Saturday, October 9, 2010

Get Small with Theodore Holdt

It's a rainy Saturday afternoon and I head over to Launchpad Gallery on drippy Oak Street. I am curious about Theodore Holdt's small paintings. I have checked out the website but that doesn't prepare me for how small they are and how many of them there are. At 2"x 2"the paintings could fit comfortably on an ipod screen. I think of all the cell phone advertising I have seen the last few months trying to convince me that watching a movie or TV on a cell phone screen is a really dynamic, maybe even life changing activity. Small is in. Here are these 1000 paintings before me like a storyboard of chaos and color. It's time to get small! Think small!

As I gaze upon the thousand tiny paintings, my first feeling is relief. I realize that I feel pressure sometimes looking at an artwork that is of heroic dimensions. If I don't like it, I am dismissing something that the artist is presenting
as major or important. With Holdt's tiny works, it was easy not to like some of them. How could I like each one, there are 1,000 after all. It is easy to like them as well. The show makes me want to hunt down a particular painting and get intimate with it.

There is a lot to enjoy in this Launchpad show. The paintings can be appreciated as one large work with a thousand parts as well as individually. When one particular piece catches the eye, you see it is a whole painting; a composition, a world unto itself. Motifs, themes, ironies and styles repeat with variations as I take in the paintings. Collage elements jump out. In the wide range of our scattered thoughts we also just repeat ourselves over and over, don't we. Holdt, who has titled the show I Am Hunting You Are Hunted, in his attempt to create beauty and meaning out of the endless stream of thoughts and perceptions unveils a bit of the mystery and weirdness of being human.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Art For Sale On the Pearl

I was in the Pearl to check out some of the new gallery shows. I always like to go to Blackfish and The Elizabeth Leach Gallery. It provides a fun contrast between a successful artist run cooperative with more of an emphasis on community than retail. Christopher Shotola-Hardt's paintings share the gallery with Judith Wyss' stained glass works. Both artists have made impressive gains from previous shows. The work is intimate, approachable, human, and deep. The Justine Kurland photography across the street at Elizabeth Leach is interesting with landscapes and trains and decay and dryness. The work catches the mood of a depressed country on the downside of it's glory days. I get stuck on the prices. $12,000 for a large photograph. It is a bit alienating because the price tells me that this work was created for someone other than me.
I had accidentally happen to be in the Pearl for Art on the Pearl. And, of course, I was helplessly sucked into the crowd and quickly fell in line behind a middle aged couple from the West Hills. I happened to glance deep into the sad oppressed eyes of the the husband. Eyes the same color as the golf shirt from the Tiger Woods collection that was keeping him comfy by wicking excess moisture that his body was creating as he followed his wife past the stalls. Deep in those eyes I saw a yearning for college football. He wanted to be watching college football. I could tell. But... he was instead dutifully following his wife. I dutifully followed the two of them. We stopped at a booth with photos of forest scenes which had been filtered to sepia tones. We watched the glass blower work with his glowing molten orb. We admired two wiener dogs, one of which lay on the ground refusing to move further into the art fair depths. We admired some paintings, cartoonish girls with big smiley faces. We had some donuts, listened to some bluegrass music, and glanced at our cell phones. The couple started to notice me following them and I could tell I was making them nervous. I stopped, walked past a set of florescent orange barriers blocking the cars from driving down Davis Street. I headed towards the river, away from a place where art was meeting commerce, people were shopping and dogs were sniffing people's shoes.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Lot's of Drawing at the Portland Art Musuem....R. Crumb and More!

I started reading R. Crumb comics; Zap, Motor City and the like, in the 1960s. I read them when I was too young and impressionable to be subjected to such enticing perversion. I was introduced to detailed, parodied cartoon sex acts at the tender age of 8 by Crumb. I'm sure the influence marks my world view in ways I haven't figured out to this day. R. Crumb chronicled the 1960s and 1970s with dead-on wit and keen observation. It provided a fun framework for me to view people, society, myself and my loved ones.

