With one foot firmly in 2019 now is a good time to look at what the Portland art scene has on view with some short reviews.
Residual Membranes at PCC's Paragon Arts Gallery (fg) Exuviation
Amanda Triplett is a serious talent and everyone should take note of this exhibition at PCC Cascade's Paragon Arts Gallery. Combining recycled fabric crafts and coupling it to some of Eva Hesse's postminimalist forms she joins a few of my favorite artists like Ellen George and Laura Fritz as artists who explore the borders of the natural and unnatural through material comportment. It is a form that seems ill understood by a lot of dudecentric artworld dialogics.
The most standout work here, Third Skin, is a riot of oranges and pinks made from reclaimed fibers arrayed like the offspring of a fishermen's net and the small intestines of a Jabberwocky make it both fantastical and a
*Update: the Art Gym's records are headed to the Portland Art Museum. So a program becomes an archive... I must note that the PCVA's even more storied archive lives there as well. Overall, Im curious about what will happen to the Crumpacker Library archives after PAM's planned renovation/expansion? Hopefully this opportunity to make the library better known and accessed is seized upon. Also, the space vacated by the library will become a large contemporary gallery space. All that said, any move of the Art Gym away from its Marylhurst site changes things... one really can't turn back the clock. The thing is Portland should be creating more ideal organs of culture to serve its crucial art scene rather than just reshuffle the decks.
PORT was just notified that the proposed merger between Oregon College of Art and Craft and Pacific Northwest College of Art is for now off after PNCA and OCAC board meetings. To us at PORT this merger never made sense other than for the fetish of this # of 1000 students but its clear that the much smaller OCAC needs a fairy godmother of sorts and the main problem is that higher education as a system seems to be collapsing under costs and student debt. OCAC has grown but I just cant see it having 1000+ students, ever. I suspect that would kill what is special about the college. Ultimately, PNCA and OCAC simply shared the same inherent needs/weaknesses and I likened the idea as trying to find a date for the holidays only to wonder about the long term feasibility? Instead, I think OCAC should think outside the box (how about OHSU, or a massive save craft campaign? Nick Offerman will be in the area in April folks, he's the face of craft... engage him). What's more PNCA should do what it has been doing by focusing on deepening their disciplines. The point is there are competitive advantages that need attention that a merger would be a distraction to. An art school that loses focus doesnt survive, it is just that simple and OCAC is special as a craft focused school. That said no one wants to see OCAC close like Marylhurst University recently did so OCAC needs a capital campaign and this is a major donation time. Ultimately OCAC is without an experienced president and therefore has a vision vacuum at the moment. (The whole merger was originally presented as a fait accompli, which seemed hasty).
Here is PNCA's statement:
"Over the last three months, Pacific Northwest College of Art (PNCA) and Oregon College of Art and Craft (OCAC) have explored the potential of consolidating their two institutions. Today, PNCA's Board of Governors has made the determination that a merger at this time is not a feasible option and voted to decline the opportunity with OCAC.
Both institutions entered these conversations with strong intention and dedicated rigor, engaging in an inclusive process that included faculty, staff and members of the board from both institutions. The PNCA community holds our colleagues at OCAC in high regard, recognizing their contribution to the American Crafts movement, art education and the rich legacy of the arts and creativity in the Pacific Northwest. OCAC has stated its intention to remain dedicated to providing the highest level of arts education in the City of Portland and throughout the Pacific Northwest. We wish them only success in moving forward."
Here is OCAC's statement:
"During the last 3 months, OCAC and PNCA have completed a due diligence and negotiations process to understand the potential benefits and challenges of merging our two institutions.
Today, both OCAC's Board of Trustees and PNCA's Board of Governors made the decision that a merger at this time is not a feasible option for our respective organizations. OCAC and PNCA remain dedicated to providing the highest level of arts education in the City of Portland and throughout the Pacific Northwest.
The OCAC leadership is exploring other exciting opportunities to ensure the sustainability of our college and campus. We continue to be fully committed to finding the best possible pathway to a brighter future."
Perhaps an innovative public private partnership? Perhaps a non art school? Either way nobody wants to lose OCAC and a committed campaign with vision needs to be mounted.
