Tag Archives: Portland Art Museum

It’s only a flesh wound: from Botticelli to Van Dyck, a museum’s art and soul

Bernardo Strozzi, "St. Lawrence Giving the Treasures of the Church to the Poor." Early 17th century.
Bernardo Strozzi, “St. Lawrence Giving the Treasures of the Church to the Poor.” Early 17th century.


Art Scatter lives! We admit, we’ve been remiss. We haven’t filed a post since July 28 of 2012, for heaven’s sake. That’s 10 months. Our last post was about the demise of the fabled Classical Millennium music shop (which, we’re happy to report, lives on, if in extremely truncated form, inside its big-daddy Music Millennium) and that sort of depressed us. Plus, we got busy with other things, not least of which was posting quite a bit on Oregon ArtsWatch, and also conducting a little daily art-historical experiment called “Today I Am” on Facebook. It was partly through that endeavor that Carol Shults of the European and American Art Council of the Portland Art Museum asked me if I might give a gallery talk to the group: just pick any topic as long as it relates to those galleries, she said.

So I did. My talk, called “The Way of All Flesh”  (thanks, Sam Butler), took place last Thursday in the museum’s Renaissance gallery, with just a peek around the corner into the Baroque. It covered eight paintings, with quick swipes at a few others, ranging from 1500 to roughly 1640. And it was fun, even if I rambled a bit too freely and didn’t quite cover everything I’d expected to. When you’re in the galleries, looking at the actual works instead of looking at slides of them in a lecture hall, you tend to toss away your notes and just talk. What follows is the more or less formal speech I didn’t give, but which formed the basis of my more conversational remarks in the galleries.

All of the pictures, by the way, are gathered from the museum’s relatively new and growing online photo gallery of works from the permanent collections. It’s a great project; check it out when you can. – BH



The title of my talk is “The Way of All Flesh.” I’m sorry if you came thinking I was going to do a slide show about nude bicyclists pumping through Puddletown. Not gonna happen. Instead I’m going to talk about the ways we’ve looked in Western civilization at life and decay and death. That’s not really the bummer it might sound like, because in the process we get to look at a handful of pretty fascinating paintings covering a little over a century, between about 1500 and roughly 1635 or 1640.

The subtitle is “Purity, Pain, and Pragmatism from Caroto to Van Dyck.” If I hadn’t submitted it before I’d finished my research, I’d have changed it to “from Botticelli to Van Dyck,” because Botticelli’s small painted devotional “Christ on the Cross,” which really starts things off, is from 1500, ten years before Caroto’s intimate painting “The Entombment of Christ.” I figure that’s a good mistake, because anytime you can kick off an evening by looking at a Botticelli, you’ve got a fighting chance.

Continue reading It’s only a flesh wound: from Botticelli to Van Dyck, a museum’s art and soul

John Buchanan dies of cancer at 58

By Bob Hicks

John Buchanan, the flamboyant former director of the Portland Art Museum, died on Friday, Dec. 30, 2011, after a struggle with cancer. He was 58.

John Buchanan, 1953-2011Buchanan left the Portland museum in 2005 to become director of the much larger Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, which encompasses the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park and the nearby Legion of Honor. He was director there from February 2006 until his death. Here is Kenneth Baker’s obituary for the San Francisco Chronicle.

Penelope Hunter-Stiebel, who was the Portland museum’s consulting curator of European art during Buchanan’s years here, said Saturday morning that it was apparent to his friends and his wife, Lucy Matthews Buchanan, that Buchanan’s days were short when he told Lucy before Christmas that he wouldn’t be returning to work.

For John, such a thing was unthinkable. He was a tireless worker, a man who was energized by the details and occasional high drama of the museum world, and who loved the art of the deal. Nothing stimulated him so much as creating and selling a vision about the world of art.

Continue reading John Buchanan dies of cancer at 58

Titian and the Scourge of Princes

By Bob Hicks

Titian did not live starving and penniless in an unheated artist’s garret. He was wealthy and famous in his own time — more Andy Warhol or Damien Hirst, at least as far as the fame game goes, than Vincent Van Gogh.

    Pietro Aretino, first portrait by Titian, c. 1512, at the Galleria Palatina in Palazzo Pitti in Florence.At least partly, that’s because he had a good press agent.

Mr. Scatter has been spending some time lately communing with the great Venetian High Renaissance artist, because Titian’s 1536 portrait of an unknown lady, La Bella, has taken up temporary residence in the European galleries of the Portland Art Museum. You can read about it in Mr. S’s cover story from this morning’s A&E section of The Oregonian.

Martha Ullman West, Art Scatter’s most highly paid correspondent, tipped us off to the key role played in Titian’s life and career by one Pietro Aretino, a man known with less than complete enthusiasm in certain circles as “Scourge of Princes.” Historians have acknowledged Aretino also as a scabrous satirist (hence the “scourge”), a pornographer and a proto-feminist, a playwright and poet, and one of the finest art critics of his day. That’s why they called them Renaissance men.

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Sex, war & disaster: Japanese prints

By Bob Hicks

Geishas, kabuki actors, mountain landscapes, samurai scenes.

Check, check, check, check.

But what about those spine-tingling scenes of natural disaster?

Utagawa Kunisada, "Young woman surrounded by the text of a libretto," c. 1832, Portland Art Museum/The Mary Andrews Ladd Collection.The Portland Art Museum‘s collection of Japanese woodblock prints has long been a strong suit in its permanent collections, and the new exhibition The Artist’s Touch, the Craftsman’s Hand, which features about 230 prints from a collection of more than 2,500 covering the past 340 years, is a welcome and major summation of the museum’s holdings in this fascinating limb on the great tree of art. I wrote about the show in Friday’s A&E section of The Oregonian.

To call that story a review is a bit of a stretch. The exhibition is far too complex to be broken down adequately in a newspaper-length piece, and I’m happy to leave the tough critical analysis to the historians and art academicians who know the territory far better than I do. What I tried to do was simply provide a cultural context for the artwork and a frame for viewing it.

In my piece for The Oregonian I concentrated on the prints’ role in fostering a sense of stability — perhaps even an illusion of stability — in the Japanese culture that the artists reflected in their works. As a generalization, that’s true.

But there are several intriguing side stories to this exhibit.

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Monday link: Carnage, clowns & prints

From left: Trisha Miller, Patrick Dizney (background), Allison Tigard and Michael Mendelson in "God of Carnage" at Artists Rep. Photo: OWEN CAREY

By Bob Hicks

With PICA’s TBA new-arts fest, Music Fest NW and the kickoff of the regular fall arts season, it was a hectic weekend in Puddletown. So Marty Hughley, The Oregonian’s ace theater and dance guy, asked me to pitch in and review God of Carnage, Yasmina Reza‘s little free-for-all at Artists Rep. Not a bad assignment, all in all. Funny what a little playground punch between kids can turn into when the adults get involved. My brief print review is in this morning’s paper. You can read the more expansive online version at Oregon Live.

Barry Johnson has also filed his review at Oregon Arts Watch, and Willamette Week’s Ben Waterhouse shouldn’t be far behind: He was in the house on Saturday night.


My old friend Bernie Weiner was a longtime theater critic for the San Francisco Chronicle, and, as the salesmen say in The Music Man, he knows the territory. So when he takes time out to send a tip, I pay attention.

This is what he sent the other day: not sure if you’ve ever seen dan hoyle perform (he’s geoff hoyle’s son), but he’s wonderful. just in case you’re interested, he’ll be doing his “real americans” show (based on conversations he had with ordinary americans, not all of whom were friendly) in portland 9/6-11-6.

The Real Americans also opened over the weekend, at Portland Center Stage. Rich Wattenberg’s review for The Oregonian is here.

I’d known this show was coming up and figured I’d catch it, but I didn’t know Dan Hoyle was Geoff Hoyle’s son. Geoff is a veteran physical-theater guy who’s maybe best-known for his stretches in Cirque du Soleil and as the original Zazu in the Broadway version of The Lion King. But I remember him best, and most fondly, as the clown Mister Sniff, one of the lynchpins with Bill Irwin of the funky and magnificent Pickle Family Circus, which both Bernie and I covered many years ago (Bernie more often, because the Pickles were part of the San Francisco home team). The splendor of Cirque du Soleil more or less killed popular interest in the Pickles, who were a quasi-hippie, quasi-touring European acrobatic troupe. But I absolutely loved the Pickles’ spirit, which was: be amazed by what’s right in front of your face. (Several Pickles, by the way, including Hoyle, Irwin, and fellow clown Larry Pisoni, played townsfolk in Robert Altman’s idiosyncratic movie version of Popeye.)


Also from The Oregonian, I ran this review on Friday of Tamarind Touchstones, an exhibition of 61 lithographic prints made over the past half-century by the Tamarind Institute, which began in Los Angeles and moved in 1970 to Albuquerque. It’s a very good show, with work by people you know (Josef Albers, Roy De Forest, Kiki Smith, Louise Nevelson, Robert Colescott, Richard Diebenkorn, Jim Dine, Ed Ruscha) and probably a few you don’t. It’s in the prints and drawings galleries downstairs from the main entrance, and it’s worth your time.

David Hare, "Cronus Hermaphrodite," 1972. "Tamarind Touchstones" at Portland Art Museum
PHOTOS, from top:

  • From left: Trisha Miller, Patrick Dizney (background), Allison Tigard and Michael Mendelson in “God of Carnage” at Artists Rep. Photo: Owen Carey.
  • David Hare, “Cronus Hermaphrodite,” 1972. “Tamarind Touchstones” at Portland Art Museum. Courtesy Tamarind Institute.

Cars, beasts & museums: art by design

"Flayed Man," Richard Barnes/Blue Sky GalleryRichard Barnes

By Bob Hicks

It’s Friday, the morning’s dead trees have been delivered, and they bear proof that Mr. Scatter’s been a busy beaver lately (although he does not claim responsibility for chewing through the timber that became the newsprint that bears his words).

1937 Talbot-Lago T150-C-SS “Teardrop” Coupe  Lent by Arturo and Deborah Keller  Petaluma, California  Friday’s A&E magazine of The Oregonian includes Beautiful Bodies, Mr. Scatter’s cover story on the Portland Art Museum‘s new show The Allure of the Automobile, plus a review of Richard Barnes’s new show of behind-the-scenes photographs of natural history museums at Blue Sky Gallery and a brief look at the first group photo exhibit in the new gallery space at Newspace Center for Photography. Such a lot of stuff!

Since the cars are hogging the cover, let’s take a look at Barnes’s beasts first.

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Tuesday Scatter: arts world in brief

  • Hot licks and good times with Andy Stein, Padam Padam
  • Closing the books: Powell’s layoffs, Looking Glass R.I.P.
  • Patrick Page plucks praise from “Spider-Man” carnage
  • In the room with Egypt’s fierce cultural protector
  • Alexis Rockman and good news at the Smithsonian


By Bob Hicks

Hot licks and good times with Andy Stein, Padam Padam: My old friend and neighbor Jaime Leopold dropped me a note about his friend, Andy Stein, a fiddler who can often be heard on Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion. “Andy has been compared to jazz violinist Stephane Grappelli and he’ll be performing in a duo with Conal Fowkes, a Wynton Marsalis alum and wonderful pianist from New York,” Jaime said.

Jaime wanted me to know this because Stein will be performing Feb. 19 at Tabor Space. And as it happens, Jaime’s own band, Padam Padam, will be opening. If that sounds self-serving, I suppose it is a little bit, but mostly it’s not, because Jaime simply loves music, and when he knows good music’s coming ’round the bend, he likes to spread the word. If he says Andy Stein is worth going to see, I’m taking him at his word.

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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.

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The canvas goes blank: Farewell to Nathan Oliveira and Beth Van Hoesen

Nathan Oliveira, "Nineteen Twenty-Nine," oil on canvas, 1961. Smithsonian American Art Museum/Gift of S.C. Johnson & Son, Inc., 1969.

By Bob Hicks

We’ve arrived at a time when many of the bright figures of 20th century art are slipping away into that final blankness that artists seem to anticipate better than the rest of us. Maybe it’s because artists begin each day with a blank canvas or paper and understand that the void is both an opportunity and an inevitability.

In the past week two fine West Coast artists, both based in San Francisco but well-known in Portland art circles, have died. Nathan Oliveira, who died last Saturday, was 81. Beth Van Hoesen, who died on Tuesday, was 84.

Beth Van Hoesen, "Boris," aquatint, etching, and dryprint, 1981.Both were figurative artists, although in very different ways and with very different outlooks and techniques. Oliveira, who is represented in Portland by Elizabeth Leach Gallery, was primarily a painter and sculptor (he also produced a lot of very good prints) and he was very much a modernist, an artist who explored the psychological dark corners. Van Hoesen was primarily a printmaker and an observer of the small wonders of life, a meticulous craftswoman and traditionalist whose skills and approach harked back to the likes of Durer. You can read Van Hoesen’s obituary here.

Continue reading The canvas goes blank: Farewell to Nathan Oliveira and Beth Van Hoesen

Jack Levine: farewell to a great satirist

Jack Levine, "Street Scene #2," oil on masonite, 27 x 37.5 inches, 1938. Helen Thurston Ayer Fund, 43.5/Portland Art Museum

By Bob Hicks

One of the odd things about fame and notoriety is that they freeze people in time, to those moments or years when they were outsized public figures, no matter that they might have eaten breakfast and traveled and read books and made love and voted in the local county commission race and helped fix Thanksgiving dinner with their children for many years afterwards in a state of semi-obscurity. It’s the story Billy Wilder was getting at in Sunset Boulevard, I suppose, although he was more concerned with Norma Desmond’s unhinged inability to deal with her loss of celebrity than in the public’s collective amnesia about her.

The other day my friend John, who’d just been in Kentucky, excitedly showed me a snapshot he’d taken of an oil painting he’d discovered on a distillery wall. It was a Thomas Hart Benton, and a good one, which Benton had painted for the distiller in the early 1950s, a couple of decades after the artist’s brawny regionalist images had set him firmly in the public mind as a sort of Grant Wood with muscles. We were surprised that he’d created such a good and representative piece so late in life — or so we thought, until we looked it up and discovered Benton had lived until 1975, well into the Age of Aquarius. It wasn’t his fault that art and audiences had moved on to other things: He was fixed in our minds as a highly talented 1930s American regionalist.

Then, last night, I discovered while looking through ArtDaily.org that Jack Levine, one of my favorite American painters, had died on Monday at age 95. Here‘s the ArtDaily link, which pairs the Associated Press obituary by Karen Matthews with a good color reproduction of Levine’s wonderful 1946 painting of post-war avarice, Welcome Home. And here is William Grimes’s very good obituary from the New York Times.

Again, I was surprised, because I’d had no idea Levine was still alive. He seemed a figure from an earlier time, a social realist with a strong satiric bent, one of those admirable 1930s and 1940s characters who believed that art had a crucial and very public role to play in the great brawling melodrama of American democracy. Ben Shahn was another.

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