PORT friend David Anfam, the world's leading Rothko Scholar and Curator of the Clifford Still Museum discusses the Rothko being auctioned off by SFMOMA.
I am not a fan of this deacquisition to buy other works by less represented artists but SFMOMA does have better Rothkos and they dont display it very often. That's terrible logic and if SFMOMA were truly committed to telling new stories through their collection they should do it without selling the work by one of the USA's most lauded immigrant artists! It is absurd and unfortunate. This Koons in the collection would be a far better choice (yes yes a partial gift that isnt wholly SFMOMA's but I think PORT readers get the point).
That the current Desert X Biennial isnt very sensitive to its surroundings is no surprise... too often art in the desert relies on its otherness rather than compound the situation presented. Some of my favorite works by Walter De Maria, Smithson, Judd and Michael Heizer all understand their inability to compete as an insertion with the site and in fact create "an incompletion" instead. If I were to curate a desert foray... it would have to operate that way (I've actually lived in a desert or 2 and that helps).
Not surprisingly the Zumthor LACMA design was approved. Frankly, I liked this design better when it had more gallery space and the curatorial offices were not farmed out to a rental building. Also, I actually like the curving single floor plan. I just dislike the banishing of curatorial expertise... (its a bigger museum problem as less and less curators are expected to be experts and act more like assistant directors). I like Govan's ideas about interdisciplenary non-timeline reliant hangs but it actually takes more expertise to do that right... like having 2 or more great chefs cooking together but now it feels like the curators are being sent a corrosive message. Museums are not just the storage lockers and tax havens of the rich... they are exist as the keepers of culture and that requires human expertise put on display (and it isnt just the art alone... it is the considered display and interplay... when I last visited LACMA there were problems in the displays of interplay).
America's Whispered Truths closing at Archer Gallery
Willy Little (fg) and Reneee Billingslea's Lynching Shirts (bg) at Archer Gallery
It ends Saturday so dont miss America's Whispered Truths at the Archer Gallery, which I reviewed recently within a cluster of related shows. In this duo exhibition Renee Billingslea and Willie Little dont pull any punches as they each explore the not so subtle violence of racism through powerful assemblage and installations.
If you want a truly unvarnished yet nuanced exhibition, America's Whispered Truths screams in silent terror, giving scope and sobering scale to the whole discussion of racism in America.
America's Whispered Truths
February 19 - April 13
Closing Reception: April 13, 3-5PM Archer Gallery
Clark College, Vancouver WA.
Things are coming to a head in LA for LACMA's Zumthor design as funding comes to a vote and detractors have noted it has less space for the permanent collection. Much less apparently. I'm not against this expansion like many voices in LA are but I think the single floor design is a problem as is the decrease in permanent collection space. (Solution add a second floor for curatorial offices and some special focus exhibitions for the permanent collection?) Lately, museums have been having problems activating their permanent collections as well as downgrading the role of expert in house curators. It is part of what Ive been calling the war on expertise (from both ends of the political spectrum). It's terrible and must be countered. Museum expansions should deepen an institution's connection and scope of appreciation of art by lay people and experts alike... they need each other. True intellectuals and artists challenge administrative planning and institutional framing any design that cannot accept that kind of thought pressure isnt the right design and will be seen as culturewashing for the 1%. Zumthor is talented enough to address this as he is one of the world's very best architects. The trick is to make this a gift/investment to LA and not to the 1%. I know Portland with its own looming expansion or two is watching this closely.
This month marks my Twentieth Anniversary of moving to Portland and arguably that decision changed Portland in many ways (addressing history history with, Judd and Rothko, and a new appreciation of new media with Pipilotti Rist, Hank Willis Thomas and Cao Fei + talent scouting locals, etc). Simply put, I challenge Portland. There is still much more is to be done as the city doesnt effectively support its best artists yet (other cities do it for us... but still cmon). Considering all this, I've been spending a lot of time looking at art, with a one night Spring Equinox show as well (it was very underground on purpose). As part of my spring cleaning process here is a cluster of reviews, with an eye towards exposing some common threads and themes. Key: "*" Indicates show still open and "**" indicates it is still open for today's First Thursday (yes PAM is open for First Thursday). As you can see Portland's art scene is far from dead, challenges sometimes strengthen things and I see evidence of it here.
