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  • Permalink for 'History on the Kaufman Rothkowitz on display at PAM'

    History on the Kaufman Rothkowitz on display at PAM

    Posted: 29-February-2012, 3:17pm EST by Guest


    Mark Rothko
    Beach Scene, ca. 1928
    Oil on canvas board
    14.5 x 16 in.
    Reed College Art Collection
    Kaufman Memorial Collection
    Gift of Louis and Annette Kaufman

    Mark Rothko's family emigrated from Russia to Portland in 1913. Home life was intellectually rich and Rothko was fluent in Russian, Hebrew, Yiddish, and English by the time he attended Lincoln High School with Louis Kaufman, graduating with honors in three years. In 1921 Rothko was awarded a scholarship to Yale, but found Yale elitist and conservative. In response, Rothko and fellow student Aaron Director published the satirical review The Yale Saturday Evening Pest.

    Rothko withdrew from Yale his second year and moved to New York City to study art with Max Weber at the Art Students League. Weber encouraged his students to study Cezanne's depictions of light and human form. Weber's influence is evident in Rothko's painting of female bathers, likely painted on a trip with Avery.

    Louis Kaufman introduced Rothko to Milton Avery at the Opportunity Gallery in New York in 1928 (the same year this beach scene was painted), where Avery was exhibiting work. Rothko and Kaufman grew up together in Portland and remained life-long friends. Louis Kaufman became a celebrated American violinist and worked extensively in the movie industry. Kaufman and his wife Annette were thoughtful, inspired collectors, buying paintings directly from artists, most of whom were quite poor and had no gallery representation. The Avery's were their closest friends, and Rothko quickly became a part of their artistic and social community. Avery introduced Rothko to Adolph Gottlieb, who had a profound influence on Rothko's art and politics.

    In 1934, Gottlieb, Rothko, and painter Louis Harris (also in the Reed College Art Collection) were founding members of the artists' group "The Ten." The Ten called for an expressive, political American art in opposition to "sentimental" and "nostalgic" imagery. In a 1938 manifesto written in protest over the '38 Whitney Biennial, The Ten declared their mission to "... see objects and events as though for the first time, free from the accretion of habit and divorced from the conventions of a thousand years of painting." Both Rothko and Gottlieb revered Avery as a humble and dedicated progenitor of this vision.

    The son of a tanner, Milton Avery worked full-time in factories and later as a file clerk to pay for his painting education in Hartford, Connecticut. Louis Kaufman introduced Mark Rothko to Avery in 1928, and the two quickly became close friends. Eighteen years Avery's junior, Rothko was deeply inspired by Avery's simple, colorful and emotive forms. Through Rothko, Avery soon met many other young artists such as Adolph Gottlieb, Barnett Newman, and Helen Frankenthaler, all of whom frequently visited Avery's studio to watch him paint.

    For a time, Rothko and Gottlieb visited daily, and for several years Avery, Rothko, Gottlieb and their families all summered together in Provincetown. Avery liked to paint while his friends spent time in the studio. Kaufman would often play violin while Avery worked. The Kaufmans purchased the four Milton Avery paintings in the Reed College Art Collection directly from Avery.

    Avery's practice was intrinsic to his everyday life. He saw painting as the primary vehicle for expressing his feelings, passions, and personal experiences, often lovingly depicting the people and places with which he felt a strong personal affinity. His dedication to developing his craft, combined with his rapid rate of output, resulted in a vast and stylistically diverse body of work. His ethos is perhaps best encapsulated by his oft-quoted phrase, "Why talk when you can paint?"

    As Mark Rothko wrote for Avery's memorial service in 1965,
    "Avery is first a great poet. His is the poetry of sheer loveliness,
    of sheer beauty. Thanks to him this kind of poetry has been
    able to survive in our time."

    ?Text by Stephanie Snyder, Curator, Douglas F. Cooley Memorial Art Gallery, Reed College, and Cooley interns Nick Irvin '13, and Zoe Stal '12

  • Permalink for 'Portland's relationship to Rothko'

    Portland's relationship to Rothko

    Posted: 29-February-2012, 3:32pm EST by Jeff Jahn
    Rothko holding untitled (1954)

    ''I realize that historically the function of painting large pictures is something very grandiose and pompous. . . .The reason I paint them however. . . is precisely because I want to be intimate and human.'' Mark Rothko 1951

    To say that Mark Rothko haunts Portland's collective civic psyche is perhaps an overstatement but there is a lot of evidence to the contrary (especially if one is sensitive to such things). This is partly because Portland as a city has bucked the predominant wisdom of the second half of the 20th century (we are pro approachable scale, anti corporate greed), just as its most famous son was. Portland is a city of shopkeepers rather than corporations as well as parks and public transportation, three things Rothko was also quite fond of. Rothko worked for his uncle, a shopkeeper and he painted subways, bridges and aggregate streets full of the masses. In short he was interested in the machine of civilization but sought a personal response amidst the modern impersonal grind.

    Markus Rothkowitz as he was first known was a driven, intense young man who worked hard selling newspapers beneath the Burnside bridge while cutting his intellectual teeth amongst Portland's Jewish community from age 10-18. He wrote forcefully for workers rights for the school paper at Lincoln High School (Now Shattuck Hall at Portland State University) and was even an advocate for women's rights to contraception. Rothko was above all else a humanist, driven by morals and superego more than the egotistical aim of being a great painter.

    A stairway at Rothko's old High School

    So some may still wonder, why does Portland care so much about Mark Rothko? Certainly few artists today share any of his goals. In fact, my answer is almost too simplistic, his life's work constitutes the highest standard of cultural excellence by which we measure ourselves, yet ironically do not regularly have major examples available on display from which to do make first hand assessments. This has deep and abiding consequences since Portland has undergone a cultural renaissance over the past decade and a half, one in which visual artists have been perhaps the most emblematic. Yes music and food are also big players but it's the visual arts, which challenge Portland philosophically as a civic gadfly.

