J a n u a r y   2 0 0 4

James Lavadour's "Tulip."
Critical i

Megan Walsh, Shift & James Lavadour
2004 crystal ball and wish list
by Jeff Jahn

hat will 2004 hold for Portland artists?

Institutions are fine but they're really only there to do two things: facilitate living artists and keep the work of dead ones around.

They create a permanent baseline cultural edifice. But do they really advance art much more than as a resource or by being a symbol of civic commitment?

Instead, artists, dealers and collectors are the real active elements in an art scene. Actually, three artists, one dealer and one good collector are all it takes. The artists are the only ones responsible for the new angles, excitement and levels of discourse.

Institutions are by nature slow to catch on and always hedge their bets. There's rarely any focus on what is truly new. They're conservative and educational. Here is a Dave Hickey quote regarding museums from zing magazine:

"The perfect MOMA show would be Picasso's paintings of the Holy Land from the collection of Jacqueline Kennedy."

It would be sarcasm if it weren't true!

Portland is awake ... so what now?

Tracey Olson and Kim Hamblin at Process.

What is exciting is that Portland artists completely outflanked the institutions in terms of capturing viewer attention, press, zeitgeist and, in many cases, setting standards of adventurousness.

Now the real elephant-in-the-room question is: Who, if any, of these thousands of artists will become the reason why people will associate Portland with excellent art?

Still, 2003 was hung up on "the group." That's OK for one year as a way to prime the pump, but it's essential to move on. Autonomous art is the only way to go and I'm not just talking about the same old solo shows we've seen.

To alter a phrase from Disraeli, "an art scene can be so inclusive that no one can comprehend it." Yes, there were overly formal institutional pretensions and sometimes difficult to coalesce gregarious artists' efforts in 2003. So what! If it wasn't immediately clear, 2004 can clarify.

I see Portland's purposeful imperfection as an asset epitomized by Bruce Aune in Rationalism, Empiricism and Pragmatism:

"The goal of our intellectual efforts cannot be a static polished procession ... In our many efforts towards knowledge, science, math, logic as in life itself, it is the process not the terminus that should concern us – if we are wise."

Ulterior Motives with Seattle and Portland artists.

Likewise, I feel it's very important to avoid writing the book with the movie in mind; we are doing this the hard way.

Instead, the whole group-show convoy constituted a very public dance marathon, which was much longer and more sustained than anyone could have predicted.

We proved the depth and will of the Portland art scene, and in many instances invited other cities to come play, too.

However, it's the follow-through that matters and the eccentricities of individual artists should be intensified. Eccentrics attract admirers and admirers embolden eccentrics.

As a 2003 Portland recap, it was a perfect storm of group-show gemutlicheit and full-court-press ops – which outed the scene to the larger public and some outside press. Chronologically, between I.A.E., Diorama-Rama, Blood and Guts Forever, The Best Coast, The Modern Zoo, Oregon Biennial, Core Sample, Process, Ulterior Motives and a nice cap off with The Battle of the Artist Curators and Mark Woolley Gallery's 170 artist grid.

It's tough to think of a city in the Americas with so much artist-driven gestalt-making – all without a lot of government grants . The original armory show was a similarly messy group introduction affair.

Diorama-Rama at _Hall.

The reaction should produce a complete 180. This will be the year of the solo dance ... Who gets to be Travolta, Fred Astaire, Dick Van Dyke, Christopher Walken or Martha Graham? Then there's Alfonso Ribeiro or Elaine's big dance from Seinfeld.

Oh, the horror of happy feet!

In 2003, the art scene's momentum was absolutely confirmed – from the bottom up. Let's remember: Historically, artist-originated flowerings have huge lasting civic effects when they are allowed to succeed.

Previous examples are Takashi Murakami's Super Flat, the Abstract Expressionists, the YBAs, Die Brucke and, most recently, Winnipeg's Royal Art Lodge. They don't produce one artist, they produce five to 10-plus in a sustainable mutual context.

