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Heidi Schwegler's "Legacy" and "Index" (right)
Critical i

Wrapping up the year
2001: A space odyssey
by Jeff Jahn

The 2001 art season in Portland is all but over – time for reflection.

What I won't miss:
• Dorks in "The North Face" jackets judging street artists for being tacky.
• The debate of whether Portland is a town or a city.
• Half-assed lowered expectations for Portland's art culture.
• Full-assed acceptance of the idea that Portland never changes.

For those who missed it, the 2001 art season reflected a marked change in the intentions and seriousness of Portland's art scene. To be sure, it was not flawless. But schlock is everywhere. Let's not throw the baby out with the bath water. For me, these are the turning points:

Jensen's "bunny"

Blue Ribbon award

Malia Jensen's "bunny," shown in July at PDX Gallery (604 NW 12th Ave.) was my favorite work throughout the year.

More than just cute, it articulates her riddler-like concerns and has lots of Mary Shelly (think Frankenstein) overtones. Later in the year she created an all-leather version. Kudos for not aping Japanese anime [see June review].

Greenberg Schmeenberg?
Portland Art Museum
1219 SW Park Ave.

The Portland Art Museum finally got serious about its contemporary holdings and acquired the Clement Greenberg collection. In doing so they gained first-rate works by Anthony Caro "Square Feet Flat," Kenneth Noland "Air Beauty" and Helen Frankenthaler's "Spaced Out Orbit." Will Bruce Guenther be allowed to keep that momentum going? Alex Katz's "Lawn Party" loaner was a real treat, too.

The new curator is human but he does his best work when working with 20th Century gods like Giacometti and Ellsworth Kelly. Frankly, how many people in town know Rothko grew up in Portland and had his first solo show at PAM? The nice turnouts for the museum's lecture series on Greenberg were proof that some people do give a damn. Now let's expect the same of the local artists.

Heidi Schwegler
416 NW 10th Ave.

After two long years Heidi Schwegler got a show [see image, top and August review]. This, after she produced the most challenging work in the 1999 Oregon biennial, was embarrassing. On the other hand, bravo: maybe more artists will make their way into galleries which have had pretty static rosters for the last six years.

Portland is changing and is no longer attracting third stringers. If Portlanders would stop whining about wanting better artists and start looking at the bright, ambitious newcomers they would find them. Set higher expectations and they will be met. Everyone should assume that the galleries may not be the best place to find these people. All galleries should be asking one question: Are we fresh or stale? Portlanders can spot fresh produce; they can just as easily spot fresh art.

Blumenthal's "Light Streak Variation #2"

Erika Blumenthal
Portland Institute of Contemporary Art
219 NW 12th Ave.

Erika Blumenthal's "Moments of Light" – so crisp and so mortal – wins my vote for most memorable show of the year. She also yoked PICA's rather stoic space. Through all the changes in the year, her work stayed with me. I still walk around the show in my mind. Like a great imperfect computer or a useless calendar, these arrays of exposed Polaroids touched the sublime by acknowledging its flaws and impermanence [see April review].

Nic Walker
Everett Station Lofts
Decaying Deer Carcass

There's something rotten in Denmark ... If you don't know Nic Walker you just don't know Portland's young scene. A lot of artists and collectors in town look up to his work. Walker not only supported himself for an entire year just by selling his art in places like La Cruda and Little Wing, he also created Portland's most infamous exhibit early last year. His actual rotting deer carcass at the Everett Station Lofts stank like a battlefield and spoke his discontent with Portland's cheesy new rich who constantly tried to get him to make his work slicker.

Mind you, Walker exhibited this carcass in his own home ... bringing new meaning to commitment and bile. His elegant-but-rough new work has matured into the most ironic, concise and beguiling stuff I've seen in years. It's so dry, it makes me think of Beuys and Ed Rusche. If you don't know what I'm talking about, you're out of some loops. If you are curious, seek him out.

Damali Ayo's "eye-con" series shadows cultural cachet.

Damali Ayo
Mark Woolley Gallery
120 NW 9th Ave.

This was a controversial and challenging show. Some gave in to liberal guilt, others turned off or on for a variety of legitimate reasons. I think Woolley deserves a lot of credit for having the balls to show this [see October review].

Let's face it: Portland speaks of race in almost purely hypothetical terms.

Judy Pfaff
Elizabeth Leach Gallery
207 SW Pine St.

All year long, Judy Pfaff's exquisite print works at Elizabeth Leach were easily the best available in Portland. In fact, I think they are some of the best prints ever. They have a great da Vinci-esqe inquisitiveness. Please don't let that wussy installation outside the ODS building fool you; "magic mirror" pretty much embodies humanism to me.

Wrapping things up

With new blood oozing into the galleries these days it is an exciting time to be in Portland, 2002 should be better and 2003 is when a lot of this will start to gel. I see a five-year plan in the works and 2001 was right on schedule ...

E-mail Jeff at pivotofjade@hotmail.com, don’t miss his recent columns and be sure to see his April essay, Art and Threat: Untaming Humanism.

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