Comforter, Maria T.D. Inocencio (all photos Jeff Jahn)
Arguably one of the strongest and easily the most intensive two person exhibition ever to be mounted in in Portland, Loss of Material Evidence by Mark R. Smith and Maria T.D. Inocencio at Lewis and Clark College's Hoffman Gallery, ends today. It also capstones its consummate curator's 20 year run in a blatant example of University administrative myopia and disregard for cultural offerings in higher education. First, let's concentrate on the exhibition as LoME is a tour de force in material as memory and pattern as personality translated via sustained activity/interaction with family members and other loved ones. This exhibition successfully goes into places where contemporary art often fails, specifically the persistence of personal familial affinity as a means of building meaning. It doesn't hurt that the two artists themselves constitute a family unit but I also appreciate how they both integrate and separate their individual voices. Perhaps, one can think of this as a memorable Thanksgiving dinner? For myself that what this constitutes, an extensive extended family feast... with all the simmering conflicts and savored time spent in reminiscence. All families, especially US families have to deal with the stuff the accumulate, but Mark and Maria made it into art and it cant help but be a gen X commentary.
Visitors are greeted by Time Tunnel, a large collaborative labyrinth wall piece by the two artists. Marriage is in itself a kind of time tunnel and each contributed in distinct ways. Maria apparently contributed the intensive structure while Mark's impressive eye for color, texture and pattern make visually absorbing. As someone who pays close attention to couples in the arts (being in a one myself) I cannot stress how rare a successful and integrated collaboration like this is. Sure, it might resemble high modernism but what it really constitutes is nonverbal monolith of what a close knit team can do. Perhaps only in Portland is the subject domestic machinations fetished and put on display like this exhibition and it is a major element of what Portland's art scene does better than any other in the USA. What Time Tunnel does well is introduce the viewer to the mesmerizing effect of material as a kind of token evidence of a life lived. Being constructed of fabrics that had previous uses it presents an engaging and partial picture... presenting the scope of the subject matter. In particular, that of families that accumulate stuff, which is then dealt with as they age and eventually pass on. I am generation X and have personally had to deal with much of this already. Do L&C students realize how important a subject this is?
2016's Open This End at the Hoffman Gallery (L to R) Jack Pierson, Andy Warhol, Agnes Martin, Tony Smith and Rita Mcbride
**There will be updates as they come in
Lewis and Clark College, known for being perhaps the most liberal of all of Portland's Liberal Arts Colleges has decided to "change....toward a more student-centered and student-responsive gallery experience at the end of this school year." That means their excellent curator Linda Tesner has been laid off and according to the school, "we plan to look for a faculty member to lead that process." The question remains is that a professional curator? Linda did shows of startling international caliber but also mounted excellent student and faulty shows that all benefited from a higher level of competence. Portland institutions are terrible at assessing caliber of cultural programs and it will be very difficult for this development to not become a downgrade. How does an institution that touts itself as, "A private college with a public conscience," defend an inward navel gazing + likely cost saving measure? How do the today's students feel now that they are being expected to program their own art experience when for 20 years previous students had a very interactive, socially conscious high caliber professional curator?
At first I heard that the space was closing at the end of the school year, which seemed incredibly short sighted as this is one of the jewels in Portland's cultural scene and nothing could be more crucial to a Liberal Arts education than the actual "Arts." For years there has been bureaucratic pressure (like renting the gallery space etc.) but now the director+curator Linda Tesner has been laid off, despite having done an excellent job curating shows like: The world class: Open this End and this stunner and Alison Saar. Reading between the lines this move seems to devalue the curatorial expertise and contributions just like the the closure of the White Box did to their director. (Changing leadership when someone is doing a great job and is popular always looks odd to art critics). Then there was the way the Art Gym's cancelled move to OCAC displaced longtime OCAC staff (its bad to have institutions displacing each other). I can say I never heard L&C art students complain that the Hoffman wasnt challenging or current or engaged enough, the opposite actually. Instead, it was without a doubt one of the best run spaces in the West Coast but always seemed to lack support from some higher ups. Will that change? contact L&C's president and tell them what you think: firstname.lastname@example.org The irony is deep as now L&C President Wim Weiwel will have the main gallery of PSU's new art museum named after him and I know for a fact he likes attending art exhibitions.
2012 graduate Drew Linehan described the news as, "remarkably disappointing."
2003 graduate Leah Emkin was shocked saying, "The Hoffman was an integral part of our arts program. Linda was very inspirational as a woman leader in the arts."
Other Alumni indicated how the Hoffman under Tesner made the campus less isolated and brought the world to the wealthy enclave in the West Hills. How does looking more inward institutionally help a supposedly ultra-liberal arts college? Something does not sit right... a bit like a big hospital without a surgeon and replacing them with a part time medic. It just isnt the same thing unless the caliber of director remains and from everything I heard over the years it may have contributed to some bureaucratic aca-envy. Linda's program mounted large scale shows for local artists and L&C faculty as well as international artists. This exhibition and cultural exchange with Cuban artists and L&C students is a prime example of the great things Linda did that apparently was not valued.