My 2004 wish list

Detail of AGPS's photovoltaic tram tower.

1) Portland's aerial tram, designed by the AGPS firm, should move forward as a high-profile architectural design project and signature symbol for the city.

Its more realistic budget has now doubled, but it was ridiculously under projected at the previous $15 million. Nothing this involved costs only $15 million, unless it's some bare-knuckled effort without any design quality.

Portland doesn't need a ski lift, it needs a piece of architecture to back up the forward thinking we pride ourselves on.

The tram, with its custom cars and photovoltaic cell-clad reception towers at the top of the hill, will be a cutting-edge design signaling something very new to Portland: progressive architecture viewable from many parts of the city.

It's important to remind ourselves (and the world) that we live in one of the most progressive U.S. cities. Portland needs to start acting like a showcase for innovative, mature problem-solving. That'll bring jobs, folks.

Portland has the potential to brand itself as the Switzerland of the U.S. Let Seattle expand the monorail; if they want it, they deserve it.

"Monument to the Overland Dead" (Detail) at The Modern Zoo.

2) The word ambition is no longer news or out of the ordinary within the art scene. Portland is a city with nearly two million people in the metro area. If an artist is making work and showing it in the city core, that ambition is built in. Besides, new people are moving here all the time; they would not uproot themselves from elsewhere if they didn't have some sort of ambition.

In fact, it's all the more reason to cover their work in terms of how it achieves that ambition, or doesn't. Yes, personalities are fun to write about but, really, it's meaningless compared to reacting to and evaluating the work. Artists' personalities are often more about surviving the day intact enough to make work that is still engaged. Yes, Beethoven was a prick – but people barely care about that now.

In 2003, ink was spilt on perceived personalities rather than content. We need a higher level of discourse than that in Portland.

We should be conscious of stepping up the level of rhetorical calibration and treat every review – positive or negative – as a reward. Artists are constantly looking to justify their existence and reviews mostly only matter for whether they advance discourse by testing that need for legitimacy. An oddly indecisive and internally inconsistent review just makes anyone with art knowledge or, better yet real knowledge, shake their heads at the amateur mistake.

"Rheomorph 6," by Matthew Hagget, at Butter's Gallery.

Thus, if an artist or event is reviewed, all judgments should be backed up. Otherwise the critic just looks reactionary, which flirts with ignorance.

I'm certain I've been guilty of it, too. But for 2004, let's look at the purported aims of the art and review how successful it is at accomplishing them ... after that, explicate why. Any art review that is less articulate than Curt Loder's MTV News is just a wasted effort.

For example, there's Matthew Hagget's "Rheomorph 6."

Rheomorphic behavior refers to a flowing state and any review of "Rheomorph 6" should at least consider the term.

First off, "flow" is a given for an encaustic work which incorporates molten wax. But it also calls attention to the conversely controlled chrystalline structure that rheomorphic materials do not easily lend themselves to. Thus, the artist is accurately pointing out why his encaustic works are quite unlike most of the hazy gray works most others produce in the medium. From there on, a little subjective and objective rambling gives the reader a chance to consider where the writer and artist are goons.

Critics always have interesting egocentric broncos to ride, a kind of deranged attention to details and notions that may or may not be pertinent. We often make mistakes publicly, and we all have little triggers that get tripped. Give us hell if you disagree!

Jeff Koons and Nike ... hilarious/vulgar?

3) Prices for established artists need to rise (this is not artist whining). Portland artists of note are undervalued and rarely break the $2,000 barrier, which is crazy considering basic quality cabinetry and countertops can be very steep in comparison ... all without the intellectual and more concentrated visual payoff. It gets down to respect – even though the number of collectors in Portland is very high.

For example, in those great art centers like Milwaukee, Wis., St. Louis and Denver, anybody who is established can expect to be commanding $2,500-$5,000 or more for their work. We need another stratum of pricing for established artists in the $5,000-$10,000 range.

