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Dance with Warhol ... at PAM.
Critical i

Art adventures and setting off alarms
Travelogue: Kristy Edmunds, PAM,
Laura Russo, _Hall, Backspace, Compound
by Jeff Jahn

ugust 9: The alarms are going crazy and I'm laughing my ass off with Jacqueline Ehlis.

You see, we're in the Alyssa Duckler Gallery and whoever closed the gallery forgot to lock the door. Besides, it was technically before closing time ... all in all, hilarious.

We decide to take in the show with the lights on dim and the alarms flashing. I kinda dig the felonious quasi-disco feel.

Anyway, we couldn't just leave the place open and unattended ... eventually someone came. It all reminds me that the whole art-hunting endeavor is supposed to be an adventure. We should be challenged by what we come across. Is it good or is it crap? Is it just someone else's idea of good crap?

Even perceived meaning can be an adventure when people completely misconstrue what you think is crap and what is good. For instance, Whitney curator Lawrence Rinder, in a short article on the core sample Web site, seems to think that I want Portland artists to genuflect toward New York divas like Matthew Barney and Julie Mehretu. Huh? That's a new one. He even picked two artists I find more interesting in their flaws than their work! Still, he raises some important issues so I’ll respond in the proper forum.

This sort of wrangling is just another part of the adventure.

So, in keeping with all those adventures, here's a bit of an art travelogue and a guide to some things I saw and found exciting. Will it set off any alarms for you?

James Turrell
'Knowing Light'
the Henry Gallery
Seattle (through Feb. 8)

Dance with Turrell.

If there's one thing you should see, it's the James Turrell show, "Knowing Light," at the Henry Gallery at Washington University. It features "Spread," a massive 2,000-square-foot-plus ganz field room (pictured), which uses sensory deprivation to heighten our awareness of light. Primal sensitivities are still a core aspect of our lives no matter what kind of post-structural jig we care to dance. Light matters. There is no post-photonism.

My bet: Turrell is one of the few living artists who will be remembered 1,000 years from now. Matthew Barney ... nope ... guys like Salvador Dali, Rene Magritte and Jean Cocteau ate most of his lunch, and after 1,000 years, 50 years will seem insignificant.

This is why we are all lucky "Knowing Light" has been extended until February; there's plenty of time to see it, but go as soon as you can. If you consider yourself serious, you gotta make the trip. Otherwise, you're just like any Seattle-tonians who missed the William Pope L. show at PICA – a schmuck for missing one of the best shows in the country. Take the train if you don't want to drive.

Another hint: the Henry is consistently one of the very best places in the country to see contemporary art. I think Seattle-erians take it way too much for granted. I'd marry the Henry if I could; it has a nice combo of the art-world cutting edge and curatorial seriousness.

By having Superflat a few years ago, several very good Northwest artists and now Turrell, the Henry is the place for large-scale contemporary shows in the region. In fact, there is a great show consisting of the Neuberger collection that comes down Sept. 18. It's an adventurous place. I'll cover the Turrell show in depth next month.

Portland Art Museum, Schnitzer Atrium, Lewis & Clark galleries

Sam Francis' "Big Orange."

There are some exciting new things at the Portland Art Museum: a Miro and a Gottlieb show, plus some unannounced goodies that overshadow the official shows. This, of course, is Bruce Guenther making up for the Oregon Biennial by showing his real strength – top-end historically certified art.

Turns out the selection is very good.

So yes, going to the museum is a legit adventure now that Guenther has reinstalled some galleries. In the Schnitzer Atrium there are several Warhols, a nice later Rauschenberg and one of Sam Francis' best paintings, "Big Orange," from the Broad collection.

FYI, the Broads are debatably the greatest living art collectors and they lend their largess to many museums.

In fact, they just bought "Big Orange" for 2.7 big ones and since it is one of Francis' best works, it happens to be worth every penny.

Part of the adventure is looking at these artists in history and judging them by their best work. "Big Orange" is one such opportunity, and Francis comes off as a tough customer.

Warhol's "Dance Diagram (Foxtrot)."

