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.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Fubonn Plaza Sculpture Show

If you have never been to Fubonn Plaza on SE 82nd between Powell and Division, you should make it a point to stop by.

When you do, pause a while and look at the carved stone sculptures displayed in the central walkway as well as the ones locked in the caged gallery along with some with some lively paintings. Fubonn (meaning Fortune Health in Chinese) is a Chinese indoor mall housed in a building that used to be a campus of Portland Community College. Restaurants, gift shops, and various other stores are anchored by one of Portland's largest Asian supermarkets. The area leading up to the entrance of the super market is adorned with a variety of carved stone sculptures as well as other notable artworks, such as the large plastic tropical trees.

The handmade artworks are no doubt produced at a rapid pace in some squalid Vietnamese workshop by underpaid artisans. That didn't diminish my appreciation for what they have created; Jesus and family with somewhat Asian features, angry dolphins, goofy lions, and much more.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Hawthorne Bridge Smile/Laugh Billboard

I go over the Hawthorne bridge all the time, usually on a bike. Much as I have tried, I haven't been able to ignore these `paintings' perched atop a building straddled by the on and off ramps of Hawthorne Bridge's east side. They seem to have some artistic aspiration, judging from the purposefully loose, painterly style, the use of color, and the hints of layers of paintings. My first reaction to a big `Smile' sign is annoyance. Am I supposed to smile because a sign tells me to? Wouldn't it be more interesting if the sign said urinate or wink or ululate or surrender? My East Coast sensibilities get the best of me. Smile?!? Laugh?!? Typical Portland tired, hippie banality! But wait...stop. Doesn't the fact that I have these thoughts every time I go by this billboard suggest that this is effective art? What if the artist intended for some viewers to have to deal with their cynicism or lack if ability to summon up some mirth on command? Maybe the artist is a genius and way ahead of me? Hmm.