expansions are rare things. This expansion should be a reflection of the ethos Portland has grown into and signal towards what we as a city seek to become. Right now the renderings lack the detail to judge on those terms and the details are everything. So far this revision signals good things but the details really matter. Before the details get finalized though a full reckoning of what this means to Portland has to get shaken out. Ive got a huge article in the works and I dig in to most everything. Stay tuned.
PAM is looking at building an under the pavilion walkway to keep from obstructing pedestrians with the Rothko Pavilion. They should figure out a way to turn it into a window display venue. Design-wise it is a great opportunity to engage the city but often institutions in Portland never think outside the box... its odd because Portland loves breaking with formalities. Make the breezeway and exciting design element and turn it into a positive win-win.
Last but not least here is a great interview with an influential former Director of MOCA. I agree MOCA needs vision... not just simple nuts and bolts type leadership. Museums are too caught up in their own administrative risk management and not in how they serve their communities... they gesture towards community and education but what they really should do is become talking points for larger ideas within civilization. Now celebrities are kind of a mcguffin... they dont all suck (only most of them). Some adventurous ones can help move things forward and MOCA needs to reinstitute a culture of adventurous expertise. The trick is to be rigorous and smart not pandering and cloying, nobody really wants a museum to be their friend. Instead we want it to be a gym for the mind and eyes, with some heavy equipment and kick ass trainers.
This just in, Portland's Mayor Wheeler has reassigned the Arts and Culture Liaison to Commissioner Chloe Eudaly. Frankly, City Comissioner Nick Fish has always cared and done a decent job till now but Wheeler is right the city is at a crossroads. Notably, I appeared before the council 6 months ago and let them have it for their arts affordability plan. It doesn't get at the real issue... where Portland has to become serious about its intentions and how it allocates resources it already has (RACC requires an overhaul, they have improved but still lag behind the cities international cultural ecosystem). The insulting photo of a child at play with paint on the cover of the arts affordability plan pretty much infantilized what is a serious industry in Portland. I heard from a lot of movers and shakers right after I appeared in front of the council, beseeching them to get serious. It really isnt an arts "affordability plan"... its a plan to keep Portland's dynamic cultural edge. We need to look at why, when and how we support the arts and have a clearly articulated plan. In front of the council I mentioned how Houston always considers how it is an international arts hub. Portland is a player, and has been for a long time but the city's leadership and institutions generally have suffered from a lack of vision. Sure there have been steps like PNCA, PSU's new Museum, Rothko and the Japanese Garden, there has been a lot of growing up in the past 20 years but its time for city hall to pursue a plan other than benign neglect in regards to its artists, which are its main repositories of cultural cache. Congratulations Commissioner Eudaly! You will need to be on point, and no the experience of other cities and your own background in the community will only go so far. Most in the arts in Portland are working only in their institutions or businesses and they really dont get to do a lot of big picture thinking. That is what is necessary, and yes that article I've been working on is coming soon.
The Grey Market continues to look at the Biesenbach appointment at MOCA. Look, a lot has been made about rebuilding administratively but I do believe they need vision. They do need more space so the Panza collection and other holdings can shine but they also need an intellectual vision... the right curators can do that but they need to take risks. MOCA has made huge errors by being intellectually risk adverse lately. Biesenbach needs to alter that but he also needs to avoid LA's solipsism (curate a show on LA's solipsism and be done with it) and instead be the point museum on the pacific for global perspectives. Also, nobody has said it yet so I will: "The reason everyone is looking at LA and the west coast is because the East Coast missed the boat and produced the Trump/Hilary situation... the west coast was not excited about either one and California/Oregon/Washington is now the seat of progressive thinking. We are no longer looking back at East, but certainly all good ideas are welcome." There, everyone wants LA to grow up so the whole country can get on with a more mature phase.
Portland looking beyond Portlandia... ofc, yeah we were beyond it before it even aired but this fluff article has a good title and I've been thinking a great deal about it. Portland is the capital of the USA's conscience, maybe not the only place involved in the discussion but it is ground zero for the main event.
Is it the End of July or the end of civilization? Just kidding but I have to ask it:
Klaus Biesenbach will be the new Director of MoCA. Well he does like celebrities, which is something you need to embrace if you are going to get MoCA back on track. But can they replace all the curatorial expertise the institution has squandered in the last decade like Alma Ruiz, Helen, Molesworth and Paul Schimmel. Can Biesenbach rebuild that? For an unecessary sports metaphor think of this as "a rebuilding season" because MoCA has lost so much talent. Also, as LACMA reaches the home stretch on its new building campaign will MOCA right itself and expand enough to put its permanent collection to better use? If so I challenge Biesenbach to do so that reinvigorates the tradition of intense and opinionated curatorial expertise at this crucial institution. Otherwise, I fear MoCA my not make it. From what I know Biesenbach might have the skillset, especially if his development staff is stronger. Maybe this director is the chosen one? maybe not? But at least he has plenty of examples of what not to do like squander expertise, tone deaf market lead conservatism etc. Can the reintroduction of curatorial rigor that is in close association with artists be the answer? That's what I believe... it is like the farm to table movement in food, be close to the artists (farmers)! Today's curators at major museums have mostly lost that. *Update: Christopher Knight makes a to do list for Biesenbach and he's right about the tedious Eurocentrism... why go back there when the pacific rim, which includes the West Coast of the USA is still growing into its potential far more than the already mature European continent, which is already well represented. Let's look to the future and we wish Biesenbach luck if he can please with intellectual rigor (LA has a very academically trained cognescenti who are annoyed with MoCA right now) and hollywood sparkle turned into $$$ and institutional momentum he will have what it takes. In an ironic turn it may be Michael Govan and LACMA's new expansion that can give Biesenbach another major wave to catch. That said he's got to know what seeing to catch it... experience in NYC or Europe doesnt really prepare one for the West Coast.
Laura Hoptman is also leaving MoMA but unlike Biesenbach is staying in NYC. Like a lot of curators they all seem to want to be directors. In general this is problematic as directorships are very different and it means that the best or at least most ambitious curators all see the job as a steping stone to a directorship, which is more about numbers and the daily operations of a museum. Thus, the expertise pool is depleted upon the altar of management and fund raising.
Sacha Baron Cohen flays an art advisor as part of his upcoming movie. He also created a self-hating white male Reed professor so I'm gonna have to see this... It is odd how academia has adopted this prophylactic and anti-intellectual nomenclature. A large proportion of my best friends in Portland are Reedies and most of them have satirized this trend as well so SBC is mining a well defined vein of comedy gold.
David Pagel on Mary Heilmann. I saw the 2007 show at OCMA... what I like about her is the brazenly formal means to an ultimately informal end. Also, there are still tons of female artists who are far more important than the art establishment and market can account for... Heilmann, Frankenthaler and Anne Truitt are all still under appreciated but there are plenty that are younger and just as important/active today but the museums dont seem to be willing to shake up the discussion... even when the curators are women. I have a radical art history reinterpretation regarding this.
LACMA's drive to finish their building campaign. I'm all for having more of the collection on display and shaking up the art historical cannon but it takes more intellectual rigor and ideas behind it. The architect simply provides a box and the director should be about making the box and ideas possible through funding... but what I'm not seeing are curator's with interesting programmatic imperatives. Without the intellectual rigor it is simply economic grandstanding. Prove me wrong LACMA... MoMA too? There is a reason the best and brightest curators are consistently working outside of the museums... there is a too big to fail problem with so many of these 300 million dollar plus expansions but it follows the problem of blue chip art as an asset class. Im not certain that museums can be saved from themselves but Ive got clear ideas on how. One thing Govan is very right about is funders of bold museum expansions fund other projects too.
Tablet has a very interesting article on cultural appropriation that everyone in creative fields can take something from. At a certain point culture cannot be a proprietary exercise... do I find the PSU Vikings mascot odd? Yes... but does everyone making pizza have to be Italian? It fails the logic test and the curiosity one. I've found that sharing culture (respectfully) actually promulgates understanding... and liberal elites who protest too much are undermining their arguments. There is a sensitive respectful way to share, lets not be so prophylactic but I think simply dry humping other cultures for design inspirations doesnt go far enough. Dig in, find out what makes a culture what it is. Consider Anthony Bourdain please... Perhaps this was all just a tribute to him?
The LA Times did a longish article on Rick Bartow, who is much missed. Id love to see a major museum with the balls to do a show of art by veteran's... Think how great Rick Bartow, HC Westermann, Dan Flavin, Robert Rauschenberg and even Paul Klee could be? Sadly museums seem to have lost their mojo when it comes to being cultural lightning rods (showing what is expected instead of where the tension needs exploring), but by adding in different countries and time periods it could be great and thought provoking.
It is with a heavy heart to report that Portland has lost one of its finest citizen's, Carol Yarrow. A prodigious and talented photographer who focused on the humanity of her subjects, she will be greatly missed. She was involved with Bluesky and she was the one person I always looked for there to talk to on First Thursday openings. On a very personal level I verify that she was one of the most compassionate and caring people in the Portland art scene. She excelled in the art of humanity while being concerned with the environment, civil rights and even the #metoo movement. As a photographer you can see it in her work. Just like that work she was going through something serious and decided to meet it on her own terms with grace.
Portland isnt what it is because of buildings or institutions... but for its people and Carol was simply one of our best. Talented, artistic, empathetic, curious and full of immense experiences from Japan to Guatemala to cowboys. I've always regretted not having time to review this show, now I do even moreso but Id like to lead the call for a retrospective. Sometimes my friends dont get the reviews they deserve and Carol was a true friend... and I'll always remember our drinks at LeHappy and her tales from the 60's and 70's.
This image of Carol's is one of her best and the one that reminds me the most of her delicate intensity and humanity.
I remember her comforting words for me over the last few years as others dear to me have died and now I wish I had more. She was just as beautiful, delicate and unflinching as her photographs and now that is all that remains. Memories too...
When I moved here in 1999, The Art Gym was the highest profile contemporary art space in the Portland Metro Area... and only later did other institutions and University galleries arise. Perhaps it stopped being "the place" as the scene expanded and Portland artists became more adventurous than any religiously affiliated institution could hope to show but it has always been an important venue that gave large scale solo shows and retrospectives to local artists (many with national reach). Still, I'll miss it and here are a few reviews we've published over the years:
The new chief curator for The Henry Gallery is Shamim M. Momin of LAND and before that co curator of the 2004 and 2008 Whitney Biennials. A great hire since the Henry hasnt been the same since the Elizabeth Brown days. Momin brings a present and pervasive intellect to what she does, and isnt one of those curators that tries to out vague her audience and subcontract out all the programming (which sadly is par for the course these days). She's a legit intellectual, which is what I expect from art institutions and rarely find these days. Congrats, Seattle will have her for perhaps 5 years but it will be good for contemporary art in the Pacific Northwest since I consider the Henry to be the top Contemporary Art institution in the region. Too often curators here program what they "should be" curating rather than discovering what they could be curating.
Barry Blinderman's program at ISU is what sparked my interest in contemporary Art. Up to that point I was mostly interested in art history and not living artists. Yes there was an Alex Grey show (probably my first art opening) but really it was the fact that there was a space that I could return to over and over and there was something different every time I walked across town when I was an undergrad. Congrats Barry!
Art people make the art world turn. Here are some to consider:
The new Director of the Met is Max Hollein. This isnt a surprise and it is a rare thing to not promote from within but it really had to happen. Can the museum regain its composure as a seat of expertise... a place where knowledge and experience is rewarded? Can the museum update itself without undermining its greatest strengths and integrity? It doesnt need to reinvent itself so much as reassert itself with tech. Most 1st tier museums really dont understand these things and dont have to but Hollein's predecessor opened pandora's box already. (*hint) All museums should be free of charge, especially with income inequality the way it is.
Amid complexities of gentrification LA's 356 Mission will leave its space. This is no surprise but it shows how the art and real estate market can undermine contemporary art's moral position. There are ways to do this in a way that enhances the community rather than be seen as some colonizing situation. Considering the political climate in the USA we need to not pit these natural allies of artists and POC against each other.
I'm polishing off a very long review of one of the best exhibitions in recent Portland memory. (Portland memory as a term... hmmm.) Till then here are some links in an eventful week.
The departure of Helen Molesworth from MoCA is the news of the week. Some have characterized this as institutional manspreading. That is simply too simplistic and I see something deeper underlying it... the growing intolerance of museums for strong curatorial voices. I loved her Kerry James Marshall and Catherine Opie shows last year. It is part of the whole war on expertise that is going on both the left and right of the political spectrum. Does being a woman factor into this?... of course it does (leaving her more exposed than a man) but this is more complicated than that. Paul Schimmel is no longer at MoCA either and he was a giant, also Alma Ruiz is gone (Molesworth reportedly was key in that). That constitutes a great hollowing of expertise... when I was growing up in the arts I looked up to curators like Schimmel... professionals who shook up assumptions with overwhelming experience, saavy and knowledge and they understood the artists. Molesworth was of that ilk, close to the artists and full of expertise in an era when curators seem to farm out their shows, subcontracting to those outside the museum with expertise they professionally do not want to risk acquiring. In the past museums had in house expertise... slippery slope and any curator that keeps a higher profile is sadly in peril. *Update: the LA Times comes to a similar conclusion somewhat reversing their initial assessment. Thing is this isn't just MOCA... the entire museum industry is pushing back at influential curators. I consider it a purge of expertise and the influence that comes with it. What got Molesworth into trouble was daring to go farther than the board's agenda. Solution... hire curators that make their ideas inspiring to their board (you dont get that without expertise and even more daring). Art as an "asset class" rather than an intellectual prompt is hurting museums in very obvious ways.
Does Dora Maar deserve more credit for Guernica? Well yes, but not as the author for the brilliant final work but as part of the brilliant ecosystem of thinking and aesthetics that went into it. In that sense, absolutely she was involved. Like Helen Frankenthaler to Greenberg, she's crucial and without her you dont get the breakthrough work. Overall, there is no singular artist and if we can look at the entire cadre that these great works require it will make are understanding of richer. There is just too much zero sum thinking.
Internet artists infiltrate MoMA with a virtual reality exhibition among the Jackson Pollocks. Is virtual reality infiltration the new drip technique? nah... but it furthers the position of museums in the crossfire. Currently major institutional curators seem to be less skilled than they were 20 years ago and act simply middlemen who hire those with more expertise for specific shows. The problem with that is that museums require expertise to legitimize themselves and artists see a schism in this gig economy phenomenon. Why buy into something when you bypass the mid-level managers and exhibit directly on the internet or a VR overlay?
Team Gallery is done with art fairs... why? Long story short, they feel terrible. For quite some time art fairs have been dealing from a marked deck and if you dont like how its stacked why participate? A lot of smaller to mid level galleries have closed up as galleries all together as a new consultant class has developed to work in a more hidden way. This even more shadowy art world isnt exactly an improvement but at least Team is retaking his own scene and remaining a gallery to visit and experience.
Jerry Saltz skewers the "woke" biennial. I agree with all of this (and am preparing a response, curatorially). To cut the bull... "liberal elites" still are smelling their own curatorial farts and the more radical segments of Portland's art scene all sneer at academicians and curators who use the word "woke". Despite these being very interesting times (too interesting) is this not a great period of institutional perceptual acuity... and the main problem is one of "chasing the parade." Strong curation in times like these can still follow "issues" but they need to curate against form to keep from coming off like pious careerists. Part of the problem is sytematic since curators have lost their backbone as directors need for "outrage mitigation" have supplanted much of the very pointed curatorial expertise that was in force until recently. Overall, the best ideas right now have deeper roots that are rife with tension, treason and a need to disagree together in the same room. The best ideas dont claim understanding and lack smugness... that pax curatora age is over but most major museums dont understand this. The parts of the art world who get annoyed with Jerry and other real critics miss the message... the art world is not the court illustrator for the liberal elite or an asset class. Art is not the pet of the rich. It is an instrument panel that measures various systems within human civilization... and a lot of things that have been red lining are being ignored (though some venues are wising up like the Art Institute of Chicago's Leigh Ledare show, hint "uncertainty" is the true subject of the day). This whole institutional dampening effect mitigates subtlety... we live in messy times so group shows like the New Museum's Triennial should be a heightened version of that mess... rather than a tip toe tap dance through the tulips. In other words... toughen up and buckle up, this is a bumpy ride age... yet somehow museums are in full ingratiation mode. Curators used to be like great surfers, good at reading and riding risk like the big surf that breaks on the beach. Lately they have become more like lawyers (risk mitigators) concerned with career (hopefully becoming directors) over culture. True some directors are excellent curators but its a hard edged to keep sharp. Museums everywhere are in trouble as the front lines between the haves and have nots and by and large they have an attitude problem... irrespective of them being left or right leaning politically. Overall, it is good that the New Museum engages in this exercise but it is in danger of becoming just like the Whitney Biennial... something that serves an institution more than the culture it supposedly serves. Hyperallegic presents another view... with photos.
Here is an interview with Mark Dion... wunderkammern never seem to go out of style in contemporary art. I have a lot of thoughts on this but mostly I think it is the discreet spatial experience viewers are already groomed for... you know, look in here for a second, its furniture so how bad can it be? Furniture comes with a lot of cues that most 1st worlders are comfortable with and by being discreet objects are a bit easier to sell/ship/store than many all out installation environments.
An architect has used Vanta Black for a pavilion at the current Winter Olympics. It is unique so makes sense that Anish Kapoor would want to secure it for his use only in art but its just a matter of time before very similar blacks become available so ultimately its more of a stunt gesture. In the past artists had to create their own paints so most colors were closely guarded proprietary secrets... which only makes this whole subject seem like a throwback.
Earlier today, Nick Fish and the Portland City Council unveiled its preliminary working report on what the city could do to preserve and expand, "Affordable Arts Space in Portland," you can read it here. First of all, we've been calling for many of these things for more than a decade here, here, here and here. The thing is the art community now has City Hall's attention since Portland's identity as an cultural tourist destination is at risk to rising costs. So yes, a clearinghouse of spaces and incentives is crucial. I'm also glad the cultural liasson position is coming back to City Hall, I made use of it when we did the Donald Judd conference. The thing is the "corner" that Portland needs to turn isnt just about affordability. Technically, Portland cant roll itself back to the dirt cheap days. Instead, it needs to reframe this discussion not just as a return to affordability but as a more pro-active and assertive use of its support resources for cultural use. That means getting the resources (money, spaces, prestige awards and networking) into the right hands and for reasons that raise expectations. Portland is frankly terrible at being serious about support even when its clearly a big deal (think "Portland Polite" and "humble brag" rather than recognition of achievement). Instead, there is an infantilism around the discussion of cultural support. In fact, there is a kid's photo as the first image on the report. Culture creates serious careers, roles and spaces, why the kid photo? Also, of all the stake holders listed there is no active working artist advisory group and most in the visual arts scene dont know anything about this 2 year to date project. Frankly, that's like forming an action plan for getting resources to doctors without asking doctors what they need. Yes, other cities have done similar things, but Portland has some unique challenges and it will take local know how to make it effective in implementation (hint not the same old). Still, this is great news and I have been repairing a topical and very long think piece I hope to get published here soon. This new arts plan is is a needed step in the right direction but it needs to be reframed from "Affordability" to a one of distributing effective support for the brightest lights... because those are the people Portland needs to keep. Just supporting quirkiness isn't enough when resources get scarce and ever more crucial. Currently many outdated practices form barriers that have no place in 2018. February 15th will be the next time the Council meets on this and I'll have an article that goes far beyond the City Council's scope... though it is a crucial pies of the benign neglect policy the city has pursued until now. This is about Portland keeping its edge and cometitive advantage against other cities, that requires a few new moves that I'll get into later.
The Portland Art Museum will try once again to get approval for the Rothko Pavilion. I'm in favor of this plan despite the museum going with a very risk adverse design. Currently the museum campus is cut in half and disability access is an immense maze and I believe the expanded hours and greater access for pedestrians and bicyclists should be enough. My greater concerns is that the galleries be great spaces for looking at art and that the museum's design is so standard museum when in fact the space called for more creativity. Problem is both city hall and patrons at PAM are so conservative that that kind of groundbreaking design was not undertaken and the resulting back and forth between the community and PAM became fraught. PAM is sitting all of the civic and social faultlines. City Council meets at 2:00 Thursday.
The climate of moral revisionism and censorship is in full effect and calls to remove a Balthus at the Met are just the latest round. Look ... Art isnt supposed to illustrate moral ideals (which change over time). Instead art pulls at the loose threads that make up humanity and our world. Not all of those threads can be noble, that would be a great disservice and art can act as a lightning rod. The activities of individuals are somewhat different from their art but they are related and its that series of complications which gives some art its staying power. If it no longer stays over the long term then history has sorted things out. Politicians are elected, art isnt. Myself, I find Balthus distasteful and would relegate him to the storeroom but not because of a petition. the whole "wisdom of the crowd" idea misses the fact that such crowds usually lack wisdom. Still, perhaps tastes have changed... we no longer eat somewhat spoiled foods like the Romans did.
I was saddened to learn of James (Jim) Archer's death today. He always had that steady form of persistent but serious energy for art and the lives of visual artist that distinguishes true trail blazing champions from mere art supporters. As the first director of what eventually became named the Archer Gallery (eponymously) at Clark College he gave Portland's neighbor to the north its premier visual art space. He was also an avid collector donating 129 works to to Clark College last year, doubling his legacy and cultural footprint in Vancouver Washington, just as the city is beginning to embark on a more ambitious arts agenda. One could rightly say that Archer was a foundational figure for that city and a model for advocacy I wish there was more of. A very active member of the Portland art scene, he will be missed.
... (more, including Clark College's comprehensive obituary)
First of all, shops in Portland that are also a gallery is nothing new in Portland. Nationale and others have been doing it for years and Motel (run by PORT Co-Founder Jennifer Armbrust) broke a lot of new ground. With rents rising and online being ever more important to retail and fine art brick and mortar seems to need the flux that 2 genres can offer. Thing is it always seems to benefit the merchandise more than the fine art. I'd like to see some one make it a win win on both sides. That said I am all for more of these hybrid spaces.
I have been traveling a great deal but PORT has a lot of reviews and other content heading your way. Till then here are some links to mull over.
Jerry Saltz doubts the recently "found" Da Vinci painting... it is up for auction with a starting bid at $100M tonight. Overall, I find the painting to be just too convenient and yes pre-renaissance stylistically to be a Da Vinci without major question marks. The thing is auctions at this and of the market have very little to do with the art and a lot to do with turning cash (legal and dubious) into an asset that can be used as collateral for other things. This isnt about building a collection or appreciating art and most of the major collectors I know have a certain distaste for auctions. Interesting that Jerry's segment for NBC news got cut after it was taped. hmmm...
Here is a fascinating article about whether art can effect science... answer is yes. Science like most professions has certain preoccupations driven by what people believe and one great thing about art is it can present different epistemologies.... ones that can be tested scientifically. Sometimes, one has to see something to believe it is worth testing. I've always loved the odd hems and seams (seems?) that are woven into to the art/science dialectic. That also means that art is not some isolated cul-de-sac of civilization. It can express idiomatic world views rather than just illustrating them. The work which seems like a strange outlier is actually quite important... it can be a different understanding knocking on the accepted ideas. Something that has been increasingly rarer to find in art and politics... both of which have been losing their more supple approach to connecting with people. Sometimes you have to challenge something to keep it valid and capable of fixing themselves. Freedom and liberty are two of those things. Science and Art are both crucial, it was making both science and art available to the public that lead to greater liberties. The second those things stop being free range and directed by ideologues things get worse for all but a few.
Which is a great segue... No, artspeak generally is not used to disseminate actual research as art. It is a special kind of careerist sublimation of how and why certain art operates. True some research works (notice how Andrea Geyer's dialog around this show was pretty direct... and arguably the last "Great" visart thing I've seen PICA do) but more often it is just code for, "dont challenge my all important CV." In fact, anything is fair game and in a time where institutional rigging and tampering effected a major political election I'd say that no amount of research actually justifies work. Instead, its the way art reveals the mortar that holds various bricks of civilization together... or even how those walls fail that makes art and critical assessment (which requires comprehension of goals and intentions) important.
It is a long established fact that developers usually come into places that artists revitalize 10-15 years after the artists move in. This has happened in Portland. The difference in this latest situation in LA with Laura Owens is a very successful artist (many of whose collectors are wealthy developers)is seen as being too quick a catalyst. It is a cautionary tale and I'd like to see development in Portland that creates new... (more)
Hyperallergic looks at the Istanbul Biennial... exploring what makes a good neighbor (in the Middle east, ugh). Interesting how the smaller biennials seem to get how art needs to relate to the unspoken things that grease the wheels of our world. The work itself?... a tad too illustrative and reliant on cues that it is contemporary art, but I'm not expecting bold moves.
With the Weinstein reckoning an artist whose work touches on this reality of abuse has been removed. Should the prophylactic response be used here? Do we remove anything that might be provoking or address inconvenient truths? It certainly wasnt Weinstein-enabling, if anything it addressed his type of behavior when others wert gym curator
re turning a blind eye. Earlier this year Sam Durant's piece at the Walker made sense to remove... those gallows were simply like dancing on graves though it worked when initially shown at Documenta (why was the Walker so tone deaf and not understand that it worked in Europe but not the USA?). The difference here is the Hollywood day bed was more nuanced... perhaps too much for a retail setting but that's popular culture failure not the artist's or the work's. True freedom requires dissent and the mainstream left can cause greater harm to itself by by policing culture and general dissent. As a critic I try to engineer pressure points where the inconvenient is foregrounded and to try to drive these upsetting things back into the background is a kind of censorship.
The Art Gym names Ashley Stull Meyers as its new Director and curator. Good that she has a background in marginalized communities... but how is she on dissent? Portland is a city of dissonance but its arts institutions are mostly very safe... rewarding those who sit on panels but not work that causes an uproar or provoke discussion. It is a civic weakness that requires correcting rather than mutual congratulation societies. We wish her well and hope she has the full support of the university as these programs have come under increasing pressure. What's more Portland is a notoriously tough place to fund raise and being new often means 5-10 years of proving yourself.
Artnet asks who the most influential curators were. That's an interesting question, mostly because curators... particularly those at museums have been losing cache (going mostly to directors, most who act like curators but often arent... when they are both the split attention can be a blessing or curse). I wont make a silly top 10 list but here are my picks: My favorite was likely William Rubin (whose time at MoMA explored risk as cultural currency), other MoMA greats like Alfred Barr, Kirk Varnedoe and Robert Storr all matter. Im a fan of Lynne Cooke and I want to name Ann Philbin who is technically a director. Pontus Hulten, Okwui Enwezor, Hans Obrist, Paul Schimmel and the brilliant Walter Hopps come to mind as well. We just dont have that many brilliant curators at major museums any more... they typically act like investment portfolio managers managing risk rather than ... (more)
Matthew Collings reviewed the new Basquiat exhibition at the Barbican. What Ive always liked about both Collings and the artist is the way they hone in on conceits and generally accepted nonsense. It gives them both a bit of grit 'n gristle. Too bad the "notions of cool" sound like another Basquiat show which tries far to hard to be both in the know and safely institutional. It is hard to be both and it always makes those curators seem off balance... I call it oversteer. The good thing is Basquiat's work can survive such posing... because it is precisely designed to be critical of such posur-posturing. We could use more of that but it is a difficult thing to achieve in a world of instant gratification.
Brian Libby has two articles on thePortland Building. The second discusses the issue of preservation. I tend to agree with him on this, the Portland building was never right and therefore always compromised... sort of like the Leaning Tower of Pisa started tipping right away. Better acknowledge the flaw by stabilizing it so it can last. Besides the materials are not as important as the visual impact here. At least they are going to save the Portland Building and make it a proper functioning structure. One thing they must do right is the revamped gallery space. There are many ways to improve it through the renovation. It is already an important venue but it could be so much more.
Artists defend Documenta and its curator. That's all well and good but I'm a firm believer that curators should be defending both the artists and the institutions. True this value engineering of culture is a problem but somehow I do sense that bigger leads to diffusion and this Documenta 14 got away from its staff by design (we covered 13). Last year's Portland Biennial was also a mess because it spread itself too thin... at a certain point these festivals need to be distillations not simply an invitation to get lost. That strategy has diminishing returns, especially with a world growing ever hostile to open ended thinking. Try to raise the stakes rather than obscure them.... and this financial inquisition is just another distraction that points to something amiss. Let's be smarter than the cultural bean counters by knowing how many beans will be required to plant? They had to know the Athens section would be scrutinized relentlessly in financial terms... state of the EU and Greece's debts and all.
There is never enough time to cover everything so Jerry Saltz does short reviews. Ive done that occasionally done that... due for another batch but I use it to look back as an overview (Jerry has a very complicated locale to cover).
I'm still working on numerous long pieces due out before Fall officially begins (we are still in the early September rev up days). Till that backlog subsides here are some important reads:
The ousted Met director Thomas Campbell does a loaded two part interview, mostly on the Met. First off, all major US museums and many around the world take their cues from the Met and I wonder what chilling effect on digital departments this ouster will have? I'm rather certain that "Tapestry" Tom's ouster had nothing to due with finances or his digital initiatives and everything to do with the culture of the board and key staff. Blaming "digital" is like blaming Hilary's emails and the finances are suddenly fine after the booting (something we reported all along and much of the less savvy generalist media bought hook line and sinker). Those are smokescreens. The real issue is that the digital didn't have a deep culture within the board and the distrustful and "stressed" staff fed that fire. Overall, I welcome the Met being a player in more recent contemporary and less recent Modern Art but the problem with all these initiatives is they were separate strategies. Thing is most museums dont have a feel for new tech/art and by giving it a new division missed the point. Tech isnt something new, the entire collection of the Met is a catalogue of once new art/technologies and their effects. Specifically, tech should be an overlay that expands each division rather than be seen as a rival for the affections of funding. Most contemporary art curators at museums are relative luddites when it comes to tech too (and they wonder why tech billionaires avoid the art world). There is more to all this of course, but the Met needs to play culture cards like the house (most major museums should) because that is what they are. Lag along, its fine as long as you seem more dignified and adult. Problem was the Met looked like it was buying a Miata or three for its mid-life crisis (especially with that logo redesign) and the staff revolted. Thing is, major museums are in a precarious time and the Met like many is making the mistake of chasing the parade of relevancy. Part of the problem is a lack of curatorial verve and prescience, which comes from boards that aren't being asked to step up in visionary ways by curatorial programs (for a while the best curators are avoiding major "collecting" museums, hence Robert Storr, Paul Schimmel and Okwui Enwezor). Leadership means temerity and I haven't been seeing the same caliber of it most major museums as of late. Was it a situation of directorial oversteer? Probably... better to leave that to curators and have the director look stately and reassuring. Who does things well then?... most cities that are not New York should look at the Des Moines Art Center, whose Director Jeff Fleming PORT interviewed years ago. For example, the Met or any museum with over a billion dollar endowment should be open free of charge... or at least be so once a week.
We are still working on no less than 3 major articles, till then here are some things to chew on:
This interview with Philippe de Montebello is fascinating regarding the future of the Met. In many ways mission creep has pushed museums beyond their core competency. Is the Met really in trouble? uh no. Is there a crisis? All institutions need crisis to remain relevant and the question with the Met is interesting. My thought is the Met needs to do contemporary art at the same level it does any other kind of Art. Can it do that? The core competency for any museum is to play to their strengths by testing that strength. A digital initiative sounds great but if it isnt as enlightened as their Egyptian program it becomes a distraction. Once again mission creep can diffuse crisis in core competencies but that can undermine that core. New programs work better to bring a crisi of understanding to the museum's collection and programs. Today museums seem to have lost their way, always chasing the parade. No, play like the house... because the museum is the house. An intellectually rather than fashionably engaged crisis is all that is needed. Sadly, the contemporary art world isnt producing curators like that... or they arent ending up at museums anymore. Great curators like Robert Storr and Paul Schimmel are no longer at museums... that's a bad kind of crisis. (yes I like to point out that the Greek word Krisis is the root of the word criticism. For those who like to say there is a "crisis in criticism"... you are being intellectually redundant. Crisis and Criticism have the same linguistic origin. In conclusion, all great curatorial programs and museums use crisis of understanding to spur critical thinking about what they present. Simply having a program that chases its trending demographics will fail to capture them. For example Gen X and Milennials are disengaging from museums, partially because museums are acting as if they are too big to fail. The museums are failing to understand their own crisis. *Hint, great curators who bring the tensions of the present to what is presented are great communicators... they dont do what most contemporary art curators are doing now, which is extremely defensive. So many are failing and not in a good way.
Portland is hotter than a furnace (ok technically not) but still in a city where air conditioning can be rare in even finer homes heat challenges Portlanders. Frankly we arent used to being cooped up and with the unusually wintery Winter we had Portlanders are starting to feel like tatertots that have gone from the freezer to the frying pan. Here are three solid bets to feed you eyes and mind.
Jennifer Steinkamp's Orbit at PAM (photo Jeff Jahn)
The top of most peoples list should be the Portland Art Museum and their current Jennifer Steinkamp exhibition is a long overdue look at a pioneer of computer generated art. She's a favorite of mine melding computer generated graphics and architectural recolonization as art. We saw her Jimmy Carter piece last year (her most important work) and though the selection of pieces here are'nt as cutting as her political or disease related works (who can tell the difference these days), being more non still lives and some related to teachers it constitutes a major multi-media show at PAM. A step in the right direction. True, having at least one work projected in non gallery spaces would have been even smarter but perhaps there is room for that once PAM sorts out its Rothko Pavilion expansion in the future? What's more, this Steinkamp show guarantees that this year's Converge 45 at least has one worthwhile anchor exhibition (last year was a planning phase, becoming more like a contemporary art version of a talk radio show... all of which sounded very dated after the last election). All that said Steinkamp does some pretty timeless stuff for being involved in new media and one piece Judy Crook is a poetic homage to a beloved color theory teacher. Art isn't all glitz and opaque curatorial hedging, the best of it is profoundly related to growing through life and as an artist who has rehabilitated the still life through new media Steinkamp is a must see. Yes, an interview is on the way. .
Kabuki: A Revolution in Color and Design at Portland Japanese Garden (Photo Tyler Quinn)
Another great choice for beating the heat is the recently renovated Japanese Garden, everyone should see the new Cultural Village expansion by Kengo Kuma. Its always a bit cooler up there and the garden has always put on the best craft oriented exhibitions in Portland like the current Kabuki: A Revolution in Color and Design carries on the tradition. It is a good time to see the exhibition, new architecture and the garden. itself. Honestly, for Portlanders there is nothing cooler than visiting Japan for a quick day trip without leaving the city.
I hope everyone (in this hemisphere) is having a great Summer despite and we have 3 major pieces in the works for you (two interviews and an extensive thinkpiece). Till then here are some of the best things I've read over the past few months.
