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Thursday 09.21.17

 

September quandries

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.

Jasper Johns creates an artist retreat out of his home... generous but doesn't he need that? Moves like this are important but worrysome.

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).

Last but not least I'll be one of the panelists at this years Clark Arts Summit in Vancouver. Look, I've never thought of the 'couv as a cultural dead zone (the Archer does some of the areas best shows) and by looking to activate Fort Vancouver etc. they might just be able to avoid some of Portland's mistakes (too much middling collaboration at the cost of vision, little support for small arts venues + a general phobia around ambition) at the institutional level. See you there.


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Posted by Jeff Jahn on September 20, 2017 at 9:19 | Comments (0)


Interview with Jennifer Steinkamp

Jennifer Steinkamp is a digital art pioneer who creates vibrant, often mesmerizing works that explore; education, science, pathology, art history, even politics. A professor in the Department of Design Media Arts at UCLA, Steinkamp, is simultaneously both an educator and one of the best known digital artists on the planet. In the following interview she discusses everything from her 1st grade teacher to technology... and far more difficult subjects as two Mid-westerners might on the site at her eponymous exhibition at the Portland Art Museum on view through September 17, 2017.

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Jennifer Steinkamp in front of Orbit 11 at the Portland Art Museum (photo Jeff Jahn)


Jeff Jahn: So pleased to have you here in Portland... it is a treat for those of us who followed your contribution to Dave Hickey's Beau Monde, a show, which is credited as a break of a certain kind of academic Postmodernism and ushering in a return to Pluralism. Since Beau Monde in 2001 we have been wondering when Portland would finally get a Jennifer Steinkamp exhibition?

Jennifer Steinkamp: Beau Monde was such a great show, has he (Dave Hickey) come here?

JJ: yes, over 15 years ago right after he received the MacArthur. Some careerist academics walked out of his talk and afterward at a cocktail reception all these Reed professors were trying to throw their jive at him. I remember he mentioned how he had not found much of a use for Derrida and they were horrified yet intrigued because JD was so central to their understanding. They were trying so hard to ask good academic jargon questions but he always had a specific historical or literary anecdote that would show that things were rooted to time and place. He just kept grounding things to their original inspirations and intellectual relevance... basically the real reasons we were still talking about them.

JS: He's so funny


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Posted by Jeff Jahn on September 13, 2017 at 11:14 | Comments (0)


Bill Will at Lewis and Clark College

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Bill Will, House of Mirrors

Bill Will is one of Portland's biggest trickster satirist installation artists and in times like these what could be more appropriate than a lil art sideeye? Funhouse at the Hoffman Gallery is just what we need, a reminder of just how wrong we have always been as a nation. The entire menagerie of installations themselves form a funhouse with a specific route of whirling twirling theatricality that the viewer completes as a participant... predictably ending in a gift shop. Leave it to Lewis and Clark College to bring another strong season opener by trusting an artist to push the envelope.

Funhouse | September 10 - December 10
Opening Reception September 10, 3-5PM
Ronna and Eric Hoffman Gallery of Contemporary Art
Lewis & Clark College

0615 S.W. Palatine Hill Road


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Posted by Jeff Jahn on September 09, 2017 at 11:06 | Comments (0)


First Thursday Picks September 2017

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Installation view of Crepuscular Blue

Alison Saar is considered one of the most important and sometimes controversial artists doing public art today so it is timely to have her work back in Portland. PORT interviewed her here 7 years ago in a discussion that explored race, identity and the artist's way. What her current show at PNCA's 511 gallery reveals is she is also a formidable print maker, giving us another facet to consider in addition to the sculpture, which are also on display. Upon visiting the show I was struck by just how successful her prints are, often using inventive non traditional support materials, coupled with a keen graphic sensibility. All of the works come to the 511 Gallery via the Jordan Schnitzer Family Foundation as part of their ongoing series at PNCA. It is one of the year's best shows and with everything else going on at PNCA the school (usually 2-4 other professional and student shows) is typically a best bet for 1st Thursday goers.

