Tag Archives: Portland Art Museum

Link: over the falls without a barrel

Thomas Moran, "Shoshone Falls on the Snake River," 1900. Gilcrease Museum, Tulsa, Oklahoma.

By Bob Hicks

One of the things on our mind today is the great 19th century American painter Thomas Moran. Why? Because his iconic 1900 painting Shoshone Falls on the Snake River, all 12 feet wide of it, opens Saturday in a single-oil show at the Portland Art Museum. It’s on loan from the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Mr. Scatter wrote about the show and the painting in this morning’s A&E section of The Oregonian. The main story, Window on the West, is about Moran and how he developed from a very good Hudson River School painter depicting scenes mainly in Pennsylvania into a grand-scale chronicler of vistas from the rugged West.

The second story, PAM chief sees multiple facets of one-piece show, is a lengthy interview with Brian Ferriso, the museum’s executive director, about Moran and the painting and the idea behind one-painting exhibits (which aren’t really solo shows: this one includes a half-dozen smaller Moran watercolors, plus a terrific, six-foot-wide photo of the falls taken in the 1880s). The online interview is a fair amount longer than the print version, and gets into some interesting areas you might like to see.

A nice bonus is this 14-photo gallery by Amiran White of the painting’s installation at PAM. It tells its own intriguing story.

A teaser from the Ferriso interview, this one about Moran’s fellow painter of the West Albert Bierstadt, whose 1869 painting of Mt. Hood is a treasured piece in the Portland museum’s American collection:

… Bierstadt in particular understood the marketplace. He would very much create idyllic scenes, sort of these manufactured landscapes that were compositionally well-shaped. The Mount Hood that we have that Bierstadt did, there is no such place. You can’t go to that place, because the lake that he depicted doesn’t exist. He’s added it.

I once gave a tour to some visitors when I was overseeing a Hudson River School show, and one of them said, “Now this is the kind of art I like. It’s real. It’s a real place.” And I said, “Well, don’t be too sure, because it’s not real. It’s a fabricated view. Don’t be fooled by what you see.”

‘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.”

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If it’s Tuesday, this must be art season

By Bob Hicks

Hard to believe, but here it is late September and already Portland’s fall arts season is in full swing. Somehow things snuck up on Mr. Scatter (he knows he should say “sneaked up,” except he prefers the ancient and slightly disreputable “snuck”), and now he must do some serious catching up.

Some cool-looking things he sees on the near horizon:

Grand Master Seiichi Tanaka of San Francisco Taiko DojoTAIKO UNLEASHED and ROMP STOMP BOOM! A little bit of modern-music history storms the Newmark Theatre stage Saturday and Sunday when Grand Master Seiichi Tanaka and San Francisco Taiko Dojo join Portland Taiko for PT’s fall concerts. In American taiko circles, this is a little like having Scott Joplin, W.C. Handy and Jelly Roll Morton dropping by a modern jazz club for a jam: just how cool can these original stick-swinging cats be?

In a sense, Tanaka is the father of North American taiko (the contemporary, ensemble approach to the ancient Japanese drumming traces only to 1959 in Japan), and over the years since the young postwar immigrant founded it in 1968, San Francisco Taiko Dojo has gained near-legendary status. Stylistically and inspirationally, Tanaka and his group have been key players in the extraordinary spread of modern taiko across North America.

The players of Portland Taiko, one of America’s handful of professional ensembles, are no slouches, either. (Mr. Scatter likes Portland Taiko so much, he’s on its board.) Wear your raincoats: this could be a tsunami of sound. 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 2, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 3; shorter family matinee Romp Stomp Boom! at 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 2.

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Review: Those Old Masters could draw

By Laura Grimes

Mr. Scatter boarded a plane this morning when the sky was barely light so I’ll be his best blog buddy and post a link to his visual arts review that ran in The Oregonian this morning.

Here’s an excerpt teaser from his review of A Pioneering Collection: Master Drawings From the Crocker Art Museum, which is on view at the Portland Art Museum through Sept. 19:

German artist Johann Georg Bergmüller’s crowded and energetic 1715 drawing and watercolor “Saint Martin Appealing to the Virgin,” for instance, is suffused with allegory and religious phantasmagoria. It revels in the sense of a larger, ordinarily invisible universe just out of human grasp: the artist is chronicler of the real but unseen.

Johann Georg Bergmüller, German, 1688-1762, "St. Martin and Other Saints Appealing to the Virgin," 1715, Crocker Art Museum, E. B. Crocker Collection

Johann Georg Bergmüller
German, 1688-1762
St. Martin and Other Saints Appealing to the Virgin, 1715
Pen and brown ink, brush and brown and gray washes, blue, pink, red, and orange watercolor, white opaque watercolor on cream laid paper
13 7/8 in. x 7 7/8 in. (31.0 cm x 22.0 cm)
Crocker Art Museum, E. B. Crocker Collection


Mr. Scatter recently wrote about how several artists through history have rendered the grisly tale of Holofernes, an invading general who lost his head to the beautiful and clever Judith.

