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  • Permalink for 'Monday Links'

    Monday Links

    Posted: 14-April-2014, 2:57pm EDT by Jeff Jahn
    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.

    File under odd, Cyndy Sherman responds to James Franco. He's a good actor and a forgettable artist but I appreciate his appreciation of visual art.

    Bacon_Install_smll.jpg
    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 and in plain view. What is more, the museums house those treasures, which are everyone's cultural patrimony and transform these asset/objects into an enriching and publicly available cultural experiences. By putting works on display also suspend the market experience, sometimes indefinitely so when they are added to the permanent collection. Charles Saatchi once famously said, "The rich will always be with us," and I think it is wrong to implicate a collector who is actually acting as a patron by sharing the work... it would have a chilling effect on the arts. That said the current income inequality has made the issue a rightfully hot one so I take things on a case by case basis. The bacon painting is great and therefore was completely worth bringing here.

    Also, consider how the past 15 years most museum's educational outreach has broadened tremendously. It is an important role. The charge that there are "no question's asked," of Oregon Museums is rather specious and reactionary. Specifically, when Chief Curator Bruce Guenther chose to ask about the Bacon triptych it was because it is a historically important piece that the market created a window for and yes within Bacon's ouvre it is a "Masterpiece" (importantly, displaying it likely did nothing for its market value). Same goes for other shows like; Gerhard Richter, Ed Ruscha, Camouflage or Sigmar Polke shows that PAM has been able to execute because a major art collector was willing to share. All those shows had an eye cultural relevance/importance and provide a glimpse into something important Oregonians would not have access to otherwise. So what if Oregon is playing Switzerland to the billionaires to the north and south of us? All states engage in these sorts of interstate contests... last year San Diego and San Franscisco were busing homeless people to Portland. It isn't the same thing of course and those other cities were playing loose and fast with people's lives. My point is all art requires compartmentalized thinking to exist at all because fine art isn't a practical concern (that's the point to explore the impractical things that make life richer). Yet, it is intellectually irresponsible to suggest that someone was receiving a degraded education in California because a collector chose to share their excellent painting in an Oregon museum. It just isn't that simple, though what it does do is reveal a fault line in the growing income inequality that is tearing at the American Dream these days. The fact that museums can be on the front lines of that discussion helps justify Oregon museums as somewhat Robin Hood - like creatures. Except instead of robbing the rich they induce them to share and take on some of burdens of education that our school systems in this state have been pushing off onto the cultural non profits.

    There is no magic bullet but it all points to one thing, serious patronage and noblesse oblige are scarce in Oregon when our institutions have to go outside their immediate borders to provide the kind of programming that a culturally active place like Portland now demands (an acquisition fund would be nice too). Today Portland is crawling with designers and well educated newcomers that 15 years ago would have been unthinkable, (well I saw it). I think we all want to see local collectors with work strong enough to put on international caliber shows and perhaps this is a wake up call... though it is unlikely any beginning collector will be purchasing major Francis Bacon paintings. We should remember that art is an international exchange and I tend to feel that partnering with someone out of state to bring an excellent painting by a British artist is a great way to highlight how small our world has become. I'm privy to many things that I wont discuss specifics on but a great many of those who lend works to PAM do participate as patrons and don't just merely receive a tax break in their home state. Oregon has many advantages and it is nice that the Times is writing about something other than our donuts, we aren't a state of mere quirksters. As others wake up to this fact it will change the state... we should take pains to make certain it is for the better.
  • Permalink for 'Thoughts on Sigmar Polke '

    Thoughts on Sigmar Polke

    Posted: 11-April-2014, 2:24pm EDT by Jeff Jahn
    polKE_pam1_sm.jpg
    Works by Sigmar Polke from the Nicolas Berggruen Charitable Trust on display at the Portland Art Museum in 2013 (L to R) Providentia-Schleife (1986), Untitled (1989), Druckfehler (1986), Lumpy Hinter dem Ofen (1983), Untitled (1983), photo Jeff Jahn

    With the opening of Sigmar Polke's retrospective, Alibis at MoMA, there has been a sudden and massive interest in his work. PAM had a wonderful and very strong exhibition of Polke's work last year (which Victor reviewed), including a couple of key works in the Polke retrospective.

