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Scott Patt's "Parachute" at Compound.
Critical i

Patt, Pack, Doty & Ghostmilk
Cherry-picking time in Portland
by Jeff Jahn

anuary in Portland was filled with some good traditional gallery shows and some holdovers from December, but what struck me were a few unexpected group shows with a standout here and there.

So yes, I'm going to cherry pick January. But before I discuss those picks I'd like to discuss some international goings on.

First off, I’ve noticed that the upcoming 2005 Venice Biennale seems slightly lower key than usual. It has been lackluster for several iterations and I suspect they're trying to avoid getting people's expectations up. Still, this one is generating very little talk internationally – other than Ed Ruscha being chosen as a last-minute representative for the U.S.A. This is odd.

So, is the Venice Biennale losing its luster? Or is it that Robert Storr has been chosen as the 2007 curator simply sucking the air out of this one? Also, although Ruscha is arguably one of the best living artists and a personal favorite, his nomination has an air of the same old same old.

One thing certain to please is Storr's panel discussion about the current state of the art, promising a panel of the best minds. I'm hopeful it will include Hans Ulrich Obrist and maybe Storr can coax his best foil, Dave Hickey, back into the ring?

The last important New Yorker: '80s icon Jean-Michel Basquiat

I’m also looking forward to the Jean-Michel Basquiat retrospective at the Brooklyn Museum in March. It later travels to L.A.'s MOCA.

Of all the '80s painters, Basquiat is the only one who will be considered first tier 100 years from now.

Sure, he painted a large number of stinkers, but the best ones, such as "Six Crimee" in MOCA's collection, hold up to the iconic works of Pollock and Warhol. Rough and poetic in a time of stylized roughness and pretension, Basquiat is the last truly important artist New York has developed.

Matthew Barney is an entertainer by comparison, and nowhere near as important as Damien Hirst and Takashi Murakami.

January in Portland

"Triptych," by Jen Pack.

I enjoyed some of the work by San Francisco artist Jen Pack at Pulliam Deffenbaugh. At their best, like "Triptych," these stretched and stitched abstractions feel like Paul Klee combined with the kites I used to fly in Orange County parks as a kid.

They also have an interesting surface/support transparency that is very direct, festive and light. Some feel tensionless and unsubstantial, though, like a gimmick that's easy to write off as window dressing.

I also really liked the Goto+Play Film Festival at the Milk Gallery in the Everett Station Lofts. These flash and animation shorts sometimes felt like the extra-arty demo commercials that they were, but others, like the offerings by Ghostmilk studios from Toronto, stood out.

My favorite was "Know Your Monsters." For me, there is something about Bullwinkle-quality animation.

Craig Doty's "Chew His Face Off" (2004).

Next up, I found the photographs by Craig Doty at Savage Art Resources to be slick, redundant and overly formulaic.

I'm not the only critic who has gotten a little bored by the never-ending assembly line of youth-obsessed photography being churned out by new Yale grads each year.

It's kinda like those boy bands and Britney Spears clones. Instead of filling the pop music world they fill New York galleries to the gills.

In "Chew His Face Off," for example, the use of two mimetic figures in staged erotic/combat proximity with one another has been done to death – and done better by Matthew Barney. Think about the combat between Barney and the cat woman in "Cremaster 3." Also, Barney has done film stills with two ambiguously gendered actors for more than 10 years.

Sue de Beer's "Twins" (1998).

Not coincidentally, Barney is another Yale guy. He clearly set up this tradition at his alma mater, which also has the famous photographer Gregory Crewson on its staff.

But it's better to be first and these new Yale grads come off like tribute bands to Barney and Crewson. Also, I think Sue de Beer (who didn’t go to Yale) has an original style and more attitude when doing youth-oriented mimetic imagery.

For my money, only Justine Kurland (yet another Yale photographer) deserves much attention. She has somewhat gotten away from the ubiquitous youth imagery and elaborately staged photos.

In another work, "Ryan #1," Doty photographs crying men (something a famous photographer, Sam Taylor Wood, does much better). Doty needs fresh subject matter.

Another view of Scott Patt's "Parachute."

My overall favorite this month was Scott Patt's "Parachute" at Compound.

First off, it's simply the most impressive and professional display I've seen in a while. Also, this all-white version of a classic WWII-era parachute speaks volumes.

The parachute's red hardware and white fabric are reminiscent of a first aid kit and this gives the work a desperate flux of cynical and hopeful sentiments.

Although nostalgic, the piece really does feel like the current zeitgeist as things spiral further out of control in Iraq.

Thus, this white paramilitary item could be waving a flag of peace, surrender, defeat and/or claiming a lost purity that war makes impossible.

Patt's hope shirt.

Patt also created a thematic T-shirt with a graphic of an open parachute that spells out HOPE.

Although a T-shirt seems both crass and too idealistic, its status as a consumer good available for purchase reminds me how economics fit into the war machine. I find it impressive that Patt has taken Jeff Koons-like pop and turned it into something kitsch-less.

Peace, of course, isn't as easy as a T-shirt. But for those who consider this war a huge mistake, hope is about all we've got.

That's the irony; hope is really depressing when it's all you have.

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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