Lisa Radon

Lisa writes about art and makes art about writing.

Brian Kennon. Get In. courtesy: Fourteen30 Contemporary

Brian Kennon. Get In. courtesy: Fourteen30 Contemporary

Brian Kennon Get In (No Man Is an Island) at Fourteen30 Contemporary

The fold is fundamentally erotic; it is enigma and intimacy; it complexifies, introducing detours, inflexions and instabilities into systems.

– Steve McCaffery, “Blaser’s Deleuzian Folds,” Prior to Meaning, Protosemantics and Poetics

A classic way to lead into conversations about higher dimensions involves imagining an ant walking on a newspaper. It’s a flat world, an approximation of two dimensions. One imagines curving up the ends of the paper so that as the ant walks along in a straight line, he comes eventually to the point from which he started walking. This fold introduces the end point to the beginning and by eliminating the distance between them folds space.

Brian Kennon’s exhibition, Get In (No Man Is an Island) at Fourteen30 Contemporary is an exploration of the productivity of this fold, specifically in service of a mischievous art historical revisionism. In a speculative project, Kennon folds time and the concentric circles of critical regard to place similars in proximity, creating rifts in the established art historical continuum. Poet and theorist Steve McCaffery points to the power of the fold in introducing instabilities into systems. The erotic, as both McCaffery and Dick Higgins (in his essay “Horizons” on the fusion of horizons of viewer and viewed or maker) use the term is a generative quality. Kennon sets his sights on the system of canonization in the world of art. It’s Kennon as protagonist in Apple’s 1984 Super Bowl ad.


Brian Kennon. Get In. installation shot. courtesy: Fourteen30 Contemporary

Brian Kennon. Get In. installation shot. courtesy: Fourteen30 Contemporary


Brian Kennon. Untitled Spread (Paik, McCarthy), 2011. courtesy Fourteen30 Contemporary

Brian Kennon. Untitled Spread (Paik, McCarthy), 2011. courtesy Fourteen30 Contemporary


So Kennon inserts works by Josh Smith into a facscimile of a Vienna Secession catalogue on Christopher Wool for “Altered Secession Catalog – Christopher Wool (Josh Smith), (2011). In “Untitled Spread (Paik, McCarthy), 2011” Kennon places, within a black outline of an open book, black and white photos of Nam June Paik’s “Performance of La Monte Young’s Composition (1960) No. 10 to Bob Morris [Zen for Head],” 1962 and Paul McCarthy’s “Face Painting / Floor White Line,” (1972). These visually similar moments could not be more different, conceptually: Paik’s execution of a straightforward instruction (“draw a straight line and follow it”) and McCarthy thinking about the figure in painting. In both “Altered” and “Untitled,” Kennon takes the visual similarity of the works as reason enough for them to be placed in proximity. The two works bring up very different conversations, conversations worth having, but at the same art historical cocktail party. And, they’re funny. Like Kennon’s artist book,  Black and White Reproductions of the Abstract Expressionists (2002) and The Cindy Sherman’s I’d Like to Fuck (2003). These publications are in the back room at Fourteen30. And I didn’t see it, but his publication that reproduces Ad Reinhardt paintings is very funny.

Not all of the interleavings are productive. In “Altered Secession Catalog – Christopher Wool (Polaroids),” (2011) Kennon litters the catalog with porn-y Polaroids of (mostly) naked (mostly) women which just feels easy, a graffiti tag. It’s worth noting that the beautiful series of photos for which the exhibition is titled–magazines tucked one into the next into the next–are not art rags but vintage Playboys. It’s ironic isn’t it that given the productivity of the erotic of the fold in Kennon’s work, that that  low-brow porn-y imagery should be its one dead end, a kind of old school, a-critical attitude dating to the year in which those Playboys were published. Of course one of the works in Get In is a facsimile of the book Women by Richard Prince. This is Kennon providing context, making your critical art-historical association for you. Do I buy it?

It’s the art world specificity of Kennon’s Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup tactic (used in a relentless way by pop essayist Malcom Gladwell in a thousand New Yorker essays) characteristic of this Remix Era, the soundtrack of which is Danger Mouse’s ridiculously good Grey Album (vocal tracks from Jay Z’s The Black Album over instrumental tracks from the Beatles White Album) that makes this different  and also, problematic.