Jerry Saltz half forgives MoMA, but he really doesnt give a stamp of approval. He's seen that The Museum is becoming more of a transit hub trying desperately to cope with its success, yet inherently incapable of fixing its real problem... an identity crisis that gets to its core competency, The Collection. The building is an issue sure, but its mostly exacerbated by the institution not wanting to use its influence and empower curatorial penache. Simply put they require a curatorial revolution and the directors who have slowly usurped curatorial competency over the past 2 decades simply wont allow it. Instead, the discussion is centered safely around the building's program but what I see is a certain curatorial temerity because rewriting the narrative of MoMA's collection too quickly would effect the assets... ahem "Art" that it is a custodian of and a benchmark for. This isnt news... the more powerful an institution is the less freedom it has in challenging its base and lore. The Met is going through similar things but at least its identity crisis seems to be questioning why its collection and curatorial voices have had diminishing impact over the past few years. Then there is the more radical approach LACMA is taking, only curatorial/intellectual penache will keep it from becoming a study in modes of cultural fashion. Overall, the crisis for museums is the question is one of egality. Is the crowd the chief tenant of a museum building or is the Art? Most museum directors will try to deflect that or say its both... but it cannot be. The core competency of an art institution has to be the art and all the content and or baggage it brings with it. Perhaps the proble with with major museums is related to the reason both major political parties are in tailspins? Has the art of patronage stalled as a form of critiquing civilization in a healthy way?
Should the ICA pull a show over a Painting that isn't there? Obviously not, PORT has interviewed Dana Schutz in the past and by protesting a painting that isnt even on display the whole drama just becomes a lynch mob (so much sad irony). I posit that Schutz was hung out to dry by a Whitney Biennial curators who didnt bother to contextualize her work in any way (that's their job though... instead they minimized their own exposure). Overall Dana's subject matter has often dealt with corpses on display and this lack context and scale of response says something about where we are as a culture now. Technically, "outrage" isnt a critique and all serious artists deserve a fair shake in the court of critique... vocal outrage is an important thing but without scope and targeting it falls on its own sword.
... (more on LA and the CIA's love for French Postmodern theory + Robert Yoder)
This past weekend the Portland art scene was shocked to learn that Newspace Center for Photography was closing its doors. There hasn't been a formal statement about what happened from the board but the fact that a "for lease" sign has gone up on the building is a clue that it relates to their building. The board and staff was apparently working hard to find a solution so everyone is quite interested in what will be said today at 7:00PM in an open information session. Hopefully they are still considering alternatives like a move or reconstituting of the organization in a different form because their program has been socially engaged and excellent at a time when Portland absolutely requires it. If you care about photography and social engagement in Portland it would be wonderful to sit in and offer your 2 cents. Arts orgs die because of neglect and perhaps this shock treatment can spearhead support?
*UpdateDetails about the closure came out in the Oregonian. First off, that is never the correct way to close an institution... you issue a more detailed statement, not a town hall leaving the news sources to sort it out. Second, it looks like the lease was not the issue, instead it is the model. Relying on classes for revenue is a dicey proposition and most of the art schools around the country are facing decreased enrollments. What's more this was more of a skill center rather than a degree oriented institution so their courses are competing with online guides.... (more click below for more analysis)
Newspace Closing Remarks? • 7:00PM • July 10th Newspace • 1632 SE 10th • 503.963.1935
PSU's new Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art bucks sad campus trend
rendering of the new Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art at PSU
At a time when nearly every college gallery or museum seems to be under pressure the exciting news this week is that Jordan Schnitzer has given Portland State University 5M for a 7500 square foot, 2 level museum within the renovated Neuberger Hall. It reminds me a lot of two respected University programs that taught me a great deal decades ago, the Illinois State University Galleries and the INOVA program at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee, both of which do museum caliber shows and similarly have a discreet director position that makes the space more than just an extension of the existing faculty and their prerogatives. Instead, those spaces expanded the cultural climate of the campus (INOVA in the early days was extremely daring, later they moved off the central campus and became less cutting edge but still good). What is great about PSU's new museum is how visible this will be on the campus quad, inviting students to just stroll in.
New rendering (top) and current Neuberger Hall (below)
Situated right on the Park Blocks the JSMA should add civic vibrancy to what is now just a mid-century curtain wall. I've long felt that university galleries expose students to art at a crucial time when they are building their intellectual apparatus. I experienced this first hand. Simply wandering into an exhibition on campus introduces an opportunity for curiosity and unlike most tests and quizzes there is no right answer and a museum scale setting gives it more weight. Overall, "Art" inherently encourages tolerance and flexibility... something our world certainly could use more of and possibly lost sight of until recently. The gift also makes PSU a much bigger cultural player and it was mentioned at the press conference how they could coordinate related exhibitions with the other museums and schools on the Park Blocks. It enhances the South Park Blocks "Museum District" count and considering Portland as a hot tourist destination it simply strengthens our civic cultural portfolio. PSU is still in the process of sorting out details like whether the Museum will have a collection or not but regardless the museum will have access to the Jordan Schnitzer Family Foundation's vast lending library of art.
Well, Ive been enjoying running around to so many thesis group shows (I prefer no to see the solos because Im more interested in the work they make after art school). Though expectedly a bit wobbly on their new legs its nice to see some real resolve and sometimes outright anger in the work this year. The times demand it. Ive got some review and some other longer form content coming but till then here are some interesting stories.
Then there is the whole mess with the Metropolitan Museum's ouster of its Director. Everyone, everywhere during my travels wanted to talk about this and Vanity Fair did a decent job of unpacking it. Really what happened was the way the Director bled out institutional experience in favor of updating agendas... and there was inter office blowback. It has nothing to do with deficits which the Met routinely runs (its a typical non profit shell game). The thing is the Met was a supreme repository of institutional knowledge (much of it arcane)... yet was moving too fast into new digital interfaces and educational mandates. With encyclopedic museums there is a danger there... to undervalue what it already does well and many such institutions have had similar problems. Basically it is disrespect for one's core competencies and I see it as a moment where the war on expertise (in the guise of edutainment) had an interesting little big horn moment. The problem is further exacerbated as many digitally savvy Gen X and Millenials just don't feel like museums are speaking to them anymore as a front for the 1%. That is a big problem, but I dont think losing core competencies is the right way to go. Charging tourists isnt the right way either... go open source. Simply put, museum's need to be a very physical manifestation of the rich making riches available to all.
Last but not least the Portland Art Museum's Rothko Pavilion plan is causing some friction and Bike Portland covers it. I'm a big proponent of the Rothko Pavilion... it was my idea before PAM ever thought it even possible. Still, I believe this is a good thing. I believe that PAM was making a very understated architectural footprint to avoid stirring these sentiments up but what they needed was a bit more architectural temerity (this isnt a 1% grab of public space since the pavilion would be open to foot traffic). OK tough questions... can Vinci Hamp do a redesign that goes beyond just the basic "museum" dictates and creates something that becomes an amenity for the Park Blocks and casual passers by? Perhaps a more adventurous architect is required? Privately, I have always indicated to PAM's director that this needs to bring the museum and park blocks together as a mixing zone rather than present PAM as a bunker. I just think this site is more complicated than the current design contends with. Yes, addressing these issues will cost more $$$ but I believe the added complexity will help both PAM and the South Park blocks area become something more than what they already are... islands. What is more I'm not certain this needs to be a cyclist's super highway through the museum... that isn't a realistic or sober goal. The current space has some foot traffic and almost no bike traffic... a redesign could be more inviting... perhaps to a rooftop sculpture garden open for free 9AM-PM as a kind of Highline? Perhaps sacrifice the current tunnel? My best advice is PAM needs to be more like a park and less like a museum. That is something very difficult for most museums and boards to understand but in the current political climate being seen as a wealthy fortress isn't what they need. I could also bring some Rothko lore into this take as well (Rothko's worldview was like a lot of Portlanders of today are now). Basically. I believe there is a solution and it will make both the passer by and museum experiences better. Right now as it is the street and museum experiences are bit of a mixed bag and I hope all sides see this as an opportunity. Good can come from the Museum and the public having a strong dialog with realistic goals for once.
ArtFcity reviews the latest Whitney Biennial. Of course it can't possibly capture the grist of the moment, no major museum has the kind of guts that takes but unlike the surveys we've seen of Oregon art it is engaged that there is a certain dissonance. Jerry Saltz wrote about it too ofc. Overall, I see these shows as more of a measuring stick for the calibrating how museums serve their audiences rather than a real state of the art... big festivals seem to be more in tune... perhaps it is the museum industry itself where the curators have lost intellectual edge to the mediating imperatives of directors? The Whitney still has some teeth and that is important. It doesn't have to be perfect but all museums need to find the tensions of the age. I've been thinking of a show that can do what the museums just can't.
The upcoming Whitney Biennial looks at the definitions of "American Art"... which can mean a lot of things. I'm not exactly stoked about this exhibition and usually one can skip the bi-annuals if you are working with interesting artists, getting in studios and seeing a lot of work. They are good for all the people who need cliff notes for what's going on. I'm not being snide, most people need cliff notes for a very complicated and turgid art world. It takes a while to develop one's own eye, measuring sticks and tastes. Perhaps the Whitney's real value is in the way it seems to fail in each iteration. That said do the surveys in the Pacific Northwest even give themselves opportunities to fail in enlightening ways? (answer = no)
The Director of the Metropolitan Museum, Thomas Campbell, has resigned. Partly this is interesting because the Met has been slowly losing its "expertise quotient" on the curatorial front and the fact that most major encyclopedic art museums follow its lead. Overall, the Met's supposedly more serious foray into contemporary art hasn't really wowed many... perhaps because it was following the same kind of "Liberal Elite" ideas that fizzled out in 2016 so stunningly (Portland is fairly radical). All "Great Art" is rather radical in its execution and is designed to challenge institutions and the problem with producing shows of art that most museums "think" have a moral high ground is they tend to smooth out all the rough, even jagged edges that radical ideas and art traffic in. Many of us call this "following the parade." What happens at the met now?
Well, the more you know about Disjecta and its founder (two different entities btw) the less surprised one is that things had to go this way.
Long ago PORT published this article... in many ways its founder never changed and was ousted as we reported here and here. Then yesterday he went on another of his infamous email campaigns prompting the board to respond by revealing his self-serving actions and retaliations (read below). There is a pattern here and many have put a lot of effort into apologizing for his tactics over the years. For example, you can see perhaps his staunchest supporter Meagan Atiyah in the comments of this PORT post. Their close coordination has always made me uncomfortable... when she left the board of directors a few years ago his support started to erode. There is simply a difference between being colorful and difficult... and someone who can't operate by taking the high road. It was a very Trump-ish move to build a wall (read the board letter below).
It is true some artists still stand by him (many do not, especially after the disastrous biennial) but he relied on cultivating those kind of buddy buddy relationships. Going for drinks, hanging out in a Blazer game skybox, being one of the guys etc. but there is a pattern there and it really doesnt serve an organization which takes up a lot of nonprofit art ecosystem resources. A non profit director has to walk a line as a steward. In Disjecta's founders case that line was clearly drawn around himself and I support the board's decision. A board isnt there just to rubber stamp the director's agendas. Like many in the art scene here, I could say more but am trying to be charitable.
Here is Disjecta's Board of Directors response... I hope Portland can learn from this:
"Statement to Disjecta's Friends and Supporters,
The most successful arts organizations encourage dialogue and community. To those of you that reached out to the board in response to an email from firstname.lastname@example.org (not the organization's server), thank you for your messages and for your belief in Disjecta. We hope you continue to participate in Disjecta's future.
Initially, the Disjecta Board of Directors felt it would be neither appropriate nor respectful to Bryan Suereth to go into detail about the inner workings of our decision-making, but in the spirit of accuracy and balance, we offer the following:
Beginning in late 2015, and following an extensive evaluation process involving 100% of the board, external stakeholders, advisors, and... (more)
Jerry Saltz discusses what the Art World needs to do in 2017. Right now art has become a bit too pleased with itself and isnt challenging itself or its audiences enough. As Robert Hughes once wrote art had become too much of "a vocation" rather than "an avocation." Curators and artists need to find the edge rather than the safe middle ground for their careers. It will take some visionary collectors to support it rather than just rely on advisors and "best practices" that perpetually turn art's wild intellectual and physical brambles into well manicured golf courses that make art the Pet of the rich. It takes integrity. I'm working on a big piece for PORT on this to kick 2017 in the arse.
Why are so many Universities putting so much energy into their art museums? The two in Portland that could are Reed and Lewis and Clark. Something tells me L&CC is the more likely bet. I like it better than a lot of private museums and that wealth has to go somewhere... better to make it public. That said a private space with some realy integrity, insight and edge can make a huge difference. For example this project in LA has promise but I can think of a hundred solid ways to spend less and do more, especially in Portland.
"I am thrilled by the appointment of Grace Kook-Anderson as the Arlene and Harold Schnitzer Curator of Northwest Art," said Brian Ferriso, the Portland Art Museum's director and chief curator. "Grace's highly regarded tenure as the Curator of Contemporary Art at the Laguna Art Museum, coupled with her recent work in Portland as...(more)
Breaking news, PORT received word that the University of Oregon plans to close its wonderful White Box exhibition space in Portland after this school year. Curator Cris Moss will carry out programming through June 2017. Another institutional change is that the John Yeon Center will be directed by core faculty members and not Randy Gragg as it is now. Overall, it seems like a very rash decision that hurts the U of O's reputation as a serious art school since the White Box is one of the premier exhibition spaces in the State of Oregon. It also gives the school legitimate roots in the very vibrant Portland art scene. They should reconsider, as it will damage the school's reputation immensely by shuttering it without exhausting every avenue (not just AA&A's very Eugene-centric avenues). Earlier this year we helped lead the outside charge to successfully save PSU's Littman gallery from administrative undersight. Big schools have silos and galleries usually are at the short end od most budgetary sticks, despite the fact that they are major connectors to the community and the good will/resources they bring.
The current Christopher Michlig exhibition at White Box through December 10, 2016
The Dean of the School of Allied Arts and Architecture Christof Lindner's statement was, "White Box has served as a valuable extension of A&AA's academic mission in Portland for the past seven years. We are particularly thankful for Cris Moss' contributions in ... (more)
Well, the feasting holiday is over, leading to the post holiday/family need to exit the house and exercise the mind's eye and take in new contexts. Art can be great for this and here are my picks for some great shows to feed/sustain the mind.
Paul McCarthy and Ed Ruscha in Open This End
Open This End is the most exciting group show in Portland this Fall. Partly, this is because it comes from one excellent collector, Blake Byrne, whose good taste and adventurous attitude the work maintains a sharp edge about it. Collecting something that carries an implicit challenge takes on the responsibilities of what Art with an "edge" demands and therefore occupies a special place between civics and taste. Thus, what Open this End does so well is provide a variety of multifaceted world views.
Andy Warhol Prints from the Collections of Jordan D. Schnitzer and His Family Foundation at the Portland Art Museum
The current retrospective at the Portland Art Museum, Andy
Warhol: Prints from the Collections of Jordan D. Schnitzer and His Family Foundation
is the largest of this seminal artist's output ever and should be on the to
do list for anyone who can make it. There is breadth and scope here and PORT interviewed catalog essayist Richard Axsom for the occasion. Like so many Post WWII artists Warhol had mostly drained his work of allegory while introducing popular iconography as a kind of folk or kitsch context. This was something fascists had abused so Warhol's rise as an artist became a rehabilitation of sorts, bringing back iconic secularism without nationalistic jingoism and other subjugation. As the Cold War continued Warhol became became the defacto Pope of Americana, canonizing our taste in many secular/cosmopolitan things. The show is an ideal way to connect to the kind of America that is both being threatened by the next presidency. In other words a great post holiday field trip for Portlanders.
Jerry Saltz can always be counted on to charge forward in difficult times and like myself he sees this as an opportunity to get away from the recent parochialism that the market and some very soft thinking have lead to. Jerry always has a very New York take and I'm not certain what a Trump presidency means for art in NYC but it certainly means that money wont be going away as part of the equation.
At Jezebel this piece disagrees with Saltz, thinking that the bohemian artist on the outside is gone (neoliberal art school talk). That seems like an argument akin to "painting is dead" but the pessimism is healthy. That said artists find a way and yes radical action can outflank a lot of this very mitigated neoliberal stuff art schools have been cranking out.
Jennifer Rabin writes a good morale boosting piece in the WWeek. That said I do feel Portland now has a duty to up its game, not simply accept what we have as good enough (especially institutionally, Portland needs to up that game). Artists should assay the task of creating culture but the past 10 years have not been the best. One artist that is right on target and incisive is worth more than 100 that arent... that said those 100 may have been part of the collective Weldschmertz that leads to some stronger art. The key is expectations.
News from Disjecta on the growth front, its controversial director will be leaving his post at the helm. As this piece on PORT once chronicled long ago, Bryan Suereth has always been his own biggest asset and weakness. I knew that when Michelle Grabner was chosen to curate the heavily built up but poorly realized Portland 2016 Biennial it would also expose problems. Possibly, it was the way the host exhibition at Disjecta had all the care of an overstuffed estate sale... using the same old more artists = more attendance strategy Bryan has used since the Modern Zoo in 2003. The institution needed to grow beyond the ploy of being big rather than good (being stretched all over the state made the host show all the more feeble and pointless) and Suereth always had people making excuses for him, none more than Meagan Atiyeh (often uncomfortably so, read the comments). Behind the scenes board members have long confided they are annoyed with issues he's needlessly created and this last biennial set off another wave of many artists who were simply put off. True, some artists love him and he's always been an ardent supporter of those he saw as allies but ultimately one needs other skills for Disjecta to grow into something more serious. (*Side note, the last male curator to work for Disjecta was Paul Middendorf who quit in 2005). That said, Suereth a founder (however mercurial) has put in a lot of work over the years and improved to a point. It is exciting that they can move forward building on his efforts and a bit of tragedy that its founder never seemed to learn some of the basics.
The US election has most of the art crowd in Portland very agitated so I'll dish out some already agitated but topical links.
Donald Judd is very important for a number of reasons but one that gets lost in the mix is is critique of institutions of all kinds and the way that such things de-radicalize the choices of artists. Thus, this historical take on Judd in new publication called Affidavit is interesting, if a bit light. Fact is, most museums still find Judd very challenging because his work inherently critiques the kind of procedures, contexts and presentation methods that museums are addicted too, yet have nothing to do with the work and the ideas themselves. Basically, Judd is a hardcore artist who drives the discussion, not a pawn of the marketplace and patrons. I wrote on this for the Judd exhibition and conference I co-curated a few years back.
Portland has a major problem with its "success" eating into the very neighborhoods that produced such cultural vibrancy... so I find this creative super space in Amsterdam project very interesting. Years a ago Portland created something called Milepost 5 and the developers wished they had spoken to I and my team before they had already built/executed most of it. Right now Portland could put these new tech companies and others who are outpricing the core arts ecosystem here and turn them into allies. As a cultural laboratory these interests could enhance each other rather than compete for space and Amsterdam gets that. It doesn't actually cost more money but it does take forethought that most US cities do not engage in.
Last but not least check out Roberta Smith's review of Pipilotti Rist's retrospective at the New Museum. I consider her to be the most important artist of the past 30 years (think internet tropes not art museums) and showed her in Portland back in 2006. She complicates the art experience as a form of knowledge that we could use more of and she is just starting to get her due. For some reason it takes edgier female artists a longer time to get their due if their work is not particularly sexualized and titillating. In fact, Rist makes work that transcends that ploy, it is work of the body and intellect without relying on or ignoring sex. It is just a facet rather than a focal point. Rist is hard core curious and perplexing while being generous. I've found that all the best artists tend to be more generous in the way they present/position their work.
Yves Klein is perhaps art history's biggest wildcard and arguably his influence on the artists of today has never loomed larger. This latest exhibition at Tate Liverpool seems to make a great case as joker savant but it also shows how committed the artist was in comparison to the texture, pigment, happenings and materially exhausted stack sculptors of today. It's that gonzo conviction that seems to be missing often... as if any artist who moves something around deserves a gold star. For Klein it was never about the moves he was making, it was about the strive... that drove a beautiful and fractured subtlety. Klein's work was whole by never attempting to be a complete exercise in art, architecture, or performance. He kept his edge by never being too proud of his genre or material, instead testing Art's elemental use and validity powered his work.
Western Culture by and large doesn't value the body and the use of space and the discussions around such things are stilted or often relegated to some project room rather than front and center. Frankly, I'd like to see that change in many Portland spaces because I'd argue that female artists here tend to be the genre MVP's... despite the fact that the least edgy ones get a disproportionate share of institutional resources. I will argue that female artists with an edge are being undervalued in Portland... despite the fact that they have international and national careers that seem value that very quality.
5 art cliches that have run their course. I agree, limp fabric was DOA years and years ago, anyone who tacks a tarp or dropcloth from the studio floor on a wall is generally not concerned about looking like a derivative hack. Leaning stuff, also weak. Stacks of anything... especially stuff that looks like it was found in a dumpster is also deeply lame. I'll add another, anything grotty looking on top of a wood grained or painted plinth. People, Isa Genzken and Rachel Harrison did this years ago... Rauschenberg, decades ago. Its revival happened almost 20 years ago and caught on at MFA programslike wildfire since. It is done and isnt a bus that artists can catch anymore.
"The Portland Art Museum today announced both an expansion that will unify its campus by connecting the Museum’s freestanding buildings, and a 20-year partnership with the children of Mark Rothko, Christopher Rothko, and Kate Rothko Prizel".... (more)
Well the long expected correction of zombie abstractionist artists has begun (other young artists with absurdly high prices too). Dont get me wrong, there's nothing absurd about a young artist making 25-65k on a painting after only a few shows but it should be rare and by 2014 many zonie abstractionist works were going for 500k+. Only a carefully orchestrated economy produces that effect.
I can see 1-3 very special even "exceptional" artists being "worth it", sure that's fine but a hoard of artists pulling down over 100k per painting after only a few shows and a short career... that smells funny. Also, artists who stack some junk on top of other junk with some pastel colors + foam or lumpy clay pots are not any better and art schools are pumping them out in droves (I call it hoarder art and Robert Rauschenberg pioneered The Combine before most of these artists were born). A few months ago this story on the Lisa Cooley Gallery seemed to say it all. Now I'm not applauding any closures or corrections... the Art Life is difficult, even for people whose lives are comparatively easy but when art is treated like an asset class it skews what is created and why. It seems the world has lot of very complicated problems and opportunities to tackle... so we shouldn't be awash in uncomplicated art that is easy on the culture that creates it, but we are. Does that invalidate abstraction? ...of course not (the most simple paintings can complicate any viewer's understanding but why buy some kid out of art school when you can buy a dozen very good Mary Henry works for half as much? The issue is one of scale and depth of understanding and it takes that to have mid level galleries that sell art between $2000-$25000. Most of the greatest works of art were bought in that range initially. Hopefully a return to some connoisseurship will result from this contraction. Of course, the most important, already historically "vetted" art wont be affected by this, which should make the best Gen-X and Millennial artists ask more difficult questions of the art world. I hoping the most sought after art becomes more like wild caught salmon rather than the farmed stuff I've noticed a lot of lately.
On a related note Jim Behrle thinks the art world is trolling you with art that isnt as radical as it presents itself to be. Well, sorta... Institutionally things have gotten very tame in the 15-20 years with curatorial power being ceded to the director's chair. Directors answer to the #'s ultimately ... (more)
The grotestque that is the art of Trump's hair. Ugh, this political season is gonna be brutal on anyone sensitive to aesthetics and meaning
Getting blue and naked for Spencer Tunick is a thing. The generalist press does love nudity, though there is a serious history of blue nudes in the art of Picasso and Matisse. Also, I suppose the blue skinned Smurfs have lost their cultural profile enough to make this project serious enough to undertake.
What does and doesn't make for good museums, the Art Newspaper asks around. First of all, museums rarely take real risks and the main thing they do is transpose egalitarian ideals in the context of often expensive and otherwise elitist objects. Where they usually founder is by seeing themselves as too much repositories, which they aren't. In fact museum's are vehicles for experiences (history, context and intellectual juxtapositions) rather than mere estate sales for the rich. That said because institutions require patrons they often cater too much to the act of pursuing them, blunting their intellectual and social edge. This is because curators as a class have been losing their voices within major museums. In fact, having strong curators dedicated to specific fields that act as ombudsmen and aesthetic chefs for all classes is what makes a museum different than more entertainment driven venues or smaller university spaces where the curator is expected to do director duties as well. Ultimately the biggest mistake museums make is valuing the building over their curatorial staff. Very good staff can also inform the design process but typically only the best museums can afford inspiringly flexible curators and sensitive/perceptive architects who can accomplish that. Instead, most museums simply do what most other museums have done.
... (more, including Artnet's Portland2016 travelogue)
The Brexit vote sent shockwaves everywhere last week, how will it effect the art world? Better question which art world? There isnt just one.
In the short term it puts Great Britain in question as the cultural center of Europe for sure... will Scotland leave? Will there be another vote? More likely will there be a chance for a counter offer from the EU to trigger another vote? Certainly the world uncertainty has a clearer face after the vote.
Don Tuski PNCA's new President (Photo Mike Weymouth) this is an image Portlanders will like...
PNCA has a new president, Don Tuski, from the Maine College of Art. Tuski's record at MeCA indicates a deepening commitment to documentary studies and the largest gift he brought in was 3 million dollars, the largest in that school's history (though not huge esp. by East Coast standards). He seems eager to embrace PNCA's fluid culture of design and art without a lot of barbed wire, that is a good thing as Portland's greatest asset is its opportunities for change married to being a leader in 21st century ethics.
His predecessor Tom Manley was a friend and we had some long brainstorming sessions on growth strategies for the school but Tuski has inherited some challenges. By absorbing the Museum of Contemporary Craft and recently dissolving it serious blowback has occurred. Also, the education industry wide problem of relying heavily on underpaid and under appreciated adjuncts has also caused strife but where PNCA and Portland are different is the school is expected to find a solution for this gargantuan problem (answer = endowments for teaching positions, also very rare today).
In many ways PNCA has moved very far and very quickly...... (more)
Bullseye Glass and the State of Oregon have reached an agreement. This is good as Bullseye is a part of the arts economy, while at the same time the kinds of materials that were being vented into the air were simply unacceptable. The problem was relaxed regulation of most industries and there are plenty of other industrial air quality polluters in the city that have also been exploiting the same loopholes (hopefully this gets addressed and soon). For example, Overlook neighborhood residents hope that enforcement is uniform.
At age 70, Mary Heilmann's career is red hot, but why does it take so long for many females? Retrospectives for women are rarer and prevailing wisdom in museums always tends to follow patronage money rather than taste and importance... not having many critics to assess that makes it twice as hard.
Do art spaces = gentrification?... often yes but that's like shooting the messenger. It can also work in reverse, like PICA's new home. The question in Portland is creating funding sources that support formal arts entities when informal ones are out-priced. Formalizing affordability for artists is the key but that takes serious know how as the people who did Milepost 5 (they kinda stumbled through it and it takes a bit more cultural seeding).
The best editor I ever had was Karen Wright (back in Modern Painter's excellent London days) and she thinks the Turner Prize needs to be more substantial and less a series of affected ploys. I agree with her, though Portland has the opposite problem... much of our discourse is mired in hobbled and antiquated discussions of craft that dont acknowledge the skills in computers, other tech and design or that somewhat irritating aspect of art that drives people crazy... some call it "edge". Besides skill alone doesn't truly make art powerful, it takes a sense of an "edge of understanding"... rather than the ploy of being edgy. Having a true edge seems to embody and encapulate the flux between the known and unknown. In Portland our talking points often scratch at craft, the environment and often a very token discussion of diversity, whereas challenging male Mexican artists or anyone with and incisive edge are far too threatening to show with the group or be given awards (Hallie Ford Fellowships and CNAA's to name names). Portland and London could and should have more exchanges as both places have excellent international art scenes.... Portland is full of weird woodshedders and London is full of people who are unapologetic about being unapologetic (aka the antidote to the humble brag).
Sure, I'm widely associated as one of the biggest advocates in new media art in the Pacific Northwest but I also love painting (I learned landscape paining in oils and watercolors at age 6 so its also my longest standing art love affair... other things like musical instruments, poetry, photography and installation art all came later). Here are some great painting links:
Jerry Saltz discusses the abstract work of Philip Guston and the sublime. The sublime doesn't get enough deep discussion in contemporary art lore at the moment but it is crucial... that feeling of sensitivity to vastness and the distinct sense of the indistinct as a form of threat and safe harbor experientially. Great minds tend to crave these experiences. Maybe that's what is wrong with the art world at the moment, not enough deep seekers?
To put a positive spin on this the Portland Art Museum currently has an exhibition of the artist's work on display and he's been a bit of a secret favorite of mine for years. My sense is someone decided this would be an escapade of opportunity... a professional would have stolen both parts or much more valuable pieces on display at Reed. Let's hope it comes back in the next 72 hours. You can find Setziol's work all over Portland and it always adds an air of grandly lyrical civilized activity... let's hope the spirit of the work convinces the perpetrator(s) to bring it back.
*Update: Good news, the panel has been returned though with some damage.
Though the installations for Megacities Asia are LARGE I'm not that convinced by most of them. Still it is good that they are utilizing the museum in nonstandard ways... most museums could be better about thinking of themselves as habitats for art rather than formal galleries.
San Francisco's art scene evolves at the top end with the new SFMOMA... while still out of the affordability range of most artists. That is a problem and though Portland is feeling pressure compared to other major West Coast cities we are still more affordable. Some interesting things could be done and I'm working on a think piece about this... to me a healthy arts ecosystem has room at all levels. San Fran is a place millionaires feel squeezed and many are decamping to Portland. Interesting how this will play out but one wonders if San Fran is just becoming a collection of itself? Seattle has struggled with to a much lesser degree and is still a city full of serious artists and among artists there is an international exchange zone between Vancouver BC going to to Seattle, Portland and then San Francisco.... sometimes LA. I'd like to see more West Coast co-curiosity?
The Met has been stumbling in its expansion but MoMA has Geffen's 100M gift... not certain if either will improve the institutions but they will "grow". Is growth ultimately the true measure of success? Seems like the Met could win simply by being a better/smarter patron to artists rather than simply building spaces with little intention? Growth for growth's sake just creates new problems.
Exciting news, PICA has a new 16,000 sq ft permanent home at 15 NE Hancock thanks to help from the Calligram Foundation. The architect will be Holst. Location wise it is just a few blocks from both the Rose Quarter and the main portion of N. Williams Avenue's district around Cook street. This will certainly be Northeast Portland's cultural anchor.
The interim PNCA President Casey Mills regarding the ongoing labor protests, which are cancelled for today:
"A tentative agreement has been reached regarding the recent protests on campus. That agreement should be finalized today and implemented over the next two weeks. More details will follow as the agreement is implemented.
In the meantime, let's celebrate one of the great events of the year at PNCA: Focus Week. Join me in going to as many events as you can to support our students and faculty.
John Casey Mills"
This is a good development. Hopefully, they have come with something innovative that will be a longstanding template for all higher education regarding adjuncts? The system is very broken. I have friends both on the PNCA board and adjuncts affected. In knowing both as I do if anyone can come up with solutions, they can.
There were labor protests today at PNCA regarding treatment of adjuncts and fallout from the move to the 511 building. I'm going to take a balanced approach to this... adjuncts in most higher education institutions are simply not compensated enough and it makes sense that a progressive city like Portland would be a place this question of fairness is addressed. It also shows how much Tom Manley meant to the school by keeping things together and how crucial his replacement will be. It also reiterates why the Museum of Contemporary Craft closure was inevitable (some of the adjuncts not renewed were extremely critical of the closure and took rather personal shots at the administration, so some of this should not be a surprise... others like Nan Curtis are pretty much PNCA personified so losing her seems to be a squandering of institutional continuity [Curtis was once the head of the sculpture department and founder/curator of the Feldman Gallery] others were simply very experienced educators). What I see is this, building campaigns continuously forget to raise endowments for teaching positions and expanded programs and pain ensues. Ironically this is exactly what got the Museum of Contemporary Craft in trouble in the first place. The only solution is what I call the Ferriso strategy (after PAM's Director who insists on endowments to support programs and positions, not a new idea but very stabilizing). Handled the right way this could make PNCA and Portland stronger, but this is difficult when both sides harshly typecast each other when in fact both sides have their backs against different but valid financial walls. Solution, raise endowments, review allocations and or size accordingly but the best way is to take the ethical high ground and not demonize each other personally (despite being Portland's toughest critical voice I never do that). Right now things are in the Mea culpa finger pointing phase and some moderate PNCA voices are feeling unwelcome in either camp. Another idea, what if the sales from the MoCC space added to an endowment for adjuncts? That would be a radical change, no school does that and I doubt they would consider it.
I've been very busy on another major multi-media exhibition and scholarly conference that we should be announcing very soon (it is next month). PORT currently has 1 review and 2 major interviews in the works that we hope to drop on you soon. Till then here are some links:
Portland's Nathaniel Thayer Moss took part in Meow Wolf's newest extravaganza and even notched some pictures in the New York Times Magazine. It is this sort of artist driven pandemonium that makes most institutional biennial/survey attempts seem like stale ingraciatory exercises executed more for the institution than the health of an art ecosystem. back in the aughts Dave Hickey and Robert Storr were able to curate relevant things at Site Santa Fe by letting the work fuel and somewhat direct a probing intellectual premise. Lately, where most every institution fouls up is by trying to let the premise... or "we followed the process" be the guide. Arch-meh copout pseudo curiosity, and yeah my upcoming project follows that advice... the artists are not just illustrating an idea. Instead, the idea came after we chose the artists and their interests framed the intellectual scaffolding. Meow Wolf tropes to pay attention to "Mystery" and "Fantastical" artists who generate the unknown should be on everyone's radar and Portland is full of them and it isnt just a Surrealism/Dada rehash... there is a lot of design as a disruption of the reality going on. When reality yields a presidential race like this one one can see why artists are creating a parallel universe.
I'm working on another complicated review and we have a major interview in the works... till then here are some more links to consider:
Francis Bacon's last painting is uncovered.... and it is purposefully dusty. Now Bacon is a bit of a toss up, is he overrated or brilliant. Both, but what I love about his work is the crushing self awareness he gives to his subjects, become a kind of liberty by proxy. I'm not always in the mood for it frankly but I do appreciate the way this work approaches death as both proceeding and receding... coalescing and atomizing. You have to care about such things to see it. One cant just cite a bunch of quotes about his genre, you really have to take his work personally to get or even see the better ones. That simply isn't always possible as not every one is good. Would love to see the last one in person to determine that. Western civilization in general isn't good at addressing death but a few painters like Rembrandt and Goya were fantastic at it.
Temporary published an interesting essay on slow art criticism. I generally agree with most of it and it is what we do here at PORT but there need to be a few clarifications just for discussion's sake. First off the idea that there is a "crisis in criticism" is odd because "Crisis" and "Criticism" both share the same Greek root of Krisis. In other words, without a crisis there is no criticism, which supports the articles successful attack on "International Art English." It is a style that embodies no crisis, just a pedagogical resume of precedents (becoming an odd careerist statement of belief rather than critical assessment). Instead, I agree that spending a great deal of time teasing out the individual experience of the critic then comparing it with other relevant experiences is generally the thoughtful and responsible thing to do. This is different than simply forming an opinion though, a critic engages the matrix of ideas around the work rather than simply pronounce. That said a critic's most sensitive instrument is arguably themselves... and yes some critique me for bringing myself into everything but it is very much on purpose and in the tradition of Baudelaire, Herodotus, David Sylvester, Matthew Collings etc. where the critic is an on scene interlocutor and historian. Owning up to that inescapable subjectivity is a kind of honesty, which we lack from IAE... which is just junior varsity level college art curator wall text. Its just a dressed up CV in code and a kind of advertising.