    When I first moved here nearly 12 years ago all I heard from long time resident's was, "Nothing ever happens here." I'd reply, "Mark Rothko." Then they'd say, "He left and didn't like Portland." My next response was always, "in the 1920's and 30's ambitious people had to leave and go to New York or Paris, surely you cant fault him for that... and his problems with Portland stemmed mostly with his family having a hard time understanding him choosing an artist's career during the Great Depression... he did have his first major solo show here, cut his intellectual teeth in the Jewish intellectual community while at Lincoln High and actually did paint quite a few pictures of Portland." Later in 2009 fellow PORT writer Arcy Douglass wrote the definitive report on Rothko's time here, debunking his lack of connection to Portland once and for all. As a Russian immigrant who lost his father immediately upon settling here it's pretty impossible to miss how that moment defined his life here and eventual decision to paint what he felt was a sense of the profound and tragedy in his late works.

    Perhaps the Rothko fascination stemmed from the simple fact that Portland was not telling its own histories and taking credit where due on the most basic level. Rothko's work is undeniably great and Portland played a crucial role in the way he wanted to make vast, yet intensely personally relatable paintings... if anything that humanistic scale as a moral thread is the one thing Portland and Rothko share at their core. In other words the roots of their greatness display a moral kinship to Portland's civic nature and spaces. Thus, the Rothko show at the Portland Art Museum was absolutely necessary, since a majority of Portlanders (some accomplished artists) were not even aware he grew up here.

    Untitled watercolor of Portland from the late 1920's. Image courtesy of the National Gallery of Art.

    So no Rothko's late paintings are not anything so literal as representations of Portland's moody sometimes profoundly colorful skies... but I'd say it's rather undeniable that growing up here as an intense and somewhat alienated youth and later returning to paint those skies repeatedly in the 1920's and 30's certainly gave him a sensitivity for the infinite yet up close depth effects that one finds in the later mature works. Rothko still needed to arrive at the ideas that would allow him to pain like that. You can see this quite clearly in the retrospective with early paintings like City Phantasy. The obviously New York City buildings are like scaffoldings that set up geometric volumes and the people and sky depicted are like dematerializing apparitions. He did this with countless landscapes as well. Trees and bridges set up the framing devices and the skies and landscape seem to meld... it doesn't work all that well. In 1946-1949 the same scaffolding composition undergoes a transformation and buildings, trees earth and sky all dissolve into color. By 1950 we have the Rothko paintings we know him for.

    The fact is that losing his father and falling in with the vibrant Jewish intellectual community were perhaps the two most crucial things to have happened to Rothko while here. Perhaps it's a missed opportunity that the Oregon Historical Society doesn't have a show based on Rothko's early days in Portland but there is time for that, especially since the PAM retrospective doesn't have a single painting of Portland in it (most of those landscapes are minor watercolors and this retrospective was already had numerous earlier even "student" level works, which is nice but you dont want to overdo it). A show fleshing out the people and places Rothko haunted would be eye opening but not entirely art centered like the Rothko retrospective at PAM.

    What about the retrospective? Well it is handsome and tells the mainline story without many surprises and PORT will discuss specific works in the show as it progresses. Instead, what I want to present is a cross section of reactions from artists and other preeminentPortlanders to Rothko's work. It is interesting how everyone seems to have been touched deeply, whether or not they are a huge fan:


    “I was into photography when I was younger and he was one of the artists that helped me see the world differently. I also appreciate how he came to Portland as a non-English speaking immigrant and went on to influence American culture so very much.” -Sam Adams (Mayor of Portland)

    "I consider Claude Monet, Vermeer and Rothko- the three greatest colorists , and light/ space painters of all time. Rothko's mature art is overflowing with poignant emotional power- a bit like a J.S. Bach organ chord held for eternity........ Rothko's work influences me everyday because of his profound understanding of the power of music..- after all he wanted his paintings to have the poignancy of Beethoven's 5th symphony"- Tom Cramer (Artist)

    "Many of the Portland artists I know whose works are as divergent as landscape painting and social practice hold Rothko's paintings as an example of the emotional timbre we would like to convey. There is this lush beauty and the shambles of human action spread across a field. I think Rothko's work thrums a chord of the sustained anxiety we feel. Seeing these works makes it somehow permissible to regard that feeling for awhile, temporarily relieving us of the duty to the jokes we were about to tell". - Eva Speer (Artist)

    "The experience of standing before a Rothko painting reminds me of TS Eliot's idea that authentic expression works first at the level of intuition and emotion. As Eliot says, 'Genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood.' And so for Rothko." -Tom Manley (President PNCA)

    "While always enjoying a Rothko every time I saw one, he was not on my Heavy list. Then when I had the Crow's Shadow residency last year, Rothko came up when we looked at the rainbow roll of ink necessary for my prints. Those color stories and how they mesh and bleed are the foundation of the work.  Everyone said it looked like a Rothko. I made 4 different prints and every time, he came up. For me the residency was an ultimate Oregon art experience - for too many reasons to get into here. That Rothko should keep coming up, it probably means something."  -Eva Lake (Artist)

    When I was a graduate student in the painting department at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago I regularly visited Rothko's Untitled (Painting) 1953-54 in the permanent collection at the Art Institute of Chicago. It was then that I understood the power of his work to conjure presence unequivocally with his signature color-field compositions by lavishing the surface of his paintings with nuanced silhouettes and irregular edges. That Rothko was shaped in Portland just sweetens the hometown pride and that he attended the Museum School represents a prestigious accomplishment for the institution and its faculty. Rothko stretched his figures to the margins of the picture plane without irony. His canvases each have a gravity that draw you in with their pallette and hold you with mesmerizing applications of pigment. Brushed on or into the canvas his compositions are specters. The exhibit is a great accomplishment for Bruce Gunther and PAM but above all an opportunity to study Rothko's development as an artist up close, face to face. - Victor Maldonado (Artist)