Any artist of any ambition attempts to insert himself into the line of fire, into the narrative of art history, the pages of which, written now, will define the way we remember art and artists in the early decades of the 21st century. If he can visually rewrite the history of art, why, he can write himself in. I’d rather not think that that’s, as Peggy Lee says, “all there is,” and I think his sense of humor, willingness not to take it too seriously, pushes the work beyond and elsewhere.

In a way, Kennon questions the necessity of his own project of art historical revisionism through the dreamy-voiced girl who speaks three short conversational monologues that play infrequently on speakers in the gallery (It’s apparently on a seven-hour loop, so it’s deep back story, unless you happen, as Ralph Pugay did, to be lucky enough to hear all three during his visit.) It’s elusive explication, as she says, “everything comes together,” but “nothing too obvious.” Her rap lazily rolls through recent art history, saying “I like Baldessari as much as the next guy,” but conceiving of “The Last Conceptualism Show.”

“I don’t know if I’m ready for all that stuff from the 80s to come back again,” she says, Longo, Schnabel et al. Unless, she says, you’re talking about our favorite 80s artists like Kelly, Prince, Levine, Lawler. “As long as you don’t have a stack of Artforum’s around, the 80s were great.” What are the mechanics of canonization. Who get’s in, and who’s left on the fringes. Precisely because we actually are talking about Kelly, Prince, et al., Kennon’s remedial project may be superfluous or coincident with greater forces at work in reconsideration of what, in the end, matters.

Get In is open through May 20 at Fourteen30 Contemporary



image via Disjecta


Will it have mattered?

Will an artist who is included in the Biennial receive an invitation to show in Istanbul or Berlin or Mexico City? Will an artist who is included in the Biennial be more likely to gain representation by a good Portland gallery? A New York gallery? Will an artist who is included in the Biennial be more likely to be awarded a Bonnie Bronson Fellowship or a Hallie Ford Fellowship? A Guggenheim? Will an artist included in the Biennial be more likely to be included in the other Biennial, the one that starts with a W? Will an artist be more likely to find collectors? Will collectors be impressed by her inclusion in the Biennial? What if the imprimatur is invisible? What if the golden ticket when presented elicits the response, “Portland, what?”

How many of the artists have dealers? Of major Portland galleries is there an equal number of represented artists in the Biennial or is that only a curatorial concern of major arts institutions that turn to those dealers’ collectors as patrons? Will a dealer be more able to sell work by an artist who has been curated into the Biennial?

What if it is raining? What if it has been raining for a very long time? What if the Biennial is only for people who have cars? What if more isn’t better? What if it is? What if bigger isn’t better? If you don’t show up, will everyone assume it’s sour grapes? Does anyone know you applied? Did you get a studio visit? Does the curator not “get” your work? Is it a crap shoot? Does it matter?


image via Disjecta


What if Sean Joseph Patrick Carney curated the Portland Biennial? What if Stephanie Snyder curated it? Mack McFarland? Kristan Kennedy? What about Jeanine Jablonski or Jane Beebe? What if the curator has not been closely following what’s happening in Portland art? How does that shape selection? What if she has? What if she knows everyone? Or what if she has her People? What if she champions the artists she knows? What if she resists that urge?

What is the mission of the Biennial? What is a survey? What are the criteria of inclusion? What is worthy? Does work on the wall matter more than the C.V.? Would a jury rather than a single curator get any closer to objectivity? In other words, does averaging increase objectivity or mediocrity? What if a curator made a radical statement with the Biennial? What if she took a risk? What if she made rules? What if she only looked at work that she could situate in an international contemporary context? What if she ignored what she saw on the PADA gallery walls and imagined she was curating Documenta, not for scale, but for contemporaneity? What is contemporary? Perhaps it is better to ask does this work feel like 2012?

Were there a lot of academics in the Biennial? Did the work reflect that? Does working in academia make it more likely that one will be included in the Biennial? Does the number of academics included in the Biennial say something about how one makes a living as an artist in Portland?


image via Disjecta


If you make it bigger, is it better? Is nothing surprising? Is nothing shocking? Does anything in the Biennial make me think about art in a new way? Does anything in the Biennial make me think about anything in a new way? Does art ever do that to me?

Does the work in the Biennial address concerns beyond art or is it folded in upon itself. Does it address non-trivial concerns? Does it do it well? Does it matter? Is it pretty? Is that enough?