With so much R. Crumb baggage, I have been nervous about seeing the Genesis show at the Portland Art Museum. Now that I have seen the show, I do want to get the book so that I can appreciate the work like it should be appreciated. The show was successful in that regard. I want to buy the book! It is impressive to see rows and rows of carefully drawn cartoon panels, wall after wall. The thing about the genre of comics is that it's conventions prevent the work from having much feel of painterly spontaneity. The faces of the various characters are almost all more or less the same. The backgrounds and stylizations are unwavering R. Crumb. No visual surprises. When I was a kid, I would read Eggs Ackerly's adventures with the vulture demoneses and be transported to an original, funny, and suprising, albeit pornographic new world. This mature project from a mature R. Crumb doesn't hold any of that excitement for me.

There is some other great art to see for the price of admission. Several Leon Golub paintings in the basement need to be respected. Golub devoted his career as a painter to illustrating the atrocities inflicted upon the weak by the powerful. He wasn't painting so that the wealthy class could have something to hang in their living room to match their couch. The few paintings on display don't do justice to his body of work, but they are worth seeing.

That master drawing exhibit is also great.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Size Matters: Portland 2010 Biennial

Last week, I managed to get to Disjecta and the Templeton Building, two venues for the Portland Biennial. The whole concept of biennial is fraught with danger and excitement. Here we have someone, in this case curator Chris Moss, push some artists and artwork forward with the judgement that they are among the best of the region or at the very least a good representation of what is going on in the Portland art world. Having it at multiple venues with a large group of artists diffuses the American Idol aspects of the event. I have to admit part of the fun of viewing a biennial is being able to question some one's attempt to sort through what is an endless and nebulous art world and create some winners and losers. How much influence this Biennial will have on artist's career (meaning their ability to make money) and the direction of the Portland's art scene is hard to know. I know quite a few artists that were in Biennials when it was held at the museum, most still have their day jobs. Some aren't making art anymore.

The Templeton Building and Disjecta are both large, cavernous spaces. Much of the artwork in both places is large to match. Multiple artists created installations that in some way react to the space. There is no painterly painting or hand formed sculpture. I suppose that kind of art might feel a bit quaint in these two venues. Concepts rule. Each installation felt like it could be dazzlingly defended in front of a MFA thesis jury. For me, the large cavernous buildings were hard to get past when looking at the work. No matter how bright the flood lights or colorful the artwork high up above there was that impenetrable darkness of old Northwest wood hanging like a rain cloud.

The photography in the show was all printed in very large size or bigger. I always enjoy looking at photography. The work by Corey Arnold and Holly Andres was interesting. Even though they very different subject matter, somehow they seemed connected by a certain coolness or melancholy. I wondered what either of the work would be like if it was printed in a smaller....say book size format. Do they need to be large to have an impact? I suppose everything has more impact or at least is harder to ignore if it is large. Imagine a billboard that covers half the sky. That would be hard to ignore.

My favorite work of either venue is West Coast Turnaround, created by Crystal Schenk and Shelby Davis. It is a white life-size model of a semi-truck crammed between two walls in the Disjecta building. Out of the many attempts in this biennial to do something with the architectural space, West Coast Turnaround did so with a sense of fun and profoundity. It brought out personal issues I have with menacing large trucks on the road. I could approach the work cautiously and admire it's size and shape with only a slight fear that I might get run over.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Disquieted Worth $12

I can't remember ever going to a show where the curator and chief reviewer in town tried so hard to make sure you react to the art the way that they intended. There is a quote on the wall in large type at the entrance to the exhibit, making sure that you are suitably unnerved by a show that, `exposes our vulnerability in these turbulent times'. In his review in the Oregonian, D.K. Row describes the first installation, In the Midst of Dreams, as a work that will, `confront and remind us of a world that's too much with us these days'. (God forbid someone should go to the show and take it as a humorous affirmation that 21st century humans are doing okay.)

I was able to take two photos of In The Midst of Dreams, before the usher politely came up to me and explained that photos weren't allowed. How vulnerable I felt to have such a turbulent thing happen to me.