Hans Ulrich Obrist on the future of Contemporary Art. One of the things that distinguishes him from most big name curators is the way he readily admits their cultural cache supersedes that of curators and institutional immpreneur. Of course the idea that the "present" is slippery or splintered into intangible pieces is a very Los Angeles sort of notion and yet a lot of art is about being "present" and is not so slippy for anyone with an eastern outlook or access to the splintering the internet, which seems to record what is present with relentless detail. The difference is velocity of consciousness/awareness. Here's my quote, "The future is always over before you know it"... that means those with "an edge" find it through the obsessive over-familiarity of experience that is hard to rationalize...
Ken Johnson on Flatlands at The Whitney. The de-skilling thing is hardly new and the masters of this sentiment like; Rosenquist, Duchamp, Max Ernst, Picasso, Neo Rauch and Dana Schutz should continue to loom large in the minds of those contemplating the exhibition. The Internet didn't inspire current painting... perhaps painters dreamed (or memed) of the internet?
Apparently the future of the Littman Gallery at PSU (one of Portland's best art spaces) is in serious question as the school's administration is planning to restructure the Smith Student Center, which houses it. One plan is to reallocate the space for an African American and Pacific Islander center. This makes little sense, diminishing established and noted cultural resources for other cultural resources seems to completely miss the point of having cultural spaces in the first place and takes away from the college experience. The Littman has long been the best place for PSU to engage the community (see this interview with William Pope L. on the occasion of his Littman Gallery exhibition.)
Despite being student run the Littman has launched countless art careers and numerous exhibitions that have changed the city's cultural complexion. I've personally curated 3, including PLAY (2002) where Bruce Conkle first exhibited his snowman in a freezer eco-existentialism. PLAY also posited the idea that Portland was a place for experimental and conceptual new media art (back in 2002 this was a contentious idea). What's more, unlike other PSU galleries the Littman isn't hidden away in a building only art students see and fondly remember the interactions I've had with casual visitors to the exhibitions I've curated at the Littman.
As an art city that needs spaces open to new programming Portland simply cannot lose this valuable cultural resource and the fact that it is run by the students also makes it more susceptible. It greatly diminishes the invaluable experience that the student gain from running the space as well.
The Littman Gallery staff has asked you to email them with your support here: email@example.com and please spread the word.
*Update: in a rare bit of good cultural news for Portland the Littman Staff just announced that the gallery is no longer in danger of being closed, mentioning that the all of the responses made the difference.
David Bowie died just over a week ago and frankly I waspretty busted up about it. From 1999-2003 I wrote for Modern Painters magazine, during the London era when he sat on its advisory board... I know a lot of people who actually knew the man and it is pretty plain that most people know the art more than the person. He was deeply interested in critical dialog, not just garnering attention.
Here in Portland the constant din of people trying to out Bowie one another... even at New Seasons just made me want to pull back. Here are a few Bowie links related to Art that might be of interest:
I've decided to publish PORT's look back at 2015 post after the first of the new year... partly because it is so extensive and partly because I don't like simple lists and everyone seems more receptive to reflection right after the new year begins. Before that, it is just kind of a popularity contest and people don't think too hard about the year when they are at holiday parties. Like the 2014 look back 2015 will be a doozie and not merely celebratory (another reason not to put a burn notice out on anyone on New Years Eve). I already published our top 10 most popular posts of 2015 here here as a appetizer.
To tide you over here are some other year end wrap ups:
Here is Artnet's art world winners and losers list of 2015... notice how Jerry Saltz is in the winners list yet there was significant blowback at him at the beginning of the year? Lesson, good critics thrive on criticism. Killing off a critic with words and chest thumping is like trying to put out an erupting volcano with a forest fire. Fail.
Jonathan Jones is often wrong as a critic but he's right about the art world's turn to do-gooder morality art becoming stifling to the health of the art world. Art is not simply the illustration of our intentions, good or bad it is about exploring the amplitude of humanity's potential (which does have a dark side)... too much moralizing gets in the way of that. I also think his call for simple "rebellion" is just typical screed. Basically "rebellion art" and "radical art" are completely different critters and I'll take the latter. Rebellion is easy, you just point at something and say... that's bad (kinda like artists who think criticism is bad for them, it isn't). Radical thinking usually takes some brilliant thinking and makes room for even more approaches.
It is that time of the year again and everyone is doing their best of 2015 lists (PORT waits till just before or after January 1st to really dig into things and make it more than a list). Still, The New York Times and The Guardian are already making their lists. Jerry Saltz too. To my eyes, early 2015 seemed like a year where an impulse of "kill the King" reigned... where every major art impresario from Klaus Biesenbach to Jerry Saltz & Roberta Smith were thought of as passe. By the end of the year that sentiment had waned and yes it is good to be king... but it is even more important to recognize what gives certain people staying power as cultural voices. The great ones do get complaints, partly because they are great... even Great enough to make mistakes occasionally and STILL matter.
The Stranger reports that the much anticipated Paul Allen backed Pivot Center for Art + Culture isn't going to be a full time exhibition space that Seattle had expected. That's disappointing because I liked the interaction of art and science it was supposed to address. I find it all the more interesting because art and science don't have very clear channels of dialog between each other. Whether this is just another adjustment or part of a broader shift in Allen's cultural activity remains to be seen? Still, I am hoping this signals a move into a more innovative direction but it certainly isn't good news for the full time staff Pivot recently announced. Ultimately, those who have the greatest impact on the arts are those who take an idiomatic position then follow it up with dogged determination for about 10-20+ years.
The Guardian asks if "hip Portland is over?" First I don't think they know what really is hip about Portland (*hint it is values based on moral distinctions... mostly non-corporate and knowing the true cost of things not just $$$). It isn't and never was the quirk hype that the Portlandia show overplayed. Absolutely though, there is an affordable housing/artspace crisis, but all interesting places including New York, Berlin, Santa Fe, Seattle and London have all faced this phase as well and it comes and goes. I think is good that it has been a relatively sudden issue that built over the past 2+ years rather than a slow bleed. Overall, I want to address this elsewhere and not as just a reaction but I can say that Portland's days of expecting artists to do everything for free ended a few years ago and treating art/artists as a cheap resource needed to go away. For the meantime read this bit I wrote a few years ago about priming the cultural pump in Portland. The indie industrial complex always has a new cheaper less-developed city but that just means we have to be more serious about what we support or else you lose the best talent (much of which actually bought property here and will stay, for now). Basically, raise the stakes institutionally/funding-wise and make it tied to merit and critical thinking.
It was announced today that Tom Manley will be stepping down as President of PNCA to take over Antioch college. Manley leaves after December 31st. It suffices to say that of all the leaders in Portland over the last decade or so Tom Manley has had the most impact on the Portland cultural scene, period.
Today, the idea of "Greatness" in certain artists is somewhat out of vogue in the academies and perhaps too popular in museums, where every big name painting is suddenly touted as a masterpiece. The Truth is both are intentional dilutions and are institutionally self serving. (Yeah I used the word Truth, one can invoke it but not pinpoint it... it is easier to identify in its absence or the promise to be attentive to seeing it cross our paths, however fleetingly)
For perspective, today Portland is full of good to very good artists (500-1000?), perhaps 50-100 consistently excellent ones and maybe 3-4 ones who can summon greatness any time they want (those 3-4 are very different than the others, I've never once seen any of them satisfied and are incredibly good critical thinkers that have immense technical capabilities that they feel are just barely adequate).
Real greatness isn't that rare as most people experience it in flashes but the kind I'm talking about lies in a kind of constant questioning, questing relentlessness. One where every action is an interrogation of the matters at hand; what to do?... what can be done? ...and why not? These are conceptual and existential questions that meet the world at its terms... not just the projection of the artist's desires.
I find that the strongest artists are like rivers, their flow finds their channel by abandoning their preconceived notions. Just like rivers they follow fault lines and grind into the bedrock becausethey are so supple intellectually and often materially. Their process isn't just the path of least resistance, it is the natural path of relentlessness to work at the fissures and the seems of that what most people take for granted. The always work/cut in the deepest channel.
Peggy Guggenheim was a truly Great art patron. Today most collectors are just that, collectors and it is a more commodity driven exercise than one of sustained development between patron and artist. True, some do a bit more but the Great ones challenge artists and take real risks... not just offer incremental opportunities or vanity projects. Great patrons stretch artists beyond any demonstrated previous capacity and the artists do the same for patrons. I'm not certain Great artists are possible without Great patrons and perhaps a Great institution or two.
Well there is a lot of talk about Frank Stella. Yes he is influential, yes he is an unlikely instagram star and yes it is ok to hate the late work but as Jerry Saltz says it will tell you something about yourself. My take, Of course I prefer the black paintings but I love to tolerate everything he's done that is at least painted. The naked unpainted metal stuff... well I see why he went there (he had gone everywhere else) but it feels like mall art. Maybe he isn't going out on a high point but it is further evidence that the so called "minimalist" artists had nothing to do with sober geometry as an aesthetic. Judd and Serra ate his lunch as a sculptor but all this attention reminds us how this guy IS a painter.
Speaking of painters Squeak Carnwath's "guilt free" work does make its case. There is a pluralism that we have to applaud... because anything that breeds and encourages freedom (I know that sounds sappy but it isn't) has immense value today. Painting can be the voice of adolescence in a good way and anyone named Squeak basically has to own that fate.
Here is some very exciting news, the Oregon College of Art and Craft has received a grant from the Murdock Charitable trust to, "enhance the educational and studio resources of OCAC through the acquisition of specialized digital machines that will dramatically expand the college's tools of craft. This technology will open new possibilities for students and faculty in creating their own art, and it will prepare students for careers in advanced making and manufacture." Translated, that mean digitally driven machines (3d printers etc.) that evolve the ever expanding tools that we use to craft our world. This is important as so many have framed the craft fetish of the Northwest as some purely handmade and tradition. It is false notion and even computer coders are a kind of craftsperson. What's more, Portland, Seattle and Vancouver BC (and many other smaller Northwest cities) are players in the digital forest and it is great to see the premier craft-oriented school in the region making this leap. Other institutions need to follow into a more expansively cogent discussion of craft in the Northwest. We live in a world where DNA and even sub atomic particles are being manipulated. Science and technology are part of craft.
Last but not least, 15 years ago Phong Bui started the Brooklyn Rail and they parallel what we do here at PORT (Ive even championed some of their writers in national grant panels). I like that Brooklyn Rail aims not for the most readers (200k a month is great though, PORT has 150K) but instead focus on having a cogent and critical voice that coalesces into a kind of authority. "Likes" are fine but culture ultimately isn't a popularity contest and a like isn't LOVE. Culture is much more important than being accepted on trivial terms. I'd argue that "Culture" helps us identify and perhaps understand the tensions and joys of the age. At a certain point that requires a critical voice that goes beyond saying this artist is the favorite of this gallery and this collector. At a certain point you have to ask why? ...and to what ends? Congrats to Phong Bui and the Brooklyn Rail.
I encourage everyone interested in this to write: Mayor Charlie Hales at firstname.lastname@example.org, Commissioner Dan Saltzman email@example.com, Commissioner Amanda Fritz, firstname.lastname@example.org and Commissioner Nick Fish email@example.com
The Walker Art Center was nice enough to publish Alexander Blauvelt's catalog essay for their Hippie Modernism exhibition titled Aesthetic Radicalism. It brings up a number of good points though I think the dichotomy he makes between minimalism/formalism and psychedelic art are an unsustainable argument. For example, Smithson was obsessed with Judd's crystaline fragmentation and Judd's own love of John Wesley and Claes Oldenburg's work undermines his argument's premise. He is right in that the art market, most historians and museums did separate them. Hopefully, this exhibition will help break down some of the very bad art history done on so called minimalism the 1960's and 70's. This is the sort of design/art aesthetic/societal movement show we should see in Portland more often too... I curated this show last year.
Artinfo asks if can single venue galleries survive? Good question... answer of course is no. Gallerists must mix and show outside their brick and mortar spaces, art fairs are crucial but oversaturated so choosing the right one or two matters tremendously. The real question is how do you develop a brand and following?
...(more, including a tough review and thoughts on Paul Allen)
Hermann Nitsch's work isn't academic or formalist, more like a religion of signs without being tied to beliefs. His work is getting a lot of consideration now because it also isn't terribly commodifiable becuase how do you put a price on provocation?
An interesting discussion of higher education and art. The sheer # of art schools and students isn't so much the problem as is very low standards for being a "lifestyle artist" these days. Pedagogy and being able to explain yourself doesn't make you an artist. When the few strong curators and critics can't fully explain why they keep paying attention to you, but still do it because you are leading the way into something nobody fully understands but need to... then you are probably an artist. The trick is that "tracking" that occurs and though art schools are important they are kind of a side bar to the art world... kinda like the relationship of butterfly hunters to butterflies (which isn't necessarily trivial, but no where as important as the butterflies actual environment they live and die in). Think of it like salmon raised completely in captivity vs wild ones. The question of "who" is benefitting from the education system is important though and one problem I see with all these school expansions is they don't endow their new programs like they do the buildings. Free tuition is interesting but I can't see it being the norm.
Still, it is very important that the sculpture isn't considered just a stand alone cultural feature. Instead, it is a kind of hood ornament for the first Postmodern building... an anthropomorphic totem that conveys the then radically humanistic aims of the entire Graves designed project (the interior is dismal). Sure, we remember the hood ornament on a car but its kind of an introduction to the spirit of the design and in this case it is a historic building that is designed to be a kind of gallery for the sculpture. That was a radical move and it is troubling how many feel the only sculpture itself is important. The world renowned building needs to be saved and rehabilitated sometime in the near future. Besides, without that building Portlandia simply becomes a big neo beaux arts sculpture, but upon its pedestal it is a kind of spirit of what Portland's government (with offices within) should aspire to.
Well I'm back from my travels. Riding other transit systems and looking at bridges will inform my comprehensive review of Portland's Tillikum Crossing bridge and the art around it (stay tuned, I should have it polished off soon... yes I will finish off the Guenther history piece as well, but the bridge is first and far less complicated). Both look at the big picture as well as the details.
Till then check out these links:
Can art still shock? ...especially in the selfie age when artists are expected to create art that panders to the audience's need for their expression? This pushes art deep into a polarity of sycophantic or narcissistic strategies for resonance but that's just the mediocre stuff. The great work like Anish Kapoor's bean (Cloud Gate) in Chicago rises above the pandering by pushing that need to commune into an ecstatic outdoor cathedral devoted to humanity as a macro-organism.
On a similar note the new Turner Prize lineup does look ultra-earnest, pandering and therefore extremely dull. By pandering to narrow and cliquish sensibilities the work is guaranteed to speak to a small group of people who expect pandering on their narrow pet subjects. That's why so much research art is mediocre, it achieves predictable aims because it researches things it has already formed a kind of fetish for. There is a lots of earnest navel gazing art these days, much of which looks like post-minimalism or other 70's art (fetished white walls used as a foil for raw wood constructions, performances where someone does something with a liquid and or nudity etc.). Stronger work gets lost in its own needs and emerges from the development process very different and it confuses the hell out of you when you encounter it.
One bright spot was the first Nasher sculpture prize going to Doris Salcedo. She isn't being "authentic" or fetishing an era of art gone by... her work evokes a serious sense of loss and longing for what cannot be recovered. It is powerful because it is hard to wrap your head around it physically, intellectually and emotionally... as strong art should be.
This little bit of art writing is too generous for the overly precious, research based cliches it reviews but it is good that it points out the problem. Basically if you want to make cliched contemporary art simply do some research, then present in the center of a clean white room in a precious way. Let's look at the takeaway vocabulary as a synopsis: hermetic, intersubjective communication, suppressed. Hermetic an intersubjective communication cancel each other out, leaving suppression as aform of formal presentation the end result. It is basically the way this type of work is placed that is the primary information of the installation... it say I have institutional carte blanche to present this glittery contemporary art postcard in a blank room. It is festival art 101, contemporary art as souvenir. (Thanks to Matthew Collings who brought this to my attention)
Yes,looking at art makes you smarter... but I'm pretty sure that reading a lot of art writing handed out at the venues will challenge your tolerance for cliched thinking.
Ralph Rugoff comes off as a deflecting pedant when talking about his 2015 Lyon Bienniale but the shift in taboo word of "modern" is interesting. Rugoff is a practiced contrarian when it comes to language and these festival shows are frequently intellectually capricious. In many ways he is a very right way to strip Alfred Barr's progressional timeline from what should be a very common and useful word "modern". All the School of Paris artists were trying to do is something current and yes "Modern". They didn't form salons devoted to "Modernism"... that was bill of goods the world was sold after the fall of fascist regimes involved in WWII. That's why the swipes at modernism and an attempt to rehabilitate the term is a bit of a straw man arguement.
Here is a fascinating article on the arts and development/gentrification from Great Britain. Part of the problem I see with Portland's very knee jerk reaction to gentrification is the way it is prophylactic... as if change can somehow be halted. Needless to say that isn't realistic and Mayor Hales announcement last week was a step in the right direction but it needs to also incorporate the additional amenities that cultural spaces add to a displaced community that is trying to re-seed itself. Portland needs to embed cultural amenities into new development and provide the economic incentives to make it happen. Still, these re-seeded communities are kind of a consolation prize though we also need to protect those special artistic micro-ecosystems that take place in buildings. What's more the city has big red "U"-s on a lot of buildings that though not up to seismic code could be put to some use... just like artists have always done (they know the risks). Also, that means we should reward artists who take risks in Portland... for as progressive a city that we are we are programmatically very conservative on the institutional and awards level. Part of how Portland maintains a competitive edge is to help foster those artists who contribute to the "fine edge" that our city currently enjoys. Portland has to get over its phobia of individual achievement... often letting institutions from elsewhere (museums, publications, awards) be the first to give a national platform to artists from Portland.
A fascinating article on the crisis that art schools currently face, in this case San Francisco's AAU. One problem that nobody ever seems to bring up is the way fundraising for these schools do not endow specific teaching positions and programs (it is all about buildings and creating new programs rather than strengthening current ones)... that's the reason many of these schools have under experienced professors, tenure and depth of support has evaporated placing all of the pressure on enrollment.
There was a little news on Converge 45, an international arts festival for Portland beginning next summer. Though the title theme "You in mind" sounds like a "curatorial selfie stick" of an umbrella idea that has been done to death already (there are far smarter concepts we could and should highlight and hopefully the component shows can rescue it from anonymity).
Spanish artists rig ATM's to spew drachmas. Things are tense everywhere and somehow Greece, the cradle of western civilization is at the top of any attentive person's radar these days. It seems like a full circle civilization question... do people serve the system if the Kantian contract is broken between economies, governments and people? Seems like this Fall will bean social and economic roller coaster. Good that artists are inserting themselves, they are kinda the cartilage of a civilization's body.
Artists and writers creating crosstalk at the Guggenheim... hmmm. Carol Bove is probably the best of this genre at the moment, one where bookshelves are used constantly in installation art (add the extensive use of white if the artist is really gonna run with the cliche). Most writers just use art to an excuse to make words though and the writers who wish they were good artists usually just rip off Carol Bove these days (Bove is better because she isnt just a twee quotidian who makes one or two moves, there is a relationship to Giacometti that is actually more than just namedropping and posturing). Frankly, very few have done anything interesting with shelves on walls since Judd (partly because they weren't actually shelves).
Museums like the Tate are trying to engage and provide more experiences... but I think the real problem is not having enough immersive installation work. Let the Francis Bacon be a great painting (they work fine) and collect some great sensory stimulating installation art if the institution doesn't seem relevant, varied and current enough. Square peg round hole situation. Nice try but its a bit of a band-aide for a more endemic engagement/edifice problem. The art is current but the art market which defines patronage doesn't value experience as much as branded precious objects. It's a problem with Western thinking... best of luck with solving that my museum friends. Participation isn't the answer, promoting concentration and appreciation are and it takes curators who are philosophers not just ingratiator/careerists to do that.
Kenny Schachter's damage report for Art Basel. As much as these articles always seem to present themselves as an all new scenario, generally things have always been this way. The difference today is the scope, scale and stakes have shifted considerably... the art world consists of a series of negotiated confidences but what happens when art is considered a class of investment? Something that has been going on since the Romanoffs etc... only now it is far less of a medieval style market.
Which brings us to the revolving door article on museum curators and the top art galleries. Once again, institutional curators always have kept up relationships with galleries. What I find most interesting is that the most talented curators at the height of their powers and confidences like; Storr, Schimmel, Elderfield... all people I know and admire greatly, somehow don't feel like they fit at our top museums anymore. Museums have always been on the sometimes tense border between the interests of the 1% and their duty as custodians of culture/access for the public but what happens when all the best and brightest talent either becomes a museum director or an art consultant?
Well, finally they've done something potentially "whelming" with Disjecta's Portland 20##Biennial series, which has always been more about the institution's aspirations than anything else. The 2016 version will be curated by Michelle Grabner, 2014 co-curator of the Whitney Biennial and someone I've known since she was in grad school. Grabner has a knack for getting past the sometimes juvenile local politics so she should well equipped to deal with those chasing the Whitney effect. She will need it as previous biennials have been more social gatherings than strong shows. Rather than probing looks at what an art scene in Portland constitutes/means they have been adept at showing us things we are already incredibly familiar with throughout the year before and the works themselves never seem to standout (rushed time frame and a sense of low stakes). Other challenges are the fact that the previous versions have included so many artists that this one will likely be forced to finally present new discoveries (something sorely missing previously) and group shows at Disjecta always seem to lose the plot (making the shows at commercial galleries a questionable practice and a caste system step up from the host venue). An outside curator is a good idea, but like their curator in residence program it also means they come in not knowing the terrain. Lately though, Disjecta's group shows have improved to reach unmemorable status (the last biennial mentioned craft but didn't go any deeper than checking off a local buzzword that is both fetished and pushed back at). This scene has been asking for better since 2010 and Michelle might be one of the few capable of pulling off something sophisticated enough to pay attention to. Besides, we cheeseheads tend to call it like it is so I'm curious what Michelle will make of the legendary Portland style passive aggressive tendencies. Also, here is a more exhaustive analysis of why and how local surveys and awards miss the mark, it is older but everything still holds. We haven't had an institutional survey that took chances and yet made an impact since the 2006 Oregon Biennial at PAM. As always, execution will matter most in the end... if the institution, curator and artists don't really take care and just let "the process" drive the result, it will resemble itself like these things often do. She has the backbone to counter the false more is more strategy they have been using and being an artist and not just a curator should help her. The question remains why both locals and outsiders have bun unable to contend with the scene here, which has become both increasingly local and international at the same time? Portland in general is tired of being reduced to catchphrases.
Up to 5 this year the 2015 Hallie Ford Fellows in the Visual Arts are Ben Buswell, MK Guth, Tom Prochaska and Samantha Wall of Portland, and Jack Ryan of Eugene. Congrats to all.
Parsing it out it still seems like the awards favor:
academicaly afiliated locally as teacher or graduates at Oregon art schools
those who foreground "effortful" craft, even if the work is conceptual (avoiding technological and experiential work or which is purely conceptual)
On the plus side it seems like a better mix of younger and older midcareer artists who work in a variety of media... (more)
We will have an essay and reviews for you soon but till then here are some exciting links about all time great artists. It isn't in vogue in academics but "Greatness" does exist (museums still hold the banner for this crucial idea) and these artists all are exemplars.
at Chinati (c) Judd Foundation. Licensed by VAGA, NYC (photo Jeff Jahn)
The long anticipated Judd Retrospective at MoMA has finally been announced for Fall 2017. Judd is a crucial figure, partly for how he changed the terms under which we experience art and define ideal circumstances. His influence is so wide that most artists after him have had to contend with his rigor, logic, methods and integrity. In 2010 I helped organize a conference and co-curated a very unique Judd exhibition that explored his radical application of delegated fabrication. That conference and exhibition in Portland began an important return to the core discussions around Judd's work, something which had been obscured partly by ubiquity and forces in the art market.
Shoot, Chris Burden's most famous performance piece
Sad news today, Chris Burden a landmark performance artist who became one of the more interesting sculptors of the late 20th and 21st century has died of Melanoma at 69. PORT interviewed Burden here and I fondly remember his pilotless ghost ships at PAM a few years ago as they seemed to capture the zeitgeist in that holds still in the USA today. Burden was one of the relatively unknown artists that came through Portland's groundbreaking PCVA program, later achieving legendary status. For me, what always resonated about Burden was the work never seemed self centered, even when he was being shot for his work. He made art a kind of martyrdom or at least a symbol of humanity's reliance on self sacrifice (as a kind of structural necessity for culture... bridges etc.) and as such his example will live on.
Christopher Knight pens the much anticipated rebuttal to all the Whitney love. Well, the cries of parochialism are a given though Knight celebrates the exclusion of Greenbergian Color Field painters like Morris Louis and Helen Frankenthaler... but really is it just substituting one parochialism for another? That's ok, one can come to Portland to see Frankenthaler, Anne Truitt and other Greenberg artists here at the Portland Art Museum, where the critic's personal collection now resides. What's more, the Whitney did just restage a great Robert Irwin last year so I'm not certain they are as guilty as Knight's still legitimate argument seems to present. Perhaps a museum's identity comes chiefly from a permanent collection, so the Whitney will still be able to play against of their expected New York focus as they years roll by. Still, for the first show they had to play the NYC card since they are in competition with MoMA as the NYC art museum. Frankly, I look forward to the LACMA expansion's LA style rebuttal. That is one of the nice things about being here in Portland, we make no claims to being an art capital but sitting out the cola wars style museum wars gives us a kind of Switzerland position (which is its own kind of parochialism). The more I think about it... parochialism that is self aware isn't necessarily the slur it is intended to be as long as the program learns to curate against form enough to keep it feeling vital.
Jerry Saltz on the New Whitney is today's must read, though it is kind of a rehash that uses the new building and program as a testcase. I agree, many museums have lost their way and the art (along with the serious curators that serve it) have been getting the short end of the stick for about 15 years now. The Whitney here seems to be finding a clarity of purpose through this building rather than the muddle that most recent building campaigns have produced. Going pure timeline and ism-dogma is a kind of intellectual death and the Whitney is right to avoid it. Question is if programmatically/curatorially it can utilize this new breathing space? (My forthcoming Guenther piece goes in depth into how curatorial programs have changed... yes it is still coming, likely closer to PORT's 10th anniversary on June 1 since it is kind of a retrospective on PORT as well). Basically, we live in an age that requires more incisive critical thinking precisely when it is in somewhat shorter supply than any time I can remember. Still, I like the way Saltz has focused on Weinberg here. He's a major reason this museum expansion seems less craven... somehow the Whitney now seems to be curious about itself and what it and NYC has been missing lately.
I've waited to chime in on Robert Storr's pronouncements on today's art critics because I Love both Storr and Saltz... both are true critics and just like having wolves and bears in a confined space conflict is pretty much preordained. First, we are in a moment of authority bashing (any misstep and someone will call for heads) and both Saltz and Storr both being ubiquitous authorities have an impressive cache of detractors. Familiarity breeds contempt and an art market/system that would rather farm careers rather than... (more)
Brian Libby asks, can Portland contain its rising housing costs and "Grow the right way?" Generally the art scene is right on the front lines of this question as galleries and artist's apartments and studios are the canaries in the coal mine. For Portland it will basically take more property owners like David Gold, Al Solheim and Brian Wannemaker who understand that vitality in the arts can pay off in the long term in ways that aren't in the typical property asset management playbook.
Zumthor's latest LACMA design crystalizes into something more than a blob. I think Los Angelenos were mostly reacting to an outsider simply reiterating the stereotypes about LA being shapeless and image conscious above all else. Though true it goes over about as well as an outsider producing a building or art about Portland being rainy and quirky. Sure, but can't we dig deeper? I Love Zumthor so I have faith he will continue to refine this into something special. MoMA in NYC looks like the Mall of America in so many ways comparatively.
More handwringing over museums and Millennials... look it isn't just an app that is a magical meaning-making bullet (though I support the move). I've worked with them and myself am part of the Gen X wave that was the first to experience total integration of computers into our lives. I think a deeper more soulful approach is required, something my generation has been asking for as well. The world changed and museums + other arts institutions need a more savvy outlook that is based on the way people use museums not just one app. Notice how few tech people are involved in the arts? That has to change. It isn't a generational problem it is an anthroplogical understanding issue. The Walker Art Center has taken steps but sometimes they come off as ploys that aren't any different than just an app which is just a surface reaction to an endemic rift. Put it this way it takes far more than clickbait.
25 women curators... a good list but let's not forget that though female curators are plentiful female artists are valued for significantly less in the market and are under represented in myriad ways for their crucial contributions culturally. Not certain what to make of that cultural dissonance. Too few female directors as well.
The racially charged debate over the Kehinde Wiley review in the Village Voice is the talk. Overall, the critical shots rely too heavily on archetypes (predator/prey)... which doesn't work because it is obvious that Wiley is all about personalizing archetypes and giving them the kind of projected confidence that provokes viewers. It is the the intellectual equivalent of critiquing an insult comic for being insulting. Or to use an art world equivalent it is kinda like criticizing Warhol's interest in celebrities. Of course of course he is and it works because it is a little uncomfortable with their bold but deliberately obsessed/hyperfocused opening moves.
Technically, it is what Wiley and Warhol do after the opening "obsession move" that keeps them relevant and complex. I'd argue that all interesting art... and people for that matter make you a little uncomfortable with their presence at first because of their intensity (quiet or loud). The problem here was the editor not going back to the critic and telling them, "too facile an argument, it will be branded racist." Personally I like Kehinde Wiley's work... it is bold and personal as Amy's review of Wiley's show at PAM explored. Portraiture thrives on conflicted characters and chutzpah that mocks itself a little. The reviewer focuses too much on the audacity of Wiley's success to actually undermine it and it comes of as someone who rightly or wrongly seems like they cant effectively see past the forms. Racism is everywhere... it is common because it relies on established forms and archetypes that remain unexamined (yet that reliance on archetypes is something criticism is supposed to examine).
Conversely, professional art criticism is actually quite rare because there aren't many editors that really understand how to cut close to the bone (at the right time) and still remain valid. Perhaps the main reason journalism and criticism aren't natural bedfellows is a true critique isn't a blunt instrument it is a scalpel and with the gutting of expertise in generalist publications they have shot themselves in the foot. I've always seen PORT as a trade journal dealing in expertise, not journalism, which at some point tries to separate itself from its subject. That "objectivity" is an impossible thing when it comes to art criticism and a crucial distinction always needs to be made... is it criticism first? In the VV's case it is but the lack of editorial savvy hangs them out to dry...
Portland is in the midst of another major sea-change in its gallery scene with the appearance of Upfor, Hap, Adams & Ollman and the reappearance of Soho veteran Jeffrey Thomas after a 20 year absence. Add Carl & Sloan to the list. As an artist run space it is different but in the past similar spaces like Tilt, Soundvision and Nil helped reseed what was happening here... though it is way up in North Portland. Their first show Testable Predictions, featuring Perry Doane, Michelle Liccardo and PORT's own award winning Amy Bernstein should be lively. These sorts of projects are labors of love... and perhaps naivete but let's remember that Dan Graham was the first to show Sol LeWitt and group shows for Donald Judd, Dan Flavin and Robert Smithson (Testable Predictions sounds like a Dan Graham Title BTW as it implies an empiricism).
Testable Predictions | March 14 - April 12
Opening Reception: March 14, 6-10PM Carl & Sloan
8371 N Interstate #1
First and foremost Graves was an innovator in what he called, "Humanistic Design" and the Portland Building as designed was a way to relate big buildings back to the human scales and aspirations that make up a city...(more)
The Guardian does a nice piece on Hans Ulrich Obrist, who is an innovative curator because he dares to generate his own discussion, taxonomies etc. through cultural activity... not simply an essay published as a show opens. What I like about HUO is he creates his own weather or at least hitches sails to winds that aren't always prevailing and lets them run a course. I also like the way in which he is one of the few curators today that openly admits that groups of artists who cull together themes and trends are ultimately more substantial than curators who gerrymander theme shows to fit their thesis.
Last week, while people were distracted by Jerry Saltz being kicked of Facebook (he's back now) the gadfly critic published one of his best pieces ever on the New Museum's latest triennial. It is the way he gets the need for fresh new tangents in these shows and the way the internet doesn't exactly drive this trend... it enables it. A great and versatile tool for keeping things fresh and not pre-approved. As far as Facebook goes... Jerry is a gadfly, he tests the limits but mostly because those limits are so narrow and reactionary. Some critics strive to never offend but others make a point at getting to the tension of the age and yes Facebook and many other social media does quash dissent by avoiding anything that might seem offensive. You just cant please everyone... I love social media but that is its achilles heel. We understand each other through patiently exploring views different from our own... consensus can be even more stifling than loud dissent.
Congratulations to Cynthia Lahti who was announced as the latest Bonnie Bronson Fellow today. Ever since a residency in Germany in 2012 the subseuent work that explores the frisson of photography and sculpture as a kind of visual/material dissonance has been intriguing... akin to surrealist collaboration between Alberto Giacometti and Man Ray... but definitely made by a woman. It has edge and she even has a new show that opens tomorrow at PDX Contemporary.
The Bonnie Bronson award is different than most regional awards in that it primarily goes to mid career female artists (male academicians in traditional media tend to win most other major awards around here) and it is nice that this one is going to an artist who is making the best work of her career. Generally, the Bronson award goes to academics or someone who is extremely visible in the community but Portland needs to turn a corner and reward those who are doing not simply good work but that which has a keen edge and is the strongest of their career.
True, some will complain that so many awards go to a small pool of the same artists (David Eckard unfairly was targeted for angst after... (more)
Art criticism is becoming rarer and rarer because most outlets dont take the time to develop space and expectations for strong critical voices. PORT turns 10 June 1 and we have always taken the long view as well as the immediate taking both with a grain of salt. What little visual arts writing there is tends to be aimed at ingratiation rather than evaluation.
Roberta Smith reviews Louise Nevelson... it means something more because the NY Times has critics like Smith. Instead of merely announcing the show she givesa sense of where Nevelson has stood and why. If it weren't coming from a critic with experience it would sound catty but in actuality it reveals how popular attitudes change... critics cboth surf those waves and disrupt them.
Daily Serving and Arts Practical are merging with CCA. I have mixed feelings about the need for art writing and criticism remaining independent of large art institutions though at the same time large universities have hosted print journals for years... is it just an internet SEO grab or just another academic writing puppy mill? That said it is certainly very difficult to... (more)
David Salle discusses the much disliked The Forever Now at MoMA. He is right that forever and now are two terrible words in show titles but I still feel that much of the ire stems from the use of "Atemporal". Look, painters are always loosely using the history of painting in paintings... it isn't new and it isn't special to now. The Great drummer Buddy Rich said it best, "everyone borrows, the great ones steal." Of the whole lot I think Mark Grotjahn has something going on as do Mehretu and Sillman (where is Tomma Abts?).... many of the others, not so much.