Francis is a very good artist whose reputation is a bit in limbo; a bit like Yves Klein and Nicolas de Stael. They are artists that need a serious retrospective to solidify their place in history. This recently happened for Francis' contemporary, Joan Mitchell.

Right now, under-retrospectived artists are like square pegs in the overly simplified art history textbook we have been using for the last 20-plus years. Hell, until MOMA's Jackson Pollock retrospective, the art world politely steered the discussion away from Pollock ... who happens to be the first American "summa" of art and therefore its single most important artist.

The Broads also purchased and lent PAM "Dance Diagram (Foxtrot, man turns and woman turns)" by Warhol, our second "summa" artist. It is an amazing painting for many reasons. First, it's often displayed on the floor, tempting viewers to dance on a 2.2-million-dollar painting. OK, that is an adventure no art-insurer will condone. Sadly, here it is displayed on a wall where it still can be read as a question mark.

Second, Warhol copied the diagram by hand and finished painting the work by hand, another rarity. Warhol was prolific but not nearly as predictable as the vernacular myths would suggest.

Antoni & Ramirez-Jonas from "Walkways."

Few realize he was an extremely gifted artist who was making $60,000 a year drawing shoe ads at a time when $25,000 bought you an exceptionally nice house. Metaphorically, Warhol can dance. And in his wry, disjointed way, he asks the viewer to follow his lead.

This is an excellent museum piece, although I consider it similar to the Brillo boxes – a highly successful art simulacrum and a brilliant mimetic device.

To see its influence, just look at Janine Antoni and Paul Ramirez-Jonas' "Migration" from PICA's walkways show last year.

A gutsy acquisition last year: Bavington's "Voodoo Child a slight return, solo."

Thank you, Broad Foundation, for sharing. We notice and appreciate it up here. Other loaners from other sources, like a nice Gerhard Richter, "Davos S.," look excellent next to things the museum does own, like an Alexander Calder mobile and a still-exciting Tim Bavington that the Contemporary Art Council bought last year.

Good for the novice and experts alike, the council does adventurous things like make studio visits, fund exhibitions and take trips. It's also a good way to support new acquisitions; you can find out more here.

Kristy Edmunds
Elizabeth Leach Gallery
Portland (through Aug. 30)

Nodding rides provoke mimetic anthropomorphic response (video).

PICA was born at the Elizabeth Leach Gallery eight years ago.

Kristy Edmunds is the director, the kahuna of PICA and, as anyone knows, starting a nonprofit arts venture equals the end of what most of humanity would consider "a life." It is a little nuts.

All heroics are!

I've found all cultural endeavors have a lemming-like quality.

I've lived it for months at a time; Kristy had lived it for, um, seven years – likely drinking a year's production of a Columbian coffee plantation in the process. Thus, she needed a vacation away from her buddy Juan Valdez. In this case, the adventure was to stop facilitating culture and relax so she could maybe make some art.

It makes me feel like Oprah; I wanna say, "I hear ya girl!"

An ocelot moments before recognition (video).

So what kind of art did she make? Well, her monotype prints are gauzy, personal and slow of pace, but they lack a bit of that edge that is necessary for me to dig.

They are a bit like too-elegant vacation shots. It comes off as fuzzy, nice and too mushy. However, her video, "Twitch/Tremble/Tense," is something I can sink my teeth into – even if others might find it difficult. Once again, that is the adventure.

First off, it is a demanding 22 minutes long and pretty self-indulgent. Apparently, this is just a draft. I still enjoyed it thoroughly.

The piece does what moving images are very good at – they slow down time and allow the viewer to focus. Instead of vacation footage, we get a series of intimate situations. Sometimes it's a sea lion indulgently scratching itself with a flipper, seemingly oblivious to the viewer. At other times, there are those points of recognition where a goat, an ocelot or an otter go about their business like the sea lion, but then they spy the videographer just before the scene shifts.

Of course, this brings the viewer into an intense moment of voyeurism and a moment of being watched back. Is it intrusive? Is this a call for privacy from Kristy? Possibly.