Let me say right here, in case you can't tell, Disquieted actually is a really great show. It is a great selection of artwork by interesting artists. The works play off each other both in terms of content and stylistically. When you walk past the big glowing heads into the main first floor gallery there is a 10 foot female mannequin looking a bit intimidating. Close by is a naked male mannequin with detailed anatomically correct genitalia. (`Exposed vulnerabilities' for sure.) In another part of the the show there is a sculpture of crouching boy. The boy is too small and it made me think again of the too big female sculpture that confronted me when I walked into the exhibition space. The show is full of that kind of synergy. The large photo of a Vietnamese furniture weaving sweatshop obviously plays off of the photo of cattle in pens next to it. The sweatshop photo is also is great when considered in tandem with the busy pop anime inspired painting. Both have repeating images and commercial overtones. That painting works really well with the guiltily seductive anime fairy princess sculpture. I could go on and on.

Go see this show. There is something for everyone.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Fear and Loathing in the Heart of the Pearl

I swear I went into the `Heart of the Pearl' with the best of intentions on this sunny Saturday afternoon. Having done a few commentaries on art in the SE, it felt like time to say something about something in Portland's most prestigious art gallery neighborhood; The Pearl. I visited six galleries but just couldn't get past the unseemly odor of commerce the was in the air everywhere I turned. Not farmers market commerce, or Powell's bookstore commerce, or Chinese night market commerce, either. Those places are interesting.

The first gallery I went into felt like walking into a real estate open house or an upscale furniture store. The gallery lady was in a tidy white polyester pants suit. She greeted me as I looked at the shiny, colorful, (dare I say) pleasant artwork for sale on the walls ... prices ranging from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. To my relief the next gallery I went into did not have someone trying to make eye contact right away. When I turned the corner after giving every blurry, pastel-colored, abstract wall painting a reasonable gander, there was the gallery owner working hard to sell a piece to a prosperous looking retired couple. The couple was dressed like they had just come off a tennis court. "In this painting the artist does a base coating of red, that's why the green explodes off the canvass." The couple nodded as if they were taking in some profound wisdom. I turned and ran. I ran out of the gallery and hurled myself in front of a bicycle breezing down Davis street. The cyclist deftly swerved out of the way to avoid my prone body. She didn't flinch and kept talking on her cell phone as her two thin wheels whizzed her through a stop sign silently east.

I know artists and galleries need to sell work. It's hard to exist without commerce. Many artists bemoan the fact that people aren't willing to support their work. An MFA is expensive. The scary part for me is that so many galleries seem to favor decorative artwork that won't offend. Art that will look nice in a tastefully appointed bourgeois home. There was a time when abstract expressionism or minimalist geometric crispness was a challenge to the status quo. Now it is the most harmless art ever, suitable for a corporate office or bank.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Love Show 2010 burgeons forth

Judging from the throngs of people who showed up at the Olympic Mills building Friday evening to participate in the 5th Annual Love Show, love in all its permutations and interpretations still has allure in Portland. This non-juried art show created by Ben Pink of Launchpad Gallery and Portland City Art (Chris Haberman's group) typifies what is fun and unique about the Portland alternative art scene.

For curators, gallery owners, and whomever else might have a stake in art as a commodity that needs to be filtered and ranked, the egalitarian nature of this show might be a bit off-putting. I enjoy seeing high and low concept, amateur and professional, MFAer and weekend dabbler all hung together under hit and miss lighting.

If you, like me, look to the Love Show to clarify what has been a problematic concept, maybe this data I've have gleaned from a systematic examination of the content of the show will be helpful. Here are some repeating themes of the show: Hearts rendered at different times childlike or as if they came from a medical journal. Animals either fornicating or cuddling. Pink. Attractive people with solemn expressions. Lusty images of people (or animals) looking like they have a sexual yearning or who are actually engaged in the act. Beasts (homely men, gorillas and the like) with angst-ridden expressions pining over delicate females. Flowery and delicate abstractions. Mermaids.
Partially or fully engorged penises.

The love show is up through March 12th.