How does this Biennial compare with the Portland2010 Biennial? How does it compare with the Oregon Biennials that Portland Art Museum organized? How does it compare with the Northwest Biennial in Tacoma.


image via Disjecta

Did you lie down in that thing? Did you stick your head in that thing? Did you drive out to that thing so you could talk to that artist? How long did you stand in front of the naked beeswax guy? Was it disturbing that it smelled so good? Did you read all that stuff? Did you watch the whole thing? Did you like that one thing inside the door to the right the best? Did you still love that work you’d already seen? Were you introduced to work by any artists you didn’t already know? Was it compelling? Do you ever think about the word compelling when you are trying to think about why some work matters? Is there a better word? When you looked at the work, did you play the context game, the art historical game, the who’s who game?

Did any of the artists who have shown at Appendix Project Space apply to be in the Biennial? Did any of the women artists whose work was included in the recent Interior Margins exhibition at the Lumber Room apply to be in the Biennial? Did any of the artists who attended or taught any session of C.O.P.S. apply to be in the Biennial? Did any of the artists who participate in DUMP.FM apply to be in the Biennial? Did any of the artists who have ever shown or performed at Ditch Projects, Rocksbox Fine Art, 12128 Boat Space, or the late great Car Hole apply to be in the Biennial? Did any of these artists go to see the Biennial? What do they say when they talk amongst themselves about the Biennial?

(Inspired by a short story by Donald Barthelme.)

Travis Fitzgerald and Gary Robbins. If it is a crown it means it belongs to a king. 2012. installation view.


If it is a crown it means it belongs to a king…or maybe not. If it is a crown it means it belongs to a king is a collaborative exhibition by artists Gary Robbins and Travis Fitzgerald at 12128, a gallery on the decks of the mighty Labrador, a derelict fishing boat moored at a “yacht” harbor on the Willamette River. A handful of objects, a photo of a doll’s penis, and 20 paintings by Fitzgerald of the same bichon frise make up the exhibition. Among the objects are what looks like an oversized tip jar stuffed full of dollar bills next to a very realistic-looking sculpture of a newborn baby in a nest of silver lamé, two pink bandanas encased in resin, and two triangular sculptures, one in a beat-up tartan, the other pink neon.

The triangles brought the elements into some kind of focus as an exploration of signifiers, gay and otherwise, ranging from the nostalgic (the pink triangle) to the frivolous (DINK couple gets dog). These are the ways we tell each other who we are, who we think we are, who we want you to think we are. Some are overt, some nuanced, and some coded.

The pink neon triangle, Robbins’ doing, leans into a corner on the floor. It is covered by plastic that traps the white vapor from a smoke machine curling beneath it in such a beautiful way. Peering into it is one part disco and one part mists of time.

The tartan stretched across the other triangle is that of Fitzgerald family, suggesting that we read this exhibition as about the identity of the artists. This is, the tartan suggests, personal.


Shawn Creeden. Of Things Disturbed That Had Been Sleeping. 2012. Installation shot. Manuel Izqueirdo Gallery, PNCA. Photos by: Micah Fischer

It’s probably true that when I’m thinking about something, I’m more likely to see examples of it around me or see the world through that lens. It’s possibly true that when I think about something I call examples of that thing into being (I think therefore I SEE).

I think in the case of Shawn Creeden’s solo exhibition, Of Things Disturbed That Had Been Sleeping, at the Manuel Izquierdo Sculpture Gallery, we can say that there is a combination of the exhibition calling to mind certain ideas, and those ideas in turn filtering how I see that exhibition. I’d have been less puzzled by the embroidered map of a gridded “Texas” in this show if I’d read Cormac McCarthy’s novels which inspired this body of work. Often (always?) set in West Texas or borderlands between Texas and Northern Mexico, these novels feature almost feral humans in wild lands. But it’s Creeden’s ulterior motive for including this map in the exhibition that is compelling: the illustration of man’s compulsion to divide things up, to draw arbitrary lines, to control nature, or just to control.

Me, I feel a pull between wanting to understand by way of figuring out, analysing, which often means separating this from that, making distinctions, identifying, identifying qualitative differences, categorizing, and yes, drawing lines and on the other hand trying to understand by crossing my eyes (metaphorically), blurring the distinctions to get closer to a sense of the whole, the sense that everything is one thing. You make take that in a metaphysical sense if you are inclined, and if not, you may think of the lowly atom.