Main exhibition space of The Map Is Not The Territory with Charlene Vicker's Remember Redwing (fg)
The Map is Not the Territory is the Portland Art Museum's revolving triennial replacement for the Contemporary Northwest Art Awards (which among artists was nicknamed the conservative art awards). For this program instead of a stereo typically "Northwest" approach to traditional materials and subject matter like rain, glass, trees and fetish of effortful handwork the show has thankfully taken on an anthropological approach, which is essentially an expose on the human experience. I found it more satisfying than the CNAA's or any of the other weak institutional regional surveys Portland has been routinely subjected to recently. Mostly that is because this show felt connected to the times rather than trying to ingratiate itself among various special interest patronage factions. In short the work felt personally involved rather than a checklist of token inclusions. Themes like border crossings, ancestors, roots, food, shelter and the uneasy dance of the natural and man made are all topical and relevant, if a little obvious themes to explore. Think of this a as a show where PAM evolves from merely a map to patronage to one that asks the broad question of, "What are we doing here?"
Willy Little (fg) and Reneee Billingslea at Archer Gallery
I've been busy with several projects (inside and outside Portland)... including curating a somewhat informal Spring show in Portland this weekend. That said I have a large # of reviews to publish (soon, lots going on behind the scenes). Till then these links should tide you over:
The OCAC saga continues as the board met yesterday with no official announcement. Students protested again on Thursday but as usual certain faculty members set out to shame them into suppressing their concerns. Apparently OCAC comes with lessons in fatalistic suppression? bad form. Look, what has been wrong with this entire thing has been a suppressive attitude from the board and a few faculty enforcers who have taken a similar hospice-like approach with an yen for quashing all critical discussion. I feel for all sides (even the board, which seems out of its league) this is a tough situation with a DOA higher education business model but a cult of fatalism at OCAC is how this mess painted itself into a corner (there are other models). The lack of transparency has been turning natural allies into a Dunning-Kruger polarized mess. Take a breath, find a vision or 4 and turn this crisis into an opportunity by playing different views off each other. It has only been a few weeks since the closure of OCAC was announced and I see how tired everyone is. That makes it a good time to step back... and really is this board capable of giving fresh eyes to this? If its Catlin Gable School, if its a sell and lease back, if it is an aromatherapy spa with a craft brewery and an artist's residency, if it is an artist's park, if its a center for craft that helps veterans off the street all could have positive outcomes but the trick is to pivot the model from a loss to an opportunity. Degeneration of all this into a cycle of fatalism and mistrust (both self fulfilling prophecies)is the first cycle to break before making better decisions.
A philosopher argues why AI cant be an artist. Really? Im not sure seems like being a mediocre artist isnt that hard and has identifiable trends... like putting studio rags on a wall as paintings or stacking grotty ceramics and some other detritus on a wood grained plinth or some scaffolding with meat hanging from it.
D.E. May drawer at PDX Contemporary (many from his show at LAX Art in 2014)
The art ecosystem in Oregon is mourning the death of D. E. May last night. One of our most accomplished and concentrated artists, Dan was an artist's artist with an immense poetic gift for delicate (often paper) materials that had existed previously for other purposes. Dan took their lines and surfaces, pressing them into something like entropic circuit boards that acted like treasure maps for those with an interest in archival ephemera and arcane order. A veteran of Portland's pioneering Jamison/Thomas Gallery Dan became synonymous with JTG almuni gallery, PDX Contemporary, arguably setting the tone for that gallery now known for quiet contemplative work. Gallerist Jane Beebe (JTG then her own gallery PDX) worked with Dan for 35 years and there was something special and nourishing in that relationship. Dan was PDX's pole star and Jane became Dan's favorite ship to run up the rigging and set art to sail on.
Where May's work is crucial is how it sits in continuum with the hermetic traditions of art and civilization. Where monks in the middle ages might toil to hand copy books, Dan's work preserved to appreciate all the details that support precision activities. As artifacts they became a residue of the immense concentration and intention he put into the work. This puts him in line with other hermetic materials artists like Paul Klee, Joseph Cornell, Yves Klein and Richard Tuttle. What made his work so refreshing is its stark contrast to the dumpster diving effluence of many contemporary artists today and Dan could do more in 3 inches than many artists that fill warehouses. That succinct aspect of his work was the soul of material eloquence... his work doesnt carpet bomb your senses so much invite you to saturate your senses with sustained attention. One doesnt leave May's work feeling shell shocked, instead I've always felt refreshed from the agency his work bathes the eyes and mind in.
