Art Gym

Blake Shell arrived in Portland about nine years ago. Her background included an M.F.A. in Photography from Savannah College of Art and Design and work as gallery curator/director at the University of Arizona. She soon became director of the Archer Gallery at Clark College (2009-2012) and then succeeded founding director Terri Hopkins at The Art Gym in 2013. She is now the new Executive Director at Disjecta (, one of the most adventurous art spaces in Portland.

This conversation occurred in April 12, on her second day at Disjecta.

You are the Executive Director. What do you see as your job, and what do you have other people doing?

I’ll be overseeing the team and all aspects of the organization. I’m really in a place of thinking about strategic moves forward, the growth of the organization and working with the board to increase fundraising that can increase programming support for artists and all the things I’ve been interested in—as well as just making sure that things are happening in a strong way. There’s a great staff here already.

“Oh Time Your Gilded Pages,” Disjecta, curated by curator-in-residence Michele Fiedler, artists Adriana Minoliti and Bobbi Woods/Photos by Mario Gallucci

The organization already has awesome programming. It already has things like the Curator-in-Residence program, which is really interesting—bringing a curator in to create an entire season of programs every year. We are currently in the sixth season of bringing in different curatorial voices from outside of the region to interact with artists and the arts community. The seventh season will start in the fall.

To bring programming here and to share information out to other areas about what’s happening here is a really important thing for any arts community, but particularly at this point in Portland’s history. Portland and Oregon artists are engaged in a national and international way.


Considering the Art Gym’s abstractions

At Marylhurst, curator Blake Shell has gathered 10 artists who work in the abstract for a colorful group show

One of the dominant art doctrines during the Renaissance argued that art was “an allegory of the mind of God,” an imitation of a hidden reality, a form of revelation. Culture critic and historian Raymond Williams teased out this one (along with three other aesthetic philosophies) in “The Long Revolution,” and it seems especially pertinent to abstract art, some of which has a specific spiritual connection, after all, as early abstractionist Wassily Kandinsky made clear.

Approaching the ten artists and 32 artworks in the Marylhurst Art Gym’s “and from the distance one might never imagine that it is alive” with the idea of the hidden made visible in mind leads to some happily perplexing moments.

'and from this distance one might never imagine that it is alive,' (left to right) Grant Hottle, Ron Graff, and Amy Bernstein, 2015. Courtesy of The Art Gym. Amy Bernstein's "Flesh of My Flesh" is at the far right.

‘and from this distance one might never imagine that it is alive,’ (left to right) Grant Hottle, Ron Graff, and Amy Bernstein, 2015. Courtesy of The Art Gym. Amy Bernstein’s “Flesh of My Flesh” is at the far right.

For example, Amy Bernstein’s “Flesh of My Flesh” gathers a set of small splashes, ribbons, and shapes of thick oil paint on a gleaming white canvas. How should we interpret those individual gestures and the painting as a whole? What hidden reality does it reveal? Something about the nature of pure paint, its elements, perhaps, the attraction of color—bright blue, red, purple striated with white—deployed in various small splotches? Or the mind of the painter who deployed them in just this way, which seems random but is not? Is this the way God creates, and what would the implications of THAT be?

Blake Shell, the exhibit’s curator and Art Gym director, picked out a set of four of Pat Boas’s Sumi ink on paper pieces, gradations of gray, pale to nearly opaque, layer upon layer, curves and lines, diagonals, verticals and horizontals. The hidden reality might be that the universe conceals as it reveals; or, that the number of veils between us and reality is countless. Of course, if Shell had picked a different four pieces from the same set, called “Unalphabetic,” which overlay the Sumi ink with a riot of bright colors, shapes and lines in gouache and watercolor, then the thinking might be entirely different.

and from this distance one might never imagine that it is alive, (left to right) Michelle Ross, Grant Hottle, and Ron Graff, 2015. Courtesy of The Art Gym

and from this distance one might never imagine that it is alive, (left to right) Michelle Ross, Grant Hottle, and Ron Graff, 2015. Courtesy of The Art Gym

My point isn’t to argue that art IS an allegory of the mind of God. Another doctrine that replaced the Renaissance attempts to square the aesthetic ideas of Aristotle, Plato and Christianity, gradually gained strength, according to Raymond’s account: Nature is God’s creation; art is man’s. He quotes the poet Tasso: “There are two creators: God and the Poet.” I suppose a poet would say that?