Lucretius paraphrased Epicurus’ thoughts on the nature of all things as being comprised of the atom and the void, all difference reduced to one difference. We may know more now about the subatomic when Lucretius merely speculated, but the more finely we identify the particles, the more that we realize that there are very few ingredients that make up everything we know in the physical world. Moving from the material to the metaphorical, Lucretius also identified in the falling atoms, the possibility of the clinamen or swerve, the genesis of variation, evolution, of difference, of distinction.

Creeden’s show is made up of works of sculpture, readymade, and embroidery: another map of Northern Mexico on muslin, a large embroidery of two airedales which illustrates a scene from a McCarthy novel in which the baddest fighting dogs stare out from the back of a shed where they are chained as the wild embodied in the domesticated. There are two rope sculptures—I think of them as drawings in spiky sisal rope—”War Bridle, First Form” is a simple lariat that Creeden says is all a skilled handler needs to bring a wild horse under control. It is a thin thing. Doesn’t take much to impose a man’s will on a beast, it seems to say, or on the land, witness those delicate dotted lines dividing West Texas counties. Doesn’t take much.

But I wonder if the man wielding that lariat might feel more of a oneness with the horse rather than separateness; that the horse might be to him or become more than a conveyance or companion, but an extension of himself.

Among the other pieces in the exhibition are metal small animal traps; “Conocemos Por Lo Largo De Las Sombras Que Tardio Es El Dia (We Know The Lateness Of The Day by The Length Of The Shadows)” is a beautiful radial star like a giant starfish on concrete floor, each rusty steel trap at the end of its chain set to strike. And there is a scent lure, “La Matriz,” a clear bottle filled with a dark blood-hued substance, pulverized bits of all the parts of an animal, glands and the like, that give off a scent other animals can’t resist. The perfect lure. Finally, there are rattle snake rattles in mason jars (or ceramic facsimiles of the rattles) as the only trophy in the midst of this potential for domination and death. The exhibition is lit with red kerosene hurricane lamps hung from the walls; Let there be Light, they say and why wait for God to make light when you can make it on your own?

The lanterns cast the exhibition further as one about control, about making light in darkness, about turning a wild horse into a work horse; control that once meant survival but turned into something else along the way, maybe about the time the first dotted line was drawn on a map. Control in the wild once meant the best possibility for food, warmth, and mobility. But the will to control moved well beyond survival. And in the process, separations between us and them, man and animal made us forget any sense of oneness. And the more lines were drawn, the more distinctions were made, across the west, with borders, boundaries, and fences. [“Give me land, lots of land under stormy skies above…don’t fence me in.”]

There’s something productive, too, about Creeden bringing together the ultra-masculine world of the frontier, the rusting tools of death, the rope of control, and the traditionally feminine art of embroidery in a kind of reconciliation or detente, …it has the effect of butching up embroidery, and softening the edges of what otherwise would be an almost too-easy critique. In is statement on the show, Creeden asks, “What does it mean to impose a semi-arbitrary logic on an often featureless landscape (West Texas, The Great Plains, etc)? How does it feel to come face to face with the deceptively and cruelly simple apparatus used to control and dominate animals, both the ones we make use of and live with, and those we loath and seek to destroy? Can a looped length of ¾” rope really bring under control a wildly bucking feral mustang?” The questions (and the larger ideas they invite one to consider) are worth asking and these works leave just enough room for the mind to wander over them unfettered.

John Knight, Meaningless Less Meaning (detail) 2012

The will to make order. The will to make. The will to mark. The mark to make own. Or is a painting still a painting when it’s on a pocket? How does decoration differ from art? Is it all really just in the support; is it just in the context? How does context matter? Is it true that all art needs to be recognized as such is not to be displayed in a white box space, but in fact in any readymade space that we declare is gallery?

From Pied-a-terre’s (SF) early incarnation as a living room gallery in Portland to Jim Papdopoulos’ ΜΕΣ(s)Α Project Space in a closet in SE Portland, the project of carving out art space gets ever more micro and ever more domestic in Portland, following on the heels of apartment-gallery blossomings in other cities like Chicago from which Papapdopolous hails. (Of course in the big picture this is really a return to art-viewing in a domestic environment, isn’t it.)