    "Every time we would go to Houston, we had a ritual -- before we went to the Menil Collection we would stop by the Rothko Chapel. I remember being there one morning under a dark overcast sky. We went to sit in the space and I started staring at the large triptych opposite the entrance. Because the light was low, I had one of the most intense experiences I have ever had with a painting. As I was watching the painting and as the light was changing in the room, presumably because of clouds masking the sun, the surface of the paintings started to slowly recede. Rather than paintings, they became windows opening into vast infinite space without scale or light. To quote those who write about the Sublime, I found myself face to face with the void. It was extraordinary. I was both in the Chapel and outside of it and because of the nature of the contemplation of the Chapel, I felt like I was caught between two worlds. Like Shrodinger’s cat, I was both here and there, between the living and the dead. As I was confronted with this void, I would wonder if that is what Rothko is showing, that after life there is nothing, just space, infinity, the void. Whether one would agree with Rothko’s point of view, it is an extraordinary statement to make, and not just to tell us about, but to show us, so that we could see what it was like for ourselves. It was an experience that I will never forget. I just did not know that painting a could do that. It was an experience beyond form or color or aesthetics or composition or any of the other things that we are taught about what painting should be. Nothing else mattered. It was an experience about being human and what it means to be alive. We went back to the Chapel in the afternoon when there was more light and the paintings were closed, just surfaces. - Arcy Douglass (Artist and PORT Contributor)
  • Permalink for 'The Infectious Corruption of Color'

    The Infectious Corruption of Color

    Posted: 28-February-2012, 9:21am EST by Jeff Jahn
    Left: Sara Greenberger Rafferty, Right: Mike Womack

    On Saturday it is time to toast the artists in The Infectious Corruption of Color; Calvin Ross Carl, Laura Hughes, Sara Greenberger Rafferty, Amanda Wojick, Mike Womack. It is likely another worthy group show from the Archer Gallery... the gallery with perhaps the best group show track record in the past three years. I'm personally terribly disappointed that Director Blake Shell's run is coming to an end in June due to budget problems (more on this at the end, first let's discuss this show).

    The PR says, "Color is messy; it is corporeal. It bleeds and overwhelms. It opposes the contained, neat, and clinical. It may show us the natural world in comparison to the manmade, or, in turn, it may become the hyper-real and psychedelic in our perception. The nature of the duality of color, the two sides of seduction, can result in desire or in repulsion. We want and love color, but even when we don't, it creeps into us. Archer Gallery presents The Infectious Corruption of Color, an exhibition of works by Calvin Ross Carl, Laura Hughes, Sara Greenberger Rafferty, Amanda Wojick, and Mike Womack. Each artist deals with color in a combination of ways: through concept, formal relationships, personal experiences, visual perception, and experimentation."

    Look, I see a ton of group shows and the Archer Gallery's are the only ones I consistently look forward to seeing. They have always been well considered mixes of local, Seattle based and national artists. That kind of consistent effort ONLY comes from a dedicated curator putting in a lot of hours to craft a coherent program. Blake does that. Which is why this latest news from Clark College is just terrible:

    "Due to the college's difficult budget situation, the Archer Gallery Director's position has been re-structured to become part of a full-time faculty member's load. Effective June 15th, 2012, Professor Carson Legree will take over the Archer Gallery Director position. The gallery will remain open and continue with the same robust programming schedule, carrying on as one of the most prominent venues for contemporary art in the region. Blake Shell's 3-year tenure as Director of the Archer Gallery was marked by energy and adventurousness."

    First off, could Vancouver possibly save this position? Blake certainly isn't pulling down a huge salary and Vancouver does have plenty of commuter residents who work in Portland and save on property taxes... AND Blake's program is literally the single brightest cultural jewel in Vancouver. Is it simply too good for Vancouver? ...well no but I think this is an opportunity for the smaller city directly north to step up and disabuse Portlanders of the idea that they don't care about culture. Will they? I think this Saturday reception should be packed and everyone should go simply as a way to show support for Blake's program to this point.

    Second, there is no way will the Archer can realistically, "continue with the same robust programming schedule, carrying on as one of the most prominent venues for contemporary art in the region." ...with a staffer who is not primarily focused on programming. Look, Legree is a fine person but this effectively kills the program, which has made huge strides in the decade plus when she originally ran the gallery. In effect this action destroys over a decade of increasing professionalism and relevance to what is now one of the best college gallery programs in the Northwest. I'm asking if a true last ditch attempt to save this program really been undertaken? That said, let's all show up Saturday and discuss. I suggest Clark College's decision makers and The Columbian (who thinks the arts are surviving) drop in too because Clark is throwing away a decade and a half's worth of work for one budgetary cycle's challenges. Yes, last ditch fundraisers can work, but literally rolling back a program back to the beginning never does.

    Reception: Saturday March 3rd | 6-8pm | Through March 13th
    Clark College Archer Gallery • 1933 Fort Vancouver Way, Vancouver, WA• 360.992.2246

  • Permalink for 'Extra Credit: Rothko and Nauman '

    Extra Credit: Rothko and Nauman

    Posted: 28-February-2012, 1:12am EST by Jeff Jahn
    Maybe you were or are one of those students who always took the opportunity to learn a little more and get a few extra points... if so these events are for you:

    Red at PCS

    So, you haven't overdosed on Rothko yet with the retrospective and are very interested in how his time growing up in Portland might have effected him? Tonight at 7:00PM at Mcmenamins Kennedy School for "Portland and the Art of Mark Rothko" join PORT's own Arcy Douglass (who penned this important historical look at Rothko and Portland) in conversation with Daniel Benzali the actor portraying Rothko in the fictional historization that is the play Red now running at PCS. Arcy is very aware of Rothko's well documented disdain for entertaining the wealthy and anything that wasn't 100% serious so this should be an interesting and difficult dance. (P.S. PAM's Chief Curator Bruce Guenther and I will be on OPB's Think Out Loud radio show discussing Rothko on Wednesday at 9:00 AM).