It's a respect thing; the money is here. I see the same Mercedes and Ferraris here as any other city with a decent collector base ... oh, but that's the new rich – ostentatious but often noncommittal in cultural affairs.

The solution? Artists cannot have only a Portland gallery. By upping the demand in more than one city, artists can establish fair market value and get a fair price for the work. Right now, most established Portland artists are below market value. We should not treat established artists like newcomers, but the price-spread is too similar and that's demoralizing.

Also, very large work should not be subjected to the $1,000-per-foot-width price that I see from Tom Cramer to Michael Brophy. If you've got the space for something that large, you can afford a higher price. Larger works are significantly more difficult to create than smaller works. Portland artists and dealers need to be conscious of their artists never selling over $5,000 or $10,000. This collector price-barrier psychology needs to be addressed.

4) We need more new artist-curators and art writers. The venues, like the Littman Gallery, _Hall and many warehouses exist, as do several art-based publications.

5) I sincerely hope the Core Sample catalog comes out, looks great, has excellent essays and helps awareness of Portland's rich scene to expand. The editors seem to be active, so be mindful of your doubts. Many longtime residents are needlessly pessimistic when capable people are at work. It's coming and those who aren't in it will be very whiney. I've done two catalogs myself in the last 18 months and it's an insane amount of work, a lot harder than putting on the show.

Detail of William Pope L.'s "eRascism."

6) PICA should keep the Weiden + Kennedy gallery space, although it almost certainly won't happen.

One major reason is that thousands of living units will come on line in the Pearl District this year. If PICA goes itinerant and outside the Pearl it will create bad mojo, since many of those residents will feel underestimated and abandoned. Also, the artist backlash of negative emotions could very well sink the TBA festival and, ultimately, the PICA organization.

Then again, not everyone sees PICA as the ideal organization to fill that Kunsthalle role in the city. Will the former Belmont Factory space from Core Sample or PCAC/Modern Zoo fulfill the role? A clear plan and pragmatic, non-cliquey leadership is needed. Once a leader emerges the city should get behind that plan. Something more flexible than an organization molded by a single person is key.

Word on the street is that many feel PICA's visual arts program was idled, then stopped just as it started to publicly overtake the financially failing performance programming.

It's true: how artists feel sets the climate of talk on the streets. If PICA asks the community to save the space so some interesting shows by young cutting-edge artists from Asia, L.A. or England can be shown in town, then PICA will see massive support.

Showing mid-career New York and French artists ain't too exciting and most everyone wants to see something they haven't seen.

William Pope L. is from Maine fer chrissake; let's find out if anything is going on in Arizona, Texas or Calgary. It doesn't need to be blessed by the Whitney; they should be watching PICA to scout things out! It made PICA look a bit rear-guard; sure Pope L. was amazing, but any intelligent being could have seen it coming.

More "eRascism."

In terms of the Brad Cloepfil space ... it works, especially if some of the shows are more like lab experiments (all the way with Jim and Shell, William Pope L.).

I think the cool demeanor of the space is most exciting when it is actively challenged by the work.

Also, the entryway space before the stairs could be a showcase for some interesting local ideas. Only the Portland Building does this now.

Oh well, it remains to be seen if PICA survives at all. Survival requires a retool through the kind of effort and will that may simply no longer exist without Stuart Horodner as curator.

7) Galleries that have not taken on new artists in many years should seriously consider doing so. Mark Woolley, Elizabeth Leach and PDX all take active interest in what's going on and they do get more press than any other galleries in town. Also, the same-old same-old limits your clientele to those who want the same-old same-old.

Brancusi's Muse purchased by Ms. Sally Lilly in the '20s

8) Will two or three collectors come out of their shells and form close public bonds to their favorite artists? None of this "I am a quiet collector" thing. That is very bourgeois. Patronage goes beyond purchasing and enjoying the work; it also becomes a question of advancing and challenging the artists you favor.