Reports for the New Museum's under 35 triennial are filtering in here and there. These massive group shows are almost always inherently disappointing but the focus on non commodity zeitgeist art makes sense. Unless you can take viewers a little off balance, instead of what they are familiar/comfortable with they fail. Art isn't for understanding what you know, it is for experiencing aspects of what you hadn't considered. Though it is true that the way things are installed become even more important... a digitally connected world makes everything available instantly so the way art venues present things thoughtfully has become an ever more valued respite. I call it, "a considered zone," where art is given the space and context to contrast with the way we usually take in information and experiences. Having a guest curator makes it fresh but it also makes it hard to install well or feel like some internet feed but I think the New Museum got something right here, a sense of discovery.
The New Museum's 2015 Triennial looks like a winner already featuring the kind of challenging asymmetrically strategic work I've championed since I moved to Portland. It looks better than any major survey (even regional ones) that I've seen in a decade+. I still dislike the idea of post internet (or post anything for that matter, because it packages the idea before it is explored) but the sense of an entropic digital universe that reveals the darker aspects of the real world is fantastic. What is important is the way it approaches the unease of the age... something everyone from Manet to Pollock and Hirst then Forcefield have done. The lack of abstract painting seems to be blowback against zombie formalism and the market in particular. Basically, artists who make work that jams the prevailing version of reality create space for the viewers to develop different angle of contemplation. That is what art is supposed to do, not simply flatter the rich or perpetuate an obstruse career.
The Oregonian is reporting that the infamous and historically very important Portland Building is to be renovated instead of torn down. Now 100 million dollars might seem like a high price but it achieves two important objectives. First and most obviously, it improves a building whose interior is mostly terrible to work in... thereby correcting mistakes that were mostly the City of Portland's own fault, not the architect's as Brian Libby has detailed. Second, it is the most famous important bit of architecture in the Pacific Northwest, the first major Postmodern building. You might not like it but as a an arts and design city Portland simply cannot condone destroying what constitutes an important moment in world history. ... (more)
The effort to find a good home for the Lovejoy Columns continues. We've covered this before and it is important to preserve these famous artworks that art part of the Pearl District's once quite gritty past. We can build new things but the grit also gives us a sense of how time has passed and we cant simply just manufacture such history. It is also important as it shows how the Pearl district started out as a an artist's stomping grounds.
Is the current art market bubble driven by money laundering and tax evasion schemes? The advice to look to museums isn't the safest bet either... but the museums have to have programmatic integrity and with the diminishing of the crucial curatorial role there is a house of cards situation at play here. The solution... collect for personal enlightenment, museums should have programmatic integrity. All of which is easier said than done.
Here are two articles that seem to be calling for a greater degree of critical thinking and more nuanced language in society at large. I don't think the current lack of critical thought in the art world is some outlier... it is an endemic issue for a globalized world that needs to learn how appreciate the inevitable disagreements that competing value systems inevitably create. New or at least completely recalibrated models seem inevitable. Perhaps something more supple and open to nonconformity?
First is Jerry Saltz on the power of images to in incite a disproportionate response from terrorists. Jerry looks into belief systems as are espoused by religions but I think the discussion can go deeper. In a world where everyone is so connected we can devolve into cliques of group-think more easily. We can instantly find those who agree with our views and this can fester in isolation cells, which create disproportionate or non-scalar and circuitous thinking. Maybe its my Viking heritage or love of Greek and Jewish debate traditions but when someone disagrees with you publicly it is a gift. If it has some strength behind it and you are suddenly seeing red it means you've just encountered "another way" that should be considered. It takes a kind of cosmopolitan approach, which is tolerant of diverse thinking. In that way Art is an important cultural exercise or a way to agree to disagree. Often this comes in an environment of respect (gallery) and maybe even an understanding can come of it. In general, respect comes from acts of critical thinking. Dogmatists who have those knee jerk, "you insulted what I worship & there will be reprisals"... can be found everywhere, even in art scenes but criticism is a way to be tested and grow. In the past few years I've seen a call for the rare kind "supple" avenues of respect that more criticism creates. It isn't taught very much in schools anymore and most curatorial initiatives have devolved into evasive curatorial speak and practices. Those programs that risk misunderstandings in a thoughtful way are all the more important for this.
Today it was announced that longtime Linfield curator Cris Moss will be moving to downtown Portland, programming the White Box exhibition space for the University of Oregon. Cris has consistently made Linfield perhaps the most challenging univerity art space over the past decade. Shows like Suzanne Opton, Peter Campus and Wafaa Bilal certainly set the curve and were always well executed. Likewise the U of O has always been in need of a coherent exhibition program, Cris (a friend) will achieve that aim I'm sure. He wouldn't have moved unless it were an opportunity where he was set to kick things up a notch. The move also signals how institutionally the Portland area is formalizing its commitment to contemporary art. Congrats, the young curators who revolutionized Portland's art scene in group warehouse shows 15 years ago are driving things these days.
Time to start our string of end of the year posts, so here are our top 10 in terms of eyeballs (PORT is still the top ranked Google search for "Portland Art" and has already broken last year's record of 1.3 million unique viewers). It was an odd year where art history seemed to be on everyone's lips... almost as a balm against the market's corrosive effect on critical thinking.
Ryan Johnson and Dana Schutz (photo Victor Maldonado)
It is just about time for our annual year end wrap ups (2013's was very popular), the Guenther era digestion and some other pieces the team have been working on. Till then here are some things to tide you over:
Here is a very interesting article on the Centennial Mills building at the north end of the Pearl District. What really gets my attention about this project is the way Frank Gehry and Maya Lin are name checked and Jordan Schnitzer states, "We're not going to do this project unless it is right." (Disclosure the Jordan Schnitzer Family Foundation is a PORT sponsor) This is a corner that Portland needs to turn since growth/density is inevitable but the quality of those spaces aspire to wont rise without vision.
Also, Gehry is no stranger to these sorts of reuse projects like the much larger Atlantic Yards but it is also all about keeping the historical record visible as a variegated urban edifice of human use. For example, think about Venice and the way it is built upon itself. Saving the Centennial Mills preserves the stories of a part of town that has already lost most of its history. Still, someone like Gehry signals some promise of progressive thinking about this very visible bit of Portland's waterfront... besides the East Bank Esplanade and the new transit bridge Portland has mostly ignored the Willamette river. The trick will be to keep the convivial Portland ethos and still pencil the project out.
It's a slow time of year and I'm making my final "avalanche push" on the mountainous Guenther piece with several other interviews, a year end piece and reviews also already in the works. Here are some excellent posts to consider:
Brian Libby has done a great job covering this early part of Snohetta's James Beard Public Market design process. The egalitarian spirit seems to fit Portland... and it needs to because this is going to be a public space... perhaps the most significant one to be designed in the Northwest since Seattle's Olympic Sculpture Park. Hopefully the mandated public art will be of similar caliber as Jorge Pardo's streetcar stop on the other side of the river? Instead of just plonking down some moderately ingenious metal in front of the building the art should be a kind of brilliant amenity (a Portland sentiment).
Police killings lead to a more overtly political art? Well, yes but I believe there is a deeper wave of discontent moving through the art world that comes from the real world. It put Obama in the White House with one word, Change. I feel like the Occupy Movement, police killings, continued violence/silence towards women and broadening income inequality are all just indicators of a tempestuous 2015. Art should be a part of the discussion not just an island floating on a buoyant market and games of certainty. These themes are so pervasive that Art can address them without losing its ability to speak to the ages.
The 2014 year end best of lists have started here in the New York Times. Yes to Robert Gober, but somehow no Hockey and Matisse cutouts because they originated outside NYC venues. (I always like to wait with PORT's lists).
On view at PAM, El Greco, The Holy Family with Saint Mary Magdalen, 1590-1595, oil on canvas, The Cleveland Museum of Art, Gift of Friends of the Cleveland Museum of Art in memory of J.H. Wade (all photos Jeff Jahn)
It is difficult to stylistically pigeon hole the Spanish Baroque painter El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos) but his incredibly stylized elongations of the human body connect him to Italian Mannerists though his explosively empathetic compositions even remind me a little of the Carracci school (Ludovico in particular). Still, perhaps only the later Rembrandt can be considered his rival for supernatural presence and curator Dawson Carr has done a great job in bringing this truly stunning painting to Portland on loan from the Cleveland Museum of Art. Religious or not, it is a must for all lovers of painting and is nothing short of remarkable as all of these Masterwork Series works have been.
19 artist/collaborations/spaces will receive a share of $75,000. What is incredibly valuable is the way it funds somewhat unproven/experimental projects that broaden the programming scope of projects that in most cases would have taken place even without this aid. This is all very important as it is essentially an exploratory progressive grant rather than one that is backloaded on previous history (though progressive Portlands funding sources tend to be safer rather than risk taking). Congratulations everyone. Here's the list as described by PICA::
I and other PORTsters are still working on half a dozen major pieces for you (I know, Guenther its coming... it is very close and it is some of my best work but I want it to be done right and we covered so many of his shows that PORT constitutes an important archive of his tenure). Till then:
If you are curious about the cacophony of Art Basel Miami Beach this ridiculous article and these images are good surveys. This year with rioting in the streets and an art market that seems less calibrated to reality than profits it seems intellectually irresponsible to expect Miami to be a true bellwether or leading indicator these days. Seems like everyone is expecting more from the art world in 2015 already. Stunt performances jumped the shark a while back, can we be less vapid now?
Eligin Marbles to be lent to Russia? Wow... perhaps the most disputed artifacts on earth to be sent to a country that the rest of the world is trying to isolate and pressure into better behavior. The Greeks (or anyone paying attention to this tricky issue) cannot be happy with this. Many major museums seem to be tone deaf these days,. it isn't confidence building and loaning these disputed artifacts is akin to giving Bill Cosby an award while amidst very serious allegations. The Greeks understandably consider these pieces of the Parthenon to be a kind of cultural rape. More here.
It is Thanksgiving week and we will have that big Bruce Guenther piece (never has there been such anticipation for a post) and we will have several other things for you on this over stuffed holiday. Till then here are some links:
Jerry Saltz asks, "When did the art world become so conservative?" I was in NYC recently and noticed that the galleries on the whole have never been so toothless, formulaic and predictable. So why so conservative? Partly it is because art is being treated as "investment grade", which it has always been... just it used to be only for those very few who cared about art and ultimately there was a sense that the good was the enemy of the great. Today, as a market (like any other) good performance on all levels is generally preferred to the Great, which is a historical construct... (more)
An interesting article on Zumthor's blob (or not) design for LACMA. Clearly MoMA made mistakes though I can't agree with the article's assertion that the stakes are somehow higher in LA... they just aren't. Still, the idea that a new building should put the viewing experience above all else is a welcome breath of fresh air.
Somehow I missed my friend Liz Obert's article in Slate (my excuse was I was traveling). Always nice to see an article on Portland that isn't some quirk-hype fluff piece. Portland is a busy cauldron of humanist ideals and Liz is stirring the pot. She will have an exhibition at Linfield soon.
Was Van Gogh shot? An article in Vanity Fair makes a stronger argument... As often with history that becomes legendary first the facts get muddled and conveniently shuffled towards an easy soundbite description of what happened. If true it would go some distance in de-tigmatizing the act of being an artist as a pathological condition with inevitably fatal consequences. For those interested in Van Gogh is creates a more complicated picture of the man and for that reason alone, even if proven untrue is worthwhile.
Pompidou President wants a design and architecture space ASAP. In many ways this is where the applied arts mediate between museums comprised of traditional objects and the ever expanding education departments. All major museums are going in this direction if they are looking forward.
The WSJ asks what if everyone is a curator? Obviously they aren't (a true curator isn't making one time choices, they consider a programmatic/object arc of meaning). I get into this issue in depth in my Bruce Guenther piece (which is coming...it is long) but the article raises the question of the type of institutions that don't have full time curators developing programming. In a way it makes the programmatic arc flexible but also schizophrenic, trite & flirty and therefore hard to fund long term. For example, Jeffrey Deitch is an excellent gallerist/gadfly but as a museum director his approach didn't work, creating massive backlash (the Fry is widely considered to be losing its reputation and MoMA is on the brink). Overall, I'm of the belief that museums need to own the long game yet do an occasionally porous event that challenges the typical museum authority. PAM does this with Shine A Light and New For The Wall events but not having a chief Curator would be a problem as The museum is really a 3 house system, the executive (fundraising), curatorial (collections and programming) and education (outreach).
Jerry Saltz on Marina Abramovich... he gets it. The work is a tease and for some that is enough. Others, not so much. I loved her Great Wall piece but lately it is a bit too much like Downton Abbey to take seriously.
Ok it is Bruce Guenther's last day at PAM and I'm finishing off my long piece on his career just as, "Elvis has left the building." It will be ready soon and its important to have it right because ity is very comprehensive and a good moment to think about where this leaves PAM both in terms of challenges and opportunities. Till then here are a few links:
More art vandalism. It's never good for the specific installation but it does draw attention to the piece and artist... there's a fine line and should never be condoned, but stronger work survives and even gains more relevance through the indignity.
We will have a review for you shortly and my in depth piece on Bruce Guenther will post on Saturday (the 20th is his last day and many of the most crucial aspects have not been discussed). Till then here are some links:
The uncontested works (?) from the Gurlitt trove will go to the Bern Kunstmuseum. It is a fact, museums walk an incredibly fine line between ennobling culture and the messy way that sausage gets made but the Gurlitt acquisition is perhaps the most tainted situation to come to light in the 21st century to date. Yes, it looks like Bern is being very cautious, but still... this promises to take another 50-100 years to sort out.
Look, art fairs are not Ikea for millionaires. There are a lot of class warfare tinged sentiments out there at the moment but I think we need to separate the discussion of high priced masterworks from relatively unproven contemporary art and the living artists that create it. In general, many of the names you see bandied about right now wont be around in 5-10 years. That "other" work that already has been certified great is still great, despite the very impressive price tags. The worst case scenarios are when these great works leave the public view all together. They both have cultural value worth discussing beyond monetary value. That is what museums are for.
I'm not going to comment so much on the content of the art he has lost interest in but to me it seems like it is a very community based critique (and anti-marketplace) of how much Art has lost its awkward struggle... (more)
Christopher Knight isn't convinced that Warhol's Shadows on display at MOCA are a top tier work, which is hardly a radical art historical position to take as Warhols late work is often derided. Then MOCA's Director Philippe Vergne took the controversial step of responding to the criticism. I tend to disagree with Knight on the importance of this particular work as it is a somewhat elemental late work that adds a new dimension to one's understanding of Warhol (maybe not top tier but provocatively near it). As for the Vergne responding to criticism publicly... those who are more old fashioned might not like it but we live in an era of fluid debate and response and Knight can certainly take it (that separates him from mere internet trolls). It is healthy and Knight's reputation is hardly at risk... a weak critic needs some protection, great ones survive, even grow ever stronger from having some pushback like this. Lastly, Vergne is European, they simply have a stronger tradition of pointed critique and I think it is an important step for the West Coast to publicly step out of the very passive aggressive cycle in discourse that we have been known for. Admittedly, I have a dog in this hunt. I cut my teeth with British art publications and that tone does threaten some other west coasters in the visual art scene. What it does do is cuts through all these false politeness that doesn't serve the work or ideas in question. Overall, I think the Warhol will fare just fine as will Knight and MOCA... So is the opiece in question a masterpiece or the birth of the zombie formalism that Jerry Saltz and others including myself have been railing against? The jury is out.
Checkout this fascinating video on the conservation of Matisse's Swimming pool. I think it is right to treat the burlap as a support to be swapped out and not as a relic. Going back to the studio version is also provocative though a thornier issue. Do we present paintings the way they were stored in the studio? It is an interesting pickle.
October is one of the power months in the Portland art scene... and we know it better than anyone else. Here are my picks
When Storm Tharp broke out in 2007, he established himself as one of the premier contemporary portraitists in the country but since then has been adding facets and layers to that reputation. For his latest show Tiger he doubles down on influences like David Hockney, Fairfield Porter's paintings, Donald Judd and numerous literary figures.
Tiger | September 30 - November 1
925 NW Flanders
I'm just about finished with my history piece on Bruce Guenther, who is retiring next month, so far the best thing on him so far was by April at OPB, but I've got a great deal more historical context to add. This isn't just a staffing change at PAM it is an opportunity to examine Oregon's cultural history in an important way.
Verdicts on the Crystal Bridges State of the Art show are in and it is scathing despite praising the only Oregon artist in the show James Lavadour. Peter Plagens calls it in the WSJ, "the world's largest university faculty show". Overall I think it was a good idea but by blunting the edges and not including the more demanding eccentricities that make great art great the curators hamstrung themselves. That PG rating aspect is probably why no Portland artists are in it (Portland has a strong allergy to Walmart too). That said, our lone Oregon representative James Lavadour is a national treasure and we will have an interview soon. It is a common curatorial error in constructing large group shows in that by following the "process" so much it filters out the kind of work that challenges and sparks more meaningful debates.
Congrats to Ralph Pugay for winning the Betty Bowen Award in Seattle. More important than the well deserved prize money (15k) it is heartening since most awards in the Northwest (especially Portland) go to artists that are late-midcareer (from before the change in say 1999-2000), mostly known as educators/community-minders and aren't terribly edgy. Yet it is an influx of such artists to the Portland scene... and are active nationally/internationally that has been instrumental in transforming the city from a sleepier backwater to an artistic hotbed. Back in 2012 Peter Plagens made note of Pugay during a survey visit. His edgy humor is kinda what people think about Portland (thanks to Portlandia)... a place where quirks seem to fester into full blown absurdity. Well deserved, if only all the other regional art awards had similarly sharp teeth and rewarded work that finds the edges.
The final Art Vs. Reality involves art critics and though it is a bit rudimentary I think it is a useful series.
One thing I wish Peter Drew had fleshed out a lot more is the difference between simple opinion and higher levels of comparative connoissuership. For example, there is experience and when applied it can predict the difference between good, better and great work, because art doesn't exist in a vacuum ... though a lot of art schools and low-mid level dealers act like it does or want to treat everything with equivalence (it isn't). I discussed it a bit in this primer to an essay on art criticism I have been writing off and on, but it is crucial to note how not all art writing involves truly critical thinking and comparative discourse. Instead, it typically involves personal allegiances, which are not the same thing (rhetorically any time someone tries to make something personal it means they don't have an intellectual response and I take special joy in demolishing those bunkers of mendacity). On another front a lot of academic art writing would rather supplant the work and replace it with dialogical text, which I find careerist and designed to fluff CV's. Instead, real criticism purposefully acknowledges its diagnostic and separate role from the needs of the artist, presenting institution and genre. Instead, it tests the often presupposed effects and outcomes of the work as well as the overall value of those presuppositions, which always attend any work today. Social media is often a shouting match or a builder of group momentum, which does have its value. Whereas criticism is a long game and I don't see the two making each other less relevant. A strong critic that stands up to the group think and reveals the way it can really miss the boat is very valuable. There aren;t many such critics because there are few platforms these days. PORT is one of them.
For at least the past 5 years many of today's would be painters/wall art practitioners have been basically raiding the playbooks written by Supports/Surfaces and Greenberg's Color Field painters (BTW Greenberg's personal collection is at the Portland Art Museum). Both were interested in the structure and delivery of medium, though Surfaces/Supports had a more political underpinnings. The clones tend to make work that looks like tarps or studio drop cloths or what Jerry Saltz described as Zombie Abstraction. The original stuff was way better and isn't about playing what I call the, "false humility of medium card."
Olafur Elliason creates a mini watershed in a museum. This is interesting but mostly for how weakened or like "public art" it seems. Much like the more famous Earth Room that the Dia commissioned it derives most of its charge from the cognitive dissonance of bringing the outdoors indoors and by reminding us that buildings are caves.
Why Portland is building a new bridge without cars. As I saw early on (one of the first when others were in love with a more anachronistic design that pandered to many Portlanders' aversion to the new and bold) this bridge design makes sense and looks like a worthy icon for the city. See, things have changed.
Walter Benjamin is the philosopher that usually appeals to art critics...at least the "real" ones who are actually interested in exploring through critiquing art. Thus, this clever piece in the Brooklyn Rail is definitely worth a read. I like the way academic consensus is lampooned. Consensus is overrated and perhaps the cult of personality that evolves around a philosopher is the worst kind of consensus. Perhaps the dispute, when it arises is the only thing worth exploring? Perhaps the presence of dispute is the only thing that keeps culture from getting stale?
Ben Davis' review of Christopher Williams' show at MoMA is a must read. About 5-6 years ago art that was mostly in code that was never meant to be understood was all the rage... and Davis explains why this show is the moment the trend has truly jumped the shark. In general, any visual art that leans hard on its title is in trouble. Kosuth, Weiner and Baldessari do it right by making the title kinda besides the point and redundant (ie. it isn't code or a secret handshake,that's just being clubby). In short it is too satisfied with itself and too cute by half. By comparison Duchamp seemed considerably less amused with himself... and instead implicated his part in the great art and life con, R. Mutt indeed.
I have to agree with the Guardian... what makes Touching The Art so good is the way it doesn't know what it is (Borat for the art world?). Others who have tried this often desperately want to be comedy, critique or performance art but where TTA wins is the way in which it has no wish fulfillment and simmers in its own conceited white box. Overall, it isn't how it remains fastidiously out of touch with its own agenda (it's there of course) but it is the awkward way the art world isn't asking better questions and just shrugs itself off that is funny.
There is always something awkward about talking about visual art on the radio that can be quite refreshing... I think of it as a double awkwardness that strips away some of the normal defensiveness one finds in the art world. Think of it this way, those who are very generous and genuine really shine through when it is just their voice. Recently two of the most genuine and generous artists in Oregon have been on the radio.
This letter to an artist includes some extremely practical advice... in particular this nugget, "There were a hundred people at my show last night and I knew everyone one of them by name." Being the truth teller I was I replied "That's too bad" and she was stunned and angry at me. She asked me why, and I replied "You can't depend on people you know to support your work indefinitely."
How to be supportive of an artist? Well, definitely don't sugarcoat things and make decisions for long haul sustainability (living situations etc). Don't overreact. Don't assume anyone cares until they actually make it clear you have some kind of audience.
The top art story this weekend had to be the Mana Contemporary project in New Jersey. In many ways it isn't dissimilar from what the Portland Art Museum did with the Francis Bacons and other works... only this project is an ultra ambitious approach to redeveloping lower valued real estate. PAM is just being a museum (borrowing important works and presenting them), whereas Mana is providing a storage option and creating a museum... which will then bolster real estate. I'm very surprised nobody has seen the potential in Portland as Oregon does not have sales tax (like New Jersey).
Don't be so shelf-ish? Haim Steinbach's takeover of the Menil looks like it is worth braving Summer in Houston. With so many artists making use of shelves and 1980's design for their work today it makes perfect sense to pay more attention to the 80's shelfmeister.
Sad news On Kawara has died. It's the rigorous humor of his extremely dry work that set it apart but the addition of oxygen in his installations fascinated me the most... as a way to subtly influence the viewers conscious state.
It may have a rather boring name but Portland's new bridge is turning out to be rather good. I like the Donald Macdonald designed bridge and I saw Rosales' earlier design as kind of a kiss up to the retro looking and somewhat conservative architectural tastes in Portland. I think this design better connects Mt Hood to the tree lined heights of the west hills by echoing their angularity. What can I say... I like edge and don't like it when architects pander to the conservative tastes of a city. Macdonald went the right way, you don't build a modern bridge to echo an antiquated design... you use the best technology of the present to create one that reflects the time it was created in.
The troubled Oregon Arts Commission has named Brian Rogers of Philadelphia as its new Director. On numerous occasions it has been mentioned that the OAC has transparency problems and to date they still have not explained why the previous director was asked to leave. I'm certain many journalists are going to be clamoring for an interview with him but frankly I am more curious as to whom he sits down with to get his bearings when he gets here. Overall, Oregon is shifting its expectations from that of numerous insular communities to that of a world wide player on the cultural front. This shift has made the Director position a lightning rod for everything that is both good and bad in the state. Frankly, we should expect innovative solutions, while honoring our history and be focused on merit (not cronyism) as Oregon exists in a competitive international marketplace for talent. We can improve and welcome to Oregon!
The three Hallie Ford Fellows for 2014 have been announced, congrats. They are; Tannaz Farsi of Eugene, Storm Tharp and Geraldine Ondrizek of Portland.
True, these panel driven type award decisions are easy to criticize but they do give us an opportunity to provide a heuristic kind of feedback that is necessary, especially since all of these regional awards are so panel driven. On the plus side yes that's 2 women and one man, but it is also two academics and one non (Tharp), which is an underwhelming trend I have mentioned before as academicians tend to explain their work better than create something more original. Of the three only Tharp is a critical favorite (in fact he's one of the state's premier artists (would make everyone's top 10 list). It is good they are picking artists without gallery representation in Oregon (Farsi and Ondrizek) but that shouldn't = academicians like it has frequently. Oregon has a deeper scene than that... (more)
Robert Adams, Kerstin, next to an old-growth stump, Coos County, Oregon 1999
Last year the Portland Art Museum mounted an exhibition of world renowned and Astoria based photographer Robert Adams. It was wonderful and bittersweet, partially because it is Robert Adams' work (which measures the pang inducing endurance of nature in position to man's destructive tendencies) but also because the work itself wasn't in the museum's collection. Today PAM officially announced that the 69 photographs would enter the collection. Bravo!
Oregon has a bad habit of not celebrating its greatest artists but one by one, starting with Mark Rothko then Carrie Mae Weems and Robert Adams it has sought to rectify this studiued "disinterest" and start keeping score with home grown products who matters internationally.
Besides, there is a sense of a humanist-activist-poet in Adams' work... even if they weren't photos of the Oregon Coast it would fit Portland's civic interests and ethos. Big props to collectors Bonnie Serkin and Will Emery, some anonymous donors and the Oregon Arts Commission who made this landmark acquisition happen. This is one for the ages and the cultural patrimony of every Oregonian from this point forward.
Richard Speer discusses some of the taboo topics at art openings. Odds are this describes most artists reading it... but I've found that it is incredibly hard to generalize. Instead, I've found that there are many who pursue these taboos with impunity. Generally they are artists who thrive on true feedback rather than sycophantic enabling. They also tend to move farther in their careers and tend to crave true feedback. Best rule... "never assume" because in the majority, those in the art world tend to want to believe what is emotionally true at the moment. Whereas, those that can see beyond that emotional smokescreen achieve rigor and tend to rise above. Lessson, never try to explain another person's beliefs... simply make your own so pervasive that over time it becomes clear what your intent is.
Disjecta has a new curator in residence, Rachel Adams from Austin Texas. Not surprisingly, this marks yet another female curator (they have all been women and I'll leave it at that) but it is interesting that she is doing a show about structure and has an interest in architecture. Portland has a very strong and well developed peerage of artists that use design and the built environment as a major component of their work. So much so that simply doing a show involving superstructures will require the kind of rigor that we generally don't see in group shows at that venue (the space is difficult and the revolving curator door means that about the time they figure out what works they are onto a new face). Then there is the other issue where many of those artists have already shown there(ie how to do something relevant and fresh when most of those artists are already showing outside of Portland and or are concentrating on solo shows).
OCMA, responsible for the recent California-Pacific Triennial that completely ignored Portland (it is kinda nice that someone is doing it) gets a new director.
A fascinating New York Times article on the rehang of the Warhol Museum. True, no museum can hope to recreate the manic "scene days" of the factory or holding court at Studio 54 but it should deepen our understanding of a great artist in both his stronger and weaker moments.
The Met could be getting a new modern art wing to replace the current and (ughhhh) carpeted ones. With MoMA lagging and the Whitney re-imagining itself (also a necessity) the Met might find itself making all the right moves if it takes this opportunity to not do what MoMA is doing.
We are still tracking the Crystal Bridges State of the Art project... here's a little info on how they found those 10,000 artists. They visited about 10 artists in Portland last summer. The research logistics of this kind of approach alone are daunting. Also, after the apparent punt that was this year's Whitney Biennial many are wondering if this will be yet another show that uses artists to create an intentionally indecipherable spectacle designed to serve the institution and not much else?... or a real digestion of what is going on in art in a way that isn't a rigged marketing exercise? What people hunger for is a show that has a kind of integrity to it, willing to both make mistakes and uncover things that truly rise above the fray and reveal our world in a way we hadn't taken fuller stock of. A show where the artist's work is allowed to clear its throat. It is very rare these days when it is often easier to just pack redundant ideas together so that everything is just a simple exercise in comparative degrees (edging out more idiomatic developments). I much prefer shows like the 2001 and 2004 Site Santa Fe biennials, which had strong clusters of work that posited very different ideas/work in stark relief around central themes. Fetishing genre over case by case content (or worse careerist connection mongering regardless of the critical issues of the day) is the death of a thousand small cuts that most group shows today suffer from these days. One thing is certain, a lot is at stake for this well endowed institution. The critical response to the show will define the museum's success as a national player... nice to see an institution risking this much.
The truly great Richard Tuttle on exploring life in art.
My old stomping grounds, the excellent Milwaukee Art Museum is proposing a modest addition but The Journal has a convoluted response itself to the proposal. The museum on Lake Michigan is a wonderful site and suggesting that change is backwards thinking. Also, the museum isn't that convoluted and I'd describe it as variety. The Calatrava wing is an obvious entrance and re-establishing the lake entrance to the very good for art viewing Kahler wing is a great, understated idea that consolidates the experience. The Saarinen and Calatrava constitute a variety of achitecture that shakes up the midwestern lakefront in a way that is enviable (even Chicago lacks this). BTW, most major Museums are undertaking expansions as a generation of key philanthropists are looking for legacy projects... it keeps the wealth in the community rather than Federal estate taxes. All of which isn't a good enough reason to move the museum off an already ideal site.
Yau on Schnabel. He is pretty much the patron saint of derivative painting, which isn't necessarily a slight but says a lot about his MFA puppy mill clones. I think of Schnabel as an American response to Sigmar Polke, replacing Polke's supple inquiry with Schnabel's ambition. Once again that isn't necessarily a bad thing, just something that limits Schnabel's place in the grand scheme of art, an interesting cautionary tale for those who would be great and a road map for those who want to be great at being OK.
Duplex gives it to you straight regarding the Portland 2014 Biennial attempt. As Ive already mentioned when the list was announced, not enough women and no new names. Mostly it is the institution's attempt to ingratiate itself amongst others that made their reputations without Disjecta's help already and the show did nothing for anyone's careers save thye presenting institution. It is a tired model and any group show that shines a light on a scene should at least make a few discoveries to create anticipation and a climate of change rather than staleness... it was ok but told us nothing we didn't already know in more fully realized solo shows. That and it was basically a clone of every other recent group show, not embarrassing but achieves little for anyone besides the presenter.
Of course clay is hot these days... it has been for the past 6-7 years as the careers of Ken Price and Jessica Jackson Hutchins made plain long ago. The news is the bandwagoning that has started because of the latest Whitney Biennial. There is an art market to feed you know. The other interesting bit is how little resistance there really ever was to it... in craft circles they made it seem like the medium were persona non grata but its always been the message not the medium in contemporary art. The message has always been boutique, with limited production = value and it is tied to a larger discussion over design. It isn't craft (which is technique) that is crucial but "design" because it encompasses craft and gives it an outlet. Contemporary Art works in parallel and pantomime to the Design World, which is the bleeding edge of production. Think of Contemporary Art as the court jester to the court of culture and Design is the army.
Franco a credibility problem for the art world? Basically, it is all too easy and anybody who gets too wrapped up as "for or against" is wasting their time on an easy mark. For the first time ever I'm linking without reading the article. Click at your own risk.
Brian Libby says goodby to PNCA's Goodman building. It is no secret that PNCA has been undergoing growing pains... experiencing both massive growth and contractions at the same time (in different areas like enrollment, new departments and physical plant). This gets more painful the larger the institution is. Let's hope the 511 years lead to a stable golden age for the school as it consolidates more around the North Park Blocks. The Goodman building's commons area has been Portland's arts oriented living room more than any other space in the city can claim, though they were also difficult for some uses.
Francis Bacon Triptych recently on view at PAM (during install)
This is very stale news in Portland's scene but the NYT's has finally taken notice of something that has been going on for over a decade in Oregon, showing art bought at auctions in our museums. It can blind some (like traditional journalists) with a less broadly based art historical backgrounds and it makes the discourse reactionary and short sighted. First of all, some arguments are more than a little specious. Arguably, the history of arts patronage has always been related to tax avoidance, but perhaps that is the wrong term. Museums have always trafficked in that grey area interchange between wealthy collectors and sharing with the masses. Thus, in a way they take the mostly hidden impulse to hoard treasures and turn them into cultural/economic boosters (bringing people downtown etc). Museums are one of the few places the rich are taxed more proportionately... (more)
Finally some hard stats on women in the art world... basically 70% of represented artists are men. I'm uncertain about how those stats bear out in Portland but it is definitely true that men generally get statistically more representation in awards and group shows (Portland2014 being just another example, as is the far more consequential Whitney Biennial). Why is this? I think it is generally the way women are penalized for being ambitious and or promoting themselves, whereas men are encouraged. It also comes down to complicated interpersonal politics (who has kids, who doesn't, who teaches with whom, a cultural preoccupation focus on the events in a woman's life rather than the work) that are almost always more loaded for women. In general, the dudes are simply less complicated even though to my eyes a clear majority of the strong to excellent artists in a place like Portland are women.
Namita Wiggers on Craft in the Brooklyn Rail. First of all, the term accidental primitivism doesn't work, its terrible jargon. There is nothing "accidental" about utilizing a centuries old tradition, and it is... (more)
In 2007, Iraqui artist Wafaa Bilal caused an international sensation with a performance called Domestic Tension, where he lived in a gallery constantly shelled by paint ball guns controlled by people far away via the internet. It was a critique of unmanned drones and it also gave the artist PTSD on the way to art world stardom. For Linfield college Bilal will perform a site specific piece called I Don't Know Their Names, an exercise in barely perceivable writing that recalls the way victims cease being individuals and simply become part of an aggregate disaster toll.
"Bilal will engage in a durational performance daily in the Linfield Gallery, Tuesday, April 1 - Friday, April 4, during regular gallery hours, 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. The performance will continue on Saturday, April 5, 12 p.m. - 5 p.m. Gallery visitors are welcome to quietly watch as the artist is focused on creating this site-specific exhibition".
Wafaa Bilal | April 1 - May 10
Artist Talk: Wednesday, April 2, 6PM, reception following Linfield Gallery | Linfield College
900 SE Baker st., McMinnville, OR
You don't hear much about female light and space artists but LACMA's Helen Pashigan show is set to alter that.
Jerry Saltz takes on an art flipper. The main problem is treating artists as a mere market that is easily cornered, hyped, inflated then turned over like what used to happen to commodities in the 70's and 80's. The thing is Art requires a long term view and a supple aspect that is being lost here. It isn't the market, academia, institutional commitments or critical response... it is all of the above that matter. Also, when attention in any one area is over-inflated it builds resistance from the other corners of the art world. Also, the question of taste isn't being foregrounded... it is the ability to influence and motivate. There is a distinct difference and strong taste tends to justify itself because it has a certain integrity to it.
In case you missed it, for the second year in a row Brian Libby chose the venues for the Portland Modern Home Tour. My oh my, has Portland's image and design IQ changed or what?
Even the local Fox affiliate got ahold of the story... nothing seems odder than seeing Michael Reinsch's name and fake suicide project on Fox News, but there it is. Hopefully all of the publicity will help PLACE find a new home... perhaps in some place downtown and equally unexpected like a bank?