    Eleanor Antin

    For February 28th and 29th at 7:00PM check out, Is It My Body: Conversions, Transgression, and Representations. The series was curated in response to the current exhibition BRUCE NAUMAN: BASEMENTS on view at the Cooley Gallery. The program includes work by Vito Acconci, Denise Marika, Ursula Hodel, Eleanor Antin in addition to early video by Nauman. It's in the Pearl at 937 NW Glisan and it's free.
  • Permalink for 'An Interview with B. Wurtz, by A. Bernstein'

    An Interview with B. Wurtz, by A. Bernstein

    Posted: 27-February-2012, 8:13am EST by Amy Bernstein

    B.Wurtz, Portrait of the Artist by Amy Berntein, 2012

    B. Wurtz is a lyrical formalist, a classicist, and a provocative senator of the mundane. He poetically points to the sidelines of our daily lives in an effort to point out the beauty and significance of an immense reservoir of objects discarded as refuse. From what we regard as worthless, he culls a rich vocabulary with which to form his oeuvre. Talismans of culture are formed out of plastic bags and wire as Wurtz asks us to pay attention to our surroundings and to the moments that actually make up our lives. Through his work he poses questions of beauty, value, money, and art itself. His intentional, elegant arrangements are foiled by a sly prodding, encouraging the re-examination of both the source and complacency of accepted definitions. Through Wurtz's work, we are refreshed and reset, awakened and reminded to look again our environments, how we create them and they us. I had the good fortune of meeting with the artist during his recent visit to Portland to discuss his work and motivations.

    AB: Hi B! I was lucky enough to hear you speak the other night at PNCA, which was amazing, so thank you for that.

    BW: Oh, you're welcome. I thought it went well.

    AB: I wanted to ask you first off: how does humor play a role in your work?

    BW: I think it's definitely there. People talk about the humor in my work, so I think it's definitely there. I really enjoy humor in life, so somehow it ends up in the work even though I don't deliberately intend to make humorous pieces.

    AB: Really?

    BW: No! (Laughing) I don't! But I like that people see it in the work.

    AB: Because it seems like there is this tongue-in-cheek, rather sly attitude hovering about your work, almost a sort of childlike bravado. It often seems as if you are trying to overstep some boundaries just to see what might happen or whom you might be able to provoke. Each formal experiment seems like a prod to your audience which says, "What if I do this?"

    BW: I think that is very well put, because I do mess around with the conventions of art. Years ago Dennis Cooper wrote a review of one of my shows and said that very thing, that I kind of fuck around with convention.

    Often I am not so into art about art, but on the other hand, art is a part of life. I'm not against art about art to an extent. It's all sort of a balance, so I even confess some of my work is art about art. It's about what could be art. I think I was saying in the talk that I think a lot of my pieces on the wall relate to painting because, being on the wall, they automatically have that history to them. So I do have this thinking of: what could be a painting? Sculpture operates like this too, especially because it is so monumental and additive but sort of absurd at the same time.

    AB: When I consider your body of work as a whole, I see these questions as an issue of perspective. It always seems to be the way in which you view the work, whether it be through the lens of photography or the arrangements of colorful everyday objects into lyrical sculpture, it always seems to be perspective as the provocation of a different way of thinking and looking.

    BW: I strive for elegance in the pieces. I feel like that is part of what you are picking up on. You seem like my ideal viewer, because I want people to see the work as humorous and a little bit disconcerting, maybe, but I hope they see the beauty in it too.

    Richard Tuttle said recently in an interview that if you treat something with respect you will get it back, which is what I do. I have respect for all of the objects I use in my work because they are so essential to our life. It is not about them being items of capitalism or consumerism or advertising. I think of it more as the stuff that is all around us so I have a great love for it.

    AB: In your talk, you mentioned going to the MET, and upon seeing an entire room of some of the big AbEx paintings, feeling as if they were saying, "Pay Attention to Me!" It seems as if you are trying, in some ways, to create the same effect with these objects which could be seen as mundane but could be considered beautiful if you paid attention to them in a different way.

    BW: Yeah, I totally agree with that.

    AB: Do you ever make work out of anger?

    BW: Out of anger. . .wow. . . what an interesting question. . . I don't think I do. It's not that I don't have anger. But, on the subject of anger, I think I learned long ago (and this is completely from observation) that the worst thing that can happen to an artist is to get bitter and angry. I told myself that no matter what happened that I would not let myself do that. It doesn't mean that I wasn?t frustrated, because I did have a lot of years of struggle and times when people just did not get my work. There were some people that always did get my work, and they were people that I really respected. And that was a wonderful thing. But it didn't take away from the reality that I was being ignored by the main art world, and I was having financial problems. I don't mind saying that; I think it's interesting. With my teaching, I think it's interesting for my students to know that it's not always easy being an artist in spite of the way it's presented now. It's a really tough life, and I had financial difficulties, but I stuck with it. I feel like I'm an example of perseverance and being a bit proactive.

    All right I got a little off the track. . .right. . . anger. So, no. For me, the art was always the healthiest part of my psychological makeup. I am curious; did you ask that because you see some aspect of anger in it?

    AB: No, I ask that out of the sheer curiosity pertaining to the humorous part of things that seems to take a stab at certain conventions. It not that I see anger in the work, but that I wondered if maybe the impetus for some of it might have been out of anger.

    BW: Oh no, I see what you're saying, but it was more like jabbing at something more playfully. Because I love art, and I don't deny that. When you mentioned the big paintings at the MET, I want to go see work like that. I think a lot of people work well within the conventions of a standard, stretched canvas on stretcher bars. But for myself, I just had a different way of wanting to do things.

    AB: Can you describe your process of making?

    BW: You mean like how a specific piece evolves?

    AB: Yes, do you notice a pattern in yourself as you make work? Is it different with each piece?

    BW: It varies somewhat. People are interested in that question. I think for any artist people are interested in that question. I can kind of describe it. As I mentioned in the lecture, I had limited the found objects, and I got on this theme of food, shelter, and clothing which had to do with basics of existence, daily life, that kind of thing. So I sort of had a subject matter in the back of my mind, so I wasn't grasping for subjects. I think this is pretty typical for most artists; they kind of have something they do.