Serious collectors are almost always interesting people and think for themselves. Why not collect gregariously with the expressed purpose of gifting some of it to the Portland Art Museum, which will have an excellent new wing in 2005?

I think a Gertrude Stein-ish salon or two would be great so that everyone can be invigorated – hosts and guests alike. Besides, feeding artists is a noble thing.

9) The 2005 Oregon Biennial format? The Portland Art Museum's 2003 Biennial was a whipping boy. Bruce Guenther knew he was going to be playing Custer, but this was pretty bad (I do think it had great reactionary effects despite being a dud).

Should the Biennial be overhauled? Yes. The main need is a Biennial that becomes the big show that launches artists nationally, not certifies recruits for galleries.

A large gallery, part of PAM's North Wing Project.

For example, artists who have already been in a Biennial now find it a tad meaningless, and that's a problem. Why not make it a more exclusive but experimental affair with no more than 11-14 artists?

PCAC (now officially called The Modern Zoo) can take care of unwieldy salons with 50 people in them as a good staging.

Portland needs a platform for the national stage and it's silly for it not to be at PAM. Eleven younger artists (and one or two old dogs who still have some teeth to give the show some experienced nuance) would be good.

Everything chosen should be rather different from the other inclusions, and big statements like James Boulton's "Spark Gap Transmission" certainly work out great.

Do I believe that galleries need to recruit outside of the Biennial's flock? Absolutely.

Peter Doroshenko

In addition, some ringers should be invited and scouted out ahead of time; other participants in the 2005 Biennial can be chosen by slide jury.

The idea of having a guest curator in whole or part (four or five of the participating artists) could be good if it were someone like David Pagel, David Cohen, Peter Schjeldahl, Elizabeth Brown, Peter Doroshenko, Virginia Wright or maybe even an artist like Yek or Robert Gober, etc.

Only five people entered video work in 2003, which means a majority of the video practitioners boycotted the show. Let's change that. It all gets down to institutional priority and Guenther will be very busy with the new museum wing and acquisitions, plus a Cezanne show in 2005 ... a guest for part of the show could, at very least, be a time saver.

The Biennial was cramped and boxy feeling. I learned a hell of a lot about spatially laying out a show from Guenther's "The Essential Gesture" show in L.A. during the '90s. The 2003 Biennial flew in the face of those lessons. So halve the number of artists unless more space is allotted. Spatial layout cannot be an afterthought.

The institutionalization of institutions?

PA M's North Wing from the outside.

There were major institutional gains being made despite PICA's identity crisis (which caused the financial crisis). One major bright spot: the Feldman Gallery developed into what it should be – a destination. Nan Curtis gets the credit here. In addition, Reed College's Cooley Gallery finally has a curator and an engaging program ... perfect!

All major universities should have a curated program for one of their galleries as a form of public outreach ... cough ... PSU? ... cough.

The big news, though, is that PAM's 28,000 square feet of modern and contemporary space is going to happen. It's opening in 2005 along with another Biennial and will shine a national spotlight on us. I suggest the artists and museum both play for keeps in 2005 Biennial programming, or else I suspect the artists will give the museum the kind of bad national press it doesn't want. More on that later.

PAM's new wing, a former Masonic temple dubbed the "North Wing," will cement modern and contemporary art into the city's civic infrastructure.

The museum will finally be able to show work by Gilbert and George, George Segal, Paul Klee and Philip Guston in the proper way: permanently and with informative context.

Third floor of the North Wing (notice the Kevin Appel and Gilbert and George with views of the Greenberg collection below).

The North Wing even has an endowed cutting-edge rotating artist program for the fourth-floor glass penthouse

Also, with the proliferation of cool new spaces like Compound, Backspace, Ogle, Haze, Gallery 500 and Motel, Portland exploded in 2003. Even Pacific Switchboard got a new location and survived.