    Polke's work has always left me conflicted. Back in the 80's and early 90's you couldn't take in a major museum without confronting one or two of his works, each generally very different from the last. It was incongruous work that reveled in its own capricious quality that dealt in the seams of various pastiches while being exhaustively inventive in its general dolor. That wasn't a bad thing. It was a lot like a less hopeful version of Rauschenberg's quilts of material and imagery but suffused with a German cynicism of history that isn't present in the major American work that preceded it, not even in Warhol's?

    Perhaps it is the way there is always some germanic painter who is touted about in the USA... first Polke, then Kiefer, then Richter, then Kippenberger. But there is something liberating in Polke's work that is missing in the others. All but Kiefer are capricious as well and somehow Polke seems the most rooted in the studio. A ridiculousness that is rooted in the studio rather than history or the politics and persona of the world outside. Polke seemed to say, endurance is the reward of seeming capricousness. Over time and being seen en masse it becomes terribly inventive. It is a bit like a court jester and every move is a kind of joke about the way the world works. Thus, Polke is a painter you never meet head on, every move is a glancing blow and a series of feints. Polke was a painter of retreats, and thus the work always seems to live to fight another day. In the end that describes a painter for the ages.

    I'll likely never be an outright fan of 20th Century German painters de Jour but Polke is massively influential. He seemed to mock mind of art and painting but by building up an ouvre of such exhaustive quality he seemed to map what was wrong with painting in a way that painters who are more serious (Richter) and less so (Kippenberger) could not. Very few painters are fork's in the road and it is interesting how Polke co-opted Rauschenberg's more Yankee approach and rerouted it again through the perpetual shame ofEurope and Germany in particular.

    Still, Look at his work and it is very difficult to avoid the fact that about half the painters out there are following in his footsteps in some way. Most have been not nearly as good.

    Rauschenberg and Warhol showed that there is freedom in pastiche... Polke reveled in the endless slavery to history it creates in the studio. It gave painters a way to deal with the gloom of Painting's omnipresent history and imbedded nationalism and gave it worth... spawning perhaps millions of MFA's.

    In the face of such effect, respect.
  • Permalink for 'PSU MFA Project Events, 2014 Part I'

    PSU MFA Project Events, 2014 Part I

    Posted: 8-April-2014, 8:15pm EDT by Jeff Jahn
    perrydoane_carbonaut.jpg
    Perry Doane Carbonaut

    In the past 5 years or so PSU's MFA and BFA project shows for their studio arts program have become one of the few reliably exciting student exhibitions in Portland. PSU's program has produced artists like Damien Gilley, Holly Andres, Chase Biado and Derek Bourcier and too many others to list. To kick things off this year there are 3 MFA candidates with openings and artists talks on PSU's campus; Perry Doane, Mark Martinez and Isaac Fletcher Weiss.

    Opening Receptions for all 3 (in respective galleries): April 10, 6-8PM
    Exhibitions: April 7 - 21, 2014
    Perry Doane - Carbonaut - Autzen Gallery
    Mark Martinez - CREAM - AB Lobby Gallery
    Isaac Fletcher Weiss - Musings in the Face of Certain Death - MK Gallery
    Artist Talks: Perry Doane & Isaac Fletcher Weis @ Shattuck Annex @ Wednesday, April 9 2014, 6-8PM
    Mark Martinez @ Shattuck Annex Wednesday, April 15, 2014, 6-7PM
    Portland State University galleries & Shattuck Annex
  • Permalink for 'Jesper Just speaks at PAM'

    Jesper Just speaks at PAM

    Posted: 8-April-2014, 2:36pm EDT by Jeff Jahn


    Jesper Just spoke at the Portland Art Museum last Sunday but you can watch much of it here. Catch his exhibition on dislpay at PAM until June 1st.
  • Permalink for 'Monday Links'

    Monday Links

    Posted: 7-April-2014, 3:02pm EDT by Jeff Jahn
    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.