    As far as an actual piece, sometimes I do get an idea of something I am going to do, and I think it tends to be based on some kind of found object. I like to work off of something. For example, in the show at PNCA, the bread paintings on the wall(i were based on the little plastic fasteners that fasten a bag of bread. All of those plastic fasteners in the pieces were culled from bags of bread that I ate. Clearly, I am looking at those plastic things a lot. In the past, I have made works where I kind of did schematic representations of ordinary things like that. So I was just kind of noticing things like that, these bread things, and then I thought, Oh, well I would like to use that in a piece of work, especially because it's so tiny. So that is sort of an example of how I get an idea for a piece. But usually what happens is that the actual formal properties of the work change as I make it. I am very much a maker and make decisions based on each choice. I think of this kind of making as being similar to when I was a child, I used to sit on the floor and play with blocks. That playfulness and the physical moving things around and trying them out is still very much in me.

    In regards to the bread fasteners, I originally had the idea that I was going to mount one in the corner and then make a giant, monochrome shape of it. That was my original idea, but then I realized it just didn't seem interesting. So then somehow I got that idea of doing a painting and to simply paint the void, paint the negative space, which made the shapes on those pieces. And then I used text from the thing itself, so it just kind of evolved. But it started out slightly differently. This is often the case with me. I start out with something. I get a little image in my mind of something I'd like to make. Once in a while it stays pretty close to the idea. Most of the time it starts out as something, and I have to make a lot of changes. And this is the most fun, especially if something reaches a stage of total failure, where I have nothing to lose, so that it might turn into something completely different. Is that kind of what you were asking?

    Bread Painting1.jpg
    B. Wurtz, Untitled (bread painting), 2011

    AB: Definitely. I wanted to ask you as well about the limits you imposed on yourself early on: the food, clothing, shelter limits. . .How did those limits come about and did you ever want to deviate from them?

    BW: I think I do deviate somewhat, but I think I knew that there was going to be this enormous palette of found objects, and I felt a little overwhelmed. How am I going to deal with this? I think putting the limitation was an advantage in that it made me need to put more effort into what i did with them, the formal aspects of the pieces, the composition.

    The thing about the found objects that I noticed was that these things were so interesting just as they were, especially slightly antiqued things. People would sort of place it as sort of an objet d'art. I really wanted to avoid that. I steered away from anything that I felt was already too resolved in itself. I wanted something plainer, more ignorable, and that created more of a challenge for me of what to do with it.

    AB: Was that why you mentioned in your talk of not really relating to other found object artists?

    BW: Yes, I feel like often so many objects are used and often the effect is to abstract the object so that they lose their identity. I just felt that, for me, that didn't seem to work. That isn't to say that it wouldn't work for someone else.

    AB: How did those limits come about? Do you see them as existential or philosophical limits?

    BW: Yes, I think there is a philosophical component to it definitely. I'm not very interested in theory. I'm not even very well read in philosophy, but I did realize my work has a lot to do with phenomenology. Stuff that I was interested in didn't have to do with transcending the world, it had to do with being in the world at that moment. And that is philosophical. I mean, it is very related to what is usually termed eastern philosophy and the people that have reached so called enlightenment. My understanding of that is that they have learned to let go of preconceived ideas in order to be in the present moment, in the here and now, in the world exactly as it is, not as one wishes it to be and all of the things that complicate and make our minds chatter all the time. I am not saying that I am enlightened. But I am interested in that concept. In terms of my art, the idea of the here and now had to do with very simple objects, and these are the things that have to do with humanity period. One of my students was pointing out to me the other day that the objects I use are objects used by everyone; they are not related to class. Everyone needs to eat, and everyone wears clothes, and people live in houses that are generally constructed in the same way and serve the same purpose. It is sort of a philosophical basis.

    AB: It seems to make sense on the ends of both form and content; found objects are the way of making art out of our surroundings. The here and now is your subject, and a fantastic way to illustrate and remind the viewer of this immediacy is to ask them to look at the every day differently, to consider it as something of worth and beauty, as art. When you moved from California to New York, did you notice anything changing in your work? Does geography influence your art?

    BW: I really don't think it changed much. Some of it does have to do with geography in that some of the plastic bags I use have New York addresses on them. I was certainly aware of that, and I like that; it's sort of a mapping of where I am. So, in a sense that makes it geographically specific, but on the other hand, there certain points at which I make little decisions about what the rules of the game are, and this might not be so obvious. But I think I would basically make the same kind or work wherever I lived.

    AB: I also wanted to ask you about the few instances when text comes into your work. When do words need to come into your work? It seems rather rare.

    BW: It is rarer than it used to be. I was definitely interested in art that used text. It was one of my interests and clearly I was absorbing that kind of work. I think the reason that there is less now is that I started liking the idea of trying to do what I was doing with text without it. The text now is from the yogurt lids and the bags, but I don't do so much of my own text. It may appear. I haven?t decided never to do it again; it just naturally started to happen less.

    AB: Despite the unnatural nature of your materials, nature always seem to be referenced. Is this intentioned as commentary or is it simply a formal choice?

    BW: Yes, you are right about that. I think it is something I can't help. I love nature. I don't use it as subject, but somehow it has gotten in there anyway. People have commented that my wire sculptures with the curving wire and the mesh things are like floral or plant forms, and I know that is where those shapes come from. I definitely feel like the curving wires are branch-like. So yes, I do reference it, and it's intentional not so much in a deliberate way. It just sort of happens because it's something I'm interested in.

    AB: When you see it happening, are you content with it being seen as such, as nature referenced? The reason I ask that is because it could definitely be seen as being quite a loaded commentary on the state of the environment, with the plastic bags formed into the shapes of plants and the like. .

    B. Wurtz: 1970-2011, 2011, Installation View, Image Courtesy of Metro Pictures

    BW: I am super aware of the environment and concerned about it. But it's not part of my subject matter. Not really. I think it can't help but be there in a way because I am using things that could be discarded or recycled; I just happen to recycle them into art. I am kind of an environmentalist, it's just not really part of the work.

    AB: What is your ideal experience for the viewer to have when looking at your work?