The question is: will the quality of shows go up? Some are OK, a few are good ... but great?

Also, will written statements be made and backed up? Art isn't just about the work – it's also the context it creates and highlights.

Artist in the house?

Malia Jensen's "Double Kitty Cave" (2003).

These things all set the stage for more interesting individual distillations in 2004. Basically, it's up to the artists to see this through. People are watching and individuals will get credit if they do it right. Style is essential ... it helps define the expectations for the work and physically represents the conceptual side.

The sheer mass and different personalities of polyglot visual-art shows in 2003 highlight one thing: extensive solo and duo shows that go beyond what we've already seen are needed to cement gains by young artists like James Boulton, Chandra Bocci, Laura Fritz, Michael Oman Reagan, Melody Owen, Adam Sorenson, Todd Johnson, Chas Bowie, Johnnie Eschelman, Dan Ness, Mariana Tres, Eric Palmer, Cynthia Star, Tim Dalbow (May at Haze), Jennifer Rhoads, Scott Patt, Paige Saez (February at Pacific Switchboard), Rose McCormick, Laura Domela (February at Laura Russo) and Nic Walker (January at Haze).

It's all about proving they have a trajectory and the sustained oomph to continue distilling and reinventing what they do.

There is another group of artists that is more established and has some major-league experience.

These artists are looking to grab the brass ring by reaching a full potential which is within their sights: Brenden Clenaghen and Sean Healy (both have shows in September), Ellen George, Erin Kennedy, Mark Smith, Matthew Picton, David Eckard, damali ayo, Bruce Conkle, M.K. Guth, Dan May, Mike Shea, Heidi Schwegler, Storm Tharp, Jacqueline Ehlis and Malia Jensen. This is the varsity team with significant recent gains that should really challenge them for their next acts.

Tom Cramer's "Floating" (2003).

In a rebel-base like Portland, artists need to be clearly superior to make any real headway.

Right now James Lavadour and Tom Cramer are the only two fully developed artists in Portland who are clearly better than anything even mildly similar worldwide. Two is pretty good; Seattle only has Robert Yoder and San Francisco has an elderly Wayne Thiebaud. Minneapolis and Chicago have none ... L.A. and New York have many, but they are mostly aging and long established. London and Tokyo have been the main New Talent birthplaces.

I've dragged a couple astute New York critics around Portland, and they were a bit disturbed that the work equals a lot of what they see in Chelsea. With so much at stake, conservatism has set in there.

Gagosian has great established mature artists, but guys like Franz West leave pretty much every young artist (except Elizabeth Peyton) in the dust. My problem? Neither Chelsea nor the Pearl is good enough for me these days.

The artists have already recalibrated, and a deceptively simple central question is emerging around which a lot of work is being created: What enhances our lives?

It's a mature theme more associated to Switzerland than the U.S.A. But it makes sense coming from Portland, a city that has a great combination of individualism and pragmatism. It's important, because the rest of the world would love the U.S. to grow out of its 20th-century adolescence.

Malia Jensen's "Pillow Stack."

New York and L.A. cannot do it. It's similar to why the Factory Records thing happened in Manchester and not London.

Portland is still the progressive U.S. city. Oscar Wilde famously said, "America is the only country that went from barbarism to decadence without civilization in between." The truth of that statement has created a serious allure for Portland, which is a civilized place. The biggest problem with civilization is that the artists cannot be overly tame or you get the Lawrence Gallery ... bah!

Here are some examples: the comforts of Malia Jensen's cat condos or her uncomfortable but really nice looking ceramic pillows. As part of her oeuvre, it questions the tradeoffs between comfort and placid appearances.