    Check out this tiny self portrait Caravaggio snuck into one of his most famous works. See?

    Larry Sultan and Mike Mandel's altered billboards in Juxtapoz.

    Seattle buys some Ai Weiwei baubles.

    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 a form of technology so "primitive" doesnt work either. In general the real problem now is craft's Masada complex, feeling like it has something to prove while at the same time the humble brag of crafting by hand is presented in such a passive aggressive way it suffocates itself. No, art and craft are not the same and its very good she sees this. Craft is a tool of civilization, Art (particularly the contemporary variety)is in many ways a manifestation of its philosophy and concerns. They aren't the same and requiring them to always be coupled sells both short in a forced marriage. Donald Judd was incredibly smart for separating the art and craft through delegation, though he understood how important they were to each other's intrinsic necessities. I prefer a this kind of nuanced and compartmentalized approach. Overall, there is something insecure about always being an evangelist for the value of something in all cases that doesn't help one's argument. For both visual art and craft one major problem locally is the way shows are often presented as; cramped, overstuffed, clunky and somehow lacking confidence. There are numerous examples up now and readers you can look forward to my next The Score series of reviews to highlight this issue again. Basically, belief and self confidence in what one does becomes the basis of what one does... if it is presented/hung poorly all the words in the world can't undo the underlying problem that looks uncommitted, distracted and worst of all lacking self respect. I reiterate this isn't a craft or contemporary art problem, it is a hoarder's kind of shielded insecurity. Anything can become a crutch if it leaned on too much... be it; craft, conceptual, academic, indie, DIY, identity, political, Abstract Expressionism, Pop or Minimalism, new media, Digital or "MFA outsider art" if it is just a kind of style rather than a more supple process with great integrity. It requires a case by case analysis and a sense of discovery within the work.
  • Permalink for 'Reflecting Pool'

    Reflecting Pool

    Posted: 3-April-2014, 6:20pm EDT by Jeff Jahn
    Reflecting_Pool.jpg

    Lewis and Clark often graduates art scene leaders who create interesting venues like Kyle Thompson and Caitlin Ducey (12128), Jack Shimko (Haze), Justin Oswald (Gallery 500) or even Katherine Bovee who invaluably helped to launch PORT itself back in 2005. Here is this year's crop of L&C Seniors in a show titled Reflecting Pool.

    Larissa Board
    Flynn A. Casey
    Tony Chrenka
    Matt Cogdill
    Matthew Colodny
    Sophia Dagnello
    Kelsey H. Davis
    Hilary Devaney
    Jonas Fahnestock
    Rhianna Feeney
    Elaine B. Fehrs
    Stephanie Kudisch
    Chloe McAusland
    Matt Mulligan
    Savannah Prentiss
    Samantha Sarvet
    Camille Shumann
    Helen Regina Rosenbaum
    Taylor Wallau
    Amelia Walsh
    Kelsey Westergard
    Julianna Winchell
    Rachel Wolfson
    Em Young
    Irene Zoller Huete

    Reflecting Pool | April 4 - May 11
    Opening Reception: April 4th, 5-7PM
    Gallery Hours: Tuesday-Sunday 11-4PM
    Ronna and Eric Hoffman Gallery of Contemporary Art
    Lewis & Clark
    0615 S.W. Palatine Hill Road
  • Permalink for 'First Thursday Picks April 2014'

    First Thursday Picks April 2014

    Posted: 3-April-2014, 3:46pm EDT by Jeff Jahn
    anonymous_woman55_Lake.jpg
    Eva Lake's Anonymous Woman #55

    Eva Lake is another of those Portland stalwarts that really makes Portland what it is. She is from Oregon but has put in her time in New York, London and San Francisco etc. To a certain degree (like all artists and in particular female ones) she was taken for granted but when her fantastic collages of women were debuted that all changed and she started to get a following in New York and Switzerland. I was the first to point out how good this work was and it is exciting to finally see another of her shows in Portland. This series focuses not on Hollywood Starlets of the Target Series but on those anonymous faces that seem to be perpetuated in the media. It is the way she amplifies anonymity that she gives the work an even stronger surrealist charge.