But this is not about closet galleries, really. Except that John Knight’s installation, Meaningless Less Meaning, at ΜΕΣ(s)Α refers back to its location (in a closet) by hanging some of its elements (clothing) on a chopped off clothing rack and by including what I’m fairly sure was a painting on a bathmat. The recurring painted motif of a loosely executed grid on a white background lives at scale on a couple large canvases, on the bathmat, and on isolated spots (a pocket, say) on a number of articles of clothing on the demi-rack. The “grid” is drawn on a piece of paper at the foot of the rack, and it jangles as an animated gif on a flatscreen.


AS IS. Michael Reinsch. Installation view. 2012.


What’s it worth to you? For three hours last night at PLACE, Michael Reinsch invited audience members to commission him to make art or performance on the spot. A menu of sorts let the viewer know she could pay $5 for one minute; $50 for 10 minutes; $100 for 20 minutes; or up to $6,000 for a one-month project. Viewers paid their money and took their chances. The menu clearly stated “no requests.”

One-minute art. From the performance, AS IS, by Michael Reinsch at PLACE. from Lisa Radon on Vimeo.

Throughout the three-hour performance, Reinsch set the timer and made fast art: objects and works on paper with a devil-may-care profligacy with materials…readymade objects were secured with quantities of packing tape and doused in white glue, housepaint, and fluorescent pink acrylic. He also carved a styrofoam ball with his teeth, inscribed a poem on a white board at lightning speed, and delivered a 10-minute poetry reading of poems that seemed to be sourced from letters of complaint to fast food restaurants.

Threaded throughout, like bits of black pepper on an already flavorful dish, were these references to eating. And if we take eating as one of many forms of consumption and the purchase of art as another, how appropriate that this performance took place in a gallery in the top floor of a shopping mall where any number of accidental viewers who stumbled up the ’80s glass ‘n brass escalators after visits to the food court and the Apple store to discover Reinsch hurriedly artmaking and sometimes, just standing there. “I feel awkward here,” one teen told another and exited.

Reinsch has found a devastatingly smart way to think about the nature of performance, object, and value but more importantly, the nature of consumption and exchange. At the same time, there was an interesting tension between a certain slapdashedness necessitated by a one-minute artwork and absolute, if time-limited commitment on the part of the artist. Apparently Reinsch cut his gums when chewing at the styrofoam ball…as if to say I Am Giving It My All For You…I’m giving you blood.

For one commissioned two-minute performance, Reinsch moved through the audience handing out small sculptures, like colorful, q-tip porcupines. As he handed one to each of us, he whispered in our ears, “You owe me one.”



Blair Saxon-Hill, "What that Entails and What Comes After"

There is
too much, and now
there will be less.
Which is more.

I am thinking of Kristan Kennedy’s large work in the exhibition Interior Margins at the Lumber Room. If curator Stephanie Snyder, as her statement suggests, gathered this work from these Northwest women artists with the idea that the body, its presence or absence in the work, was a concern these works share, I’d argue that there’s something else going on here, something that these works share with those that more regularly hang in this private art space above Elizabeth Leach Gallery owned by collector Sarah Miller Miegs. The ghost of Agnes Martin floats above this work. As do the spirits of Jo Baer,  Sol Lewitt, Donald Judd.

Go to the Lumber Room today (it closes January 30). When you see Kennedy’s “N.T.N.L.M.R.R.D.R.P,” you will laugh to think that I make this argument. It is a big, muscular, gritty thing. This is a quality it shares with the Blair Saxon-Hill with which it’s having either a stare down or a sympathetic nod at across the room. Oh, there’s a figure there in Kennedy’s work, as she will tell you, but it’s been excised by a great curving swath of black ink. For a nihilistic gesture, it and its fellow redactions on this unstretched linen nailed to the wall with big dark nails are surprisingly integrated into the work, the ink becoming one with the linen. It draws from a series Kennedy has done, painting out sections of tabloids, negating, erasing, or perhaps opening up. The delicious ground of this and even more so, Kennedy’s work “E.G.S.O.E.Y.S.” in the back room appear to be not pristine, made-for-art canvases, but grounds that have been in the world, been dragged, splattered, crumpled, stained…and lived to see the walls of this exquisite space.


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