This morning protests to save OCAC were ongoing as the board met after moving to an offsite location. Many, including us at PORT have been critical of the secrecy, assumptions and overall tone the board has operated under since the crisis became public... even voting to cease higher education classes at OCAC 2 weeks ago. Word on the street is they are mulling over 3 proposals but as the protester's activity indicates anything other than saving the school is not going to be accepted by the community (whereas the board seems spooked, perhaps understandably but a leadership vacuum is worrisome). A group called The Council To Save OCAC has been formed and the an already existing organization the Friends of OCAC has called for a town hall next week (you can still sign the letter). Those concerned should sign up for both. This is too important to just give up on and sure the business model can be adapted to something sustainable but it takes some leaps of faith... (more)
Stuart Emmons is going full William Wallace on a community charge to save OCAC in this op ed. What is hinted at in the op ed is there is a last ditch community effort underway and I agree, a school is not a simple for profit effort, more like a cultural utility and OCAC represents a lot of the true Portland Ethos acting as a repository and training ground for our values. Clearly, the model and vision still needs to change if there is a bailout but still, the community must try. This is a battle, not a simple balance sheet. Simply selling off assets to retire debt isnt the only way and the community knows it. As far as a new vision, I can see many ways to shift the model away from the broken one of pure higher education, degrees are not the only form of education and this moment in history can desperately use what OCAC offers.
Recently, OCAC's board has explored mergers with PNCA and PSU but I never saw those as viable since each school has such a different culture and yet the same underlying weaknesses that all higher education faces today. They needed a new model but could not find one, perhaps simply not being up to that kind of visioning task or perceived risk? Since last Fall OCAC's governing body appeared to be a board that simply wanted another institution to partner in fixing fundamentals at a time when the fundamentals for all higher education are broken. I could liken this situation in higher education to the lifeboats of the Titanic or a hospital patient given a grim prognosis... there are no easy answers but many in the scene still want to fight to save OCAC. In today's statement OCAC's board essentially claim they have run out options and with an interim president the vision gap here was pronounced. I'm seeing immense anger and sadness from many of the arts community regarding this outcome, as well as frustration with the short timeline. Mostly the anger comes from a sense that the board never gave the community a chance to rally and save the school. Those emotions are to be expected but are also energies that can lead to new options and perhaps a better outcome?
The latest in the OCAC saga is that PSU has decided not to acquire the rival-ish school. As a public school this PSU idea was always a long shot for the private OCAC but not impossible (it takes a bold vision and Portland isnt known for bold institutional thinking). Still, the school needs to be saved, as OCAC is a crucial, even unique entity. The main issue I see is one of vision in the face of a higher education system that is broken, forcing schools to constantly grow enrollment if they dont have prodigious endowments. Vision comes from leaders and OCAC currently does not have a visionary leader... just an understandably spooked board and an interim president (faculty member thrust into this). Plenty of people want to see this school saved but perhaps the best answer is to bear down and draw a line in the sand with a direct campaign. This will take a vision statement and plan that people can rally around (not something that Portland boards ever do). The school itself is quite unique being craft centered and that needs to be highlighted as the asset it is. Let's remember PNCA was in a similar state before Tom Manley came in and helped that school realize some of the untapped momentum it was sitting on. In my mind OCAC needs to remain small and specialized to survive the current crisis in higher education but it also needs to pragmatically innovate. This is something that requires vision... I can see several ways to make the school an innovation leader so it can reposition itself and shore up its fundamentals. The enrollment itself has been stable... unlike Marylhurst University which closed last year. Hopefully the board recognizes... (more)
Contemporary female artists are obsessed with the grotesque... Louise Bourgeios, Eva Hesse and Maria Lassnig were just early pioneers that Marlene Dumas, Tracy Emin, Wangechi Mutu and Kara Walker (to name just a few) have built upon. It is a huge genre in the Northwest too and overdue for a regional survey.
There is a showdown brewing between W.A.G.E. and the Whitney Biennial and its based on the growing sense that artists are underwriting exhibitions by wealthy museums. It is wrong and artists should be compensated fairly for these shows... everyone else at the museums, including installers are paid, why not the artists?