Last but not least, PORT welcomes our newest sponsor the Jordan Schnitzer Family Foundation. We are very selective about our sponsors and currently the foundation's generosity has a facilitated a long list of exhibitions it has lent works to such as, the excellent Emancipating the Past: Kara Walker's Tales of Slavery and Power in Eugene, Under Pressure at the Missoula Art Museum and Radical Repetition at the Whatcom Art Museum. The Jordan Schnitzer Family Foundation has an encyclopedic collection of master prints and Northwest art that it lends to venues around the country. In particular, they make exhibitions and support programs available to communities that often would not have access to such work. Built to share, the collection was one of the first large scale lending libraries in the USA, leading the way for other collectors like Eli Broad and Nicolas Berggruen. In 2012, the Jordan Schnitzer Family Foundation lent an encyclopedic survey of Ellsworth Kelly's prints to LACMA. That show later traveled back home to Portland.
There is always a lot of hand wringing when generations hand the baton and in this case Gen X and Millenials are taking over as patrons and visitors to museums (Gen X was missed by the article, mistake... Gen X is far more museum friendly than Millenials because my generation like to go off and contemplate "alone"). The thing is the Baby Boomers never really distinguished themselves the way their parents did, so though they may have 70% of the disposable income they are likely spending it on their bucket lists and golf outings. Considering how much more culturally sensitive and less "me" centric Gen X and Millenials are museums should be fine in the future. Though they have made huge strides local museums like PAM and MoCC haven't really captured the imagination of the younger Gen X/Millenial crowd that has flooded Portland.
Hyperallergic thinks that US museums don't want comics. I don't think that is completely accurate, especially on the West Coast where most major museums have staged major shows involving comics (for example, PAM's big R Crumb show)... but it is true, they might not really know what to do with them when outside of featured exhibitions. Are they prints, books, design driven craft/pop art? YES!
Tyler Green on the restoration of Pollock's Guggenheim Mural. I don't put a lot of cred into the before and after GIF though. I saw the painting in Des Moines before being shipped off to the Getty and it certainly wasn't as dull as the "before" image indicates. The yellows were very apparent but still I'm sure it needed some of the TLC that the Getty was equipped to give it.
I've updated the Whitney Biennial links several times and its interesting how the Portland2014 Biennial seems to pantomime it. There is a lot of monkey see monkey do when most curators do survey shows, which is why having a kind of thesis like the Hammer's Thing or the Tacoma Art Museum's last NW Biennial focus on interdisciplinary art make sense. Otherwise you see the same show (better and worse versions) over and over again. I still believe these shows are important social events but unless they take a stance and make a point of really highlighting strong new developments in art (with enough space/focus to do so) these things are just anonymous vehicles designed mostly to benefit the presenting institution. An art historical thread like Robert Storr's focus on the grotesque in 2004 at Site Santa Fe meant something... Kara Walker even debuted her first video piece there. The 1999 Oregon Biennial redefined art in Oregon and introduced 4-5 new stars to the scene. That is the sort of discovery that makes a survey memorable. Presenting artists or art that looks just like hundreds of other recent shows just doesn't differentiate the exercise of a survey enough.
Well the Whitney Biennial has opened and the reviews are starting to come in. I'll track them here, so check back for updates. Thankfully or sadly there are no Portlanders in it this time but with its focus on the midwest I understand... Portland is very popular with midwesterners as a relocation spot and we have already had a lot of presence in recent previous shows. I'm personally over these giant surveys that always do more for the institution than the artists or the discussion of art (though the flailing attempt to do "something" is nearly always worthwhile as an institutional barometer rather than satisfying/challenging statement). Not to say they can't be good, they often seemed rigged to mildly placate, rather than discover and promote new talent by giving the uncertainty of the present a voice. Instead, they ingratiate themselves to the art world choir creatures they serve (artists and gallerists) and or keep at arms length. Ideally, they spotlight some new faces and trends that keep things from being stagnant... not certain this one achieves that goal. I haven't heard the word "fresh" much.
Hyperallergic starts with images and a discussion of the 4th floor, which most everyone seems to be liking the best. Ah, so the big standout artist of 2014 is one of the curators... That is good because Michelle Grabner is an old Wisconsin grad school dayz friend but does any of the work suggest or demand a shift in the art world the way Forcefield did in the 2002 Biennial? I'm not hearing anything like that... (more)
The NYT's discussed this week's 2014 Whitney Biennial and its wrong to give the article much focus beyond being a brochure guide. Mostly, the focus on; witty craft, works on paper, nostalgia, architecture and female painters is a restatement of the previous decade and a half (which is accurate and on trend though not enough women are in this show). Still, the addition of "Looks That Can Decieve" is somewhat interesting but also very familiar if you've looked at contemporary art since say 1999. Several of my friends are in it and one of the curators is an old grad school chum so I've got a vested take in this... but overall I see it as an index style show. There are lots of other regional surveys of American art (Made in LA, State of the Art etc)... some more comprehensive (no Pacific Northwest artists despite the fact we are hot, probably because there is a big Midwest presence and Midwesterners often move Northwest). Some, like TAM's Northwest Biennial (I was in the last one) or the California-Pacific Triennial are more narrow than this but it is the New York style marketing blood sport of who will stand out that keeps people focused on the Whitney. No other show on the planet, besides perhaps the Turner Prize... (more)
The story of the week: should artists and their estates receive a cut of resales in the USA the way they do in France?... you bet. Why? consider all the artists whose work goes for millions at auction when their estates don't have the funds to care for and promote the understanding of the work. It keeps the work in what I call, "the market orphanage," where objects only have monetary value but have no custodianship and no one looking out for the integrity of something that has value.
1st thing, there has been no statement describing why Christine D'Arcy was let go... though some of us were tipped off that something was odd months before. I'd prefer the state would just be transparent before I go publishing off of what scraps I and many others know. Not knowing this crucial bit of information makes attracting good applicants more difficult. There is a widespread transparency problem that any new director will need to fix, but who fixes the state run oversight?
Communication was easily the highest ranked category
Vito Acconci (whom PORT interviewed here) declares Marina Abramovic's performance at MoMA as the nadir of performance art. I tend to agree, though I also agree that some of her earliest works especially with Ulay are the best (the Great Wall was such a mature reckoning). Why? Because the MoMA project complicitly feeds the queue of the museum... making the wait a kind of institutional kowtow and moment of fealty. The implications are incredibly lame, kinda like The Gates by Christo and Jeanne-Claude in Central Park had a kind of cultural imperialism about it... de democratizing a typically less structured space.
Then this joker had to destroy an Ai Weiwei (whom we interviewed here). The issue with this is the self centered vandalism of this bitter artist destroying another artist's work. When Weiwei destroyed an artifact he was making a statement for his own people and history... this fellow simply built a temple to his own bitterness and ignorance. The institution in question even did a locals show last year, thus completely undermining the vandal's attempt at critique. Hopefully this doesn't prompt venues to cordon off work... which would be a shame and strengthen the artifact vs. art paradoxical divide.
Is Frank Gehry the worst living architect... hardly, though he does take chances and any essay that compares architecture to a C.C. Deville guitar solo that goes on and on gets points from me.
This is an excellent piece on the state of the Dia Foundation with and without Philippe Vergne, whom I consider a better fit for MOCA than the Dia. The Dia was once the country's premier experimental art institution and they championed site specificity better than anyone before or since. It was rooted in the most surprisingly supple aspects of Donald Judd's philosophy, which acted as an antidote to market driven art... providing a patronage platform for integrity driven work. It really hasn't gotten its groove back since Michael Govan left. Frankly, civilization needs an active and relevant Dia that can exist without deacessioning and the new director will need to repair some damage done by such activity.
Tavis Smiley interviews Teller about his documentary film Tim's Vermeer. Interesting how Teller is surprised at how artists and scientists were once the same vocation. Lately with artists like Inigo Manglano-Ovalle, Olafur Elliason, Anish Kapoor, Cartsen Holler and Robert Irwin/James Turrell's early work, we see somewhat of a return to this kind blurring of lines... locally artists like Kyle Thompson, Laura Fritz, Laura Hughes and Zachary Davis have all taken a similar investigative approach to applying Bacon's Novum Organum (which is rooted in Davinci's observational and trial studies). Jerry Saltz is also excited about this. The point is, given enough time and thoughtful concentration anything one human being has done can be reverse engineered and replicated.
Carnegie Mellon University has scuttled its curator... why is this bad? Many institutions have been doing this of late and it essentially destroys the programmatic integrity of a space. A curator's voice creates continuity and a programmatic arc, which when dispensed with leaves a rudderless exhibition schedule driven by opportunistic or void-filling exhibitions with nobody to answer for their quality and execution. That "Arc" is crucial as often it isn't a single exhibition that matters but the probing variety that a curator brings. It is the difference between having a chef or putting on a pot luck affair. When no one is responsible, a program loses its voice at budget meetings... guaranteeing it will be ever more shunted to the periphery of institutional priority. Lastly, galleries are the place where the institution meets the rest of the world. Ditching the castellan responsible for that interaction means the institution will become more navel gazing and insulated.
I'd put LA's new Mistake Room on the to do list. It doesn't matter where you go, LA or Portland... most institutions aren't open enough to this sort of thing. The Dia used to be the king and before that, what the PCVA did very well was take chances and actively avoid parochialisms.
Phillipe Vergne seems to be indicating that MOCA will return to being, "The Artist's Museum," as it was originally designed to be. This is crucial as so many institutions have become or always were all about their institutional growth (MOMA etc.). At the same time, "enabling curators," doesn't necessarily make MOCA an artist's museum... only certain types of curators do that and they are extremely rare. In many ways museums have become victims of their own success at hoarding presciently collected art. Question is... is it MOCA's turn and if so does that mean they will ever have room for their permanent collection? Deaccessioning doesn't seem like a great idea either but objects/pieces do put conditions on resource allocation for institutions. Vergne wasn't all that successful at returning the Dia to its glory days as the world's greatest art patron but he might have an easier time achieving such aims at MOCA. Controlled growth that creates more options rather than limiting them is a key but can Vergne really back up that ambition? He certainly needs to keep MOCA hungry and risk taking but it remains whether they can actually turn back the clock a bit?
How can Portland support so many new restaurants asks Oregon Business? It is a visual art related question because it indicates where we spend our entertainment dollars and why Portland IS special (hint it isn't corporate). It is also where a lot of the artists, musicians etc find both employment, restaurant design/branding gigs, which helps explain why Portland is the best place to network in a genuine way if you want to center your life on a moral ethos rather than a corporate one. Not that jobs are easy to come by but it does explain why we are so vibrant. The artists move here and make it more interesting... the restaurants help pay the bills (barely) and elevate a necessity like eating into something sublime. The artists, musicians etc. then channel this... (more)
Interest in Basquiat continues to intensify year after year, perhaps because of all the 80's painters his work is the biggest cipher. Unlike say Schnabel or Clemente... no matter how much we learn or hear of Basquiat, it somehow never seems expended. Some artists simply have a mystique... others make far too many pains to fabricate it. Basquiat is the former.
A couple of thoughts... this is good, partially because this gets Vergne out of the Dia Foundation. Vergne is a curator at the core but somehow his 5 years at the Dia were somewhat unremarkable and staid. His fundraising resorted to... (more)
Well I am not surprised that the Trimet panel didn't shortlist Rothko for the transit/pedestrian bridge name and a lot of people will be disappointed. Perhaps Rothko as a name was doomed by the need of the panel to be unanimous? No panel can ever be convened that will return a unanimous verdict on Rothko... or any artist of any sort of greatness.
Being Jewish and an immigrant didn't help Rothko either (Portlanders do have a bias, see William Pope L's new show at PSU). Not disappointed though, it brought Portland's allergy to acknowledging greatness (old school arch-regionalist and anti-immigrant bias [read the comments]) in its midst to the fore of people's minds. All great artists are polarizing and unanimous panels don't reward that kind of frisson, despite the fact that Rothko grew up in the Bridge's neighborhood and painted the site repeatedly. These biases cannot be overcome overnight but I will call out anyone who proliferates them. The less navel-gazing, more worldly Portland that has taken hold here isn't playing checkers it is a chess match.
Thoughts on the bridge name options?
Cascadia - is incredibly weak consensus building panel process detritus name... (more)
Paul Clay's interactive Leda and the Swan at the Portland Building opens today
Randy Gragg chimes in on the fate of the Portland building. I disagree that photos would somehow fill the gaping hole in history a demolished Portland Building would leave. My extensive piece is coming soon but in general (like Randy) I think people are severely undervaluing the place making that the Portland Building brings to the downtown. Also, moving the beloved Portlandia sculpture anywhere else is naive. BTW Paul Clay's video installation at the Portland Building looks promising and it opens today. It is a great reason to visit this embattled and flawed landmark soon.
Well, this Wednesday has dropped a ton of architecture news on us.
MoMA's new art bay, reminiscent of a garage
The biggest story is MoMA's new expansions by Diller Scofidio + Renfro. Jerry Saltz HATES it but I do see the value in the "bays" that open like a garage to the street (they are just very timid descriptions of space considering their aims). The more problematic disappointments are the lack of expansion for the permanent collection and the intensely antiseptic white and glass design schemes that have no idiomatic texture or place making. It is institutional, with all the charm of a pharmaceutical research lab. It speaks of mall-like vernaculars + aspirations.
Let's revisit the past. Perhaps, I miss spaces like Louis Kahn's Kimbell Museum of yore? Also, there are better museum architects like Renzo Piano. True, Piano does design too many museums but The Menil is astounding. Those spaces I just listed have intimacy, aspirations and yes personality. The MCA in Chicago has similar vaults to the Kimbell. I love those MCA spaces (curator Bruce Guenther was partly responsible) and its that lack of curatorial nuance that many new extensions have that leaves them unremarkable. Renzo Piano's Art Institute of Chicago wing is ok but I hate what happened to the Ab Ex area where it used to have a big scary room with Clyfford Still, Pollock and de Kooning's excavation all holding court. The "transparency" of the new design kills that mystique and MoMA seems to be another victim of the architectural language of transparency. Museums which offer nothing but generic space miss the point. They should create place, not merely space or worse, square footage. In a Museum the art holds court and staircases are mostly just there like pickled ginger to cleanse and reset the palette. I also keep thinking about how great Steven Holl's design for MoMA was and how the tanking of the Bellview Art Museum in Seattle likely cost him the gig. Holl's proposal was bold but not as radical as Rem Koolhaas' design. There was a vernacular to build upon and it retained an idiomatic aspect that was open, not merely transparent. Holl's Nelson Atkins expansion showed just how well that can work out. Somehow D+S R has lost their edge on this project. It seems very conservative... even moreso than their new Broad museum in LA or the new Whitney building to be finished on the West Side.
The fact that the Williams and Tsien's folk art museum wont be saved isn't surprising... I'm certain they wanted to save it but the client's needs overrode anything truly inspired. The fact that William's and Tsien took on the Barnes collection project... essentially looting a national treasure for greater attendance only makes this karmic-ly fitting. There is always a bigger fish... will MoMA eventually swap its digs for a place where it can do it right and the current galleries will become a true mall or sports stadium? Maybe in 100 years? I'm certain it will still be packed until that day comes... but geeze New York, between the Freedom Tower and MoMA you really aren't setting the bar with your designs and places like Denver do seem more progressive.
Looks like there will be a new director named at MOCA very soon and the NYT's confirmed that all of the front runners are museum professionals not art dealers like former director Deitch. Toby Kamps would be my first choice, though he is a curator's curator and being a director involves a lot more fundraising so I am not certain he would want the gig. MOCA does need to rebuild its reputation as perhaps the USA's top contemporary art institution... it has degenerated into a salesroom of sorts as of late.
Also, unlike many who have been writing about the Francis Bacon... we at PORT understand visual art and can wrap our heads around its appearance here in Portland succinctly and sanely. It is a great set of paintings that puts the work of favorite local artists like Storm Tharp and David Eckard (think of the colors and architectural articulations around a figure) into greater context. Some writers don't understand visual quality because they are primarily "writers" who find it easier to engage other writers more than the art itself... that's why they come off so bewildered and second hand. Not a bad thing but it is amusing to watch all the flailing. Great art does this to some who don't deal with it frequently and it is why it sets people in tail spin. It reaffirms the power of art as something beyond an academic or community building exercise. In this case just focusing on the paint quality alone is revealing, no oil painter in the Northwest has similar facility and the funny thing is that the technical ability is the most obvious and least interesting part of the work.
Avantika Bawa, Portland (Joan Shipley Fellow)
Modou Dieng Portland
Laura Fritz, Portland
Surabhi Ghosh, Eugene
Anna Gray, Portland
Sabina Haque, Portland
Allison Hyde, Eugene
Anya Kivarkis, Eugene
Ryan LaBar, Enterprise
Ellen Lesperance, Portland
Ralph Pugay, Portland
Samantha Wall, Portland
Terri Warpinski, Eugene
Looks like for once more women are receiving awards than dudes (a correction was in order). It is a good list (yes some are close acquaintances but I prefer the fact I don't know all of these people) but one thing that this critic has noticed is that the OAC does not release the names of the panelists making these decisions. Also, the way those panelists are chosen is similarly oblique. RACC by comparison always releases the names of panelists who make the decisions. With recent shake ups at the OAC, this change is required, especially since easy connections to certain groups in the state can be extrapolated from lists like this... the real meat comes from the composition of the panels.
As far as the artists chosen... most, if not all of the artists have been more active outside the region than inside Oregon, which is a good thing since Oregon art awards have lately skewed towards parochialism. This is not a parochial white dudes list for once!
It is important to have negative reviews... they ask important questions even when the conclusions are wrong. For example, Ken Johnson is about Roni Horn. That "teetering" place between art and design is a very important place and artists like Donald Judd and Dan Flavin exploited it, Roni Horn was the next gen... overall using the term "minimalism" is a bit of a red herring in understanding that type of art. Portland has its own version with; Damien Gilley, Jordan Tull, Ben Buswell, Brenna Murphy, Zachary Davis, Ellen George, OPS, Laura Fritz, Paula Rebsom, Matthew Leavitt and Jesse Hayward etc. Many of whom are now more active outside Portland than in the city limits. Teetering is good for art and Portland is a design/art city.
Is there a global art esthetic? Sadly it comes with the global market... for example, most auto manufacturers make vehicles that are only slightly differentiated from one another. Why should art be any different? (actually it should be) Want more differentiation? differentiate your markets...
It was also especially interesting because PICA (like most arts non profits) is usually scraping for funding themselves. They even have a Kickstarter campaign for next year's TBA festival so devoting energy to this is... well, outlandishly broad minded of them.
This year 18 recipients and teams will each receive up to 5k and the list includes many key players in the alternative space scene. I'm especially happy to see 12128, Patrick Rock and False Front who are 3 of the most crucial and accomplished presenters in town. Here's the list:
Last but not least, Jerry Saltz discusses the big MFA bubble situation. It is true, there is something about academia that blunts artistic development after a certain point... I'm talking about the professors, not the students. About 95% of the art professors I watch seem to plateau when they start teaching full time (I attribute it to a defensive/careerist attitude they adopt), the other 5% are simply the sorts whose progress cannot be slowed by anything short of an asteroid impact (they also take pains to not be wholly owned by academia). From the student perspective arts education has become a kind of puppy mill situation. Overall, I prefer BFA programs that concentrate on fundamentals like OCAC and Lewis and Clark do. Any MFA program should be considered with a realistic goals and a very sober assessment of the school's true capabilities beyond the hype.
Then there was the news that YU now owns its building... that's great except without a professional director capable of leading a multimillion dollar fundraising campaign the news is somewhat mitigated. YU was s-l-o-w but has implemented many things we pointed out initially, like a true board of directors and a curatorial team... but since the departure of Sandra Percival they still face a major flaw in their strategy as the director is perhaps the most key position at this point. Will this just be an endless subsistence campaign for a huge building they can't afford to full use? This is the question only a very capable director can address.
Curators Bacigalupi and Alligood have already been through Portland a while ago but they are in LA this week working on the rather ambitious State of the Art exhibition, a survey of contemporary US art. I like the "boots on the ground" approach they are taking because it gets one out of their institutional bubbles. One thing is for sure... it will have to be exceptionally good (ie not fomulaic and predictable) in the way most "toss off" regional art surveys tend to become (cheap blockbusters to draw eyes and attendance). The connection to Walmart only ups the ante here. To be relevant it can't afford to merely ok or capriciously acceptable the way that things like The Whitney Biennial tends to be... ie put a ton of artists in the room and 2-3 stand out. Instead, if this actually produces great work and new names that we will remember 15-50 years from now it will be worth it. Also, depending how rigorous/adventurous it is I might like their approach of teasing out art historical threads using tropes in "American" art (the Whitney is a little like American Idol). If they go bold it will give the project weight and that shock of the new that is often missing in surveys. If it is conservative it will contend with massive indifference or worse. Right now the art world is VERY distracted by the commotion of commerce but I've found that great work, if given a chance and a few resources makes the best case for itself. By using their own curatorial staff this project is putting the institution's fledgling (with huge endowments) reputation on the line... when is the last time any major museum had the guts to do that?
Quitting NYC at age 24... Part of what I like best about Portland is that nobody sees this city as an endgame.... its a rebel base that is supportive with a lot of great people that one can manage. Perhaps it is healthier to consider no one place a defining destination?
On KBOO Eva lake conducted a discussion of women in the visual arts... some provocative things here. *Note if you look at PORT over the last 12 articles (what we have on our mainpage: 4 images feature women artists, and 4 feature men. The two major articles are split between 1 man (Sean Healy) and one woman (Anna Craycroft).
Well, for one the gallery system favors men and even though most of the galleries around here do not represent many installation and video artists (a majority are women) they seem to be given precedence in determining who gets awards and into surveys (only 1 of the already scarce woman in the Portland2014 survey is unrepresented, whereas many of the men are not). Seemingly every detail and distinction is fraught with peril, for example the premise around the last ladies only survey was, well... annoying to many women as Amy's review made clear (language like swelling bodies in the essay made it seem like motherhood or potential thereof was somehow necessary). It is a complex discussion that involves the art market, questions regarding self promotion, cliques and whether the response to art is simply too sensationalized (around money and dude-style attention stunts) to give the most worthy female artists their due? Clearly Madonna and Lady Gaga do just fine in music but visual art as a field certainly favors men, even when a majority of gate keepers (curators, gallerists, critics) seem to be women (like they are in Portland).
David Chipperfield's new Jumex Museum seems like a cross between Renzo Piano and Louis Kahn, which sounds rather ideal. Still it is yet another white box within a marble box, which also seems a tad backwards thinking just like Moneo's MFAH wing did at the time. Still, it is definitely nice and this interview with Chipperfield with good images seems to lay out the architectural thought space for the project nicely.
Museums have gone through a building boom in the past decade and a half but the best new projects seem to be far more egalitarian and more flexible in program... coupled with strong curatorial voice that is equally flexible. The question is simply, does this building look to a future it cannot predict or is a bunker for the past? Overall, I have a hard time finding a better institutional model than the Des Moines Art Center whose director I interviewed earlier this year.
Tyler re-reports that the Dia co-founders are now officially suing the Dia over their plan to auction off Cy Twombly's Poems. As we have discussed before, Poems isn't some redundant piece... it is a crucial Twombly work that any museum would want badly. At the same time I see why Dia Director Phillipe Vergne would want the cash to do more current things at the Dia... but there should be another way. Can't the Dia live in the present and be a steward of its past? Why the last resort move?
Peter Korn over at the Portland Tribune sure had a great time writing this piece on potential names* for the exciting new pedestrian and transit bridge designed by Donald MacDonald. Everyone seemed to pick someone from their experience, Mayor Hales wanted a politician (seriously?) and I've forwarded Mark Rothko. I have no idea why Steve Novick wants more Simpsons character names associated with Portland (it seems redundant but if pressed I like Lisa better than most other options, though its still a cop out when Portland's most famous son continues to go unheralded).
Trimet used a somewhat older photo, the undeveloped areas have been filling in fast (all the more reason to dig up this history)
Overall, I like the idea of an artist who happens to be the the most celebrated person to ever live in Portland... a person that some of old-school Portlanders spend a great deal of energy trying to forget, could get his due in the place he grew up? I have no idea if it will work but I'm all for putting our best case forward and it has traction. Rothko lived to the highest of his ideals and his work showed that commitment. He suffered here in character forming ways, had his first solo show at the Portland Art Museum and lived near, worked under and painted Portland's bridges. It's an appropriate honor considering the possibility of a Rothko Museum in Portland is financially improbable.
2012 Rothko retrospective at the Portland Art Museum (photo Jeff Jahn)
School children should grow up knowing a great painter grew up here and though last years Rothko retrospective at the Portland Art Museum did accomplish those goals for a short time a more lasting acknowledgement, one that could also tell the story of how a young struggling Russian immigrant Jew and outsider who made good is a powerful thing.
It is also a simple acknowledgement in a city of artists and designers that doesn't seek to do anything other than understand itself through its most accomplished resident. Portlanders have a hard time with greatness, so this is more a test for Portland than for Rothko.
Overall, Rothko always seems to challenge and polarize people and in Portland this bridge has become a new way for us to reassess ourselves and examine what we value.
*Note, Rothko was never arrested for public nudity when camping in Washington park... merely rousted by Portland Police for that reason.
I've updated the both very popular and controversial post on the Rothko bridge naming. I see it as cutting a provincial gordian knot... so many (especially those who have been in Portland a long time) put a lot of effort into denying that the city's most famous and accomplished resident ever lived here or had any real connection. The sentiment doesn't hold up to the facts and illustrates why Portland has a hard time acknowledging highly ambitious people (provincialism). It is a good thing to get over.
In case you haven't heard Chistine D'Arcy is out as head of the Oregon Arts Commission... "something" has been brewing for a while and the question is whether further changes would strengthen or weaken an already strong program? The arts community is very concerned because it doesn't seem to be driven by anything from the arts community (which means it is likely political... hmmm).
The Portland2012 Biennial was a failure mostly because nearly everyone was in it except the most exciting group of artists in town (all associated with the alt spaces Appendix, Worksound or both), it didn't discover anyone new, it was in too many locations and was installed incredibly poorly at the two largest spaces (Art Gym and Disjecta).
The list for 2014 by LA curator Amanda Hunt should address some of those problems by including some of the scene's favorite practitioners who were noticeably absent last time but there aren't many women on this list:
Zachary Davis (cofounder Appendix)
Modou Dieng (founder Worksound) and Devon A. Vanhouten-Maldanado(Worksound) Alex Mackin Dolan (curator Appendix)
What else is there to write about Renzo Piano? The New York Times tries to
make his choice as the architect for the Whitney seem daring but nobody
can (though he is solid). The real problem is that projects like the Menil and the Beyeler
Foundation are intimate in a way that these larger museum situations will
never be and though always good he peaked a long time ago. Somehow the Whitney seems ok with that kind of statement about the museum's place in the world...?
Banksy has finally done something interesting, critiquing the utter failure of imagination
that is the One
World Trade Center building in an op ed that the NYT's refused to run (also interesting). True he's an attention whore seeking attention but writing,
"That building is a disaster. Well no, disasters are interesting. One World
Trade centre [sic British] is a non-event. Its vanilla. It looks like
something they would build in Canada." Deserves to be repeated and passed on.
The passing of two giants, Arthur
Danto and Anthony
Caro continues to gather voices to mark their passing. The Portland Art Museum has a pretty extensive collection of Caro's work from the Greenberg Collection.
Ted talks and the Met lead to a whole lotta ugly. That said how is this any different than the sorts of things that happen all the time at museums? Perhaps it is the participation of the curators... but according to the article they provided the only useful stuff.
This entertaining article proposes that minimalism as a mode of fashion (it certainly isn't an art movement) has lead to a proliferation of antiseptic personal space for the collector class? It is true that whenever I do wince when I hear someone talk about how "minimal" their art, design choices or installation procedures are. I like to refer to it as, "the new fussy." Whatever it is called it does mean that the dead white room is very very dead.
Sure, it could be named after a general or some politician but as I've mentioned before should be named after Mark Rothko, who is Portland's most famous son... and remains unacknowledged in any memorial within the city. The fact that he was a Russian immigrant Jew who rose to become one of the most consequential artists of all time should be enough but Rothko himself had quite a connection to the site as the western side of the bridge was host to numerous Jewish business and homes. He even painted the site and had a special fondness for mass transit... (more)
At the same time mega galleries are too easy a target. To me it seems like the mega collectors (who make mega galleries possible) are less about being patrons who wish to be challenged than simple trophy hunters. It is why I appreciate mega collectors like Eli Broad, the Kramlichs and the Papajohns. There is depth and a cumulative civic program to what they do but ultimately the best art comes when one patron decides to support an artist of infinite ambition, rather than one who already has infinite resources... kinda like when Peggy Guggenheim got behind Jackson Pollock or Gertrude Stein pitted the best of the best in civil competition with one another. Even Judd needed Heiner Freidrich and Philippa de Menil. I wish I could mention them by name (they seem to want to be low key) but I do really like what these collectors are doing with Doug Aitken.
Overall, some artists like Richard Serra naturally work on a huge scale. For others it resembles Axl Rose's infinitely overproduced album Chinese Democracy, which was so far removed from what made Gun's n Roses work as a band.
I remember fondly every long conversation we had about Neruda or the way artists approach form differently in places like China. She wasn't some guarded regionalist and her overall level of "questioning sass" made her such challenging fun to be around. It showed in her work...
The Observer asks if the Frieze art fair is elitist? Short answer = Duh. Look, most things that involve money are elitist but the real question is how does forward the development of art patrons and institutional collections? Since it is a touchstone for London as an international art city it clearly has value.
MoMA is beginning to explore how they will expand their galleries again. Ultimately though what always seems to draw the most attention is how it will effect the presentation of their canonical collection... something which ultimately puts of lid of conservatism over the boiling contents. Perhaps a non canonical installation is what is needed?
Jen Graves follows up her question in gender equality in Northwest Art Awards... One refinement to her argument though, several women have won a spot in the Contemporary Northwest Art Awards at the Portland Art Museum but no woman has ever won the Arlene Schnitzer Prize associated with it. Crunching numbers, 7 of the 16 CNAA finalists (the exhibitors) have been women. Looking at the Hallie Ford awards 5 of the 12 artists chosen have been women. The Bonnie Bronson awards though not gender specific do tend to go towards mid career females with only 4 male artists out of 22 being recipients. I do feel like there is a slight but pervasive advantage given to male artists in panel driven awards in the region but I feel this is a function of the arcane political nature of art panels (a lot, perhaps a majority of the most influential visual arts personalities in Portland are women). Even the the Couture Series (perhaps the best executed series in Portland history) gave more awards to men than women.
Carrie Mae Weems (who grew up in Portland and had a great retrospective at PAM this last Spring) gives her current hometown Syracuse NY an indication of what winning a MacArthur will mean to her. A while back I participated in an article discussing why no Portlander had ever won a MacArthur? Technically this might not count but it is a moot point since nobody worthy of the award ever actually aims for winning it (keeping it from the political intrigues of practically all other awards).
The winner of the 2013 edition of the Contemporary Northwest Art awards is... Trimpin (officially it is called the Arlene Schnitzer Prize and comes with 10K). It's a bold choice, in that the work is somewhat unremarkable (even compared to his other work) and the rest of the show holds some very solid if safe work overall. I'd say the show is mostly handsome if safe and narrow.
Another view of the 2013 CNAA's, (L to R) Nyland, Miller and Layman
I'll have a more formal review out soon but let's just say this is the best CNAA to date (to paraphrase Jim Winkler's accurate statement)... even if it still doesn't feel like a true sampling of what it means to make contemporary art in the Northwest. It is a step in the right direction and very well installed (which no other Northwest survey show seems to be able to pull off).
In the top art non-news of the week, Eli Broad doesn't plan to keep giving 3 million a year to MOCA... which will take him off the top of the list as MOCA's top patron. There is no shock to this as that 3M per year life support was a 5 year arrangement now closing in on its 5th year. It also removes him from his perennial role as puppetmaster in the press... gee why would he not want to continue that??? Broad has his faults but being stupid is not one of them... he saved MOCA and in doing so shouldered responsibility for all of its failings while highlighting his own (not fun and kinda like the USA invading Afghanistan). This marks a new era when perhaps LA can support its best institutions without asking Broad to do more than his fair share? It was a thankless job, but necessary and hopefully everyone has learned from the mistakes.
"The system is the work of art; the visual work of art is the proof of the System. The visual aspect can't be understood without understanding the system. It isn't what it looks like but what it is that is of basic importance." -Sol LeWitt
Happy Birthday Sol LeWitt... born this day in 1928 thank you for bucking "the system." BTW 1928 seems to have been a particularly good vintage as other artists like Robert Irwin, Andy Warhol and Donald Judd were also born in that year. Perhaps it was the resourcefulness that comes from growing up in the Great depression as your earliest memories?
To me the clinical white spaces are almost a caricature of Chelsea gallery spaces and that is what is interesting here (and I suspect that is part of Hirst's lasting importance... his shark is a brilliant caricature of the art presentation experience). Will this be a kind of punctuation point that marks the end of an aesthetic for presentation of art? Possibly... I do expect it will go on for many hundreds of years since so many new museums have been built in the same style. Still, I wonder what else could be on the horizon... earthen huts, goats grazing atop galleries, termite designed museums or that antidote to science... a wizard's tower? Maybe just a pile of money? I'm still a big fan (mostly the early stuff but the diamond skull too) but can Hirst pull a Judd?
ArtFCity had a great roundup of the Day For Detroit posts last week (I was taking an internet break). Overall, it a deplorable situation where the public could be swindled of their cultural patrimony. Everyone is watching this.
It is an slightly older interview but Dan Cameron discusses the Pacific Rim biennial and proffers the idea that unless such a show is international it shouldn't be considered a bienniale. I see the argument for that as shows that don't cross borders (or cover a huge # of cities)tend to reinforce those borders and often fall into a role of using the art to ingratiate the institution upon the art art scene... rather than fostering a broader intellectual sense of investigation or being a prompt for curiosity. Basically, if it is too small... say 1-3 major cities it just becomes a small town affair mired in local tropes and politics (Portland 2012 Biennial, 2011 CNAA's). It stops being about the art and it is important to juggle and question the modalities rather than simply present accepted wisdom. Biennials typically fail when they become a predictable cavalcade of the already over familiar.
The New York Times is pretty much making it official... it is the summer of Carol Bove. I've always liked her work but it has always had a slightly "curator art" aspect to it.... ie its strategies directly and indirectly point to the "moves" that curators routinely make when installing work. This turns it into a kind of institutional feedback loop, but the recent installation in the unfinished portion of the Highline seems to turn a corner... call it "developer art." The Highline installation seems to tap the palpable real estate potential inherent on the site... which positions Bove's work as a kind of advance survey party. Still, I'm pretty certain it is not some kind of art world Lewis and Clark expedition. For comparison, decades ago Gordon Matta-Clark with his Fake Estates and activities in Soho and Chelsea seems make Bove's worthwhile project appear like a somewhat quainter "reservations only" preview.