What this seems to be is a bureaucratic push for a different director so the question must be will it be be for someone of comparable expertise and program of comparable caliber? With the loss of so many institutions like the Museum of Contemporary Craft, White Box, Newspace, Art Gym etc. it seems like depth of long term curatorial experience that informs challenging shows doesnt seem to be valued very much. Agendas in higher ed can be some of the most political. Yet, what I liked about Linda is she was one of the most fair minded people in the art scene. The arts arent just a mouthpiece, they are an exploration and I'll be watching this closely. What is sure here is that Linda leaves very large shoes to fill as the Hoffman is not a tiny gallery. It is a large museum style space that requires a lot of experience and preparations to program. Its not the sort of space a faculty member can just pull off as a side gig and in general I fear for the state of L&C's art program.
The latest show at the Portland Japanese Garden, Manga Hokusai Manga: Approaching the Master's Compendium from the Perspective of Contemporary Comics, takes a look at the connection of early Manga to today's modern form. This is the US debut for a traveling show, which compares acknowledged masters from all eras. The show takes us from Hokusai to today's best and brightest. I'm personally struck by the way all forms are stylized visual compendiums, like stored visual thinking about basic and sometimes capricious aspects of life that are normally fleeting or nigh impossible to capture in photography or words. One could call it a kind of essential visual theater on the page. There are lots of events set with this show including a scholarly lecture on December 15th... and a closing panel, which will be announced.
This is your last day to catch Victor Maldonado's Liberation Stories at Froelick Gallery and it is one of the strongest painting shows Ive ever seen in Portland, which is interesting because the artist tends to be more of a conceptualist. But here he's visceral, engaging the history of street art, Philip Guston, Baselitz, Guggenheim Mural era Pollock and perhaps even Hermann Nitsch? The thing is it all comes from being the city of Portland's most visible Mexican/American artist who is paradoxically "not Mexican enough" and at the same time always summoned to be on any multicultural panel (the essential voice who is always on the panel but never given the award, which makes me furious). The truth is Victor has always walked a tightrope... being a bit of a provocative troublemaker as an artist and as a great ombudsman as an administrator. These paintings just burn through all the stereotypes and their tornadic vorticies coalesce into bodyslammed wrestlers... or are the dead? Always too smart, too nice, too handsome, too considerate and too perceptive to sit into left and right wing political schemas his works are troubling and put the viewers on the ropes in paintings like The Fallen and Ofrenda. I like his newfound confidence, now on display many years after earning his US citizenship, Victor is taking the victory lap nobody seemed to be willing to give him (including himself).
True, he's a friend and I couldnt be prouder of him but ultimately this is a cultural comeuppance. Victor's paintings simply cannot be ignored... and in any other progressive city besides Portland would have been celebrated more. But Portland's institutions do not acknowledge true provocateurs like Victor... yet it is exactly what the smugly woke need. The "liberation" here is the fact that Victor has been crucial for over a decade and somehow despite not really thinking of himself as a masterful painter has become just that. The sheer economy and bravura of works on display arent about revisiting traumas... they are a all in your face testaments to the considered vitality paint can convey. No more hiding, this is the strongest solo painting show in years from the Pacific Northwest (only about half of the recent works are on display).
*He also has an excellent Chapel on Display at the Archer Gallery and today is the last day to see it.
Jeffry Mitchell's Tyger! Tyger at PDX Contemporary
Another last day, in this case to catch Seattle's Jeffry Mitchell. He is on a roll and one had better be to intone William Blake's great poem by calling his latest at PDX Contemporary, Tyger! Tyger! What makes this baroque conglomeration of delicate ceramics and wall works the the way the ceramics feel like folk art. Somehow Mitchell's latest works feel like they are pantomiming the often touted schism between western art and the far east rendering the argument moot. I enjoy that and by using folksy spun lathed stools as plinths Mitchell purposefully confuses crockery, mysticism and furniture. He's been doing some of the very best art of his long career lately.
Tyger! Tyger! | October 30 - December 1
925 NW Flanders
PORT has followed Meow Wolf since the early days and even visited them in Santa Fe last year. What is important is the way the artists of Meow Wolf have taken back the modes of production and presentation to support themselves and in the process have become the biggest art draw in Santa Fe (a place full of heavy hitters). In fact, two Portland artists, Nathanael Thayer Moss and Chelsea Linehan were involved in the Santa Fe warehouse project and you can see their work scattered all over the trailer above. The movie plays all over the country on Thursday night, including Portland.
How to talk to kids about art? I dont have kids but I spend a lot of time talking to kids about, partially because they see things adults do not. maybe I should do an article about how kids teach adults to look at art?
The artificial divide between textiles and art? In some ways this battle is already over intellectually but not in markets or museum space (hidebound by conservative investment conventions rather than intellectually)).
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: