Tag Archives: Bruce Guenther

Portland collects: nailing down the story

Pablo Picasso, "Blind Minotaur, Guided through a Starry Night by Marie-Therese with a Pigeon)," 1934-35 from the Suite Vollard, 1930-37. Aquatint, drypoint, and engraving with scraping, edition of 250, Anonymous loan.

By Bob Hicks

Riches of the City: Portland Collects, the 237-work exhibition of art loaned by 83 of the city’s collectors from their private collections, opens Saturday at the Portland Art Museum, and I reviewed it in this morning’s Oregonian. You can read the review online here, but if you pick up a copy of the morning paper, this is one instance where you’re better off seeing it in print. It’s the cover story of the A&E section, and it includes a lot more pictures than the online edition, including photographer Thomas Boyd’s fine portraits of collectors Jordan Schnitzer, Bonnie Serkin and Chris Rauschenberg with some of their art.

Roy DeForest, "Forest Hermit," 1990, Acrylic on canvas with artist-carved frame, Collection of Arlene and Harold Schnitzer.The review stands pretty much on its own, as an overview of what is an overview exhibition. Each of the exhibit’s six areas of concentration makes up its own statement, and each could have been reviewed rigorously on its own, but for most viewers — and for the museum itself — the larger picture is more important.

So instead of listening to me go into more detail about specific works, I thought you might be interested in reading about how the whole package (the newspaper package, not the museum’s, which took a whole lot longer to negotiate and assemble) came together. The process is both complex and routine, and is a good example of what an amazing structure the modern newspaper is, for all its historical failings and current flailings. Keep in mind, this is an ordinary story that could be planned, not the unexpected emergency that sends journalists into deep scramble mode. Someday someone will write the story of how news of today’s Egyptian crisis reached the world. It’ll read like an unusually fascinating operating manual to a great big complex machine that’s constantly being retooled and reinvented while it’s operating full steam ahead.

Continue reading Portland collects: nailing down the story

‘It’s not about me, it’s about the region’

Lee Kelly in his studio at Leland Iron Works, outside Oregon City. Michael J. Burns.

By Bob Hicks

The best way to see the art of Lee Kelly, if you’re not lucky enough to visit his studio and expansive sculpture garden near Oregon City, is to hop on the bus or your bike or just start hoofing it around Portland. The city and its suburbs are speckled with his large public pieces, which have gone a long way toward defining a Pacific Northwest vision of a place where the natural and the man-made can coexist in harmonic creative tension.

Lee Kelly, Arlie, 1978, steel, at Portland Art Museum. Museum Purchase: Helen Thurston Ayer Fund, © Lee KellyOf course, taking the grand tour can be a bit strenuous. So before you pull out your official Lee Kelly art-hop map (the Portland Art Museum has handily created one, in easy-fold form, which will guide you to 31 sculptures in the greater Portland area and down the Willamette Valley as far as Eugene) head on down to the museum to take in the crackerjack retrospective of Kelly’s work that opened Saturday and continues through January 9.

Since Kelly’s been an active artist for more than 50 years, that’s a lot of retro to inspect. (The museum has also published a lavish and fitting catalog to accompany and expand on the exhibition.) But it’s a fascinating time trip, reaching all the way back to the heady days of abstract expressionism. Curator Bruce Guenther defines those brash young painting days as the first of three key periods in Kelly’s career, followed by his busy years of making large metal public work and a latter, reflective period — in Guenther’s words, “the post-public Kelly,” during which he’s created “not monuments, but personal landscapes.”

Continue reading ‘It’s not about me, it’s about the region’

It’s mourning. Do you know where your weeping medieval alabasters are?

By Bob Hicks

Like “a troop of fairy-tale dwarfs turned to stone by an evil sorcerer” — or so Ken Johnson describes them in his review this morning in the New York Times — they march, mourning the death of John the Fearless, Duke of Burgundy (1371-1419). These 16-inch-tall alabaster carvings, which these days do most of their weeping at the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Dijon in France, have traversed time and the Atlantic for a tour of seven American museums. Their first stop is Medieval Hall at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where they’ve been since March and will stay through May 23.

mourner_75Johnson’s report caught my eye first for the gorgeous photo that the Times ran and then for the story’s mention that the tour was organized under the wing of FRAME (the French Regional and American Museum Exchange), the innovative organization of which the Portland Art Museum has been a leading and vigorous member. The almost forty alabaster carvings in The Mourners: Medieval Tomb Sculptures From the Court of Burgundy will move on to FRAME member museums in St. Louis, Dallas, Minneapolis, Los Angeles (the Los Angeles County Museum of Art), San Francisco and Richmond — but not to Portland.

Why not?

Continue reading It’s mourning. Do you know where your weeping medieval alabasters are?

A disquieting day at the art museum

Jaume Plensa, "In the Midst of Dreams," 2009. Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Lelong, New York

Size matters. When a traveler in an antique land stumbles upon, let’s say, a sphinx towering from the sands of a desert, a part of the astonishment is the sheer scale of the thing. What impact would Richard Serra‘s Tilted Arc have had if it had been three feet long and sitting serenely on a display table at the Museum of Modern Art?

We’ve gotten used to monumental works, and some of the — what’s the best word: terror? — of the things has leeched out of our reactions. A giant typewriter eraser by Claes Oldenburg inspires other admirations (and, for a rising generation, a bit of head-scratching: what the heck’s a typewriter?), and as the Burj Khalifa pricks the sky 160 stories above Dubai, we think of our own iconic steel giants, the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building, with warm, compact, nostalgic pleasure. Not the biggest of the big, we tell ourselves, but still the best of the big.

Daniel Richter, "royit on sunsetstrip," 2008, oil on canvas, 88 x 67 x 1 inches. The Eugene Sadavoy Collection.Bigness and pleasure struck me the other day as I entered the rotunda of the Portland Art Museum and came face to face with Jaume Plensa‘s massive 2009 sculpture In the Midst of Dreams. Make that face to face to face: Plensa’s lighted polyester piece, 35 feet long and 24 feet wide and more than 7 feet tall, consists of the large heads of three women “buried” on a bed of stones. It’s the first thing you see when you enter the museum’s new exhibit Disquieted, and I thought immediately, “This is the most fun this space has been in a long time.”

Fun? At an exhibition that is built around what its curator, Bruce Guenther, calls “the things that wake us up at nights. … the things that make us mutter in the streets”?
Continue reading A disquieting day at the art museum

Putting the art in the scatter: Escher, Ainu, PNCA, beads

It’s a big weekend in Portland art. Not only are most of the city’s commercial galleries showing new stuff after their First Thursday and First Friday openings, but the Portland Art Museum also has a couple of big openings on Saturday, and another opens Saturday in the pavilion of the Japanese Garden. The Scatter brain trust will be busy making the rounds.

In the meantime, here’s our (just invented) Friday Scatter Rotogravure:



PNCA at 100, at the Portland Art Museum: The museum kicks off this centennial celebration of the Pacific Northwest College of Art, which for most of its lifetime was connected to the museum and was known as the Museum Art School. Now it’s on its own and bursting with ambition. This show goes back to the beginning with works by the likes of Anna B. Crocker and Harry Wentz, and includes Northwest icons such as Louis Bunce, Michele Russo, Lucinda Parker, George Johanson, Paul Missal and Jay Backstrand, all of whom have had close connections to the art school. Pictured here is Parker’s 1980 acrylic on canvas Feast of Stephen, a museum purchase from the Helen Thurston Ayer Fund.

This show, curated by Bruce Guenther, hangs around until Sept. 13.

M.C. Escher, Encounter, 1944. Collection Dr. & Mrs. Robery W. LearyM.C. ESCHER at the Portland Art Museum: Truly an artist for the Age of Engineering — a draftsman for the dreamers, a dreamer for the draftsmen. On Saturday the museum opens Virtual Worlds: M.C. Escher and Paradox, and somehow that’s got us us humming a tune from The Pirates of Penzance:

A paradox?
A parodox,
A most ingenious paradox!
We’ve quips and quibbles heard in flocks,
But none to beat this paradox!

The Escher Equation continues through Sept. 13 at the museum. Pictured is Escher’s 1944 lithograph Encounter, from the collection of Dr. and Mrs. Robert W. Leary.

This show, curated by Annette Dixon, hangs around until Sept. 13, too.


Ainu group, 1902 or 1904/Wikimedia Commons

PARALLEL WORLDS at the Japanese Garden: Subtitled Art of the Ainu of Hokkaido and Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest, this appealing-looking show brings together traditional ceremonial robes and other woven pieces by northern Japan’s Ainu ethnic group and the more familiar work of Tlingit and other artists from Alaska and British Columbia.

The Ainu story is intriguing: It’s a native nation from Japan’s northern islands, with a little spillover to main land Siberia, that has struggled to maintain its own identity: Only recently has Japan reversed a decades-long policy of forced assimilation.

The photo above isn’t from the exhibit. It was taken in 1902 or 1904, and was printed in the book Ainu: Spirit of a Northern People. It’s from Wikmedia Commons.

The exhibit, curated by Diane Durston, is in the Garden Pavilion through June 28.


Columbia Plateau beaded bag, ca. 1900-20. Coll. Arlene and Harold SchnitzerGIFTS OF HONOR at the Portland Art Museum: This very good show has been up since the end of last August in the museum’s Marge Riley Education Gallery, which straddles the museum’s two buildings, but it ends June 30, and you should try to catch it before it disappears.

Assembled from the collection of Arlene and Harold Schnitzer and subtitled Beaded Bags From the Columbia River Plateau, it’s a terrific sampling of 35 bags, ranging in age from about 1900 to about 1960. The one shown here is circa 1900-1920, and is made of glass beads, hide, wool, cotton cloth and cotton string.

The quality and variety of work in this show, which is curated by Anna Strankman, is immensely pleasing.


This is, of course, only a taste of what’s out there to be seen in the city’s galleries and museums. And we haven’t even mentioned its theaters and concert halls. On Friday, Saturday and Sunday, for instance, Oregon Ballet Theatre performs its season-ending show of Jerome Robbins and Christopher Wheeldon at Keller Auditorium. Go forth, fellow Scatterers, and multiply across the face of the city.

Thursday scatter: church blues, high spirits, NW Biennial

So, what does a possible breakup of the Episcopal Church in the United States have to do with the price of tickets in Portland? Nothing, maybe. Then again, maybe something, after all.

At first blush this morning’s news in the New York Times that a small group of conservative bishops has declared itself divorced from the American branch of the church (though not from global Anglicanism) doesn’t seem to have much to do with the world of art. The dispute seems to be mostly over American Episcopalians’ welcoming of gay and lesbian parishioners, and conservatives’ continuing disgruntlement over the ordination five years ago of an openly gay bishop in New Hampshire. The temptation is to scratch your head over how, in a supposedly sophisticated spiritual communion in the year 2008, homosexuality can still be a bitterly divisive issue, to declare that 20 years from now the children of the breakaway churchmen and churchwomen will be similarly scratching their heads trying to figure out what in the world their parents were thinking, and move on. Their church, their problem: Every great social movement has its backwater of protest.

But. If this really goes through, almost inevitably there will be lawsuits
over which faction owns church property when a local church breaks away from the larger group. And because churches enjoy tax-exempt status, the possibility of spillover to the nonprofit world isn’t out of the question. When this fight hits the courts the question of why churches aren’t taxed will be raised in a lot of quarters. And although we all complain about the lack of public support for the arts, the fact remains that our local and national governments do provide nonprofit arts groups (which in a city like Portland means just about all of them) with the very big financial advantage that nonprofit status entails — a public underwriting, in the fine print of the ledger books, of the arts and other community-based endeavors. Don’t expect, in our current atmosphere of bailouts, defaults, rising unemployment and scary recession, that this form of public spending won’t be challenged, too. Especially amid the rising libertarian movement, which looks suspiciously on any and all hands it thinks might be dipping into its pocket.

With the recession already coming down heavily on arts groups — for instance, Oregon Ballet Theatre has dropped live music from the majority of this month’s performances of The Nutcracker, a major step backward for a company that’s been making a name for itself nationally — an added hit in the tax and underwriting pocket could be devastating. And don’t think it can’t happen. A few years ago a judge on the Oregon Coast decided that the tax breaks to a small community theater in Lincoln City weren’t legal. If he’d prevailed (he didn’t) the entire structure of arts support in Oregon would have been jeopardized. So, onward, cultural soldiers. Don’t take anything for granted. Keep in touch with those city council members and state legislators. And keep making your case.


On a bubblier note, a friend points out that Prohibition ended 75 years ago Friday — on Dec. 5, 1933 — and we’ll drink to that. The 18th Amendment, which ironically put a lot of the roar into the Roaring Twenties, had gone into effect on June 16, 1920, and had the effect mainly of manufacturing a lot of criminals out of previously law-abiding folks. It also led to a thriving moonshine industry, the possible naming of the great Li’l Abner character Moonbeam McSwine (and the comic strip’s house tipple, Kickapoo Joy Juice), and those eventual twin pillars of American pop culture, the movie and song versions of Thunder Road.

So, celebrate — quietly, moderately, enjoyably — tomorrow night. We’re putting a bottle of Saint-Hillaire 2004 Blanquette de Limoux brut in the Art Scatter refrigerator right now.


It’s no secret that the old Oregon Biennial was about as high on Bruce Guenther’s list of priorities as his shoelaces: Asked once what he’d like to do with the Biennial, the Portland Art Museum‘s chief curator grinned and said, “Kill it off.”

Eventually, he did.

But if the state of Oregon doesn’t have a broad-overview showcase of the visual arts any more, or even the more narrowly focused showcase that the Biennial became before it quivered and died, the Pacific Northwest does. Today the Tacoma Art Museum announced the featured artists for its ninth annual Northwest Biennial, and followers of the Portland art scene will recognize a lot of the talent.

Michael Brophy (that’s his highway scene above), Linda Hutchins, Victor Maldonado, Stephanie Robison and Susan Seubert all made the cut of 24 (from 543 entries), as did Tannaz Farsi and Chang-Ae Song of Eugene. All of the others are from Washington state, mostly Seattle: Rick Araluce, Gala Bent, Jack Daws, Eric Elliott, Sarah Hood, Denzil Hurley, Robert Jones, Michael Kenna, Doug Keyes, Isaac Layman, Zhi Lin, Micki Lippe, Margie Livingston, Deborah Moore, Susan Robb, Ross Sawyers, Scott Trimble. No one from Idaho or Montana was chosen.

The picks were made by Tacoma museum curator Rock Hushka and Alison de Lima Greene, contemporary curator for the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. You can zip up the freeway and see the show between Jan. 31 and May 25.