It is the Fourth Friday of the month, which means that the Portland Art Museum will be free from 5:00PM - 8:00PM. It is hot and sunny so what could be nicer than a stroll through the park blocks before or after dinner and a lingering dash into the big art fort? The Sherrie Levine show is gorgeous, the best presented art exhibition in Portland for 2013 to date. An Ed Ruscha exhibition and the wonderfully designed Cyclepedia exhibitions are also must sees.
Logically, he will be known for his greatest works such as The Broken Kilometer, The New York Earth Room and The Lightning Field but many who focus on them will miss the intensely deadpan humor you can see in works like High Energy Bar and Certificate in MOMA's collection. In many ways his works operate like games that have no discernible rules for playing them and are prime examples of Post WWII art that sought drain themselves of metaphor. This dislike of metaphor likely sprang from the intense use of it by the Nazis to seize power... and then the adoption of it into cold war schisms. There is a strong thread of Dada in so called minimalist works. Think of it as an oblique objection rather than an object.
Also, I've been to several of his land art pieces and the relentless sublime only adds to the existential humor... a bit like getting lost in the wilderness while getting lost in the art.
Apparently Jeffrey Deitch has left MOCA and it looks like I was correct in predicting the embattled director would be out of the museum some around June 30th. It was a common sense prediction when major fundraising initiatives were being met without Deitch delivering the news. An official statement should be coming very soon. Honestly, I admire Deitch as a gadfly who challenged the academic and art world status quo but his skills did not synch up well with MOCA's challenges, which required a healer. Both will be better off without one another and I wouldn't be surprised at all if he quit the job. The art market is Deitch's ultimate stage.
Tyler Green reports that the Dia Foundation's three founding members have now publicly come out against the sale of works to fund expansion in Chelsea. This is very significant as the works that are on the chopping block are not minor pieces but works that would be the star of any collection. True, the Dia needs to remain an active and supple catalytic type of arts organization (one that made the Lightning Field and earth room possible) but auctioning off master works isn't the right way to accomplish this. The Dia, like many art nonprofits with a collection is somewhat a victim of its own successes... but let's take this as a time to reflect upon what is at the core of that success, Dia's respect and ongoing support for the intention of the artist that avoids engaging art as commodity at all costs. Historically, the Dia Foundation was the cultural organ that allowed less commercial forms like Land Art take form in middle-late 20th century. Turning its back on this tradition to have a greater physical presence in Chelsea is simply not a good idea. The Dia should fundraise for such physical plant expansion (if necessary) and look for ways to perpetuate the alternative space practices it pioneered in its golden years... rather than replicate Dia Beacon in Chelsea. New York needs the Dia as a catalyst with a history of integrity rather than yet another museum, forever serving its endowment.
Holland Carter reviews California's "State of Mind" at the Bronx Museum but the title also does something as odd as it is "familiar" by stating it is "Not Laid-Back." Well that is a start (the Paul Kos piece was exhibited in Portland last year at PNCA's Feldman Gallery). On the West Coast we get this all of the time from East Coasters. Look, our weather IS generally better but that doesn't mean we are always sunbathing. Having grown up in LA in the mid 70's to early 80's I can vouch for it having never been laid back. True that's what East Coasters did while vacationing but don't confuse the vacation experience with what the natives are doing (inventing world changing personal computers in their garages, pursuing scientific breakthroughs as well as hustling the next great fitness craze). This applies to Portland too, which is frequently described as very "chill" by East Coast publications. In my Portland Tribune Op Ed last year I laid out pretty clearly how there is an intensely moralistic style hedonism at work here that borders on the epicurean if it weren't also concerned with reinventing big picture way that Americans live. The real issue is the fact that places on the West Coast like LA and Portland are often the trendmakers and New York lost its monopoly status way back in the 60's. West Coasters didn't move to California and Oregon Territories because they were lazy and wanted it easier and more relaxing... they came here for freedom and opportunities and thus we should never be surprised when West Coasters are free thinking and opportunistic. Can we move on now?
We've still got all of that content that was backed up in June heading your way (PORTsters tend to travel during the J months), just hold tight. Till then here are some links.
Peter Plagens asks if art schools can remember the "Great Unmentionable"... TALENT. He rightly points out where some pedagogy devolves into group therapy and how the old fashioned way doesn't work either. In many ways I see art schools as victims of their own ubiquitous success in the art world... spawning a mandarin, "Im ok, you're ok we are all ok," world that just looks for a cursory justification. It is fine but Ive also noticed how every single artist who has achieved lasting relevance has avoided academic group think. Even Beuys (who arguably set this new academia based on relativistic research in motion with his kind of earnest/sham hagiography) was an outlier by design at the Dusseldorf Academy where he was eventually dismissed. Without that tension of being outside the institutional stamp of approval he would not have mattered. What to do then as an artist...? Don't buy into the idea that an art institution actually defines what you or your work, while simultaneously not believing your own internal monologue or clique dialect of peers. Overall, talent is a bit of a misnomer... instead of describing raw ability, it is a kind of perpetual unease, which in certain individuals/groups leads to deeper understanding and facility. Others just tear themselves apart or embrace a kind of mediocrity... not because they are bad or have no talent but because they are simply too satisfied. I've found that all exceptional artists (Beuys, Judd, Smithson even 90's era Damien Hirst) are also exceptionally talented at critical thinking in their own idiomatic ways and it is why descriptive art writing doesn't get artists over the hump of mediocrity. In short, never believe your own spiel.
Christopher Knight reviews the Pacific Rim show at OCMA. Noticeably there isn't a single representative from Portland (which has arguably the most active art scene north of San Francisco). I don't blame the curator Dan Cameron that much though, Portland's scene looks bland (or at least redundant to Seattle as far as home grown talent goes) at the institutional and gallery levels and only takes off in the hyperactive alternative spaces (Plagens reported on the alt scene last year). Without a guide one isn't likely to find it. In other words local curators and galleries need to step up their game in presenting relevant artists rather than a bland regurgitation of the idea that Portland art is purely/stereotypically craft and forest obsessed. We can't expect others from outside to see us as we really are if all we do is present unchallenged stereotypes. This may piss some people off but my argument is very sound. Our awards, museum shows and gallery offerings should be challenging accepted ideas rather than pandering to already held beliefs... especially since so many Portlanders merely write off the local infrastructure and jump directly to the more merit based international stage. In short, there a schism that needs addressing locally before those elsewhere can be expected to register it in large scale survey shows.
Frank Lloyd Wright would have been 145 this month. Also, his fantastic Marin County Civic Center has turned 50 years old as well and you have never seen it like this before (ie a spaceport in the Star Wars Universe):
We've got one of our classic June log jams of content for you with no less than four major pieces coming your way in the next two weeks. The first should be here soon (it involved a lot of geological maps etc. to double check). Till then here are some links:
I really like how Painting in Place is literally repositioning painting. Obviously this is nothing new (is it ever in painting?) but it seems to be a bit of pushback against the market and the sometimes nagging feeling that the art world has disengaged itself from the rest of the world. We should do this in Portland, bank presidents check your walls... I'll be calling.
For example, Bray is a multimedia artist and both May and Lahti (in addition to Bray) are actually producing the best work of their careers. I don't think of any of them as being academicians at all though Bray does teach at the U of O (a criticism I and many others noted). One should also note that all three have gallery representation... something the first three fellows did not have but has become typical in the last 3 cycles. Lastly, one could debate Bray being a mid career artist (I sat on his thesis review panel) but that's always an incredibly tricky distinction.
Looking at the press release "craft" was once again a major criteria, nothing wrong with that but craft does not define all contemporary art and the little bit about Bray from the jury, "There is fine craft aesthetic underpinning his work, something often underplayed in the digital field." seems like they were trying very hard to justify a multimedia artist who actually uses digital media as craft.
My position is that there is craft in practically all good, object based work and digital mediums have a great deal of craft in them as well.
Panelists included: Dr. George Baker, Professor of Art History, University of California, Los Angeles (Los Angeles, CA); Lawrence Fong, recently retired as Associate Director & Curator of Regional Art, Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art / University of Oregon (Eugene, OR); Clara Kim, Senior Curator of Visual Arts, Walker Art Center (Minneapolis, MN); Lawrence Rinder, Director, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, University of California, Berkeley (Berkeley, CA); and Prudence Roberts, Art History Professor, Portland Community College, and independent curator (Portland, OR).
The Lumber Room will showcase a selection of work by the 2013 Hallie Ford Fellows in the Visual Arts. A public viewing of the work will be held one weekend only, June 28 and 29, from 12 - 5pm, located at 419 NW 9th Avenue.
Christopher Knight on James Turrel's retrospective at LACMA. Don't get me wrong, I think Turrel is a great artist but his woo-woo religious overtones always put me off. It comes off as a salesman's spiel... and not unlike Wilford Brimley talking about oatmeal. Basically, Turell always seems to be selling you something. That and I seriously doubt a crater of a volcano can be improved upon... for those reasons I'll always prefer Irwin and Wheeler. When you talk to Robert Irwin, he isn't trying to sell you a bridge... you've got his full attention.
Tracey Emin on getting older in the NYT's. Her confessional work is JUST as influential as Hirst's and moreso than say Gary Hume. It's largely responsible for the crafty confessional trend in contemporary art since the 90's. Actually, I'm a huge fan, though I don't want to be.
You have probably heard that Paul Schimmel joins the mega gallery challenge to the role of non profit museums. That might sound like something new but onetime it was the gallerists like Viginia Dwan, Leo Castelli, Kahnweiler and Betty Parsons whose advocacy created the context that are now the life blood of museum blockbusters. Perhaps mega gallerists are returning to that role? What's more Schimmel is staying in LA too, which is such a win win for that city.
Why the market isn't the best judge of Art. This is also why we require art critics who cover a beat and write reviews that are critical, not just better executed restatements of the press release. We do that here at PORT and it is quite rare.
Congrats to Alex Mackin Dolan who was just awarded a residency at New York's immense Park Avenue Armory. In fact, he is the residency's first visual artist... others being mostly performance based. Once again, clear evidence that Portland's art scene is producing sharp new artists that one gets to see develop in very cool, low key alternative spaces... who then completely leap frog the very conservative local-ennials, institutions and awards to end up on the international stage. Dolan has also been curating Appendix, one of Portland's hippest alternative spaces (often Appendix is more experimental than fully realized but I like the risk taking it engenders).
Only just recently in the past year or so has Alex really found his voice... harnessing the design language and cognative projections accrued around the idea of purity (which should be a huge challenge to evoke in that space). In other words, local curators who are not going to alt-space shows are hopelessly out of touch with a scene that is among the most dynamic on the planet. Mackin is just one of perhaps 15-20 hard core like-minded artists in perhaps 2-3 interrelated cliques who harness, interrogate and redirect design's cognitive/perceptual implications. All have a very international outlook and Alex is one of the youngest. I keep saying it, use Portland as a rebel base.
Paul Goldberger asks if the new World Trade Center construction can fill the void? He's right that none of the buildings being put up are all that noteworthy on their own and it is a shame that Libeskind did not get to do the signature tower. To me the failure to do something truly inspiring was the exact moment that I realized New York had lost its edge over all other cultural cradles. In fact, I think it is harder to be great there now... not that it isn't possible... just harder (which isn't always a bad thing).
Hyperallergic thinks that the NADA art fair has grown up. That sounds like a good thing but is it? That is just a question that I don't have an answer for yet, ask me in a few years.
Gavin Brown on why the art and fashion world do and don't "get" each other. My theory is that they are too close... almost like sibling rivals for cultural resources and attention. They often need a cousin like music stars as an intermediary (David Bowie would be THE greatest of them all).
Art Info on the success and failure of Gutai. The recently closed exhibition on the mercurial movement was the best thing I saw in New York last month. Why? It had a freedom and willingness to try new things that seemed utterly missing in most of the galleries.
Saul Osterow's excellent essay on Tedd Stamm and Alan Uglow's paintings is a good read. His focus on the importance of difference and intuition is key to understanding this sort of work, Stamm's show at Boesky was fantastic and one of the highlights of my recent visit to Chelsea.
The Henry just announced the finalists for The Brink Award, which is "designed as an award for emerging artists 35 and under in Washington, Oregon, and British Columbia on the "brink" of a professional career." Of all the art awards and "spotlight shows" in the region it is the only one that is focused on early career, progressive art in a setting that actually highlights the small # of artists chosen... something other awards seem to eschew for mid career work and a blind eye for new media and installation art (often with a taste for cluttered installations of the work when exhibited).
There are 3 Portland area artists nominated (Saxon-Hill, Halverson and Warren)... far better than the Contemporary Northwest Art Awards, which for the past 2 cycles has focused on mid-career, traditional material Portland artists (which is strange considering that Portland arguably has the most dynamic art scene in Oregon/Washington bringing new names with international reach all of the time. Another plus, The Brink includes British Columbia, acknowledging that Cascadia is an international art zone that crosses borders rather than an insular regional self congratulation society.
The 2013 finalists are:
Raymond Boisjoly, Vancouver, B.C.
Anne Fenton, Seattle, WA
Rob Halverson, Portland, OR
Sylvain Sailly, Vancouver, B.C.
Blair Saxon-Hill, Portland, OR
Nell Warren, Washougal, WA
"For the 2013 award, 47 nominations were received from a group of art professionals across the Pacific Northwest. The 2013 Jury is comprised of Vancouver artist Althea Thauberger, Pacific Northwest College of Art MFA Program Chair Arnold Kemp, and Henry Deputy Director of Art and Education Luis Croquer. The jury completed the review of artist submissions in early May.
Jurors will conduct studio visits with the finalists late this spring. The winner will be announced on June 7, 2013.
The Brink Award was established with the generous support of longtime Henry benefactors and Seattle philanthropists John and Shari Behnke. In partnership with the Behnkes, the Henry will confer this biennial prize of $12,500 to one of the above artists. The recipient will also be given a solo exhibition at the Henry, a publication, and a work of his/her art will be acquired for the museum's permanent collection.
The Brink is in its third biennial cycle. In 2009, the Brink was awarded to Isabelle Pauwels, Vancouver, B.C. and in 2011, to Andrew Dadson, also of Vancouver, B.C.
The Brink Award complements the Henry's role as a catalyst for the creation of new work, while simultaneously demonstrating the museum's commitment to artists working in our region."
Artist statements are generally the absolute worst application of written language imaginable and Hyperallergic looks into this linguistic quagmire. Thing is writers are just as guilty of buying into their own words, it is just that their peers will actually read and ridicule them for their crimes against communication. Let's face it writers are like piranha. Not so for artists, even the ones who can write generally find a supportive group of friends who want to applaud their rare linguistically gifted ally. Thus the bar is simply very very low. Hell, even curators seem to have about a 60/40 chance to producing vocabulary in search of insight. Yet, in defense of artists actually making statements, most of the greatest artists and curators were masters of the words they employed. Judging from; Picasso's one liners, Kandinky's aspirations, Judd's specificity, Smithson's slyness and Komar & Melamid's comedy all hold up even if you dislike their art. Generally the biggest problem with artist's statements are they are forced, tortured wraiths of ideas that telegraph their intended targets (hidden behind favorite vocabulary) rather than proffer any insight into what they have presented. (Smokescreens!) Generally it is better to let the statements come from the process and not let a word lead the work... it makes you sound like a recent MFA grad, which is SO art school. Tip, distill a few very short stock epithets you can whip out and develop an essay around them only after using them for a long time in social settings.
In more upbeat news UC Davis has unveiled a truly exciting new art museum design by SO-IL. Where else but the stomping grounds of the light and space movement should there be an art museum that looks more like a garden than a concrete, metal and marble bunker? They have been doing a lot of similar things down in South America but this is the first art museum I've seen with this kind of scheme. I think everyone is pretty sick of the traditional white box that shuts out the world.
One thing I noticed was RACC is prepared to, "Suspend the under-utilized Opportunity Grants program for one year (a savings of $200,000"... this raises eyebrows. Why are there a disproportionate amount of cuts all from one area? An important one at that? At first I thought these were individual career opportunity grants (vague language clarified after a phone call to the ever helpful Jeff Hawthorne) but instead these are the Special Opportunity Grants available to institutions. These are the grants that funded major special exhibitions like Donald Judd in 2010 and in 2009 were used to keep many art institutions afloat during the depths of the great recession. It is still a bad idea to completely get rid of a program that has yielded such major results, special opportunities are just that and they go away if you cant support them.
Second, this raises a serious question of why are these funds under utilized when Portland's art venues are in such desperate need of them? Could it be these grants are not set up properly to fill a huge need that everyone I know discusses? This is of crucial interest to high level independent curators.
To put it another way... noteworthy projects are ambassadors for Portland to the rest of the world and for the city to remain attractive to artists it is crucial that the city help them in that capacity. Also, it is a terrible idea to suspend an entire program. To borrow a little logic, I suggest that the cuts in this area be proportionate, and RACC takes a good hard look at why they are under utilized.
RACC should reconsider this isolationist and disproportionate budget solution.
According to RACC: There are several opportunities for the public to comment on the Mayor's proposed budget before it is ultimately approved:
Thursday, May 16th, 6:30pm-8:30pm at City Hall Council Chambers (1221 SW 4th Ave.)
Saturday, May 18th, 3:00-5:00pm at Warner Pacific College (2219 SE 68th Ave.)
Thursday, May 23rd, 6:30pm-8:30pm at Jackson Middle School (10625 SW 35th Ave.)
I encourage everyone who has ever received a Special Opportunity grant or enjoyed a program funded by one attend a meeting and contact RACC about this proposed mistake via this email: jhawthorne AT racc.org (Jeff is a good guy and will want to hear what you have to say). Post comments on PORT if you want to add to the discourse as well.
*Update: we should note that a 10% decrease isn't unfair and that with the somewhat flawed but still important Arts Tax RACC actually has significantly more funds to work with than last year. Perhaps, RACC just revealed a huge hole in their thinking...... (more)
There is no Northwest style art... yet curatorially many institutions keep trying to program within received stereotypes regarding this non entity. Ursula von Rydingsvard simply does whittling + bare wood better than any regional artist, accept it and move on. PAM even has a nice one in their collection and she had a solo show there a few years back. The thing is though an epic amount of hand work goes into her sculpture... she never fetishes the effort or even the material itself. Instead of the effort her work confronts you as a heuristic whole and thus doesn't need a narrative of "monumental labor" or "equisite labor" to prop it up. It is the completeness one encounters, not the tools or even process, which are there but ultimately tertiary to the experiencing the work.
And since we are on the subject of not romanticizing the artist's hand and struggle here are some images of Donald Judd's Spring Street home and studio... set to open in June as a public museum. One will note that though it is unquestionably a monument to Judd it also features several other artists quite prominently. Many will be shocked to learn that at one point it looked like Spring Street was to be sold off to settle Judd's estate debts. Those behind saving the building as a cultural time capsule should all take a bow... NYC needs artists who are bigger than gallerists, collectors and museums.
Everybody in NYC is talking about the Oldenberg show at MoMA (both good and bad). I've seen it and here is the Times coverage. Overall it is very good for an Oldenberg show... which is to say it is mostly just alright.
The New York Times ran an interesting if somewhat unsubstantial article on Donald Judd's 101 Spring Street home becoming a public museum. The important idea is the way artists so rarely dictate their own context today, especially in comparison to Judd. When I co-curated a Judd show a few years ago (also in a cast-iron building) I noted some of the specific criterion at work in this essay. What the article doesn't get into enough is the way that Judd isn't about perfection at all... his work is all about the pragmatic reduction of distraction, part of which is the artist creating their own context and not leaving it to others. Spring Street came before Marfa and is every bit as important as the projects in Texas. Being in New York it makes Spring Street even more crucial... is there any place with more distractions to reduce?
All that said there are now more galleries scattered in cities throughout the globe than ever before... perhaps this is just the price of decentralization? Then again, the quality of collectors hasn't necessarily improved. In some respects it is a chicken and the egg situation that probably has a lot to do with the proliferation of art schools and the lack of long term development of artists. That is one of the things I like about Portland... artists are allowed to develop for over a decade before they launch onto the national scene and have their first NYC solo show.
Congratulations to Wynne Greenwood the 22nd annual Bonnie Bronson fellow. A Seattle resident and The Stranger genius award winner, Greenwood describes herself as a, "queer feminist artist who works with video, performance, music and object-making to practice culture-healing." Her work has been featured at the Tate Modern, Whitney Biennial, The Kitchen and On the Boards.
The Bronson Fellowship is designed to feature mid career artists with community impact and are more often than not women and or educators.
The Award will be conveyed at Reed College April 29th 6:00PM at the Kaul Auditorium
Nice to see the New York Times actually considering something of substance in Portland like the Object Focus, the Bowl show at MOCC, which content wise is excellent and thought provoking... if more than a tad shunted into a corner of the museum for the install. (can someone PLEASE show PNW museums how to install things in a way befitting the content) There is depth in the visual arts here that goes beyond the Times obsession of how "chill" or "odd" we are as the WSJ article last year on the Portland art scene was the first to take a serious look at. My point is, we are being watched closely and should act accordingly. Portland isn't just chill and odd, we are definitely a city of rabid idealists who don't wait for permission to do something with higher ideals. This year my pet ideal is insisting on that shows be installed well.... esp. if the show is really wonderful like Object Focus, The Bowl is.
...and there is is Jeffrey Deitch putting his foot in his mouth again, Im actually a fan of him as a gallerist but his director chops are sorely lacking. It is interesting how the board seems to make all these major press releases about major developments but he doesn't even get name checked... well this is the reason. If MOCA is truly serious about fund raising Deitch should be gone by around the end of June. I don't think his words change anything, sure a LACMA merger is considered a last resort... but that means MOCA needs to be single minded about their stated "preferred" independent and strong option. Once MOCA gets a suitable director, artist board members, a chief curator and raises the 100 million then they should implement a 10 year master plan including a capital campaign to create permanent gallery spaces for the permanent collection. That is going to take a lot of planning and on message PR and a string of low drama years for the museum. Deitch just isn't that kind of person, he is a gadfly.
MOCA has the most important contemporary art collection on the West Coast (and in many ways IS better than MoMA's from 1960 on) and once this endowment campaign is completed lets hope they finally undertake an expansion to give that stellar permanent collection room to be displayed. The MOCA press release is also the first time we've seen Deitch's name mentioned in a while. Looks like a good time for him to leave on a high note and hire (rehire?) a chief curator + a new director...hmmmmmmmmmmmmm?
Notice how Broad was never once mentioned? That's a good thing, even from Broad's position... this way he doesn't seem like a puppet master. Also, let's hope some artists make it back to the board.
Artinfo reports that Jcrew is now selling "Collection Curator" pants. A line of chief preparator chappeaus, artist assistant socks (with arch support), chief registrar scarf and mid career retrospective underwear should round out the entire behind the scenes art world line.
...and now the New Yorker gets in on Seattle's big art story of the Year. Look, his work was always weak and part of the problem is accepting of simple/brittle juxtapositions for shock effect. The fact that it involved craft did not make it any better and it was very one dimensional so not worth the closer look that some gave it (they collected it and curated it into shows). The lesson, dig deeper and expect more from art (consider suppleness) and you likely wont get caught supporting a Nazi fan boy.
It looks like MOCA will be staying independent and understands that means a serious endowment building effort. To me that sounds like the idea of merging with LACMA or USC are being rejected outright. Good!
Here is the statement MOCA's board released today:
"The Board is in agreement that the best future for MOCA would be as an independent institution. The Board understands that this will require a significant increase in MOCA's endowment to ensure its strong financial standing. We are working quickly toward that goal, while at the same time exploring all strategic options, to honor the best interest of the institution and the artistic community we serve."
The lineup for the next Venice Biennale's core pavilions is drawing mixed responses from curators... gee who could have predicted that? Isn't that healthy... and wouldn't consensus seem fascist? That said European and US dominated shows seem tired. Even here in Portland we have enough foreign nationals to question why every high profile list, award or group show in the city needs to be extra WASPy.
No new news in the MOCA drama but Christopher Knight chimes in again. MOCA needs independence and that requires an end to the drama... which will take an effective director and board combo... not simply one man or one savior institution. Reading between all the lines it is curious how nobody is talking about Deitch leaving or staying... seems like there is a done deal out there? Any deal that keeps him in place is the wrong deal, Deitch is better as a gadfly than as a stabilizing agent.
Well the MOCA news pretty much overshadowed the Armory Show, which is as it should be (though it isn't fashionable in art schools, the idea of Greatness trumping the daily ins and outs of the art market would be refreshing if it weren't so unfortunate).
Here is an interesting book review of two books on contemporary curating. I love how the reviewer teases out the idea of what I call rhetoric without belief (part of what makes contemporary curating both interesting and and horse shit). There is a mantra of nihilism that is seductive and often pointless that can get old fast... just the same as evangelistic curating.
The problem is a city like LA needs diversification of institutions on a patronage level for it to become a full fledged art capital like New York or London is now. Besides, LACMA already has a contemporary program that would get confused with the addition of MOCA which is a "contemporary only" program and not a generalist art museum like LACMA. Think of museums as charismatic megafauna in an ecosystem, their presence indicates the health of the entire system. I believe the focus and diversification is crucial as the packs or tribes (patrons) that an institution must cultivate to survive have immense collateral effects that range much farther than the physical plant of each institution. A more monoculture approach might be convenient (at least on paper) but it is ultimately a missed opportunity for diversity...
... (more with updates on any recent developments)
Today the Oregon Senate is voting on the extremely poorly designed yet multi-billion dollar CRC bridge. Nobody likes this bridge unless you own a freeway construction company or work for a trade union. To reiterate our position, the design is poor because it is too low for river navigation, creates a below decks tunnel of doom between Portland and Vancouver, doesn't maximize seismic safety, doesn't have enough federal funding (it is I-5), is a design with more piers thus more environmental impact and misses a huge opportunity to build to the Northwest ethos celebrating the place and values. In short it doesn't give citizens enough for such a huge outlay of money. Overall, a stronger design process was necessary to justify and avoid this very expensive skimp on the details franken-bridge. Oregonians, look up your representative and give them a call.
Holland Cotter is gaga for, "Anything Jay," (DeFeo that is). Why is De Feo such a lightning rod? I have a theory. DeFeo represents absolute integrity (like Judd and Smithson) but isn't part of the simplified art historical lexicon. She represents and confirms the nagging feeling that we haven't been in adequate comprehension of our recent past. Hell I still hear college profs spouting nonsense about Judd being about all about "perfection"... when it is the furthest thing from the truth (which instead was arch-pragmatic with a lot of intellectual rigor). DeFeo by resting her entire reputation on one painting makes an end run around the market in heartening ways. Great art places demands on institutions and collectors... it does not pander. Great patrons and institutions prefer facilitating these demands because they find them valuable and insist on such integrity... pandering is to be avoided.
What can art museums learn from the new Museum of Mathematics? Still, I'm not entirely convinced that touching is the only way to expand the horizons of the young. In Portland, OMSI already has plenty of touchy feel-y exhibitions and I think there is something to be learned by having work that commands a certain "don't touch" respect. PAM's security guards have their hands full with the adults who think they can touch everything already! That said museums are definitely exploring interaction... The Carrie Mae Weems show at PAM includes a table with interactive Iphone apps.
Adrian Searle discusses what is profound and what merely entertains at the Hayward Gallery's Light Show. This is a difficult line for light and space artists since they are generally bounded by the conventions of stagecraft and architecture. The difference I feel is the better light and space artists are extremely rigorous thinkers and among the most demanding art practitioners out there. Robert Irwin, the brightest human being I've ever encountered comes immediately to mind (apologies for that pun). He doesn't just show the viewer some pretty lights... he gives the viewer a chance push their perceptual powers to the limit. This makes the work demanding.
In related news, Paul Sutinen... who infamously interviewed Irwin at a Burger King in Portland considers the way that artist's trademark disc piece is displayed at the Portland Art Museum to be a kind of vandalism. It is true, that presentation of one of the best pieces in the collection IS horrendous (a hangover from the still overcrowded Buchanan era install that needs thinning and more sensitivity). Installed correctly (as it once was) it is a stunner. The over-installed nature of most of the museum's collection is a MAJOR drag on the reputation of an otherwise rapidly improving modern/contemporary program at PAM (Rothko, Beuys, Mike Kelley, Sigmar Polke & Bruce Nauman just last year alone). Can we fix this? This sort of thing is what many design professionals in Portland consider a major turn-off at the museum. PAM's Jubitz Center is due for a major reinstall. (Perhaps what's been holding all this up is the fate of Ed Cauduro's collection... which is likely the only chance to fill in major gaps in the collection from the mid 60's to the late 80's ... and to have Ed take his rightful place as the greatest art collector in Portland history.) Portland has grown up a lot in terms of the viewer's expectations and overall sophistication level and everyone is simply demanding a lot more of the way work is presented.
Rather famously, Andy Warhol's Factory was the nexus of difficult to categorize cultural activities... catalyzing in one of the greatest nexuses of cultural production ever. The Factory's chaos was frankly stimulating... echoing other great cultural moments like Berlin during the Weimar Era, the New York School or The Surrealists in Paris.
This project is also noteworthy for the altruistic nature of regranting... because institutions who undertake this sort of activity ultimately must designate already scarce resources to the management of these programs, which ultimately do not reflect that institution's specific agenda. No traditional museum (which is organized around a collection) or a school could do this. It is true that these projects sometimes get funding from OAC and RACC but it is on a very ad hoc basis. This funding is tailored to the fact that an interesting art practice doesn't do well with traditional reporting methods and metrics because the projects themselves have ever changing goals and outcomes based on the pragmatioc experience of executing these projects.
Here is the Official PR:
"PICA is proud to announce The Precipice Fund, a major new granting initiative for Portland based unincorporated visual art collectives, alternative spaces, and collaborative projects.
Formed with the support of the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, The Precipice Fund expands Warhol's Regional Regranting Program to the Northwest, creating new channels of support for "vibrant, under-the-radar artistic activity." Rachel Bers, Program Director for the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, explains that, "by partnering with leading cultural institutions in communities across the country, the program allows the [Warhol] Foundation to reach the population of informal artist collectives and to support their alternative gathering spaces, publications, websites, events, and other projects.
Also, great news Ralph Pugay has been awarded a Joan Mitchell foundation grant. In fact the thread here is that Lavadour is also a Mitchell alum... who knows perhaps he will be in a Venice Biennale as eventually as well. It's a major coupe for such a young artist recently out of art school. Pugay is easily the best purveyor of dark humor in the Northwest.
Announcing... NOW Portland Trienniale in 2015 with a kickoff event February 1st 2013 that will give more details and open a conversation on this multi-location event in the city. The team behind this (some with experience doing the Guangzhou Triennial) has formed a strong coalition with major and mid level Portland arts institutions + international contacts. Here's the official PR:
"A thematic exhibition dedicated to the promotion and dissemination of contemporary ideas. NOW provides a fresh and critical forum to showcase ..."
Portland was listed as one of the top 12 art places in the USA... 'cept they think the Pearl is the center of activity (I'd say it is only about 33% of the Portland art scene, the near southeast and North Portland together probably eclipse it though If you know anything about Portland's art scene (which all PORT readers do).
Tyler Green has his weekly weekend roundup... always a good thing to check in on.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
Jackie Wullschlager contemplates Dave Hickey's resignation letter. I don't think I can fully agree with either Hickey or Wullschlager but they do have a point. True, there is a dilution syndrome in the art world since collectors/dealers are less demanding than they were in the before the 80's made art a business. But that has been going on to an increasing degree ever since the Hotel Drouot auctions of Kahweiler's cubist works. To me all that weak stuff means there is a potential for artists of substance to separate themselves from the fray. How many artists really stun viewers and leave them questioning the world they knew before they saw the work? In an information age that bar has been raised to an incredibly high degree.
Then there is this one... will Canadian artists get more respect (ie market value). Not unless Canada is like China or Brazil with economies on a major uptake. Besides, is market value alone the true mark of success? The Royal Art Lodge was an important moment... I think they are asking this question 12 years too late! Canada produces a great deal of consistently strong artists, that's all a nation can hope for. The process of determining greatness involves capturing the intellectual attention of an age. Currently, Ai Weiwei has been gifted/burdened with that mantle.
The Portland Art Museum has announced the 2013 Contemporary Northwest Art Awards to be held in October; Anne Appleby (MT), Karl Burkheimer (OR), Issac Layman (WA), Abbie Miller (WY), Nickolas Nyland (WA), and Trimpin (WA). Congrats to everyone.
Well this is isn't the complete train wreck retro-list we saw last time around but if you hunger for a true bleeding edge contemporary look at what is going on in the Northwest art this will still look dated. It is a solid if typical list as all the names here qualify as craft heavy (highlight the object) makers. That isn't a crime but it is like only eating butter and sweets and many expect more variety from a sampler like the CNAA's. Earlier this year the Tacoma Art Museum's 10th NW Biennial had lots of conceptual and experiential work... many of which needed to be plugged in to operate.
Facts are, there is a sizable amount of contemporary art that is not about calling attention to the way an object is made even if it happens to be well made. For example, most video and installation art is heavy on ideas and perception over the primacy of the object and form.... (more)
Last weekend The NY Times Magazine had a bit of a Portland backlash (though they didn't identify it as Portland) with their $5 Watches vs $5 Coffee piece. The Ace Hotel may have started in Seattle but it was when it absorbed a more Portland ethos (Stumptown Coffee + hanging out with wifi in downtown PDX) that they found their voice. Also, I feel like this rivalry between cheap watches and expensive coffee is just fabricated to stir up a non existent rivalry. In fact, the Ace and Stumptown in NYC become much less cool if the discount wholesalers leave (this isn't a yuppie thing at all, these lobby hipsters like anachronistic pairings). Hipsters love cheap, lame stuff so they can feel ever so slightly... more validated. Kidding aside, the fact is these sorts of caffeinated lobby dwellers are wholesale information merchants that grease the wheels of new ideas (they dont want bock after block of hangout space... they like being an island).
Gallerist NY has pictures of Chelsea the day after Sandy in case you are curious... (not by any means that these are the people hardest hit by the storm). What I'm hearing is that Danziger was flooded and it was knee deep on 23rd. East Village looked even worse with at least waist deep water in places.
Dave Hickey is retiring, sort of... read the interview because it is pretty much the best art wordsmithing all year. Perhaps this is the final push I need to finish a little essay on art writing and writers I've had in the works?
Why is Hickey so important? He is one of the few arts writers (besides Rem Koolhaas and a handful of others) who looks for the unspoken tension around whatever subject he takes up, then exposes it as a fraud. What is special is the way he then asks us as readers to evaluate that fraud on its merits (discredited or not)... testing the readers in a generous way. In other words he tests his subject and audience rather than simply act as a ceremonial standard bearer at some sort of metaphorical coronation. It isn't debased forms like journalism or art cronyism... it is about the process of sharpening one's thinking, which is criticism of the highest order.
Hickey also makes his detractors crazy... irritation is a rare gift and one of the most powerful any writer can hope to wield.
It has been a slow art news week but at least there are lots of great shows up in Portland to see (do so). Here are a few links to tide you over, we've got many reviews and essays coming your way in the next few days.
I really like winning Busan Opera House proposal by Snohetta. The way it features the landscape around it and opens itself to the public is interesting... even more democratic than Gehry's Disney Hall in LA. ...When the Portland Art Museum expands again I'd like to see it engage the park blocks and West Hills in philosophically similar way (not visually but as a bridge between all points in the city making it the pivot point of the downtown and park blocks).