CREPUSCULAR BLUE: PRINTS AND SCULPTURE BY ALISON SAAR | September 7 - October 14, 2017
First Thursday: September 7, 6:00-8:00PM
Artist Talk: September 18, 6:30PM
PNCA
511 NW Broadway



watt_companion_species_17.jpgMarie Watt, Companion Species (Canopy), 2016

Marie Watt has been on of the Pacific Northwest's stalwart artists for decades but this new series combining the depictions of a dogs (like the Capitoline Wolf) on various fabrics as well as sculptures argues to be her strongest work to date. I like to see an artist actually hit a new stride after getting a lot of awards and museum attention... it is a mark of distinction.

Companion Species | August 31 - September 30
First Thursday Reception: September 7, 6-8PM
PDX Contemporary
925 NW Flanders


... (more)


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Posted by Jeff Jahn on September 07, 2017 at 13:00 | Comments (0)


Early September Links

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.

Jerry Saltz thinks the new Kara Walker show is the best work about America this century. Perhaps, but that is a pretty low bar. Can US citizens really explore America that well?... isn't it dreaming immigrants who do that best? As a second gen American I just want to float that out there.. The American experience has always been best described by new immigrants.

How are Houston artists coping with the hurricane Harvey aftermath? Former Portlander (and much missed) Paul Middendorf is director/founder of Gallery Homeland down there and has been been working rescue operations.

Brian Libby writes a sad but wonderful piece about the Gorge on fire. It will be changed but I bet a great deal of wonder will remain... remember the biggest trees are designed to survive these fires. Still, I am deeply saddened about this blaze.


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Posted by Jeff Jahn on September 06, 2017 at 18:02 | Comments (0)


Kate Simmons at Alexander Gallery

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Kate Simmons' Slow Cooked at Alexander Gallery

First off, the Alexander Gallery in Oregon City is an under appreciated and under exposed gem in the region with its high ceilings and overall nice layout. If you want to do a large scale work it is one of the best spaces in the State of Oregon. Making use of those features, Kate Simmons' exhibition Slow Cooked: An Interior Monologue, explores "the cyclical nature of domestic tasks and are infused with a healthy dose of self-talk. In this work the artist explores and juxtaposes ideas of balance inspired by being a career oriented female and homemaker. This exhibition spans a three year period of making and features works of many media including, large scale photographic installation, bronze and mixed media sculpture." My own Mother was once a Home Ec teacher so I have a personal interest in this subject. On the world stage there has been a great deal of refocusing on female artists but I've found the talking points surrounding Art are still dominated by the very 19th century male-centric value structures and axioms. I think we simply need to apply a different set of values/virtues to apply to all artwork rather than modes that have existed since before the beginning of the industrial revolution (a discussion of space alone would be refreshing rather than objects as investments). Simmons is doing her part and you can hear her KBOO interview here and she's speaking tomorrow at 1:00.

Slow Cooked: An Interior Monologue | August 7 - September 1
Artist Talk: August 23rd, 1PM rm N140 (Niemeyer Center)
Alexander Gallery
Clackamas Community College
19600 Molalla Ave. Oregon City


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Posted by Jeff Jahn on August 22, 2017 at 10:11 | Comments (0)


Understanding the Sublime, Free day at PAM

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Jennifer Steinkamp's Orbit at PAM (photo Jeff Jahn)

One day before the total eclipse the Portland Art Museum is having one of their essential Miller Free Days. Since PAM is the biggest repository on the study of the sublime in Oregon and an eclipse is the epitome of the sublime by Burke's influential definition something fraught but ultimately not dangerous if viewed in a safe way) looking at art will enrich the eclipse experience and vice versa. A great deal of art works with the sublime, from Picasso's Guernica to Damien Hirst's sharks or even Anish Kapoor's bean. The sublime can be political, abstract... even photographic. To that end there are several worthy examples on display at PAM. For example, Jennifer Steinkamp's Orbit is an immersive mandelbrot net of both natural seeming imagery conveyed through patently unnatural means, making it fraught with definitions. There's also an tasty little Clifford Gleeson painting show on the 3rd floor of the Northwest wing and Several works in Sam Hamilton's Standard Candles, particularly one video installation where the artist walls upon books into the landscape. Last but not least is the Greenberg collection itself... most of which traffics in the sublime and is extremely relevant (museums often neglect their strengths, its one of their main paradoxes).