    Anonymous Women | April 3- 26
    Augen Gallery
    716 N.W. Daviss


    april_Blackfish_ann.jpg
    Being Blackfish Celebrates 35 Years

    This April marks the Blackfish Gallery's 35th anniversary of its inception and the collective celebrates with an exhibition of the 30 current members titled Being Blackfish. Commercial galleries present a certain type of art but collectives like Blackfish have a different kind of mix that isn't defined by more commercial parameters. This is essential

    Being Blackfish | April 1-26
    Opening Reception April 3, 6-9PM
    Blackfish Gallery
    420 NW 9th Ave.


    Farnsworth_Glass_Break.jpg
    At PORT we are partial with the occasional tango with Mies van der Rohe so the latest exhibition at the Steven Goldman Gallery titled, Attempts at Breaking into the Glass House gets our attention. Created by Norah Wendl and Laurence Sarrazin it will include photography, sculpture, and poetry inspired by Edith Farnsworth, the occupant of Mies' famous Farnsworth house.

    Wendl will physically interact with the projections and the poems are from Edith Farnsworth's personal collection. Wendl has edited and revisited these poems. The sculptures are by both Wendl and Sarrazin who explore the fetishization of this design masterpiece from the Modernist era.

    Attempts at breaking into the Glass House | April 3 - April 28
    Opening Reception: April 3rd, 6pm
    Artist Talk: April 10th, 7pm
    Steven Goldman Gallery, Art institute of Portland
    1122 NW Davis
  • Permalink for '15 Years in Portland'

    15 Years in Portland

    Posted: 1-April-2014, 9:26pm EDT by Jeff Jahn
    Portland_sm_night1.jpg
    Photo Jeff Jahn

    Today marks the 15th anniversary of my moving to Portland. I chose this place because there was already an art scene but it seemed like Portland was ready for much more. Also, on the West Coast culture is a growth industry. In general, Portlanders are passionate and driven people who have chosen this place for moral not economic reasons.

    Back in the early aughts many who had lived here for a while didn't think it was possible for Portland to be something other than a remote place where people went to avoid the rest of the world. They were quite simply, wrong. Now the world increasingly comes here and it isn't uncommon for an artist to have a national/international career showing at major venues. That said most of our larger institutions have not been crucial in facilitating that kind of export career and it is something to work on, even though there has been some headway made like the Precipice Fund. Also, many old school Portlanders who are hold overs from before "the revolution" of 2001-2003 have a difficult time addressing greatness/ambition within Portland's city limits... for example, Mark Rothko (where PAM really stepped up), Robert Colescott, the details of PCVA's programming and the city's very active alternative spaces still don't get the respect/civic ownership deserved somehow because they ceased or are transient in nature. That very serious snark aside, I've been very lucky that Portland and its citizens have been so supportive of a role that is both of Portland and also acts as a go between for the rest of the world.

    To celebrate the anniversary (or for some, their chagrin) this April is chok full of events where I'll be making appearances as Portland's most visible curator/critic combo. For starters a panel discussion on challenging art and Clement Greenberg on April 19th, 2PM at Blackfish Gallery for their 35th anniversay and I am guest curating OPB's State of Wonder radio program on April 26, where I'll reveal a few new projects I've been working on. Other announcements, essays, interviews etc will take place throughout the month (including the trailer for my first movie, Cardenio on the 26th) and the beginning of PORT's series of pieces on contemporary patrons who are actually patrons, not just market speculators. There will also be an essay on art criticism posted before the talk on the 19th but this short piece on the subject is a good preview.

    Like a lot of Gen X, Y and Millennials I chose Portland because the city had a more granular non-corporate civic character. This character makes it porous to people who want to make a mark based on merit rather than resume or market capitalization. Portland was a largish city where individuals, nature and small shopkeepers mattered... in fact, they defined the ethos of this place. I believe this 2012 Op Ed that I wrote for the Portland Tribune lays out the way Portland has become a kind of capital of conscience for the USA at the moment. Those that think this renaissance is just related to music, food or art miss the larger gestalt. Portland is both a refugee camp and rebel base for those disenchanted with the lingering effects of the second half of the Twentieth Century. The music, food and art is all interrelated and there are real innovators gaining of international acclaim here in all three sectors as well as design.