Other examples: the wonder and awe of Tom Cramer, the inventive charm of Chandra Bocci, the environmental double-edged sword of Bruce Conkle, the curious physical exploration-inducing materials of Jacqueline Ehlis, the workmanlike performance of David Eckard's "Scribe" – they all address root human impulses; work, play, curiosity, relaxation, risk assessment, etc. The quality of these works comes from the surprise they induce by being so concentrated on their activities.

Mike Shea's "One Shot 16."

Thus, the work coming from Portland has many correlations to the real world, whereas Matthew Barney, Bill Viola and Inigo Manglano-Ovalle are pretty much smoke and mirrors and feel like art in a purgatory without furniture.

It's not work that acknowledges that people put their pants on one leg at a time.

One international rising star, Chris Johanson, just moved to Portland and the combination of plain-talk practicality and gonzo iconoclasm here should sit well with him. Welcome.

Let's see: 2001-2002 was the alarm; 2003 was the wakeup and 2004 begins the main course ... will 2005 be the dessert?

One truth about the Portland art scene exists: impressive architecture, like Savage, PICA and the Oregon Biennial are all fine and good. But unless the space is challenged by the work and inhabited by progressive and not pandering work, it means nothing.

Architecture alone cannot engender success. Portlanders think for themselves and they respect individuals in their art.

Hello, rest of the world ...

Rachel Whiteread at Haunch of Venison.

For 2004 in New York there is a Whitney Biennial that will be considered a success if it simply does not suck and somehow supports the myth that New York is still the chief seedbed of emerging art. Later, in July at Site Santa Fe, curator Robert Storr will present his biennial on the grotesque.

It was sooo funny last spring: Chelsea galleries were gleeful that Whitney curators were making the rounds in New York, ensuring that Lawrence Rinder's 2002 Biennial wouldn't repeat its New York-isn't-all-important-anymore mantra.

Still, most New Yorkers have conceded that they have lost their once-absolute power to make or break the next new thing to the international art fairs and London's riskier galleries. I mean, Haunch of Venison as a London Gallery name is like something Henry VIII would dub if he came back as an art dealer ... Cocky!

So I'm betting on Storr, because he at least understands that both aesthetics and clear, internally/externally consistent thinking matter. Nothing can be worse than the preposterously subtitled Venice Biennale, "Dreams and Conflicts: The Dictatorship of the Viewer." It was a premise that seemed to blame the very attendees for the state of the art world ... a brilliantly executed mistake. If only they had given out official Venice Biennale shorts with the words "Kick me, I'm pretentious" on the backside!

The short story is that, basically, nobody knows what is going on and decided to be arch pretentious instead. Which gets to a good point: aesthetics matter – which was the real message of Dave Hickey's Site Santa Fe in 2001.

Also, why else build Dia Beacon with space for huge works that have huge physical aesthetic impact?

Sol LeWitt's "Irregular Tower."

Right across the street from Dia Beacon is the best example – Sol LeWitt in the Max Protech sculpture garden.

LeWitt (whose work I love) was patently wrong when he considered the execution of his ideas as perfunctory. The issue of whether he does or doesn't make them himself does not matter, but the execution definitely does.

LeWitt's provocative contrarian stance is good brinkmanship, but once you realize his work's appeal lies in its supremely ambivalent and precise execution, the thesis fails.

Still, his statements add to the ambivalent tension of the work and are thus mostly internally consistent.

Besides, had Osama bin Laden simply left 9/11 "a conceptual construct," there is no way it would have mattered. Actions and execution will always speak louder than words ... welcome to the messy part of the 21st century. Purely conceptual work only worked directly after a time of really great art object-making (1950s and early '60s). These days that battle has already been fought.


Megan Walsh
Wet Mount
Field Gallery
Dec. 3-31

Megan Walsh at Field.

OK, this is a provocatively titled, expertly installed and consistently high-level show. Yes, it is better than many of the commercial Pearl District gallery offerings last month. It is the best Everett Station Lofts show since Laura Fritz at Sound Vision last May.