    BW: I think it would be kind of what you said in one of your very first comments. I hope that people would look at the objects in a new way and realize how often these objects are ignored. I hope the work makes them smile. I like it if people see some humor, and I hope that they see a kind of elegance that could be weirdly calming. Roberta Smith called me a classicist, and I am totally happy with that, because I think I am, completely. I feel that within certain classical things there is a calmness.

    AB: The work is often poetic. . .I was wondering if you read any poetry. . .

    BW: I don't read that much poetry, but I'm completely in awe of writers, and I am interested in poetry. I tend to more be interested in prose that is poetic. There are some writers in particular that I am always drawn to, like Peter Schjeldahl and Bruce Hainley: writers that also write poetry. I am completely into words. So I like it if you would see the work as poetic.

    AB: Have you ever thought of giving up on art?

    BW: I have in the past, yes. It wasn't very realistic. I had a teacher at UC Berkeley, my first real art course, called "Materials and Methods in Painting". It was taught by an artist named Jerry Ballaine, a west coast artist, and I never forgot him saying to the class: "If there's anything you can think of doing other than be an artist, than you should do it because it's a really tough life."

    AB: They say that to all of us don't they?

    BW: Did you hear that too?

    AB: Yes!

    BW: And I never forgot it, and in my moments of frustration in my life, I really wished I could just walk away. But I feel like the older I get, the more I feel like life is about each of us learning who we are and accepting that. I made some attempts, but not really, because what would I do?
    I really love the Antique Road Show on television. I am totally interested in those experts; they know so much about one thing. It just fascinates me. In one of my moments of wishing I could be something other than an artist, I thought I would want to be one of those experts. And then I realized I am. I know a lot about art, and that is what made me rethink teaching. I used to think, I really don't have anything to teach people. It's not for me. I just want to do my day jobs, which have nothing to do with art. But for years I had been a visiting artist at various schools, and I always really enjoyed it. And I started thinking, well, wouldn't it be interesting to meet with that person again? And again? When I considered becoming an expert on the Antique Road Show, I suddenly thought to myself: but wait, I do know a lot about art. I have to accept that my thing is art.

    Maybe if I had been one of those people that had had critical and financial success from the beginning maybe I wouldn't have continued. There are all kinds of patterns of what happens with artists' careers. Like I said, it wasn't really realistic. I had to make a choice between music and art; my piano teacher wanted me to study music after high school. She had my career planned. I was living in Santa Barbara. She wanted me to go to the college of Creative Studies and study music. I love music, but I loved art also, and I just thought I couldn't do both. And I felt like I wouldn't be a great musician. I still love music.

    AB: Did studying music influence the way you approached art?

    BW: Yes. I began studying piano when I was in fourth grade, and I always enjoyed it. I would play and sight read, and later I would compose too. When I decided to take piano lessons again when I was older, around the time of high school, I had a much more serious teacher. She was an accredited teacher, and we had auditions at Music Academy of the West. All of a sudden I was in this thing. I was just going to take piano lessons, and I was suddenly in this serious world of music, going and doing auditions and stuff. But she started teaching me more things about music like phrasing. Before it was very basic: learning the notes and playing them. But learning something like phrasing really changed the way I understood and played music. There were certain ways to press the keys and move your hands so that you would get a certain sound from the keys, and when she began to teach me these things, I really thought to myself that it related to art. I thought that I could use that way of thinking to influence the way I made art. I realized there was a lot more subtlety that could be a part of art.

    AB: So this is kind of back to the work itself. ..It seems like your making process involves a sort of fleshing out of an idea in sets or series. How do you know when those sets or series are finished? How do you know when something cannot be made in another form?

    B. Wurtz: 1970-2011, Installation View, 2011, Image Courtesy of Metro Pictures

    BW: You mean, when does it stop? I am definitely not the only artist that works this way. But I think that it has to do with the impulse to collect. I think often I make something, and I want to see what another one looks like and then what they look like together and then what more look like together. That's part of it. But I also think that it's because I use mass produced found objects like plastic bags. I use a lot of things that exist in series in themselves. I was also extremely interested in Andy Warhol, which probably isn't the most obvious influence, and Warhol was so interested in series and multiple images.

    In a way it's a bit inexplicable. I think the most logical thing to me is that it has to do with the impulse to collect, which I have. I've collected chairs. And then I started collecting Oriental rugs from Ebay for our house. And again, these are things that exist in series, and they're interesting to look at as a series in order to notice their similarities and differences.

    AB: I think you might have touched on this a bit, but I would like you to expand on it: what is the difference for you for a piece to be on the wall versus on the floor? Or pieces that do both?

    BW: Or a pedestal, or a shelf. . .I used to make paintings when I was young. I made oil paintings, ink, water color, drawings. I think the wall pieces come about because I still have that in me, that interest in painting. I don't literally activate a space the way Richard Tuttle does in an installation, but I really think about a room where my art will be seen, so I like to use the walls. I just find it interesting, even in terms of the way one would arrange something in one's living room. I'm interested in the way things look on the wall; there is the flatness of the wall combined with the experience of walking around something. And then there is that question of whether something will sit on the floor or on a pedestal.

    AB: What is the difference in the experience in making something that will sit on the floor or hang on the wall? Do you make it on the floor or on the wall?

    BW: I usually make the wall pieces on the floor, but I am picturing them on the wall. I tend to let myself use color more for the wall pieces, painted elements I use on wall pieces. And in my experience, that rarely works for me in three dimensional sculpture. I don't know why. I know some people can do it: put paint or color on a sculpture. For me it's like gilding the lily or something. It's not that the sculptures don't have color, but it's usually the color that is already in the objects.

    B. Wurtz, Untitled, 2007-8

    AB: Is the canvas you use also found? Paint is also another element that is not part of the found vernacular. Is that a weird process comparatively?

    BW: To put the paint on the canvas?

    AB: Yes, you've mentioned that you've made paintings, but is painting a different kind of making process because you aren't really working with something that already exists?