No, my point is simply to observe that if we’re going to get anything out of “and from the distance one might never imagine that it is alive,” an exhibition of abstract work, it will involve some interpretation on our part after we’ve spent some time observing the art. In that speculation, anything goes, from thoughts about the divine mind (or its absence) to a sudden, non-biblical revelation about a color combination that might work in the kitchen.


No, seriously.

Heidi Schwegler’s “Botched Execution” at Marylhurst’s The Art Gym

All of us have heard the stories of scheduled executions in which the condemned did not die in an expeditious manner so additional measures had to be taken to complete the job. In art we talk about the act of creating a work of art as an “execution,” which might lead one to wonder what to expect from Heidi Schwegler in her “Botched Execution” at The Art Gym. What we do find is a well-represented set of mixed media and found object constructions Heidi Schwegler has made during the past 10 years. The title suggests a gallows humor, which comes through in a few of her works, while many other pieces in this show leave a mark —perhaps even a scar— on the viewer.

One of the first pieces one sees upon entering the gallery is Schwegler’s seven-piece photographic series, “My Struggle.” From left to right, we see a headshot of the artist as she is transformed from a slightly distressed state to someone soiled, bloodied, missing a tooth, and in extreme anguish. This portrait of progressive (self)destruction reminds me of people I see on a daily basis at the rural convenience store near my home. There’s the tweakers, their wild gestures an exhibition of self-assurance from inside raging, scabbed heads. Less frequently, and considerably more subdued and cleaned up, are the victims of chronic domestic abuse. If Schwegler intends to portray the state of mind for either, or merely suggest that her individual struggle with some other issue is equally dark, this is a humorless piece indeed. It is only by imagining that she did not actually knock her left lateral incisor out we are allowed some distance.

Further relief for the viewer might be found in the nearby sculpture, “Passing Resemblance II.” Apart from the hands and head, which are silicon replicas of Schwegler’s own in a 1:1 scale, the overall size of this piece is that of large doll. I usually would be disinclined to speak to Schwegler’s real-world small frame, for physical characteristics are often incidental at best to an artist’s output; however, she seems to be using her physique to emphasize the hands and head as a priority for an artist.

Heidi Schwegler, "Passing Resemblance II"/Art Gym

Heidi Schwegler, “Passing Resemblance II”/The Art Gym

It’s a smart piece, and judging from the number of phone photos taken at the opening reception, “Passing Resemblance II” was the popular centerpiece of the exhibit. Quite often I caught three or four people standing around the doll, eyes fixed on it as they conversed. It was not dissimilar to family gatherings in the living room in which the newest child is placed in the middle of the floor for assessment, and as distraction during lulls, even though there isn’t much about this piece that would make one engage in some coochy-coochy-coo.


New Year, New Guide!

MMA at White Box, A group show at Disjecta, and Adam D Miller at Rocks Box Contemporary Fine Art...

The New Year is upon us, and with a new year comes new art! While this post might seem a bit delayed, in fact we were all enjoying the first day of the year on the first Thursday of January, which is why the Portland Art Dealer’s Association postponed their opening receptions to Thursday, the 8th. In addition to few First Thursday galleries I’ve also included shows that open later in the month so we can start off the year with a fresh start. I don’t know about you all, but my new year resolutions include being moved to tears by art more often, like I was when I saw A Winged Victory for the Innocent at Mississippi Studios a few weeks ago. I can’t tell you why I cried, by I can tell you it was cathartic and uplifting, which is why I’ll keep schlepping around to the galleries every month for the rare chance at a similar experience.

First Thursday Galleries:

Wrest_01White BoxThe Quick and The Slow by Evan Larson-Voltz explores the idea of imaginary travel through crafted objects and installation pieces that draw out the viewer’s fragmented sensory responses. Wrest_01 is a video of artist Heidi Schwegler trying to free herself from the defensive holds of Colt Toobs, mixed martial artist and son of famous World Wrestling Entertainer Rowdy Roddy Piper.