The Art News reports a new art space and residency for LA started by Guess Jeans co-founder. If only Phil Knight or Gert Boyle would do something similar in Portland? The thing is it takes passion for the arts so someone like Duane Sorenson is a better bet. Oregon's Sarah Meigs already created The Lumber Room, which has a show opening in November.
Well, Paul Schimmel's last show as Chief Curator at MOCA, "Destroy the Picture: Painting the Void, 1949-1962" has finally opened in LA. It is a great show, even if it is the martyrdom of a great curatorial program. But focusing back on the art I feel like all the focus on Greenberg from 1949-62 resulted in many of these artists and Non-North Americans like Gutai group being passed over in the history books. Artists like Judd, Flavin and Hesse were doing the related and in dialog things (from 1963 on) without really trying allowing painting to occur... so this is an important way to see how there was so much more depth in that era. Basically, the reason most academics read on Judd and Flavin is so off (undo emphasis on perfection) is because they haven't known much about the things on display in Destroy the Picture... or Judd and Flavin for that matter.
Former Portlander and overall excellent person, Mickalene Thomas is having a great run in New York this Fall with articles in the NYT's here and a review here. I interviewed Thomas a few years ago at her studio. Congrats!
The decay of architecture has held human interest since recorded history and Arch Daily looks at its entropic appeal. The Romans were in love with Greek ruins rather than the original condition of their structures. Frank Lloyd Wright would often build his structures in purposefully dangerous proximity to trees and massive grape vines for the same romantic allure.
Oh, not another Portland travel article... but it is good to see that The Guardian doesn't believe the myth of Portland as a place of young retirees. That's BS, in fact the young and old alike work very hard and inventively just to survive here. The Guardian's latest article reports, "Portland didn't become the US capital of cool overnight....If a hipster is a person who wants to seem creative without actually creating anything, there's a serious lack of hipsters in this city. The music and art being made here are world-class." The question is, are Portland's funding and presenting institutions acting in a way that presents that world-class reality? (The survey shows, major awards etc. seem very mid-late career and education career heavy or just plain second rate... and there is widespread annoyance over this.) When artists continually reach out to major institutions and funding sources outside of Portland just to do internationally relevant things it should set off alarms... The artists here are extra resourceful (and simply sidestep the local politics) but I'd like to see Portland's arts infrastructure keep up with the talent and new media/genres.
I've always agreed with the viewpoint that Christopher Knight just published; Eli Broad isn't trying to take over MOCA's collection. He needs a strong MOCA next door to his personal collection museum to give it more Elan. The conspiracy theories just don't add up. The real problem is that Dietch is a gadfly who thrives on controversy when MOCA needs steadying... not troublesome tilting at windmills with a phantom intellectual elite that somehow doesn't get pop culture. Trust me, post graduate education gets subcultures and popsploitation.
Photographing a Ken Price retrospective is fascinating. It reminds me how in many ways the images generated for a retrospective are one of the most important components of any survey. They become the perspective of the catalog.
Peter Blake chooses his list of 10 best paintings.
My list would have some similarities (here's my list in no particular order of importance & off the top of my head):
Clyfford Still's, '1957-J-No. 2', 1957 (this is my personal fave if I were forced to pick... it has elements of everything else on the list)
1) The painting depicts George Dyer, Bacon's former lover who committed suicide on the eve of his first major museum retrospective in 1971.
2) Considering the difficult subject matter the paint handling is superbly confident yet conflicted. This gives it a revealing personal quality you don't get with the screaming popes even or even with the self portraits.
3)This painting marks a maturation point in his career. The composition was bolder, more poetic and introspective for an artist who up until his 1978 show prized obfuscation above all else. In many ways this double portrait of his former lover set the stage for Bacon's more more introspective later self portraits.
4)Bacon was a wordsmith of considerable gifts and this is his only painting that actually depicts a figure writing (I'll expand this history considerably in the essay).
If you enjoy Storm Tharp's work you will have missed and incredible opportunity in not seeing this painting... so go.
Art Info's Adapt or Die article and the recent tax levy around Detroit do relate to MOCA's ongoing situation but it is also quite relevant to Portland's upcoming vote in November. Look, the reason that Portland is suddenly having a jobs surge is directly related to the decade and a half or so of cultural expansion lead by people who have chosen to rebrand Portland as a city of creative activity and action. These firms are following that workforce. Thus, this new surge requires the funding and civic investment for non-profit culture in Portland so the city can consolidate, reinvest and turn even greater profits.
It is equally true that Portland's funding needs to become more nimble at supporting independent curatorial activity and alt spaces (because THAT KIND OF NIMBLE/RADICAL ACTIVITY IS WHAT HAS CHANGED the city for the better into a creative's rebel base). Also, how do Mayoral hopefuls Jefferson Smith and Charlie Hales stand on this crucial topic of not only funding the arts but the crucial discussion of what kind of arts activity gets funded? Right now RACC is not really calibrated to the needs of the nimblest parts of the Portland arts community and I think a plan is required.
What? Charles Saatchi can't give away his collection... seriously small minded on the part of British institutions but a clear indication that he is doing the right thing! The stuff from the 90's - to say 2004 is certifiably classic. True, Hirst is perhaps no longer what he once was (that was by design being a YBA) but I can't think of contemporary art today without him and Tracey Emin and the rest of the gang.
Detail of Yayoi Kusama's window at Louis Vuitton at Pioneer Square Mall
And last but not least... perhaps it is just a Louis Vuitton window display to advertise her line of handbags etc. but it is still badass, like Yayoi Kusama tends to be. I don't hang out at the Pioneer Square Mall much but this alone makes it worth the trip.
Slate has noticed how Portland's economy has picked up lately, mostly due to creatives laying the workforce groundwork and the fact that firms tend to follow the talent. This is just another reason we need to rethink how we support the arts on a civic level... i.e. making a point of celebrating and supporting "talent" and excellence for its own sake, instead of waiting for other cities to be better "first big step" advocates for our stand out residents (this means awards and media coverage, perhaps something the mayor's office could do to highlight talent?). Also, Portland is an incubator that attracts the rest of the world, therefore we need to start making innovation more important in our funding decisions. This means less focus on standard genre definitions and long teaching careers for grants/awards and more focus on experimentation including alternative spaces and independent curation.
Timberline Lodge is still looking good and the Oregonian did a piece with nice archive photos in preparation for its 75th anniversary next month. The structure is a WPA era crafts masterpiece and one of my favorite places on earth.
Analysis: Many assume that Broad is simply pulling all the stings but it is much more complicated than that, Broad is a former accountant and has strict guidelines. Unlike many I don't believe Broad is the real problem, Deitch is. Broad stepped in because nobody else would, but Deitch is trying to remake a museum without any finesse... Museum directors are all about smoothing things out. Instead, Deitch as a director has been brash yet dead in the water until he can activate the board and grow MOCA beyond Broad's life support. Attendance (which was at an all time high last year) is only part of a 3 legged solution and without the other 2 legs of board involvement and respect a museum cannot stand. It must annoy Broad to no end that the conversation always comes around to him and unless Deitch's major announcement of 2 board members changes that dynamic he is on borrowed time. Deitch has got 2 strikes already, the forced resignation of Paul Schimmel burnt the good faith with serious art patrons (the announcement of an eventual replacement for Chief Curator can't undo this breach of trust and seems diversionary) and the exit of Ed Ruscha, John Baldessari, Catherine Opie and Barbara Kruger struck at the founding principles of MOCA as an adventurous laboratory for artists. This founding principle has been what Deitch has been dismantling and the second it became obvious to everyone it was a big problem (Schimmel was the Deitch firewall).
Predictions: If Deitch survives by virtue of these two new board members (only through pumping in cash, i.e. millions in a long term gift) it will change MOCA into something different than it once was and it will be a desperate move (when isn't it with MOCA, Deitch's real job is to keep MOCA from being desperate like this). Yet if I were placing a bet the odds are 10 to 1 against Deitch because these board members will be seen as destroying MOCA instead of saving it by propping up Deitch with $$$. Let's see how this plays out... but I sense Deitch has seen this and has been building an exit strategy. When Deitch announces new board members... it either doesn't bring in enough cash or backfires as being seen as money vs. the founding artist's original intent. Either way Deitch ends up leaving because it is the only way to appease the now galvanized culture aficionados that Deitch has purposefully alienated (an exit strategy by blaming intellectual elites, how American!). Deitch's original plan as director could have worked but losing Schimmel made that impossible because he came to personally embody that contract between artists and the institution. Right now Deitch isn't being allowed to be Jeffrey Deitch in this situation and I see him as trying to save himself with both hands tied behind his back. He's never been an escape artist and the best thing for MOCA would be to bring in 2 new board members who are active and then leave. Those two board members could spearhead a new director search that is not driven by Broad (whom I actually think wants to not be responsible for such things, his appointment of Deitch was an overcorrection).
Bertrand Goldberg was a very interesting mid-century architect and his Prentice Women's Hospital in peril. It's the sort of building that could simply serve another purpose... I don't see why it is even being considered for demolition.
*Update:Robert Hughes has died at age 74... Often an excellent art writer, I preferred the first edition of his best book, "The Shock of the New," because the original ending was perhaps the best diagnosis of the art ecosystem's nagging issues since it first reached a critical mass of popularity in the early 80's. Here it is,
"The signs of that constriction are everywhere today - in the small ambitions of art, in its lack of any effort towards spirituality, in its sense of career rather than vocation,in its frequently bland occupation with semantics at the expense of the deeper passions of the creative self. Perhaps the great energies of modernism are still latent in our culture, like Ulysses' bow in the house of Penelope; but nobody seems able to string and draw it. Yet the Work still speaks to us, in all of its voices, and will continue to do so. Art discovers its true social use, not on the ideological plane, but by opening the passage from feeling to meaning - not for everyone, since that would be impossible, but for those who want to try. This impulse seems to be immortal. Certainly it has existed from the origins off human society, and despite the appalling commercialization of the art world, its flight into corporate ethics and strategies, and its gradual evacuation of the spirit, it exists today."
In many ways Hughes was wrong (probably why he revised that paragraph into a long and less pointed screed on art schools) but Modernism wasn't the answer, any more than Postmodernism was. In the 90's and Aughts Art has found a new (still somewhat shallow) fascination with the spiritual impulse... but his railing against the smaller aims of the art world compared to Art itself still has a lot of traction today. Think of the Deitch at MOCA dilemma or the moving of the Barnes Collection?
Last night I noticed that the Everett Station Lofts (which houses 13+ gallery spaces and has made significant contributions to the Portland art scene) might be taking an upswing with Timeshare Gallery after a few years of disappointing efforts. Sure, Half/Dozen leaving was a blow to the lofts but those spaces traditionally go through high and low tides and 2 years is a long time for any gallery at the ESL to stay open. Historically, Timeshare's unit, #114 has spawned some of Portland's all time best alt-spaces like Nil, Tractor and Field. Breezeblock and now Timeshare give me hope. A few other galleries on NW 6th seemed promising too... look sharp, we are watching.
AFC reports that the Utah Art Center is facing eviction/censorship... I went to grad school in Utah (my god mother lives in Park City too) and yeah things like this happen all of the time in that state. Give the UAC a break... the world is starting to pay attention, perhaps that is the problem?
Tyler Green has been following the situation at the Corcoran, with the latest development being the DC DA looking at some of the legal ramifications of trying to move from the nation's capital to the suburbs.
Hyperallergic has a compelling interview regarding the corrosive influence of money on the arts (many Portlanders will find those words highly ironic, but in some ways it's the lack of $$$ that has made Portland so interesting). The fact is there is money in Portland, the question is are we directing it the right ways? It has improved, but we do need to take a good hard look because things are much different than they were 15 years ago.
The former interim director of MOCA asks Eli Broad to have Deitch removed now that this situation has become a, "four alarm fire." Honestly, I think Dietch would want this... he's up a creek without a paddle at this point and a change could galvanize more support for MOCA in the short and long term. Broad can actually save face by admitting a mistake instead of doubling down on a bad bet at this point. At the end of the day it will be Eli Broad who saves Moca... not Deitch and that fact alone means Deitch has failed and needs a replacement.
Franz West sculptures disrupting the imperial civic tableaux
Honestly, I'm too busted up about Franz West's passing at age 65 to do a detailed obit (of which there are many)... perhaps a more comprehensive historical essay in the near future is the better thing? He was a hero of mine and getting to spend a bit of time with him here and there became crucial to my perception of art's role in the human experience. As a sculptor, his approach to civic space alone was the most successful since Calder. His sculpture leveled the playing field between the real and implied power of real estate and the individuals within a civic space.
Just a week or two ago I was chatting with Dan Attoe about his sculptures as hats for skyscrapers. Too good for this Earth.
Today I appeared on KBOO's Art Focus with host Eva Lake, Jane Kate Wood and Stephen Slappe. It's a continuation of the Hot Haus discussion and my developing Priming the Cultural Pump essay. It was interesting, similar yet different and a lot shorter... with some new talking points that developed in the wake of the first discussion. I'll be working on the essay for another few days then I plan to put the heuristic discussion to bed... so I can get back to the nitty gritty that is criticism. Overall, a good Summer discussion to have before the second half of the year begins in earnest like it does every year in August.
The city of Portland has approved the designs for a subtle and stylish new Apple store downtown. The fact that the design commission keeps bringing up the fact that it is different than the surrounding architecture continues to be a problem. Look, new buildings should look new, let the old buildings look old while updating the mechanicals and other systems. That is good urban design, change is good... especially if a design honors its own time. That way the new and old highlight each other and the fact that this has been approved might improve the quality of other projects since most of the new construction in Portland tries to mask the fact that it is new construction (12+ story fake brick buildings anyone?).
Now for our weekly dose of MOCA's sad spiral. Jeffrey Deitch has finally responded to his critics basically stating that he has the support of his core board. That's probably true but the problem is he needs to expand the board and diversify it in order to be successful. Instead, most of his leadership activity has been programmatic, and though that is valid... concentrating on programming without fixing the endemic weakness of the board is worrisome. Then there was this fine article on the way institutions approach their public from Buffalo. Then this LA Times interview summarization by Reed Johnson presents a situation where Deitch feels he's being misinterpreted... problem is if people believe the version that Mr. Deitch denies it means he isn't making any progress on digging out of this mess. He will have to try something different if he wants to succeed. Roberta Smith thinks Deitch should do a 180 from what he has been doing, but honestly I think he's building an subtle exit strategy by not doing those things. If he leaves without fully implementing his plans he can claim a kind of lynch mob of scholarly public opinion thwarted a good plan. If Deitch's inevitable departure (the job doesn't let him be Jeffrey Deitch, which he IS good at) can galvanize a backlash leading to a resurgent and more active board with renewed commitment to curatorial rigor I'll be happy. So far no happy ending in sight though.
2013 Contemportary Northwest Art Awards Finalists Announced
The Portland Art Museum has released the list of finalists for the 2013 Contemporary Northwest Art Awards. The list looks solid but on the tame side, though it should avoid the unmitigated disaster that was the 2011 CNAA's (which felt not so contemporary). Although better, it still seems like the process isn't highlighting much in terms of "edge" or very demanding contemporary work and most artists have very strong affiliations to the regional art schools (which is a problem when Portland is full of grads from Columbia, RISD, AISF etc).
The sad spiral that is MoCA's ongoing restructuring (covered by Christopher Knight) saw the resignation of three of it's artist trustees, John Baldessari, Catherine Opie and Barbara Kruger. Only the great Ed Ruscha (the Prince of LA's art world) remains and is reportedly "dismayed." *Update: Ruscha has now left the building... at least as a trustee.Opie and Kruger's letter of resignation IS stunning but in some ways it only reveals how the artists were have been largely figureheads on the board for quite some time. This is notable because it wasn't always like that in the 80's and early 90's. You see, when MOCA was founded artists like Robert Irwin (and Eli Broad for that matter) were very involved and it is what made MOCA special... the museum had a commitment as a laboratory of ideas at its inception (something that MoMA has already lost). There was a sense that MOCA was the new frontier, but as Knight pointed out, the reckless neglect by the trustees in the recent past (using the endowment for operating funds) brought the institution to the brink. Though many onlookers see these artists leaving as a bad sign (and it is) some prominent art dealers are excited about a changing of the guard. I remain skeptical.
Clearly Deitch is not handling this situation well, and I suspect we will hear something from him shortly (he's been very quiet... expect it in the New York Times). As a gallerist Deitch could make very unilateral decisions with very little consequence but by now he's discovered just how different a situation a museum director has it. Director's build coalitions and the main problem is the lack of Deitch building any new coalitions. Right now it is the same old dynamic of Eli Broad, Maria Arena Bell and David G. Johnson calling all the shots. Right now Deitch has the support of Broad (whom I see less as the villain as many do but as a tough love giving yet over-correcting uncle, at least Broad is a man of action and did save MoCA from LACMA etc.) but that support will dwindle if Deitch can't make any of his own weather. That weather would be new blood at the board and a worthy successor to Paul Schimmel as curator (one of the finest on the planet, he's now become THE temporary martyr for quality curation, which is good for the museum industry's own identity crisis). The "Disco show" Deitch is creating is programmatic and therefore looks to be overstepping his bounds and it is no surprise Schimmel stepped down. Yet, truth is a very good disco show could be done, but not with the skeleton curatorial staff Deitch currently has available.
Instead, what Deitch needs to do is twofold; 1) install another talented curator capable of backing the flash up with intellectual rigor and 2) add board members capable of balancing Broad's influence. After all this hullabaloo Broad would logically just want to concentrate on his new museums in Michigan and LA (right next door to MOCA) so his patience with the way this has been handled has to be waning (evne if publicly he supports Deitch). Still, I understand Broad's take... he doesn't want to cut MOCA any more big checks, you'd think 30 million would buy you some love in LA... but NO. That has to change if LA's funding dynamic is to become healthier.
Overall, I think Deitch has a max of 2 years (or as little as two days) of Museum directorship left in him (because it is more difficult/less profitable than returning to being a dealer) so he needs to form a transition coalition. Best case scenario... appoint a young curator who can help save Deitch's face programmatically as well as build the board into something sustainable and active (not the passive thing that got them into this mess). Whether that board includes artists (as was once the tradition) will probably rest on Ruscha's shoulders, which means the transparency Opie and Kruger called for will need to be in effect. Can MoCA recapture some its core values? Last Week's letter from several other Life Trustees suggests yes. The ball is in Deitch's court and I think he has only got a few good options left, Broad has given the director enough rope to hang himself with or create a rope bridge over this yawning chasm that has developed. A good director will effectively turn all this this drama into an opportunity to normalize this situation. Time to find out if Deitch has the chops?... it is much harder to add new trustees when the place is full of high drama and bad feelings...
In much better news, Portland artist/designer/editor Joshua Berger addresses the Portland Community from which he is drawing strength after his harrowing brain injury. This is going to be frustrating and slow, but Josh is showing improvement... he's a smart talented guy and we all wish him the best. We've all got your back.
TAM's building by noted architect Antoine Predock, the new wing will compliment it.
The big news this weekend was that the Tacoma Art Museum will be expanding with a 15,000 Sq ft. new wing devoted to Western American art. TAM is already the most focused of the area's larger museums (special focus on Northwest Art) so this addition of the Haub collection dovetails nicely with their current mission. I think it is particularly important to think of everything west of the Mississippi as "The West" so it isn't just California, Santa Fe and Texas centric. There is a Northern, big tree-d aspect as well that includes Alaska and Canada as well. I support including Mexico to compliment the international flavor of this vast region's history as well and TAM has always taken this tack. The problem with regionalism is it usually is so narrow, with a touch of inferiority and bitterness. It doesn't have to be as projects like Pacific Standard have shown. I think it is fine that it is just one collection for the wing... it becomes a coherent anchor, similar to the Greenberg collection at PAM did. Nice that much of the Haub's collection is comprised of living artists. (*Note the Haubs are not the only German Billionaires doing high profile things in the Northwest...)
Deitch himself must be feeling some incredible pressure as too... LA is a hard place to be a museum director... expectations are incredibly high but culturally Hollywood dominates the scene making museums seem like the backdrop to quaint often self-important dinner parties. Overall, on the West Coast distractions and comparative youth make patronage priorities difficult to negotiate. At the same time the institutional chaos is good for artists who are coming up.
*Update: Edward Winkleman follows a similar line to my thinking... (more)
I'm still so jetlagged... but something from my travels is coming soon + lots of other stories from our other writers/interlocutors. Till then:
The Guardian takes a look at a show that explores flight. Sounds like a can't miss curatorial idea, Paul Klee taught at the Bauhaus that his students should master gravity to master composition. That's some incredibly good advice.
I've been traveling and will have some reports from outside Portland shortly but until then here are some interesting stories over the past few days.
This New York times article on the burden that the recent building expansion boom has put on institutions is fascinating. Chicago's Art Institute expansion seems to be the emblematic case study as well. I visited it last week and I noticed that the article missed one key point about Chicago, that it was a way to tie the museum into Millennium Park... a part of that city's gamble for a Summer Olympics, which failed. Overall, the lesson to be gleaned is never expand without a suitable expansion in endowments... an old lesson that PAM's own arch-prudent Brian Ferriso knew well when he was Deputy Director of the Milwaukee Art Museum. He was ahead of the curve back then and it is interesting how many institutions didn't use MAM's Calatrava expansion as a case study.
Portland Architecture reports that Portland's GDP has risen more than some might suspect. Overall though it isn't how much money... it is how it is used. For example, Portland has added a lot of excellence to the mix on an individual by individual basis but that has highlighted the difficulty in making consistent excellence a habit at the institutional level. The art schools, RACC, the museums and galleries are often revealed to be a step behind by very active artists (nationally and internationally) though all of them have improved significantly in the past decade or so. Most attempts to survey or award the scene have revealed that a lot of the institutional thinking is still thinking in terms of hierarchies in play in the 1990's. A lot has changed since then and it has lead to a schism between those artists with an international outlook and those who play the Portland game. The lesson is that if you cant adjust to the international game (PNCA and PAM have done this best with lots of room for improvement) then things have trouble remaining relevant and dont translate to the international realities at work in Portland.
Michael Heizer debuted his Levitated Mass at LACMA this weekend. He's probably my favorite living artist and I like the way he places incredible demands upon institutions and viewers... there's something about artists being too accommodating/accessible these days that lessens their impact and by staying away from this opening Heizer did the right thing. He seems to be saying, sure this seems like a big deal to viewers in LA but I'm actually up to something much bigger and better in Nevada desert. And he is.
Kink FM did this video interview with Jack Shear, the Director of the Ellsworth Kelly Foundation on the occasion of Kelley's print show at the Portland Art Museum. It is a great summer show for PAM and I did a rather involved interview with Jack and Jordan Schnitzer, which I'll be posting in the near future.
There is something to not putting all of your eggs in one basket and Portland should be adopting a more sophisticated approach to civic funding of the arts even without CAN. For example a city like Houston has an over-arching policy that all arts funding be directed at making that city an "arts hub" on an international level. Portland by comparison has a rather dippy approach, which generally favors process over excellence. It is a comparatively insular approach and causes much frustration amongst an art scene, which is active internationally and thus can compare the realities at home and abroad. There is a schism where Portland doesn't support it's most noteworthy creatives with grants etc... yet the most feel good community art (with little merit beyond that) gets funding. We shouldnt just celebrate community as a blanket term we should be asking "what kind of community?" and "do we reward excellence?"
The post of the day belongs to Tyler Green who assiduously digs through the longstanding institutional malaise that is the Corcoran. It's obvious from reading the piece how the lack of decisive long range planning has hamstrung the institution's ability to even make short term decisions like programming work. It can never be just the building or just one show... it is game of chess and a series of long term strategic moves, not checkers.
It reminds me how the MoCC faced a similar situation and has made a merger with PNCA work by not hamstringing key staff members like Namita Wiggers (disclosure board members are friends and we did talk privately). In that situation I decided to play the skeptic to give that key staff leverage because allowing your curatorial/fundraising staff to plan effectively is essential... they are the captains that pilot the ship away from deadly reefs. Also, having a board that can make tough decisions is equally key in the long term and it is clear from Tyler's piece that there is a complete disconnect between the board and institutional leadership... I fear it wont end well for the Corcoran. Personally, I hope the National Gallery ends up with the building and perhaps even the collection. Suburbia isn't a good place to move to once you've been in the heart of the nation's capital. I see this as a cautionary tale... an institution has to be always moving forward, with a good board. Recently PICA "learned that lesson", though YU should take heed... by having a board and solid programming rather than opportunistic programming and an undeveloped board consiting of the founders who have admitted publicly that they don't have the "credibility" needed. Without those things you simply don't exist as the Corcoran is about to find out.
Artnet has images and some discussion of the Made in LA Biennial. Overall, it doesn't seem like the work is terribly special and definitely not better than what can be seen regularly in Portland's alternative spaces BUT the presentation of it and the overall vibe of the show is infinitely better than what we saw in last year's CNAA's and the recent Portland2012 effort. The difference is the overall intention of the Made in LA's curatorial team to be relevant (both in the city and abroad). There is widespread dissatisfaction amongst Portland's community of sophisticated artists/collectors with our institutions right now. So, if I sound like I'm annoyed with our institutional curators whose job is to attempt to present the local scene... that's because you simply don't get out enough and it really shows. Hint, try curating a show that strays beyond a white, gray and black color scheme or relies on craft as a crutch rather than a ramp from which the viewer is catapulted into the air. Portland is very exciting as a scene but institutionally isn't keeping up with the better artists (who happen to be getting a lot of national/international looks & attention), instead Portland often navel-gazes at artists it has been over-familiar with for 2 decades and don't excite anybody. In other words, step it up (this feeling is widespread and not just my own). BTW, good on Jarl Mohn for upping the ante in LA... for those who are paying attention will recognize his name from the Judd show we did back in 2010.
And last but not least PNCA released this architectural flythough of the planned renovation of the 511 building by Brad Cloepfil/Allied Works. It's a great fundraising tool methinks. Despite the one person talking on a cellphone in a gallery space!
The design itself has come a long way since its earlier more "museumy" iterations. It seems light filled, with numerous multilevel sight lines and very flexible layouts befitting an art school. It reminds me a little of Toyo Ito's Tama Art University library with all of its arc and light elements, which is a good thing (though it just isn't as bold as Ito's design). I like the flying walkways but the thin ceiling mounted movable wall systems always look cheap and wont be good for installation art, just paintings and works on paper a floor based system is more flexible too. This 511 building (which we were the first to see as a game changer)... along with the Kengo Kuma designed Japanese Garden expansion are very exciting architectural projects for Portland.
In the least shocking news of the week, longtime Museum of Contemporary Craft curator Namita Wiggers was named director. I've always described Wiggers as MoCC's #1 asset, even above its building and collection so this makes sense and I suppose it took this long to happen because she is such a force as a curator and thinker. She succeeds my friend Jeffrey Thomas, whom was interim director for a year and stepped down a few months ago. My read on this is that his tenure was a way to allow Namita to transition and to get the museum on firmer ground with old Portland and national level funding sources... while she got the programming back on solid ground. Normally, I'd be concerned about the quality of programming with such a shift but shows curated by others like the recent Northwest Modern show were excellent historical efforts. Namita's current Betty Feves retrospective wont be her last effort either. Frankly, she's one my favorite art people in Portland and this is good news.
The New York Times covered the out of the way Maryhill Museum. Interesting comparing the writing on it in the local paper. The O certainly has its work cut out for it when all this local stuff is of national interest... i.e. look sharp and never ever use irrelevant terms like "Big City"... Look, the area has an idiosyncratic appeal so pay attention to those aspects which are making them stand out nationally/internationally. Basically, beware of familiarity breeding contempt. We have natural advantages here but you have to be looking for them to see how special they are to outsiders. Basically don't take the area's pioneering pluck for granted, sometimes it is much more valuable than simple dollar signs.
I've discussed the Barnes Collection numerous times over the years, and now it is open to the public in a new building in downtown Philly. I haven't seen it yet but on principle I believe it is important to weigh in.
Though I generally applaud Jerry's sentiment that no collector should dictate the terms for best viewing the art (especially after they die) in this case I can't agree. Very few collectors deserve equal billing with artists but in this case I believe the incredibly idiosyncratic Barnes did. What is lost by creating a pseudo structure that makes the works more accessible is to lose part of the story of modern art and thus the roots of how we decoupled the power of the image (art, advertising etc.) from the institution and the state... (more)
WSJ asks if Portland is America's next art capital?
Peter Plagens visiting 12128 2 weeks ago
The Wall Street Journal has just published a fascinating report on the Portland art scene by noted art critic Peter Plagens. I was his Sacagawea, er... guide... so yes he's seen infinitely more of Portland's scene than DK Row (or any institutional curator besides Cris Moss and Blake Shell). So yes odds are he probably saw your show if it was up two weeks ago in an established venue. Plagens is a machine and a tough discerning customer who doesn't buy any BS. The first day alone we took in 9 shows scattered throughout the city. There will be some images in the print edition tomorrow but let's just take a quick once over the words right now.
Nice that he reiterated the "Capital of Conscience" term that I coined in an Op Ed for the Portland Tribune a few months ago. Because Portland is not a financial capital, NO we wont be a traditional art center like London, New York or Paris of yore. Instead, think of Portland like Weimar during during the Bauhaus years or perhaps Leipzig (the best 25 artists are definitely world class discoveries to be made, maybe only 6 are already known in Chelsea). Overall Portland is full of idealistic people doing idealistic things for the sake of ideals... giving things time to develop before money kicks in and changes things (for good and bad). Portland is a rebel base where art for art's sake is made. We have international art stars who live here too because it is a good environment to work and enjoy the company of other like mindeds.
Accurate in that it discussed Portland as a city where creatives work very hard... not just a bunch of slow paced hipsters who are already retired and eat Voodoo Donuts. The truth is most are working very hard to stay afloat and make work... yet some are carrying on an international career.
It is true, the alternative spaces are so much more adventurous than the commercial galleries... that could be said of most cities but it's my sense that many retreated quite far in 2008 when the market crashed. Instead of trying to drum up excitement by trying new artists (when nothing was selling anyways) they went for safer stuff. Honestly that makes sense, the gallery business is so difficult but perhaps this article will catalyze a way to narrow the schizm? Collectors might be more involved if they knew what Portland's larger scene was like? As it stands Plagens has seen more of Portland than most Portland collectors, curators and art dealers and he's right the installation art and some video is our strongest suit.
He loved Crystal Schenk's Artifacts of Memory (the last show we saw) and Laura Fritz's Entorus (he spent an hour with it... 45 minutes in silence), because frankly they are two superlative exhibitions that outclass everything but the Rothko show at PAM (yeah that good). They would stand out in Chelsea and you can still catch them both, do so.
I'm burying the hatchet because this space gives me reason to believe in PICA again but first a little history. In 2004 PICA shuttered its once excellent visual art program, which under curator Stuart Horodner presented the likes of Janine Antoni, William Pope L. Dana Shutz, Melanie Manchot, Jim Hodges, Tony Tasset and Rudolf Stingel... and if that sounds like the most interesting nonprofit exhibition space north of San Francisco it is because it was. What's more the space was large but not unwieldy space designed by Brad Cloepfil, long before... (more)
I've been meaning to post on Marie Watt's Lodge but was hoping to catch it first. Well fellow procrastinators (I know it has been a busy) it is now the last weekend for this extensive show at the Hallie Ford Museum, so this is everyone's last chance. The show runs through April 1st so get on down to Salem.
"For the past decade, Watt has worked as a mixed media artist whose work explores human stories and the ritual implicit in everyday objects. Organized by anthropology professor and faculty curator Rebecca Dobkins, the exhibition will feature a range of work from the past decade, including stacked blanket sculptures, portrait blankets of Jim Thorpe, Ira Hayes, Susan B. Anthony, and Joseph Beuys, and Engine, a felt cave-like structure that honors the act of storytelling and the storytellers in the artist's life."
Today Oregon College of Art
and Craft (OCAC) has announced it is launching a Master of Fine Arts degree
in Craft in the fall of 2013. According to the press release the program, "emphasizes
problem solving through the manipulation of materials and the vigorous exchange
across disciplines and media." Ok, these days Portland art schools seem
to be launching new programs all of the time but this one seems absolutely core
to a school like OCAC. In other words, they needed to do this and do it well.
It should be a signature program for Portland's most focused/specialized art
More details, "With its expansive and versatile approach, the College
has designed this MFA as an intellectual investigation of process, purpose,
and communication distinguished by its methodology as much as its outcome. The
60 credit program in Advanced Craft Studies combines courses in studio creative
practice, interdisciplinary studies, graduate seminars, and electives.
'This new program is the natural outgrowth of OCACs long tradition of
educating entrepreneurial, critical thinkers and creative makers who innovate
through engagement with materials. Craft in the twenty first century, the tradition
of what it has been and the innovation of what it will be in the future, is
the essential focus of this new degree,' said Denise Mullen, OCAC President.
'The MFA in Craft allows us to grow our programming to a new level, and to enhance
our core mission at OCAC of educating professionals at the highest level of
object and image making.'" Those interested as MFA candidates should join
the contact list at www.ocac.edu/MFA to receive announcements about the new
Endowed: Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at PAM
Photo of the endowers, Robert and Mercedes Eichholz at their wedding in 1963
The news of a 2 million dollar endowment for the curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Portland Art Museum is an important upgrade for the community in many ways. For example it couples the role of modern and contemporary art while ensuring that the Portland Art Museum should always have the position filled as soon as possible. That's because drawing from the general fund incentivises any museum to let positions sit fallow during times of economic stress. Also, it improves the museum's overall credit rating and financial portfolio. Still, it would be even nicer if Modern and Contemporary art duties were always coupled to the Chief Curator as it is now, and an endowed acquisition fund for contemporary art would also keep things even more contemporary. It also shows how the heirs of important philanthropists choose Portland and change the cultural landscape... in much the same way that artists choosing to call Portland home over the past decade and a half has similarly changed expectations for the city. The convergence on Portland is no accident, money (at least the interesting kind) follows talent. Here is the Press Release:
"The Portland Art Museum is pleased to announce that a gift of $2 million was recently pledged by the Robert and Mercedes Eichholz Foundation. The gift from the foundation, headquartered in Santa Barbara, Calif., will endow the curator of modern and contemporary art. The position, currently held by Bruce Guenther , will now be known as The Robert and Mercedes Eichholz Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art.
"We are grateful to Mercedes Eichholz and her family's foundation for this generous and important gift,” said Brian Ferriso, The Marilyn H. and Dr. Robert B. Pamplin Jr. Director. "Endowing curatorial positions ensures that the core mission of the Museum is fulfilled."
The New Criterion asks what is a Museum? There is a definite need for idiosyncrasy with an eye for relevance that makes the authority of such institutions a source of civic pride. Otherwise it's a temple to missed opportunities.