Of course, it is unfortunate there isnt a major Rothko on display as his work is some of the most sublime in history... we are all hoping that PAM gets the Rothko Pavilion idea sorted out so the can connect those dots better. Great Rothkos rival solar eclipses.

Miller Free Day
August 20, 2017 | 10AM - 5PM
Portland Art Museum
1219 SW Park Ave


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Posted by Jeff Jahn on August 19, 2017 at 16:42 | Comments (0)


Art & Ecology at Indivisble

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Detail from Buster Simpson's "Captiva Raft Revisited 2017" from Rising Water Confab, a collaborative residency at the Robert Rauschenberg studio on Captiva Island, Fl.

Portland isnt that strong in its formal institutions but as was pointed out by Peter Plagens years ago its alternative space is very interesting... perhaps that is why Converge 45 feels like it doesn't quite present Portland's A game. Perhaps the most interesting alternative space in Portland is Indivisible (in a residential house deep in Portlands Southeast neighborgoods) so it is great that they are having a special open house this evening (Thursday, August 10th, 6-9 pm) for the Art & Ecology show. Curated by Linda Wysong it features works by Peg Butler, Bruce Conkle, Egg Dahl, Ardis DeFreece, Adam Kuby, Vanessa Renwick, Buster Simpson, Linda Wysong.

Art and Ecology | August 6-26
Special reception: August 10, 6-9PM
Additional viewing Saturdays, August 12th, 19th, and 26th noon to 5PM
Indivisible
2544 SE 26th




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Posted by Jeff Jahn on August 10, 2017 at 12:42 | Comments (0)


Early August News

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.

While on the subject of crisis in contemporary art, here is a fascinating article where the strongest work tends to misread its predecessors to create room for itself. A strategy called "Misprision" where mere imitation is just a form of "cultural suicide" or at least death by thousand cuts from hedging... i.e. hiding in the cultural hedges. Simply doing research and evoking history and its forms isn't quite enough.... (more)


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Posted by Jeff Jahn on August 09, 2017 at 14:15 | Comments (0)


Cooler Through Art

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.

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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. .

Jennifer Steinkamp
July 8 - September 17
Portland Art Museum
1219 SW Park Ave



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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.

Kabuki: A Revolution in Color and Design | July 29 - September 3
Portland Japanese Garden
611 SW Kingston Ave



... (more)


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Posted by Jeff Jahn on August 02, 2017 at 9:34 | Comments (0)


Summer reading

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)


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Posted by Jeff Jahn on July 27, 2017 at 15:30 | Comments (0)


Newspace Closure? & Analysis

newspace_grand_expansion_fete.jpg

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?

For some context, Portland has a terrible history of simply ending longstanding and very popular exhibition programs like the PCVA, PICA at their old Weiden + Kennedy Space (something they haven't yet fully recovered from with a consistent and diverse year round visual arts program... their new home does hold promise though), the New American Art Union, Portland Art Center, Museum of Contemporary Craft and the just 2011 when Newspace moved into this exciting new space. Obviously fundraising in Portland is challenging... there is a certain benign neglect (that isn't benign) and an aversion to leadership and strong vision that makes our art organizations bleed into each other as it is typical for 5 or more organizations to work together on a project. This leads to difficulty reaching donors who cant tell who does what? There is also a huge shift taking place in the way traditional art organizations are being used and supported.

*Update Details 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


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Posted by Jeff Jahn on July 10, 2017 at 13:48 | Comments (0)


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