Losing our head over the Old Masters

Hendrick Goltzius, Judith with the Head of Holofernes, n.d.  Pen and dark brown ink, brush and grey wash and blue and white opaque watercolor, partially darkened, on brown laid paper, 20.3 x 16.6 cm. Crocker Art Museum, E. B. Crocker Collection 1871.142

By Bob Hicks

Here’s the thing: If you’re an invading general with a roving eye, never invite a beautiful woman from the enemy city into your tent and then get so rip-roaring drunk you pass out.

Holofernes, this post’s for you.

Two intriguingly intertwined shows opened yesterday at the Portland Art MuseumThe Bible Illustrated, maverick cartoonist R. Crumb‘s faithfully rendered graphic depiction of The Book of Genesis, and A Pioneering Collection: Master Drawings from the Crocker Art Museum, a gathering of almost 60 old-master drawings from the Sacramento museum’s impressive collections.

Friend of Scatter D.K. Row wrote vigorously in The Oregonian about Crumb’s project, and sometime in the next week or so the O will run my review of the Crocker exhibit. But first, let’s spend a little quality time with Holofernes, and Judith, and her faithful handmaiden, and one of our favorite Dutch artists, Hendrick Goltzius, an artist we admire so much we’ve featured him twice before: in this post about Hercules and baseball’s steroid scandal, and in this post about Wall Street’s bull and bear markets (we found his engraving of Icarus tumbling from the sky apropos).

Caravaggio, "Judith Beheading Holofernes," 1598-1599. Oil on canvas, 57 inches × 77 inches, Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica, Rome.In brief: Holofernes, a star general for the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar, is laying siege to a city of the Israelites, and things are getting brutal. Alarmed and angry, Judith, an attractive young widow, sneaks out and into the enemy camp, where she charms Holofernes in his tent. She feeds him sweet cheeses, then gets him drunk as a skunk. While he’s sleeping it off she grabs his sword and lops off his head. When Holo’s army sees what’s happened it panics and heads for the hills. Judith saves the day!

This story has fascinated artists for centuries, and everyone’s version seems singular. Why draw and paint pictorially? Because representational art tells stories, and there are as many different ways to tell a story as there are storytellers. Caravaggio, a genuine genius with a notorious violent streak, concentrated (inset) on the gorgeously bloody deed itself.

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Just for kids: Museums with a real draw

By Laura Grimes

One fabulous day recently at the National Gallery in London a whole class of schoolchildren wearing matching blue uniforms were sprawled on the floor drawing intently. They chatted and giggled quietly, but they were focused.

They attracted me like honey. I edged closer and watched them. Some of their drawings were just spindly stick figures. I watched them show each other their work and point to the giant painting they were studying.

A young man sat on a cushioned bench behind them and drew in a sketchbook. I thought he was with the group. A teacher chatted with him. And then she asked all the students for their attention.

She introduced the young man and asked if he would talk. I realized then he just happened to be there. He smiled to all the kids, leaned forward, turned around his sketchbook and held it up. Then a bit shyly but cheerfully he told them all about it.

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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 contemporary art museum for Stumptown?

At Portland Architecture, Brian Libby has posted an intriguing piece (citing an original story by Nathalie Weinstein in the Daily Journal of Commerce) about a possible contemporary art museum in a proposed gateway tower to the Pearl District.

At this point the proposal, developed by a group of Portland State University graduate students, is something of a pipe dream: there’s a recession going down, and developers are still pretty much in hunker-down mode.

John Baldessari, “Stonehenge (with Two Persons) Blue,” 2005. Mixographia print on handmade paper. Jordan Schnitzer CollectionBut as Libby points out, the museum part of the proposal gets interesting when you consider two things:

1. The new museum’s collection would be built from the holdings of Portland arts patron Jordan Schnitzer.

2. Schnitzer is president and CEO of Harsch Investment Properties, which owns the two parcels in question, between West Burnside and Northwest Davis streets and Northwest 13th and 14th avenues.

Schnitzer is a significant arts player on the Portland scene, and more and more, along the West Coast. His name is on the University of Oregon’s Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art. His primary focus as a collector is contemporary prints, and he’s serious about it. (Libby’s post includes interesting passages from an interview with Schnitzer by The Oregonian’s D.K. Row). The son of important regional patrons and collectors Arlene and Harold Schnitzer, Jordan Schnitzer has displayed genuine enthusiasm for getting his own continually evolving collection out to museums and educational institutions around the Northwest: He wants people to benefit from what he’s pulled together.

Obviously this is a “soft” report: Nothing concrete is happening. But who knows what might be going on behind the scenes? Portland has longed for a contemporary art museum for a long time, and Schnitzer has both the collection and the educational interest to get something kick-started. In general, metropolitan areas with multiple museums have stronger art scenes, so a viable contemporary art museum would have a ripple effect. Right now, Portland has the Portland Art Museum and the Museum of Contemporary Craft. Our nearest big-town neighbors, Seattle and San Francisco, have much more diverse museum scenes, and that’s made a big difference to their entire arts scenes.