    BW: I am interested in the canvas as a material, almost as a sculptural material. Even though it's flat against the wall, it still has a depth, and I've made a lot of works where there are loops at the top and the entire piece simply hangs on nails, so it's loose. It has some depth, whether it is waves or wrinkles. So I'm interested in the canvas as an object. I'm interested in the fabric. I've done pieces with buttons on the canvas, because buttons normally are sewn on a piece of cloth. When I add the paint, I'm really thinking of paint as referring to a traditional painting, but only to an extent. A piece of cloth on the wall references a painting, and it's logical there would be paint on it. I am interested in color. With the sculptures it just doesn't usually work. The color has been the thing. So the paint on the canvas, yeah, it's interesting to think about. . . I like to be almost objective about myself if possible. Like, why do I have the need to do this stuff? It fascinates me. Why did I need to do this all these years?

    AB: When I look at certain of your pieces, this one piece in particular, two different sets of materials (the plastic bags and the paint) are linked to one another by their own material. I think of these materials as acting as foils to one another. It's the same sort of idea as art and the world being one and the same.

    Untitled, 2009.png
    B. Wurtz, Untitled, 2009

    BW: Exactly. Someone made a comment in a review that the lines in the piece seemed to say: "see same difference." I think that's very true. I think that I was thinking of them as being equal. I intend to do more of those. I love the idea of bringing paint subtly back in.

    AB: I feel like if you just keep making what you're making, it will figure itself out.

    BW: Well, hopefully. There is always the question of running out of ideas. I am sure every artists has that panic sometimes.

    AB: I think it depends on the way you make and conceptualize. When you look at your life's work it seems as if one thing leads to another.

    BW: I think it comes from that place of trying to be objective about oneself. I saw the show after Matthew [Higgs] had installed it. I felt that it was so weirdly consistent. But I was kind of relieved to find that I didn't repeat myself, that things changed and evolved over time even though it was very much part of the same central impulse, yet it didn't repeat itself. It was really kind of a relief, and that makes me more hopeful about the future. Hopefully it will continue. It will be me, but it will evolve.

    AB: Which artists do you relate with?

    BW: Definitely Calder, who isn't often mentioned by reviewers, but I really loved him as a child. I never really thought about Calder as having been the inventor of mobiles as a kid. When I realized this it really astonished me. I still just love seeing his work. Marcel Duchamp. I went through a very heavy phase of being fascinated by Duchamp in the early seventies. He was a big influence. Duchamp has always been important, but I don't think he was always in such high esteem as he is now. Warhol. I still am fascinated by his work.

    AB: What do you think of the contemporary art market/world?

    BW: It's kind of crazy. I try not to think about it too much. But the reality is, we all need money to live. I am not against selling my work or other people selling their work. I think collectors are incredibly important. I like collectors because i relate to that collecting impulse. Somebody needs to take care of the work, and they step up and do that. It's super important, and that's related to the art market. It's necessary in the same ways that art fairs are necessary. It's not the ideal way to see art, but they are what they are.

    AB: Has it changed at all since you've been in New York?

    BW: Yes, it's been up and down. There was the early eighties boom and then the crash, and then there was a huge boom right before the last crash. You remember it. What is funny to me is that I always remained on the outside of it.

    AB: I was just about to ask you if it affected your work at all.

    BW: No, it didn't affect my work. It didn't affect me. I was hardly selling anything in the boom times. And then the crashes would come, and it didn't make any difference. Now I'm doing better in that respect, and we're in the middle of a recession. So I'm not quite in sync with it.

    AB: Do you have any advice for young artists?

    BW: Ok my advice is kind of what I said earlier. I think the most important thing for an artist is to really try and delve in to find out who they are. If that means being able to walk away from art, then they should do that and not worry about it. If it means that they really need to make art, then they will figure out how to do it. It may not be easy, and we all need money, but money is not the most important thing in life. It's only money. And I see this: people do figure out what to do. And always, the work is most important; never lose sight of that. Even though we have to make a living and hopefully even sell our art. I think it's better to never expect to make a living from selling one?s work. I think it's healthier. There are many ways to figure it out. Having a day job can be interesting. It's not all bad. That's a lot of advice, isn't it? There was a period in time when it seemed like there was an expectation that you would come out of grad school and immediately have a show. Like the dealers were going to the schools and taking students right out of school. That was a little unrealistic. I think it's better to be patient. Of course as artists we have to think about our careers and what we can do to promote ourselves, but ultimately the work is the most important thing. People manage to figure it out. I guess I am saying it could be difficult, but it can work out. And if you need to be an artist, accept it.

    One of my themes of thinking over the years is when I start to think: being an artist is just insane. It's insane. Why do we even need art? But then I realized that there are so many artists and others in the art world: gallerists, curators, writers, and these are really fascinating intelligent people. So it can't be that insane. We have a need as humans to have art. It would be sad to live without it. That is why people that need to be artists must find a way to do it, and they'll figure it out.

    AB: Thank you.

    Xylor Jane and B. Wurtz: Recent Work is on at PNCA's Feldman Gallery until March 24.

  • Permalink for 'Kenneth Price dies at age 77'

    Kenneth Price dies at age 77

    Posted: 24-February-2012, 7:12pm EST by Jeff Jahn
    Kabongy Balls (2002)

    It seems like we lose a great artist every week or so these days. The latest is Kenneth Price at age 77. Perhaps no artist bridged the craft/fine art divide like he did and his jewel like surfaces were a key component in Dave Hickey's paradigm shifting Beau Monde Site Santa Fe biennial in 2001 ending what seemed like a 25+ year unofficial ban on beautiful art.

    His work was never just pretty though. It was sexy but a little grotesque and by avoiding the self consciousness of a lot of craft based work it transcended that genre's often cloying need to be taken seriously by simply stealing the show every single time they were shown (that's telling). Price's works were so outstanding, with forms so self assured and relaxed in their own perfect skin that they transcended the technical geekery of the craft world, putting all of their considerable aesthetic weight into the viewers mind and response. Thus, how it was made was always tertiary but integral to the encounter, similar to a lot of non western art.

    I always found them compelling, as if Price gave unlikely life to a pile of puke while imbuing it with the moves and curves of Cyd Charisse. In fact, Dave Hickey's Site Santa Fe install could have easily been likened to a dance between Charisse and Fred Astaire, it was just that good. He will be missed, but not forgotten... a 50 year retrospective will begin at LACMA in the Fall.