Untitled, from the series Inventing My Father by Diana Markosian

Untitled, from the series Inventing My Father by Diana Markosian

Blue Sky – Dima Gavrysh, Inshallah (God-willing), catalogs the impact of the Soviet and American occupations of Afghanistan while he was embedded in the US Army. Diana Markosian, Inventing My Father, reconstructs her relationship to her lost father with whom she reconnected after a separation of over 15 years.





Joel Wellington Fisher

Joel Wellington Fisher

Art Gym – Shifting Practice is a group show of allusions, interventions, and conventions in contemporary photography at Marylhurst University.





Saturday, Jan 17th openings

constructs at DisjectaDisjecta – Constructs with Nathan Green, Pablo Rasgado, and Laura Vandenurgh takes Disjecta’s gallery walls as a form for experimentation that highlights the architecture of gallery space through scale and the body through site specific installations that encompass painting, sculpture, and architecture.



Roger Shimomura (American b. 1939), Classmates #1, 2007, 24 x 36 in., acrylic on canvas, private collection, Seattle, WA. Photo courtesy of the Museum of Art at Washington State University, Pullman, WA.

Roger Shimomura (American b. 1939), Classmates #1, 2007, 24 x 36 in., acrylic on canvas, private collection, Seattle, WA. Photo courtesy of the Museum of Art at Washington State University, Pullman, WA.

Hallie Ford Museum of Art – Roger Shimomura: An American Knockoff at the Melvin Henderson-Rubio Gallery at Willamette University is an exhibition of paintings and prints from the early 1970’s to the present with an emphasis on his recent work. Influenced by comic books, pop art, and traditions of Japanese woodblock prints, Shimomura’s work represent his experiences as a Japanese-American by addressing his childhood at the Minidoka internment camp during WWII and by inserting himself as an aging Asian Everyman in a host of recognizableAmerican settings.



Saturday, January 24th opening

Detail of work by Adam D Miller

Detail of work by Adam D Miller

Rocks Box – Hive Mind is a solo exhibition of work by Adam D. Miller. Co-founder of The Pit, an exhibition space featuring emerging and mid-career Los Angeles based artists. Gallery hours are Saturday and Sunday from 12 to 5pm, or by appointment at the intersection of N Interstate Ave and N Rosa Parks Way.





Finally, here are the links to two great maps of the many galleries and art institutions of Portland that have intriguing shows beyond the scope of this brief guide:

Portland Art Dealers Association Galleries and Alliance Members

Duplex Collective’s Gallery Guide

Don’t forget to mention the shows you’re looking forward to below in the comments!

Installing “I.M.N.D.N” with curator Todd Clark

The newest Art Gym exhibition focuses on the world Native artists see

Rick Bartow, "From Nothing Coyote Creates Himself," 2004

Rick Bartow, “From Nothing Coyote Creates Himself,” 2004

I arrived at the Art Gym on the afternoon of the morning that 50 delicate porcelain arrows made by Nicholas Galanin had arrived from a museum in Montreal. This was a problem: All 50 were supposed to hang in a curve from the high ceiling of the Art Gym above the exhibition area for “I.M.N.D.N.—Native Art for the the 21st Century,” and the show was opening on Sunday.

As I walked in curator Todd Clark was holding a slim, two-foot length of wood as a stand-in for the arrows, just making sure how they’d line up and hang before committing the porcelain to the heights. The 50 arrows were arranged on a long table, white with a blue pattern on them, like an old Victorian wallpaper design. The metaphor was complicated: beneath the colonial trappings, the tribal arrow survived; on the other hand, it had become very breakable. “The warrior in the colonial condition,” as Clark describes it.

Not all the objects are quite that symbolic, at least on the face of it. Wendy Red Star, a Portland artist, offers a little room full of book covers that she’s collected from the “White Squaw” pornographic novel series and reentered photographically. That’s Red Star herself playing the “White Squaw” making faces both fearful and lascivious. Otherwise the titles and subtitles are the same. In White Squaw #19, “Badman’s Climax: She licks her enemies at their own game,” Red Star closes her made-up eyes as she starts to place a big spoonful of Land O’ Lakes butter in her mouth between her fire engine red lipsticked lips. So, yes, a send-up, though once you start pulling those covers apart a little bit, both individually and as a set of 25(!), maybe you’ll be led down some serious lines of thought.


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