What is interesting is how intimately the scenes are filmed and how that makes recognition between different species a shared animal exchange. Instead of human communication, this video works on a more primal level. That is telling, because it cuts to a different scene just after recognition. There are no confrontations, only the sense of boundaries defined and permeated. Thus, it's all before the real drama will occur.

A child scatters some birds (video).

Is this an idealized animal kingdom then? No ... because we also have young children who occasionally disturb a flock of white birds. In one repeated segment we see the birds recognize a potential threat, a child that is hardly a threat to other humans, but certainly disruptive to the birds. It is shot from the birds' eye level to further distance us from the human perspective.

From our human instinctual parental impulse, the scene can be read as cute since the child is oblivious to the birds' space.

From the birds' perspective they definitely seem to mind – but only for a split second. Will they remember? Doubtful.

Since the rest of the film avoids humanity, I think we are supposed to see how the child disrupts order and the birds settle once again after the intrusion. It is the ebb and flow of salient events, maybe not dissimilar to PICA's programming?

I particularly liked the shots of various amusement-park rides. The oddly cropped nodding ride capsules seem to invite an anthropomorphic response ... are those slowly wavering things waving to the viewer, prompting a response? Once again, this is all slowed down and one realizes the swaying rides will sway whether or not we are on them or if we somehow do not acknowledge them back.

Therefore, there is a theme of continuity. Edmund's work demands her soul as an artist, but when she lets the job go for a while, she creates a video about observation and continuity. Looks like she is still an artist no matter what she is doing. Fair enough.

Group show
Laura Russo Gallery
Portland (Aug. 8-30)

Grenon's "We Must Never Sleep."

Good painting is rare and the Laura Russo Gallery had some nice examples, including Robert Colescott and a very impressive Gregory Grenon, "We Must Never Sleep."

Grenon is a fierce painter I respect, and this is one of the best I've seen in years. Maybe it's the red or the fact that it's not overtly aggressive. Instead, as the title suggests, there is a pervasiveness to the work, possibly two friends who never stop comparing experiences?

It's a disquieting mood piece and I read it as saying, "who has got the courage to speak up?" Unlike a lot of other Portland painters Grenon isn't overly fussy and doesn't rely on easily controllable, and therefore repeatable, effects. He knows the intangibles get overcooked if you try to control them too much.

In this case, all the intangibles the viewer can imagine are coaxed out by Grenon's magnetic painting. Similarly and speaking of adventure, Russo has nice open racks to peruse work through. That alone is a cool sort of adventure. Why only buy from the current show?

'Mixed Media'
_Hall Gallery
630 SE 3rd

Morgan Wick's surly dude.

Hmm, a mixed media show at the time of a painting-heavy and arguably bloated Biennial. What could it mean? I was also interested in how this more focused show would contrast with the 110-car pileup of the Modern Zoo show.

It definitely was more focused than the Zoo, still it lacked zip except for one work by one of the two people most responsible for the Zoo. It needed a large statement piece to cement the mixed-media theme.

Some participants, like Zefery Throwell, did some porno-collage work, and Morgan Wick did a collage image of some surly dude who appears to be haphazardly wearing a fake beard. Sadly, Wick's other works seemed more technical than successful.

Another surprise: Amy Karol brought some of that "Quilts of Gee's Bend" trendiness with her own quilts.

Only New Yorkers could get so excited by such a down-home comfort subtext show like Gee's Bend. It was nice but not THAT nice; a few quilts caught my eye, but that was it. I saw similar quilts at the Milwaukee Art Museum in the mid '90s.

Bryan Suereth's installation of treated plants.

So much for the Big Apple's cutting edge; they've found their inner Milwaukee! To be fair, they did have robots randomly drilling holes in walls on another floor ... now combine the two and you've got a happy critic and some angry quilters.

Back to "Mixed Media." The star of the show was none other than Bryan Suereth, co-founder of PCAC and co-daddy of the Modern Zoo.

His real plants painted or dipped in synthetic materials were hanging in mid air without pots. Everyone felt the installation really looked good.

I thought it was laudably perverse to do this to real plants and it recalled everything from that famous scene in "Goldfinger" to tiki culture, Oppenheim's "fur cup" and Star Trek sets. By having the works hang in space he recalls Paul Klee's Bauhaus lessons, where Klee advised that an artist should master gravity to create a mood and compositional options.