Every piece breathes with Joan Mitchell-esque colors and brushwork, but the beautiful frame jobs are unnecessary because "M theory," a large multi-part watercolor on unmounted paper, is the clear showstopper.

"M theory" is also known as superstring theory, but could this be Mitchell theory? Mounting theory? I like the intertextuality.

Yes, Joan Mitchell painted many things better than "M theory," but she also painted many that are worse. We should take note of Walsh. Still, she could learn a thing or two from Laurie Reid's often-unframed works on paper. This work is still too conservative, as if the packaging has to support the work. Let's see where Walsh goes with this. She has excellent touch. It's excellent work; now evolve the style so Mitchell and Reid no longer come up.

Elizabeth Leach Gallery
Dec. 5-Jan. 31

Jeremy Boros' "Then Again."

Shift is a really excellent photography show and highlights a worthy direction that photography is taking these days: interconnected ellipses.

Thus, the “shift” is the inherent flux between an image pregnant with potential meanings and true context ... as in Harrell Fletcher’s undeveloped rolls of film. Giving context to an object shifts its meaning and this intensified subjectivity is very different from postmodernism’s outdated fetish of isolation. Shift is about photography emerging from an outdated genre it helped define via Cyndi Sherman and Chuck Close.

Jeremy Boros' photos of a package and its end address creates an ellipse where the viewer fills in the blanks, becoming the mailman in the equation. It's a fascinating strategy and appeals to my archivist sensibilities.

In another example, Coco Kuhn photographed serial repeating patterns in the folds of Berlin newspapers, Sept. 11-14, 2001.

It's a strategy that only captures the point where each newspaper is folded, arbitrarily revealing only one line of text.

In some cases, it's about Saddam Hussein, in others it's about Berlin's isolation from the 9/11 event. Instead of abstraction turning away from the world it speaks of very small differences in connectedness in a world where everything is instantly broadcast.

It goes beyond postmodern deconstruction and irony, and explores how connectedness makes us aware of how little we know of a big world with important details that our instant communications do not convey. I'm going to be annoyed if anyone calls it post-contextualism; it is simply comparing the details against the limited lens of media coverage. We aren’t post-anything; everything eventually gets recycled.

Coco Kuhn's "Sept. 11, 2001" (detail).

Another German, Weibke Loeper, photographs scenes in Berlin where the old East German utilitarian architecture stands next to the reconstructed buildings. The contrast isn't so much jarring as it is a record of the in-betweenness of being a Berliner in a state of flux.

Local photographer Chas Bowie also makes some gains. His photograph of a surfer waiting for the next or most preferred wave also leaves behind his past hipsterish subject matter with something more mature: a sense of finding a connection.

Bowie's work is more pensively engaging now, with its friendly sea lion and a young woman's neck. It seems to invite questions rather than the previous narratives. All it lacks now is a highly identifiable style. It's still very indebted to Ed Ruscha, as well as Fischl and Weiss. Not the worst choices to apprentice under.

James Lavadour
PDX Gallery
Dec. 9-Jan. 3

Lavadour's "First Ghost Camp."

James Lavadour, with his gestalt ghosts and mythic fire, is the best abstract landscape painter on the planet. I've seen a lot of 'em and nothing comes close.

His hovering and dripping fog forms on "First Ghost Camp" are at the very least on par with David Smith's Spray series.

By utilizing myth and landscape, he comes naturally to abstraction instead of formalism. It is experiential.

From the simple means of a squeegee, he gets thousands of effects that can be combined.

Like a good creation myth, the beginning is simple but the complexity in the end-product is the payoff – despite the fact that the simplistic means are still apparent. At a certain point a musician stops playing the instrument and just becomes the music. Lavadour knows exactly what that is like.

These shows are all step-up efforts and I’m excited about the coming season. Still, beyond Cramer and Lavadour, I really haven't seen a solo show that can sweep me off my feet. To quote the terribly cheesy Karate Kid movie: “sweep the leg."

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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