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Window of opportunity: It's Tyler Kline's installation at Zeitgeist, but is it Wednesday or Thursday?
Critical i

When Thursday falls on Wednesday
It's the best Fourth of July ever
by Jeff Jahn

t was strange, like a First Thursday that wasn't a First Thursday – all because Thursday fell on the Fourth of July.

So First Thursday became First Wednesday and everything was kinda flat. I mean Thursday is the day of Thor, but Wednesdays just don't have that god-of-thunder thing.

To further complicate matters, some of the Everett Station Lofts decided to keep the real First Thursday and have their openings on Independence Day.

So I ditched my brother and friends and exerted my independence by going to Portland's Monmartre, looking for a redhead with whom to sing "Heroes."

All things considered, the holiday was great. Everyone was grilling, setting off fireworks, chatting about art and having a great time. An honest-to-goodness community – the best Fourth of July and best First Thursday ever.

The trendy Tube: trying to cut through the din.

I met a bunch of people who had just moved here. Later on we all went to the trendy Tube and tried to speak over the din: lovely time, but I was hoarse for days.

Portland isn't an insta-scene or a PR stunt. It's a cosmopolitan, bohemian and sophisticated sustainability kinda thing. Between PICA, the galleries and Everett Station Lofts, I'm finally seeing less smoke and more fire.

People often want instant change, but it doesn't work that way. Right now there's a buildup with lots of momentum. Still, expectations and more real searches for challenging work are needed.

Megan Walsh and Brad Adkins both had some nice work at the lofts that I didn't have time to cover.

Megan Walsh: no time to cover.

Lastly, the Portland Art Museum isn't all gilded gee-gaws from imperial Japan designed to impress the peasants. Bruce Guenther, the chief curator, has some great new things hidden in the basement and attic, sort of like an art-filled Easter-egg hunt.

On the fourth floor there's a mini Ed Ruscha exhibit – damn nice; he's the best artist L.A. will ever produce. In the basement there's a great Kiki Smith, "the Rapture," and a Warhol Superman.

The big surprise is Eric Fischl's "Father and Son." I love this thing and I hate Fischl … even though my role model, John McEnroe, digs him. It really has that eerie silence-thing that fathers and sons have. I'm going to drag a couple of nice ladies over and see if they get it.

All the Way with Jim + Shel
Jim Hodges and Shelly Hirsch
219 NW 12th

Jim + Shel = vampire hippie Taoist monk?

This is the single best exhibit PICA has done. Open to risk and full of open-ended exploration, Portlanders were invited to bring in something that caught their eye. Since Jim + Shel are top-notch pros, I knew the experiment would pay off.

I liken this first collaboration between longtime friends to a 12-course Moroccan meal – full of variety and one you have to eat with your hands.

I wasn't disappointed. "All the Way" filled PICA with gossamer things, fragile things, polished things, sound montages and an eclectic workshop that documents the accumulation process that is beautiful, nostalgic and participatory all at the same time.

It doesn't feel like the work of one person ('cause it ain't), but it doesn't feel like a collaboration, either. Instead, it feels like an old-time potluck in the park (hey, Portland is community central).

The show begins with some creamy white glass bells with Easter colors inside. I rang some, and they produced a deep, fundamental tone with some lingering, almost fuzzy secondary and higher-order harmonics – which took the "clang" out and made them more meditative.

Hodges created these during a recent residency at Pilchuck. I loved the idea of having the first art installed over my head. Simple metaphor, but it works: "look up to art."

PICA's main room is also laid out as a zigzag with carpet squares, a giant scrim of gauzy fabrics, generous piles of throw pillows and stations with Walkmans and videos. It's too much to list, but the whole feeling is exploratory with a nice use of a solo typewriter in one musical montage.

Jim + Shel even utilized one of the nice sliding walls that leads to the outdoor-facing windows. Once there, the viewer is asked to pick a colored pencil and write why they chose that color.

Hodges: trademark light bulbs and the requisite Portland tree.

Another favorite thing (cue Coltrane) is the pink fur-covered support pillar. It would probably make architect Brad Cloepfil queasy, but architects are easy to rattle.

Then there are some of Hodges' trademark light bulbs, arranged in a diagonal above tree limbs and waterfall footage on four video screens.

The whole feeling is intimacy and continuity. The show feels different depending on how occupied it is. When populated all the way it's a gypsy camp. When crowds are sparse it feels like you just discovered the lair of a hippie vampire Taoist monk.

Overall, the show reminded me of something written in Paul Bowles' "The Sheltering Sky." Early on the author makes the distinction between a tourist and a traveler. The difference? When in Tangiers a tourist stays in outposts of familiar civilization, such as English hotels; travelers, however, immerse themselves.

Too many exhibitions are explicitly for tourists: patronizing, trite and dull. One gets the sense that everyone involved in this show became a traveler and might have trouble being a tourist again.

Portland by pictures

Chang's sculpture.

Luke Chang's "Art as an object" is some nice work from a recent Reed grad (seen here at the Heaven coffee shop, 410 SW 10th).

The show, also including Nadia Fay, was called "transfiguration of the gridded space."

Let's see more of this guy (in fact he's scratching records 15 feet behind me even as I write; Heaven, 1:40 a.m.).

Ehlis' "90 MPH": an anticipated opening.

Jacqueline Ehlis' show at Savage, "90 MPH," was definitely the most anticipated solo show of 2002 and she didn't disappoint – it's the best use of the gallery's front room to date.

Hell, she surprised me and I saw the developing work on a daily basis. Of all Dave Hickey's students, she is the most spatially transgressive and territorial (in an open way). Because of this event, younger and older artists who feel isolated in Portland just lost most of their excuses. Damn whiners.

Which goes to prove that it's the artist's state of mind and mettle, not the weather. Ehlis just quickened the pace of an entire scene – and this is only first gear.

Bozarth's "The Brooklyn Bridge."

Another solid Everett Station show, "Sugar," by Suzanne Bozarth at SYM, painstakingly recreates New York postcards with glitter.

Who says Portland is insular … depends on who you are looking at. Bozarth is one of Portland's better transplants, having moved here from New York not quite four years ago. And despite leading the nation in unemployment, Portland remains one of the best places to work and live. But now the question is, who among the artists, galleries, curators and collectors is going to say: "OK, time to up the ante and take a stand."

Portland is certainly poised for bigger productions and higher expectations. Next May brings a milestone, as our fair city hosts the American Association of Museums national convention.

And next month I look forward to Sean Healey, Malia Jensen and Chandra Bocci, along with five artists in "Play," a show I'm curating at PSU. It features Bruce Conkle, Todd Johnson, Hilary Pfeifer, Jacqueline Ehlis and myself (hey, I'm not above the fray). Time to get judged and aim for the next level.

Artists are still the ones holding the ball, but it all means nothing if nobody takes a shot.

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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