"Dgnzalez Unathrzed."

The whole thing was synthetic and natural, two magic words for me. The tension is both campy and deadly.

In particular, I found "Dgnzalez Unathrzed" to be excellent. The kinky purple plant painted shiny unnatural purple and studded with nails is an interesting take on the fig leaf. Instead of primitive clothing, it is nature dressed up for Carnival in Rio!

I would like to see a whole walk-through installation of this; I think it's my way of giving vegetarians hell. Hey, and what is it with vegetarians and vegans who smoke all the time. So much for the "meat is unhealthy" argument.

I only respect non-smoking non-carnivores; they make some sense.

Mixed Media was an OK show, but nowhere near as successful as Maritime, possibly because the Modern Zoo has sucked a lot of energy out of the scene until it comes down. Come September the show will probably provoke more concise reactions.

Backspace Gallery
115 NW 5th Ave.

A large photo by Groshong Ericson.

Most scenesters should already know Backspace, a new hybrid video arcade and art gallery. I've been walking past the space for months wondering how it would turn out. It's next to Compound and around the corner from Motel (another hybrid space), so it should create a nice three-stop neighborhood.

Now the wait is over.

As expected, only some of the work is good. The majority is a bit uninspired or "studenty." Still, you can also probably nab some nice work by talented recent graduates here, and there are things worth having.

For instance, Groshong Ericson's work alone is worth the trip (it's way in the back). I saw these charged photographs on display in PNCA's studios last year.

It's nice work; it has heat, testosterone and bravura. I applaud its attitude and must ask, "So ... OK young buck, how big are your next set of antlers going to be?"

I saw this last year; gimme something new.

'Weapons of Mass Production'
Compound Gallery
107 NW 5th Ave.

Patt's weapons.

This is a very typical theme for iconoclastic Portland and, ironically, it uses a lot of iconography. But this little logic goof is a thoroughly honest and understandable hypocrisy.

A lot of this show was the same old "corporate culture is pure evil" thing that is overly simplistic and lets us poor consumers off the hook. Thus, much of the work loses its poignancy to its preachy propagandistic leanings.

For a better artistic model, David's "Death of Marat" was quite a bit more layered in that genre during the formative days of the New Republic. If you want to fight something you need to martyr something or someone. You have to be a good artist, too.

Despite this, I really liked Scott Patt's paintings and T-shirts all with the same images: a pig combined with a helicopter, a fish combined with a battleship and a rabbit bomb, etc.

David's "Death of Marat."

It all works nicely, especially since there are T-shirts nearby. It was a mistake to separate Patt's paintings from his commercial goods in the Oregon Biennial.

After Takashi Murakami's Factory, this sort of blurring of fine art and practical goods should not be ghettoized.

Patt's work is blunt, well done and not overstated.

One knows where Patt stands; he makes a good ambivalent image about things like war and food that we cannot be ambivalent about. There are checks and balances here, and that's where it succeeds.

Aaron Hoskins' "Prototype" looked nice and sinister with its black coverings and microscope insignia on the burger, fries and drink containers.

Hoskins' "Prototype."

Still, it is more propaganda than art. In London, Jake and Dinos Chapman recently did a somewhat better job by carving tribal totems with McDonald's insignia incorporated into them.

In both cases, I found them neither damning or layered enough to hold my attention past admiring the craftsmanship.

Lastly, the once-and-future Oregonian Kelly Newcomer showed her satellite ceramics.

Newcomer's "Satellites."

I like the sense of adventure and admission of naiveté in our exploration of space. Is it really just the next logical step that we colonize the rest of the solar system?

Won't we just clutter it all up, like we have done to Planet Earth? By looking too sweet and harmless, Newcomer presents a worrisome fiction.

Only time will tell how the facts turn out. All I know is a lot of orbital space junk already exists and I doubt any of it looks this good.

E-mail Jeff at pivotofjade@hotmail.com, don’t miss his recent columns and be sure to see his April 2002 essay, Art and Threat: Untaming Humanism.

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