It isn't the 100k either, it is the way the Hammer effort is designed to be a taste making show that points out bright new lights just as they flicker onto the scene. This positions LA as being more interested in its cutting edge (Portland's institutions, apparently are not... well except PICA's TBA festival, which can be EVEN less polished than the alt spaces). For example, the CNAA's haven't taken many chances and have felt very safe and so solidly mid career... rather than picking work that spoke the most to our uncertain times. The last CNAA's had zero edge, whereas the current Portland2012 doesn't so much present new names as reconvene a group of artists who have had academic shows in the past few years... with an overall feel that is well, academic. It is often a throwback to the 90's, which is something that happens when you use a guest curator not someone who has been in studios for years before the show. The sad thing is Portland's alt spaces are doing a lot of very interesting work that certainly can give LA a run for their money (if only our institutions could get their heads out of the sand and made a point of doing a show about the times.... one has to take more chances to be relevant as a taste maker). My sense is that Portland's institutions are so busy trying to ingratiate themselves with the constituents they already feel comfortable with that the potential shock of the show itself becomes a foregone conclusion. Rather than lead, they insinuate. The Hammer doesn't have that problem, they lead by taking chances.
Then there is this cathedral converted to a bookstore... ahh if only all sacred places could be a place of learning. The cross shaped conference table seems a tad much though... we get it and yeah some ex-catholics will dream of having sex on it.
Pat Boas has been named the 2012 Bonnie Bronson Fellow. This continues the more conceptual direction of the past 3 years with David Eckard and Nan Curtis (all three are well established educators who have been active since the 90's). Boas' work is fastidious and somewhat obsessive in nature and she usually works in discreet series. My favorite works by Boas are the Against Nature series, which biomorphically shift between various animal skins... as if to summon the specter of genetically engineered food. Congratulations!
Award will be presented April 18
6:00 - 7:30 PM at Reed College's Gray Center Lounge
It is often funny when people think they know which artists I'm most obsessed with. Over the years some have thought the AbEx greats or Donald Judd. I understand
why they might think these things but they are wrong. The artist who I've thought most about since a massive
8,000 mile land art road trip is Michael Heizer. Without Heizer we don't have
Smithson or Walter De Maria and I don't even feel like Double Negative is his best work.
As a child Heizer, grew up in archeological digs
throughout the vastness of the Western United States and then passed some of
that experience onto his art friends at a crucial time.. but he's actually the
most interesting of the three. He considers New York's art world kinda soft
(because it is if you are used to living in the harshness of the Nevada desert)
and will likely only open his masterwork City
to the public only when he dies.
a house-sized rock on the rim of Meteor Crater in Arizona, center (photo Jeff Jahn)
All of this makes the spectacle
around his latest project for LACMA seem like a diminutive sideshow. It
does bode well though for how his work will be received once the world can see
his main focus. As it stands Levitated Mass is at best medium level work for
Heizer but it is good that the city folk are getting worked up. In fact, Heizer
once had the jones for even larger rocks, like the house sized one on the rim
of Meteor Crater in Arizona.
What impresses me most about Heizer is his toughness and the way he thinks
in massive geological and anthropological terms. Lots of artists think bigger
is better but perhaps only Heizer and Richard Serra have been able to back it
up... and what's more Heizer's work seems to step outside time. It is never
about the latest technology like Serra can have as a sub plot. Instead the plot
is always the same... dealing with the innate basic forces of the planet. In
short he mocks human vanity while embracing its innate hubris as an unavoidable
consequence of our existence. The fact that he has all
of LA watching one medium sized rock must make him chuckle. Good for him,
artists should have the last laugh and for once it is nice to see Art grandstanding
more than the movie industry in LA. I like the way art places demands on civilization,
it is the opposite of entertainment.
Last night's Mayoral and City Council, arts and culture Q&A at the Armory (video here)
went pretty much as expected, except that Mary Nolan and Jefferson Smith were
not able to be present (Smith due to his work in the legislature in Salem).
There was a lot of boilerplate and outright dodges but here are some impressions:.
Overall, none seemed that terribly different from one another except Brian
Parrot, whose constant equation of the sports and the arts fell on deaf ears.
Look I'm a fanatical tennis player and his equation of art and tennis makes
no sense to me and I
wrote the book on it. Also, his call for an Olympics Winter Games bid as
a way to heighten the profile of the arts was also a non starter.
City Council candidates and James Lavadour images
Surprsingly none of the city council candidates knew who James
Lavadour was (major opportunity to score points lost, though technically
he doesn't live in Portland)... I bet they do now.
All of the candidates (except Parrot) i.e.; Amanda Fritz, Eileen Brady, Steve
Novick and Charlie Hales were staunch advocates of core issues like the planned
but potentially delayed 10+ million dollar tax levy for arts and education as well as Mayor Adam's
current call for diversity in arts funding. None seemed too eager to put the
levy to a vote this Fall so the supposed key issue is a non issue. Surprisingly
none of them wanted the be... (more)
Hmmm, need any more indications that the Columbia River Crossing's hurried, cheapie design wasn't all that well considered? Well it looks like they designed it too low. I sense this is only the tip of the iceberg and hopefully Washington State's deep funding crisis will kill this thing so it can be begun the right way... not Kitzhaber's rushed, even seismically short-sighted way (cable stay designs are currently superior to all other bridge types in major earthquakes, they also allow for higher clearances... that option was nixed as an option for cost and schedule reasons).
Roberta Smith's take on the 2012 Whitney Biennial... honestly the multi-disciplenary concept doesn't seem new to us here (TAM's current NW Biennial, TBA, Core-Sample in 2003, programming by Worksound, Rocksbox, Gallery Homeland, Recess etc.) but I do like the idea of it not being your typical Biennial where too much work is included with a "throw it and see what sticks" strategy. Here's Jerry Saltz's take too. It seems so quaint to us here in Portland that New York is trying to be non-comercial... when so much here is non-commercial as a default. Not that it's bad... it is just that commercially focused efforts seem novel to us in the way non-commercial seems novel to NYC.
And in case you didn't know some of the Appendix crew (Travis Fitzgerald, Daniel Wallace and Josh Pavalacky) are opening a new type of Gallery in New York City called American Medium. Hilariously they are not moving to NYC and I like their focused & too cool for that approach, I'll let them give you details in good time. It's a different type of art gallery for a different type of work. It opens in May.
It seems like we lose a great artist every week or so these days. The latest is Kenneth Price at age 77. Perhaps no artist bridged the craft/fine art divide like he did and his jewel like surfaces were a key component in Dave Hickey's paradigm shifting Beau Monde Site Santa Fe biennial in 2001 ending what seemed like a 25+ year unofficial ban on beautiful art.
His work was never just pretty though. It was sexy but a little grotesque and by avoiding the self consciousness of a lot of craft based work it transcended that genre's often cloying need to be taken seriously by simply stealing the show every single time they were shown (that's telling). Price's works were so outstanding, with forms so self assured and relaxed in their own perfect skin that they transcended the technical geekery of the craft world, putting all of their considerable aesthetic weight into the viewers mind and response. Thus, how it was made was always tertiary but integral to the encounter, similar to a lot of non western art.
I always found them compelling, as if Price gave unlikely life to a pile of puke while imbuing it with the moves and curves of Cyd Charisse. In fact, Dave Hickey's Site Santa Fe install could have easily been likened to a dance between Charisse and Fred Astaire, it was just that good. He will be missed, but not forgotten... a 50 year retrospective will begin at LACMA in the Fall.
*Update: Roberta Smith of the NYT's fascinating obituary
. I found these quotes quite interesting, "crafts-dogma hell," and, "'I can't prove my art's any good,' he added, 'or that it means what I say it means. And nothing I say can improve the way it looks.'" Indeed...
Weve been down this road before with both the Rose Art Museum and the Oregon Cultural Trust. Both of which ended up getting support from conservatives and non arts people... here's why:
1)Public collections are kept in trust for the public. The thing about trusts is that you don't go radically altering (in this case selling) the asset kept in trust. If you treat a trust as a rainy day fund it simply ceases to exist.
2) This is particularly short sighted since the elements of the collection are acquired for the way they engage and complete specific sites and buildings. That context building is a sort of running civic commentary and selling said works becomes tantamount to book burning of civic memory. Often the artwork outlives the original buildings and provides a thread through the past.
3) Selling works when you think they are worth a lot of money is foolhardy. For example, though... (more)
The Portland art scene is ever shifting with new artists arriving every day but it is the often thankless role of being a facilitator (as curator or programming director) that greases the wheels of the machine. For example, if I want to point out an artist I simply write a review but admins are a different story. Also, the level of artistic development of these individuals varies a great deal and is perhaps secondary to the contributions they represent (for now). Also, some new admins like Jeffrey Thomas (Director MoCC) and Bonnie Liang-Malcolmson (Curator of NW Art PAM) have been around for over a decade and have only just recently switched roles (not prominence), so I'll skip over them. I also vet the list for people making an impact beyond expectations (so I don't always pick new hires at PAM, they have to earn it). Also to make my list one has to curate or work on several shows, do more than draw attention to a few of your friends or throw a hipster party... so without further ado here are 9 newish faces you should get to know before they take your job:
Jason Brown @ Half/Dozen
If you can find Half/Dozen then Jason Brown's face is already familiar to you and your gallery hopping skills are well developed. In his time as assistant at Half/Dozen ... (more)
Sad news, conceptual provocateur Mike Kelly has passed away due to an apparent suicide. I reviewed Kelley's fantastic collaborative show at Sculpture Center a few years ago. Few artists could make such an intelligent spectacle indulging in the juvenile and supposedly profane, but Kelley did so by laying bare the adult ruse as a kind of tribute to the wonder/ridiculousness of that awkward age through which all must pass and perhaps never leave. In Portland artists like Bruce Conkle, Matt "Troll" Green and Patrick Rock bear the greatest stamp of his influence. Our thoughts are with Kelley's family and loved ones, a hugely influential artist has left the building.
"The works explore diverse aspects of the photographic experience,
including the chemistry of traditional photography, the direct capture of light without a camera, temporal extensions, digital sampling of found images, radical cropping, and various deliberate
destabilizations of photographic reference. This abstract use of
photography often combines other mediums such as painting, sculpture,
drawing and video. All artists join a broad contemporary trend to look critically and freshly at a medium commonly considered transparent."
Edge of Vision features photographs by; Bill Armstrong, Carel Balth, Ellen Carey, Roland Fischer, Michael Flomen, Manuel Geerinck, Shirine Gill, Barbara Kasten, Seth Lambert, Charles Lindsay, Irene Mamiye, Chris McCaw, Edward Mapplethorpe, Roger Newton, Jack Sal, Penelope Umbrico, Randy West, Silvio Wolf, and Ilan Wolff.
The Hoffman Gallery January 19 - March 18 2012
Hours Tuesday through Sunday, 11 AM to 4 PM (Free)
Lewis & Clark, 0615 SW Palatine Hill Rd.
Parking on campus is free on weekends. (503-768-7687)
Curator sharing between Detroit and Kansas City? It is common in the orchestral world but I think it is problematic in the museum world. Why? because curators don't just plan and execute shows, they are the public face of the institution and interface with the interests of the community. Half the face time? ....half the interface! Overall, I'm not a fan of half time curators at major museums.
Now YU just announced that, "We, Curtis Knapp and Flint Jamison, Co-founders, announce that
Director Sandra Percival will leave YU. Curtis Knapp will become Acting Director, effective January 20.
There will be complete continuity in the day-to-day functioning of YU and in the assumption of strategic
and programmatic planning imperatives at the director level, some of which we will discuss below....(more)
It would be sad news if it weren't something we hadn't seen coming the moment she took the Director of Education job at PAM but Christina Olson is leaving her post in Portland to become the "Class of 1956 Director of the Williams College Museum of Art" (WCMA for short). During her tenure in Portland she was THE point woman for Brian Ferriso's very successful revamp of PAM's education department and her accomplishments go far beyond the annual Shine a Light events. With Tina the museum took what was a very hit or miss program and made education a part of every single museum activity. The busloads of kids I see at PAM every week are a testament to her but so is the greater community/interpretive involvement... like the fantastic Artist Talks series (of which I've taken part). She leaves PAM as one of the most successful employees the museum has ever hired.
Roberta Smith gives Damien Hirst's polka dot paintings a fair shake. For me he is a bit too prolific but he's still one of my favorite artists of all time. That said I've always found the dot paintings much less interesting than his installations and I think he knows it. The thing with Hirst is he finds a way to make people form an opinion by pushing buttons... that is a tremendous ability, without which contemporary art dies. She's absolutely right about it being a lot better than the Christos' The Gates project.
It is true that our art universities and museums have come a long way but it is time to finish the job, not become complacent. Here's a relevant passage from Ibsen's An Enemy of the People that I couldn't fit:
Dr. Stockmann: "They [the young] are the people who are going to stir up the fermenting forces of the future, Peter."
Mayor Peter Stockmann: "May I ask what they will find here to 'stir up. . . ."
Dr. Stockmann: "Ah, you must ask the young people that"
The Art Newspaper reports on Nicolas Berggruen's plan to create an on loan collection for LACMA, similar to what Eli Broad has already done. There is a local tie in here as Berggruen owns Chris Burden's Three Ghost Ships (1991) that have been on display at PAM for the last few months. Places like Portland, which do not have mega collectors... yet are filled with an viewers hungry for contemporary art definitely gain from this type of lending collection arrangement.
I regret that I made the trek to Portland galleries and museums a little more than a dozen times this year due to the untimely death of my truck. (Readers may not know or care that I make a 120-mile round-trip.) I know I missed a lot. However, I'm happy with the essays I wrote, and must win the Most Comments Award, just with my 2010 wrap-up and the piece on Social Engagement.
That said, I do have a few quick thoughts I can share:... (more)
A devout populist and francophile John was the kind of director that took a hands on approach to programming. That programming often carried a flashy theatrical flair with imported exhibitions like; Imperial Tombs of China (1996), Let's Entertain: Life's Guilty Pleasures (2000 featuring Damien Hirst, Richard Prince, Murakami etc), Stroganoff: The Palace and Collections of a Russian Noble Family (2000), The Triumph of French Paining (2003) and Hesse: A Princely Collection (2005). From 1994-2000 he and his wife stunned the city by turning PAM into an attendance powerhouse, all while making its patron parties the premier social events in the city. This was a powerful thing that made him perhaps the most loved and reviled personality in the city. John relished the job energetically and always knew exactly to whom he was talking to (a great skill)... I remember one time he crossed the street just to shake my hand and say hello after finishing a power lunch at Paley's.
The man had hustle, yet at that precise moment in 2000 he helped engineer two very serious acquisitions, the Clement Greenberg Collection and the hiring of Chief Curator Bruce Guenther. By 2005... (more)
Roberta Smith gives some more context regarding the loss of Helen Frankenthaler and John Chamberlain. But that is only the tip of a rapidly melting iceberg... we lost Cy Twombly + John McCracken too... and with as conservative as the galleries of 2011 seemed to be overall the question has to be what are we replacing them with? These were all very bright artists driven by perceptive and compelling ideals, not merely a series of calculated art world/market differentiation moves. These were artists with beliefs and this brings us back to Alex's Bringing Barr essay published earlier this week. May 2012 be the year of art manifestos... or at least an a year of art that has ideals?
After the continuing Occupy Movement this past Fall I see a larger interest in simply finding a new and better way to invigorate the discussions that comprise human civilization, which most of us take part in... this is simply what artists do (at certain times they do it better than others).
Helen Frankenthaler's Spaced Out Orbit (1973) on display at the Portland Art Museum
Helen Frankenthaler, one of the most important painters of the Twentieth Century has died at age 83. I consider her be the most important artist of what her onetime paramour Clement Greenberg dubbed, "Post Painterly Abstraction." She was the inventor of the stained canvas technique that other artists like Morris Louis and Kenneth Noland used to remove any separation between color and the canvas (for which they received more attention as Formalists). Crucially, she differed from those who followed her because she continuously used a poetic approach to abstraction that was often lyrically rooted to experiences or places. I see this as a strength since she makes the otherwise VERY MACHO movement much more varied than it is given credit. Arguably, her influence goes far beyond painting and it always exceeded gender.
As Frankenthaler once told it, "I was trying to get at something - I didn't know what until it was manifest." She prioritized intuitive experiences rather than a formal objective, exonerating her from the fate of ideologically brittle schools of painting that persisted throughout most of the second half of the Twentieth Century.
Initially, a student of Hans Hofmann and perhaps the only painter to successfully build upon Jackson Pollock's language it was Frankenthaler's poetic and experiential qualities that gave her works a sense of place rather than the "Formalists" who co-opted her stain technique for different results. In a way this makes her work more esoteric and singular than her male peers, yet still she persisted as they painted themselves into a corner with more narrow objectives. Somehow, being poetic was seen as a negative in her work when it was seen as a positive for her onetime husband Robert Motherwell. Arguably, she was the better lyrical poet, when he was more an illustrator of philosophies. I've considered her work the in the top tier of lyrical modern artists including Matisse, Kandinsky and Pollock... notably working with nature rather than a defiance of it that was common with male artists. You can see the descendants of Frankenthaler's approach in the works of Katharina Grosse's painted installations, Lynda Benglis' sculpture and Pipilotti Rist or Jennifer Steinkamp's immersive video works... all of whom treat the experience of the body as a kind of thought (it's hardly the province of female artists but its different from James Turrell, Richard Sera or Robert Irwin's which is more monogenic). Experience of the body's senses as thought is idea that took a while to come around to and is still somewhat underdeveloped.
Deeper in history, as a couple from 1950-1955 Frankenthaler and Greenberg would tour the latest New York School exhibitions all the while debating the merits of the work. In 1955 Greenberg published his essay Amerian-Type Painting, which laid out his fully formed ideas on flatness, all over compositions and material as tastemaker on the ACCF. In some ways Greenberg wanted to be like her, a highborn Jewish intellectual... (more)
Detail from Ahihiko Miyoshi's Abstract Photograph 2011
Disjecta has announced the list for their Portland2012 Biennial (curated by Prudence Roberts and opens February 26) with lots of artists that have already established their reputations in town and a few names like Ahihiko Miyoshi who haven't.
Wendy Red Star
In fact, over the past decade 6 Portlanders have taken part so we are a little ambivalent to the whole thing.... call us when you give a Portlander a solo show or do a show about how Americans are re-evaluating what American values are (which is what Portland excels at). Before Occupy Wall Street, artists started occupying Portland in the late 90's.
Mayor Sam Adams has released his 2011 progress report for the arts in Portland. For high points there are the increases in TV and movie production as well as the increases in funds for arts education are both huge moves in a long term strategy but the increase in the Work For Art (workplace giving) to $764,830 2010-2011 for RACC is a major and unexpected victory in this bad economy. It says a lot about how Portlanders respect the arts.
Overall, this report highlights an obviously very arts friendly administration and yes the arts platform will likely determine who the next mayor is. Still, to date there is still one HUGE gaping hole in how the city funds both alternative spaces that don't have a 501.c3 and independent curators... both of whom are the backbone of the art scene. It is an area where just a little money would go very far.
RACC awards a record sum for Project
Grants. It is important to note that they convened some multidisciplinary
panels to evaluate projects like Ben Young's... a clear step in the right direction.
Sure, some of the grants went to embarrassingly dippy projects to people who
repeatedly get some of the larger project grants but the new names like Young
and Bund are encouraging. Honestly, I've never bothered applying for a project
grant because it seemed like a waste of my time (I am a critic/curator and thus
infinitely capable of pissing off panels of my so-called peers even when I'm
not trying to alienate people... it comes with the territory if you call a spade
a spade). Yet with these special multidisciplinary panels I'm reevaluating my
opinions of RACC's project grants now... perhaps now can they handle high level
independent curatorial projects? Venues like Rock's Box, Appendix, Worksound,
Gallery Homeland and Recess are the backbones of the scene but dont get support
except when individual artists get a grant. That said congrats to those who
did and don't suck! Im hard on RACC but if any of the projects they funded are
excellent I'll be sure to give them the props they deserve.
On Friday artist Robert
Hanson died at age 75 and PNCA covered it best. I don't want to attempt
a eulogy (I only do that for those I knew well) but I what noticed most about
Robert is that unlike many others of his generation you'd see him out and about
taking in the new shows each and every month... usually with his wife Judy Cooke
(always such a wonderful couple). That curiosity speaks volumes about the man.
Our thoughts are with Judy and his family as he will be missed. Hanson's work
will be the subject of the next
Apex show at the Portland Art Museum.
Spanning Rothko's entire career, the 45 works in the exhibition may constitute
the single most important exhibition of the 21st Century for the Portland Art
Museum and all eyes will be on this show. It is sure to be a watershed moment and the exhibition will not travel.
PAM's retrospective is made possible through key loans from the Rothko family,
the National Gallery and private collections. This exhibition was a lifelong
dream for the recently departed Harold Schnitzer and though he didn't get to see it that dream was crucial in making this happen.
Kiefer (sometimes one of my favorite artists) believes art is, "not entertainment."
Well he's right when it comes to his art, but there is certainly room for entertainment
in art... for example Paul McCarthy's and Richard Serra's sheer audacity is
entertaining. By simply suspending the humdrum of the everyday an artist can
create big A "Art". In Kiefer's case he's working within an exceedingly
serious historical discussion and his show at Tate Modern along with the New
Still Museum are foregrounding a much needed counterpoint to the sometimes
grating follies of art. I like to think of it as very responsible "older
brother art". Maybe I'm just projecting... I am the oldest in my family
so; Still, Judd, Newman, Serra, Martin and Kiefer all appeal to my "seriousness"
fetish. Which isnt to say I don't enjoy classic Damien Hirst, Murakami, Tracey
Emin and Jason Rhoades as art brats who fulfilled the need to laugh a little
bit at how we fetish seriousness/higher aspirations.
Well it was ABMB
weekend and refreshingly instead of the obligatory and inane pieces on how
art is a hot investment there were numerous substantial opinion pieces on the
state of the art world. Art, no matter how much it costs is simply a way to
understand that which resists understanding... it should be as much if not more
of a personal existential investment as it is a monetary expenditure. That is
the one thing I really like about collectors in Portland, nobody... no matter
how much they spend is doing it just for show.
Saatchi blasted art oligarchs who collect and inflate the blue chip art
market rather than develop a deeper relationship. This typical art rant means
something only because Charles Saatchi is saying it and therefore has the weight
of a man who has been wrongly accused of much the same thing. The difference
is he has taste, faith in the difficulties of Art and has catalyzed not just
careers but entire art movements; YBA, Leipzig etc. There is a learning curve
and serious collectors like Saatchi and Broad are special. They have done it
for a long time and it is obvious they keep their own counsel as patrons...
they aren't simply acting on the tips of advisers, they developed a certain
personal biography through the art they collect and present.
To get at the issue from a different angle, how about a look at the
crossroads of art and neuroscience. I'm always shocked at how much the art
world doesn't look at or exploit scientific approaches.
All of this is interesting because I don't dig Kippenberger all that much (saw his retrospective at MoMA and liked about 5% of it). Still he's influential, so influential that most MFA programs look like tribute cover bands devoted to Kippenberger. Generally, if I don't like something I try to revisit it as much as possible to understand why the work does or doesn't work... if I come back several times it means it is successful in some way that deserves scrutiny.
The fact that it is here though is a good enough reason to visit PAM, which also has a Chris Burden show up.
Here's what Chief Curator Bruce Guenther says about the Kipster, "Dissuaded of art's power to reveal truth or the possibility of producing original work, he nonetheless produced new important work with a strong political and social content, revealing, as John Lane observed, 'a moralist in despair.' The exhibition features a selection of paintings from the last decade of the artist's life and fourteen 'Hotel Drawings,' intimate works created on hotel stationary gathered on his peripatetic travels from 1987 until 1997. The works present an irreverent and ferocious humor that cumulatively accentuate the late artist's acute sense of moral responsibility to humanity and the history of art."
Look I'll say this, if you like Rock's Box at all... this is a show you have to see if you live in Portland . Through February 19th, but don't wait that long.
Yesterday Roberta Smith took on the sprawling Pacific Standard Time complex... aside from the idea that LA is the only west coast hotbed for art it's interesting to read how the east coast is discovering the depth of the West Coast. The truth is there is a Mexico to British Columbia thing that has been in force for at least 3 decades now. Hopefully all this talk of region will evolve the way we discuss San Diego, LA, San Fran, Las Vegas, Eugene, Portland, Tacoma, Seattle and Vancouver BC.
Jerry Saltz softens up to Maurizio Cattelan. I find Cattelan mostly dull except a few standouts like Him and La Nona Ora. He's the Carrot Top of the art world for me... worthy of respect in that he has survived so long but ultimately not doing his best work anymore, mostly because the method wasn't that rich with material to begin with.
When PICA announced last summer that they had received a $200,000 ArtPlace Grant I was cautiously skeptical they would fully leverage the opportunity of
a medium sized, not huge grant. 200k does go fast when you get involved in civic buildings.
I felt like they might just float between a couple moldering properties on the
East Side of Portland, rather than take the responsibility of a full time presence
in Portland more seriously. I love PICA but as a "burned" past supporter I'm hard on them. Think of me as the grumpy old uncle who loved them
as a cute kid and beamed as they grew into adulthood (with their Pearl District
gallery) but was publicly
heartbroken when they decided to throw it all away and shirk responsibility
back in 2004 when they stopped being a major full-time vis arts institution and became
a festival with a vis art component. Ultimately in the intervening 7 years their vis arts program became less focused, with its series
of provisional/compromised spaces and scattered attention during TBA festivals.
Unfinished space that is to be the new PICA HQ (photo Andrew Billing)
Well today, I'm less skeptical with announcement that they will indeed have
a nice headquarters space at 415 SW 10th Ave. It is just down the street from Powell's and is described as a hub office, not merely a
series of ever changing off site encampments (which they will also undertake). The permanent space
does make PICA suddenly a lot more exciting. There is something more grown up... (more)
The list for the 10th Northwest Biennial at the Tacoma Art Museum has been announced. For the first time it will include our Canadian friends in British Columbia, something I've criticized all so called Northwest surveys for not doing. This year the survey focuses on "interdisciplinary art practices."
Of the 30 artists, 13 are Portlanders, list after the jump... (more)
Ok it has been too long since PORT has updated its links page. We are looking for art and design sites both inside and outside of Portland. Email your links to me at Jeff (at) Portlandart.net. It is a "curated" list so I can't promise we will use them but I'll definitely check them out.
Clyfford Still's 1937 8A (painted in 1937, Pullman Washington)
I'm very excited about the opening of the Clyfford Still Museum next month in Denver (designed by Portland's Brad Cloepfil and co-curated by PORT reader/art historian David Anfam). Still (who grew up in Spokane) is perhaps my favorite ab-ex painter because he was such a cantankerous stickler, very physical and insistent upon preserving the integrity of his work. Still set the stage for Donald Judd and I feel like most of today's top artists have become too accommodating of institutions and collectors by comparison.
I'm not the only one excited here and Tyler Green is pretty amped about Still too. He has done a great two part preview; Part I and Part II.
One not so minor omission in Green's account is Still's time as a Professor at Washington State University in Pullman 1935-41 not (Spokane) and though Green is right to suggest that his work at steel yards in the Bay Area may have lead to Still's quite recognizable abstractions (and growing scale after 1941), Still was already doing abstractions during the Pullman years as 8A from 1937 demonstrates. Thus, the assertion that Still, "broke through to abstraction," in the Bay Area as Green suggests isn't precisely true... instead he solidified himself as an abstract painter there after a process begun in Pullman Washington (when he was married to his first wife, his second wife tended to disavow paintings from that era... hmmm).
Instead, the truth is abstraction and figuration were modes Still vacillated between while at Pullman and more research needs to be undertaken on those years. An era of such vacillations is sure to be revealing, it's usually where the crucial decisions (in hind sight) are first identified.
In fact, a Portland collector owns a very interesting... (more)
Just in case you hadn't heard, Katherine Bovee... who crucially helped design/develop PORT and wrote many fine reviews for us is featured along with her home in Dwell this month. It is available on newsstands now and fine periodical stores as well.
Congrats! We can hardly wait for the cutting captioning on Unhappy Hipsters to begin... Katherine has a wicked sense of humor of her own too. Harpoon House was featured in Portland Monthly last year for those who just want to click and read.
The New York Times interviews MacArthur Fellow and architect Jeanne Gang. Her Aqua tower is both beloved and disliked intensely, but it does show that Chicago still does skyscrapers that people respond to... it isn't just a height thing.
Peter Plagens' puts his foot down and discusses his seminal book "Sunshine Muse" and the current Pacific Standard Time catalog, which criticizes his 37 year old work on West Coast Art. Plagens is straight up about it being a period piece and pretty much POWNS the academics criticizing his primary source narrative. Even closer to home, where Plagens' states, "Mark Tobey and Morris Graves 'have possessed Pacific Northwest art to the point of suffocation.'" is right on. Reading that I realized a lot of what I've done up here (with the help of 10,000+ others) on the Northern Coast is break that suffocation... in Portland at least. The thing about writing the first draft of history is you are allowed to bruise egos, make omissions and upset people's apple carts with a clear conscience... a pair of steel balls doesn't hurt either and Plagens' definitely has a pair.
Brian Libby discusses the CRC's ummmm progress... and continued obfuscation/rubber stamp process. Still, the funding is so shaky on this poorly designed project that I welcome it's not so improbable demise at the hands of the Oregon and Washington State legislatures. Don't get me wrong I think the bridge is needed but the rushed and bass-ackwards way it has gone down means the current and very poor design should be scrapped and restarted with some truly innovative bridge solutions to justify the high price tag. Governor Kitzhaber (who received a lot of campaign funding from CRC interests) is mostly to blame for this an it is perhaps his biggest mistake in an otherwise decent political career.
And in case you live under a rock you saw the NYT's article on PICA's 2011 TBA festival. Sincere congratulations, now I'll do my yearly dead-on critical assessment because what was new to the Times isn't new to us. TBA's visual component's biggest flaw... is a certain let's throw stuff at the walls and see what sticks method (sometimes literally) and is also its strongest card. To me TBA makes the visual arts component (what we cover) seem a bit token and scattered compared to the excellent permanent gallery space program they had from 2001-2004 and this year was no exception. It's a festival so I can't fault it for feeling fleeting... but
The Art Newspaper reports on single painting blockbuster shows, yes the Portland Art Museum's upcoming Titian show is mentioned. I much prefer these types of shows to filling a room full of gilded heirlooms and besides it is great that a single painting can command such attention. Anyways, it is not like West Coast museums are swimming in Titians the rest of the time.
Chris Burden, Three Ghost Ships, 1991
Installation at Gagosian Gallery, Beverly Hills 1996 (Photo: Douglas M. Parker Studio)
Also, in case you missed it in PORT's big article on PAM's new identity last week but at the end of October we are going to be treated to a pretty major Chris Burden installation at PAM. Burden's Ghost Ships are one of my very favorite works of all time (with interesting political overtones today) and it opens October 22nd. This is the sort of solo show that PORT readers are hungry for from Portland's major art institutions.
Richard Hamilton's Just what is it that makes today's homes different, so appealing? (1956) where the term Pop was first coined
The original Pop artist, Richard Hamilton has died. Hamilton's brainier brand of Pop Art began as a form of social commentary inextricably tied to Duchampian existential absurdism but it ended up becoming the dominant mode for understanding the man made environment in the second half of the 20th Century.
Beauty was a hot topic in the mid 90's when Dave Hickey challenged the decades
long bias against it in contemporary art with his essay, The
Invisible Dragon: Four Essays on Beauty. It was essentially an all out and
ultimately successful attack on a lot of French postmodernism theory that had
metastasized into a kind of academic koan, one which treated visual pleasure
as a kind of intellectual failing. What Hickey most effectively assaulted was
the academic conceit rather than the theoreticians themselves and suddenly it
was fine to make beautiful things again and craft suddenly stopped being a dirty
word... not that Anish Kapoor and Jeff Koons weren't already doing it and artists
like Murakami, Hirst, Andreas Gursky, Josiah McElheny and Olafur Elliason eventually
removed all doubt. Likewise, the resurgent interest in Ed Ruscha, Ellsworth
Kelly, Richard Serra, Robert Irwin and Judd ultimately solidified the argument
that beautiful (or relentlessly visual/kinesthetic) work could be intellectually
Overall, I'm interested in seeing where this discussion around Brown's paper
hinges on and diverges from the art history of the past 20 years and hopefully
some discussion of local examples will ensue (Storm Tharp, Jacqueline Ehlis
(who studied with Hickey), Eva Speer, Arcy Douglass, Laura Highes, Jordan Tull,
Laura Fritz, Midori Hirose, Adam Sorenson, the Appendix crew and James Lavadour
are all germane). Lastly, does beauty still require defending and from whom?
This just in, the small but increasingly impressive Oregon College of Art and Craft has just announced a partnership with Nike. This is significant as Nike designers will be in residence on campus and highlights the hands on Craft based design process the college has become known for. It's a great opportunity for students to see how things are done outside the art school bubble and great for Nike to do some woodshedding so to speak.
The Portland Art Dealers Association Award for Service to the Visual Arts has been awarded to Joan Shipley.
Congrats are due to Shipley, an often behind the scenes arts force who along with her husband John is can frequently be seen out and amongst the galleries. I like the idea of the award as most awards are targeted towards artists who make a very public splash. On a civic level there is little recognition of less sexy things like; arts leaders, curatorial initiative, alt space management or fundraising activity in Portland (RACC, OAC, Mayor's office, Ford Foundation this is something to work on). Good on PADA to undertake this initiative.
Joan was a founding member of PICA, chaired the board during the capital campaign and is on the leadership council today. She is also active with The Bonnie Bronson Award and many, many other cultural institutions in Portland. In 2004-2005 she and her husband were recipients of the Governor's Arts Award.
The Portland Art Dealers Association Award for Service to the Visual Arts is given on occasion, but not necessarily on an annual basis. The recipient is chosen by vote of the members of PADA.
Julie Bernard and Laura Russo were the first and second recipients of The Portland Art Dealers Association Award for Service to the Visual Arts. Joan Shipley is the third recipient.
The Guardian has
images of the 9/11 memorial fountains... unfortunately the piecemeal design
of the site including the forgettable Freedom Tower is just another reminder
of how New York and possibly America can't get it right when the chips a really
down. They are very big and very wet but somehow they leave me underwhelmed.
A new article suggests
that the traditional gallery model is "structurally weak" and
that a series of fairs and Internet based modes are supplanting the old walk-in
model. This is partially correct, I can see galleries choosing smaller downtown
spaces and cheaper/larger and less finished project spaces in the future. The
trick is keeping collectors engaged and interested and simply scaling back (+ showing
more conservative work) without coherent, large scale or adventurous shows won't
create more excitement. You have to put collectors in the mood by impressing them and setting their minds at work. Fairs are so overwhelming it promotes buying but that doesn't work for
everyone. I think there is a balanced approach that makes more sense by creating
destination programming. Unless you are selling blue chip work a large downtown
gallery doesn't make sense anymore.
The Portland Art Museum actually has an excellent Rockburne "Saqqarah." The title is direct reference to the Saqqara necropolis in Egypt, which is home to many pyramids including the very first one, the step pyramid by Djoser. In particular, I appreciate the drawn plum lines (on the canvas and wall) which bring up the conflation of surface and support within the work... which in a way mirrors the way the ancient Egyptians lived for the afterlife (life as the staging ground for the afterlife). As a formal exercise is is a highly satisfying study in triangular devices, with hints of planning and execution that remind me a little of Agnes Martin but a lot more dynamic. Though it is primarily made of canvas it is more related to dance, drawing, architecture and installation art.