    *Update: Roberta Smith of the NYT's fascinating obituary . I found these quotes quite interesting, "crafts-dogma hell," and, "'I can't prove my art's any good,' he added, 'or that it means what I say it means. And nothing I say can improve the way it looks.'" Indeed...
  • Permalink for 'Ten Thousand Things at PCC Sylvania'

    Ten Thousand Things at PCC Sylvania

    Posted: 22-February-2012, 9:07pm EST by Jeff Jahn
    At PCC Sylvania's Northview Gallery

    PORT's very own Arcy Douglass is certainly interested in systems of vastness, his last solo show sported a video that would take trillions of years to watch in its entirety. Now he's filling the vast Northview Gallery with Ten Thousand Things (it has a huge bay window co-opting a view of treetops in the distance.) Here's what the press release says:

    "The North View Gallery presents a new large-scale video installation by Portland artist Arcy Douglass. There will be an opening reception on Thursday, February 23rd from 2-4 PM, and Saturdays, March 3rd and 10th from 12-4 PM. The show will run through March 23rd, 2012.

    Arcy Douglass' Ten Thousand Things uses the repetition of a simple formal vocabulary to reflect the complex structure of natural systems. Resembling the depth and expanse of the starlit sky or the gridded streetlights of an urban metropolis, Ten Thousand Things presents a field of lit points perpetually emerging into and escaping from our vision.

    Complimenting the exhibition, PCC dance students under the direction of instructor Heidi Diaz will be performing improvisational responses to Arcy's installation on Tuesday, February 28th and Thursday, March 1st from 2-3:20 PM, Tuesday, March 6th from 12:30-3:20 PM and Thursday, March 8th from 12:30-3:00 PM. Arcy Douglass earned a degree in architecture from the University of Southern California in 2007 and attended the Arts Student League in New York from 1999-2000."

    Receptions: February 23rd 2-4 PM | March 3rd and 10th from 12-4 PM
    North View Gallery at PCC Sylvania Campus
    12000 SW 49th Ave. Portland
    Hours: Monday - Friday | 8-4:00 PM, and by appointment
    Through March 23rd
  • Permalink for 'Edgar Arceneaux lecture'

    Edgar Arceneaux lecture

    Posted: 23-February-2012, 8:55am EST by Jeff Jahn
    Edgar Arscenaux's "The Algorithm Doesn't Love You" (2010)

    Today, Edgar Arceneaux visits PNCA as part of the 2011-2012 Graduate Visiting Artist Lecture Series. I tend to think of his very contemporary work as a mutant cross pollination between present tense anthropology and surrealism.

    The presser says, "Los Angeles-based artist Edgar Arceneaux's conceptual program uncovers meaning in unexpected adjacencies of past and present and of history and memory. He uses drawing, photography, sculpture and filmmaking for the unorthodox installation scenarios he has developed and refined over the last decade. His work resists simple explanations, creating sets of relationships that arent easily resolved as a way of wrestling with randomness."

    Artist Lecture | February 23rd 6:30-8:30 PNCA Main Campus | Swigert Commons 1241 NW Johnson St.
  • Permalink for 'Preserving Washington State's Public Art'

    Preserving Washington State's Public Art

    Posted: 21-February-2012, 7:48pm EST by Jeff Jahn
    Washington State's most famous bit of public art, Barnett Newman's Broken Obelisk (1963) technically not at risk but it is a slippery slope

    The idea to sell off works in Washington State's public art collection is such a bad idea. Also, the wolf in sheep's clothing tactic of using sales to fund scholarships and more art acquisitions doesn't make it any better.

    Weve been down this road before with both the Rose Art Museum and the Oregon Cultural Trust. Both of which ended up getting support from conservatives and non arts people... here's why:

    1)Public collections are kept in trust for the public. The thing about trusts is that you don't go radically altering (in this case selling) the asset kept in trust. If you treat a trust as a rainy day fund it simply ceases to exist.

    2) This is particularly short sighted since the elements of the collection are acquired for the way they engage and complete specific sites and buildings. That context building is a sort of running civic commentary and selling said works becomes tantamount to book burning of civic memory. Often the artwork outlives the original buildings and provides a thread through the past.

    3) Selling works when you think they are worth a lot of money is foolhardy. For example, though it isn't at risk here Barnett Newman's Broken Obelisk in the Red Square of the University of Washington's Seattle Campus is indeed worth a great deal of money but as one of only three (and the best of Newman's sculptures) replacing it with something of similar importance is extremely unlikely and it will likely be worth infinitely more both monetarily and as a cultural touchstone/icon 100 years from now. Once again, each piece comes from a certain point in history... sell the piece sell that history (it never comes back and because it goes to the highest bidder it is generally lost to the public).

    4) This is a dangerous precedent. When you treat a collection like a liquid asset it changes the way you collect and for what reasons. Public art is an investment in the public's access and enjoyment. A monetary investment comes with different performance expectations, which have nothing to do with the public's access and enjoyment. The two dynamics are at odds. Public art managers should not be investment portfolio managers.

    Here's Jen Graves take
  • Permalink for 'Presidents Day Links'

    Presidents Day Links

    Posted: 20-February-2012, 7:36pm EST by Jeff Jahn
    Ok it was an epic visual art weekend in Portland with Rothko and Nauman events and exhibitions (more to come on those). Till then, here are some Presidents Day Links:

    A hilarious project and article on the world Google didn't intend to show you with its electronic 9 eyed panopticon?

    Is there a neurological link between fear and the appreciation of the sublime or abstract art?

    Holland Carter looks at the New Museum's latest more international triennial The Ungovernables. Reminds me a bit of my Fresh Trouble show in 2005 (probably the stick by which Portland measures group shows) but with an update from the Arab Spring, etc. Fact is the world has seemed much more restless since the WTO demonstrations in 1999 where new electronic media allowed faster and more global disseminations of information and dissent.

    The Getty gets a new Director but has some of the same old problems.
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