    BavingtonFairmanEhlisPicton.jpg
    Installation view of The Best Coast (2003) (L to R) Matthew Picton, Curtis Fairman, Tim Bavington, Matthew Picton and Jacqueline Ehlis

    I rarely discuss my background but I'm trained as a cultural historian specializing in the biography of artists and authors. I taught film/literary theory and art history while in grad school but after graduating somehow it seemed lame when real cultural history was being created in our midst. As an artist/curator combo from 2000-2005 I initiated a series of high profile group exhibitions like Play, The Best Coast and Fresh Trouble that expanded the awareness of new media and waves of new artists in Portland when most of the institutions were hidebound to regional stereotypes. These shows were crucial and though risk taking, the names now read like a whose who of the art scene's brass right now.

    DONALD_JUDD_Portland_catalog (1).jpg
    Judd Art (c) Judd Foundation. Licensed by VAGA, NYC

    From 2005 to the present I've curated major artists like Pipilotti Rist, Cao Fei, Hank Willis Thomas and Donald Judd into the mix of solo and group shows of local/international artists who were doing interesting things as a way to break down barriers and further raise standards. I have always felt that a city is only useful as a way to highlight and cultivate talent. I always take a historical view but it is one that looks at the way art signals shifts in understanding.

    Foreground1_sm.jpg
    foreGround (2012) at PSU (L to R) Ben Young, Matthew Picton, Jacqueline Ehlis and Zachary Davis

    Thus, part of my job in the art scene is to make certain that the truly gifted don't wast their talents being pleased with being just merely good (which is typically what happens in mid sized cities and why when I wrote that Storm Tharp's landmark 2007 show was internationally relevant it meant something). Instead, I try to be an active talent scout and sounding board for artists not just some guy that gives them the thumbs up or down... or worse simply reiterates their artist statement. I also try to impress upon institutions what they need to do to be relevant to an art scene, which now uses Portland as a home base for an international practice rather than an isolated regional venue which tend to be interested in sychophantic press. Arts patrons seem to pay close attention too and I'm one of those people that they voice their opinions in private to. Basically, I treat everyone the same and I'm a lot easier going in person than I am in text.

    Despite Portland's success we still need to be on the watch for complacency and nearly all of my activities as an independent curator and art critic have been aimed at keeping things from becoming stagnant. Portland has a certain "niceness" to it but I just don't "settle" and all cities have to be on guard for this kind of overly cozy complacency that inevitably creeps in (it was an often heard criticism of the Whitney Biennial this year so it is a general art world problem at the moment). Some say, he talks about himself... but of course, it is the only thing anyone actually has to share. I come from the Herodotus-Baudelaire-British school of art criticism, one where the critic is required to write about the edges of their experience, implicating themselves. In general, the difference between a professional critic and some citizen with an opinion is the critic's experience is a lot broader than most. Thus, I have to engage the entire history of whatever comparisons and contexts are at play, regardless of who or where it is being presented.

    Overall, the robustness of exhibitions, criticism and curatorial provocation remain the best bellwethers of civic health and cosmopolitan tolerances. My role has been one of being a chief agitator and supporter of those who challenge and like to be challenged in the visual arts here. It is common for people to support that which they like but what is very different about what I do is I support that which I find challenging. All this to say thank you Portland for 15 years and giving me an international platform that is at the same time, tied intrinsically to the local microcosm. It is an honor to provide these services.
  • Permalink for 'Wafaa Bilal at Linfield'

    Wafaa Bilal at Linfield

    Posted: 31-March-2014, 7:14pm EDT by Jeff Jahn
    Wafaa_Bilal_sm.jpg
    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
  • Permalink for 'Monday Links'

    Monday Links

    Posted: 31-March-2014, 2:05pm EDT by Jeff Jahn
    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?
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