So. Pipe dream or not, let’s keep an eye on this one and see if anything develops.


ILLUSTRATION: John Baldessari, “Stonehenge (with Two Persons) Blue,” 2005. Mixographia print on handmade paper. Jordan Schnitzer Collection

Museums: Who needs ’em, anyway?

Well, Mr. Scatter does, for one.

Sitting here at the Scatter International Clearing Desk this afternoon he ran across a press release from the Portland Art Museum, announcing an upcoming lecture by Iwona Blazwick, director of Whitechapel Gallery in London. The talk will be at 2 p.m. Sunday, April 18, in the museum’s Whitsell Auditorium, and it’s titled Just What Is It That Makes Today’s Institutions So Different, So Appealing?

David, by MichelangeloThe press release begins with this provocative quote from Filippo Tommaso Marinetti‘s 1909 Futurist Manifesto, denouncing museums as “cemeteries – absurd abattoirs of painters and sculptors ferociously slaughtering each other – cemeteries of crucified dreams, registries of aborted beginnings.”

Provocative, and dead wrong, which Mr. Scatter believes is precisely Ms. Blazwick’s point. The manifesto is a fire-breathing document, and a century later it still has the furious charm of a comic-book battle between a superhero and an archvillain. It’s filled with the sort of seductive fantasies that would turn a 17-year-old’s head ( “We want to glorify war – the only cure for the world – militarism, patriotism, the destructive gesture of the anarchists, the beautiful ideas which kill, and contempt for woman” ) and led naturally, in all its adolescent streamlined illogic, to Mussolini and Italian Fascism.

Mona Lisa, by LeonardoWhich is not to say that the existence of museums had a wisp of a deterring influence on Fascism or Communism or any other ism. Once humankind gets the Ism bug it’s almost impossible to get rid of it until it’s run its destructive course. Nor does it reduce the irony that the marbled walls of the world’s museums now hang with Futurist works, one more category of historical relic, testament to a movement that had its day of glory and then flamed out.

But in a larger sense the world of museums is a line of defense against the fools. Wisdom and beauty, while infinitely debatable, are real, and when we lose or ignore them we lose or ignore not just some immaterial specter of the past but our very sense of who and where we are, and what we might become. It’s tough to throw bricks through the windows of the past once you realize that the past has shaped what you are — unless, that is, you are so self-loathing or recklessly thrill-seeking that you want to punish yourself.

Yes, museums can be intimidating. The better ones are working on that. But this is our story, friends. This is the repository of human creativity at its best. Mr. Scatter confesses to astonishment over the number of artists he has heard speaking impatiently or dismissively about museums and the objects that they hold, as if it were a badge of bravery and independence to create afresh with little knowledge of what has been created before. Why are our young artists not haunting the halls of the museums? Rarely — almost never — do you see someone set up with easel and paints in a Portland Art Museum gallery, copying the masters to learn their techniques, a sight that is common in European museums. Are our artists afraid that if they study their forebears they will have no ideas of their own? Do they have so little confidence, or are they so bull-headed? A museum is a despot only if you choose to be a slave. Mr. Scatter thinks of museums as places of intellectual and spiritual refreshment, places where we discover ideas that are greater than our own; ideas that sometimes in turn can spark ideas that are genuinely new. A little humility opens marvelous doors.

And it opens those doors to all of us, or at least to the great majority of us. Art that might have been made for the ruling class is now available to anyone who walks through those doors. It’s the same democracy as the democracy of the library: one of the great, true achievements of progress. Mr. Scatter notes with pleasure that the Whitechapel Gallery was founded in 1901 “to bring great art to the working class people of east London,” and that commitment to redistributing the cultural wealth ought to be at the core of every museum.

A museum is not a place to worship blindly. We argue with it, sometimes vociferously, because we all have a stake in it. Over the years museums change, partly because of that pressure: they evolve, innovate, reassess; sometimes they even undergo mini-revolutions. Still, it’s a good idea to keep a grip on the baby when you’re throwing out the bathwater. Mr. Scatter assumes that the process of keeping the tub fresh will be central to Iwona Blazwick’s lecture. Sounds invigorating — in a post-adolescent way.


Coincidentally, a friend of Mr. Scatter in Santa Fe sent this link this afternoon to a story in The Guardian, which she’d been sent by her husband, who’s in Paris right now. Jonathan Jones’ column, titled Leonardo or Michelangelo: who is the greatest?, offers a terrific reappraisal of the two most famous works in Western art history, Michelangelo’s David and Leonardo’s Mona Lisa, digging below the contempt of familiarity to rediscover the sources of their greatness. In the process he revives the fascinating history of the rivalry between these two masters and what it meant. Far more, as it turns out, than the blustering dictums of the Futurist Manifesto.

You can find David and Mona Lisa, by the way, in museums. Sure, you’ve got to fight the crowds. But there they are. And not a reactionary cobweb in sight.

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”?
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