Arvie Smith

Governor’s Arts Awards, revived

After a 10-year hiatus, the governor's awards return with five honorees. Plus: some highlights from September's gallery shows.

With school in session and Labor Day in the rear view mirror, Thursday is the first First Thursday of the fall season (even if autumn doesn’t officially arrive until Sept. 22), and art galleries across the city are busily installing new exhibits.

We’ll get to that. But first, some good news from the state capitol in Salem: After a 10-year hiatus that began when the state and national economies cratered, the Governor’s Arts Awards have returned. Gov. Kate Brown’s office announced Tuesday morning that the revived awards, which also coincide with the 50th anniversary of the Oregon Arts Commission, will go to two individual artists and three organizations.

Governor’s Arts Award winner Arvie Smith’s “Hands Up Don’t Shoot” (2015, oil on canvas, 48 x 48 inches, collection of Nancy Ogilvie) was part of his APEX retrospective exhibition at the Portland Art Museum in 2016/17.

Portland painter Arvie Smith and Yoncalla storyteller Esther Stutzman are being honored with lifetime achievement awards. Pendleton’s innovative Crow’s Shadow Institute of the Arts, Portland Opera, and the James F. and Marion Miller Foundation are also being honored.

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Black art: a neverending story

The Portland Art Museum's survey of African American art "Constructing Identity" tells a sprawling and many-sided tale

Wandering through Constructing Identity, the lavish exhibition of African-American art from the Petrucci Family Foundation Collection that sprawls across several upstairs galleries at the Portland Art Museum through June 18, I found myself looking for a unifying theme.

With work by more than eighty artists ranging in time from an 1885 landscape by Edward M. Bannister and Grafton Tyler Brown’s 1891 painting of a geyser in Yellowstone National Park to very contemporary pieces, it wasn’t easy.

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As I moved slowly from room to room I began gathering impressions and testing ideas.

Might the theme be the dominance of figurativism in 20th and early 21st century African American art?

Plenty of evidence for that, including Frederick D. Jones’s probing ca. 1945-50 oil portrait of a downcast woman holding a platter of fish, and Charles White’s black-and-white 1965 etching Missouri C., which stretches more than four feet wide and fairly leaps to life with the arresting image of a capacious black woman in profile staring toward a wide-angle emptiness of striations and spots.

Frederick D. Jones (American, 1914–2004), Untitled (Woman with a Fish), ca. 1945–1950, oil on canvas, 12 x 10 in. © Frederick Jones

Then again, might it be the depiction of community, of a people overcoming?

Good evidence here, too. Palmer Hayden’s small oil painting Madonna of the Stoop, for instance, from about 1940, captures in vivid folkish shapes and colors a quiet urban domestic scene, a moment of small happiness: a mother and baby sitting on the stairs of a brownstone building; a bigger girl smiling and playing with the baby, reaching out to touch it; a boy on the lower step reading a book; another boy sliding down the wide stair railings; a dog and the lower half of a second woman standing in the doorway at the top of the frame; a couple of cherub faces with wings floating in little clouds. The mother and the baby are the glue of it all, and their heads are circled, almost as afterthoughts, with thin halos.

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At Upfor, the Soul of Black Art

The gallery's third-anniversary show, curated by collector John Goodwin, digs to the roots of black art in America and contemporary cultural divides

The Soul of Black Art: A Collector’s View, up through October 15 at Upfor Gallery, is a smart, sophisticated show, both socially and aesthetically, and you really don’t want to miss it. For its third anniversary show, Upfor gave over curating duties to the collector John Goodwin, who’s put together a stimulating small exhibit that reverberates with history while also feeling contemporary.

Drawing from his and Michael-Jay Robinson’s own collection and other sources, Goodwin concocts a vibrant mix of paintings, prints, photographs, video, and mixed-media works that probe the black American experience from inside and out, in highly personal and broadly cultural terms. Works by the likes of Romare Bearden, Marion Post-Wolcott, Devan Shimoyama, Andy Warhol, Arvie Smith, Marian Carresquero, and Zig Jackson dance in and around the essence of blackness in America, providing a multiplicity of views that defy political platitudes and easy headlines.

Arvie Smith's "Manumissions," left, and Devan Shimoyama's "Adjusting to the uminous Black." Collection of John Goodwin and Michael-Jay Robinson. Upfor Gallery.

Arvie Smith’s “Manumissions,” left, and Devan Shimoyama’s “Adjusting to the Luminous Black.” Collection of John Goodwin and Michael-Jay Robinson. Upfor Gallery.

Upfor’s exhibit – which coincides with the eagerly awaited opening of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History & Culture in Washington, D.C. – quietly but provocatively sets up the show with a scattering of casually racist pop-cultural objects that were once pretty much everywhere, providing cookie-jar comfort to everyday white lives, and still can be found: jockey lawn statuettes; cheerful fat-lipped ceramic figurines. They help set the stage for one of Warhol’s two pieces in the show, his 1981 screen print Mammy, which fascinatingly plays with and defies the stereotype, lending a kind of quizzical dignity to a comfortably submissive icon of the white imagination. And Arvie Smith’s two big 2006 paintings, collectively titled Manumissions (they could easily fit into his current APEX exhibition, through November 13 at the Portland Art Museum), play on his smart, satiric, almost gleefully horrific view of history: a carnival atmosphere at the scene of a lynching. Check the news, and, if you can stomach them, the spatter of crude anonymous comments below online stories about Black Lives Matter rallies and the latest police shootings of unarmed black men. We really aren’t far removed.

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ArtsWatch Weekly: Blue Ribbon Special

A look at the week that was in Oregon arts. A glimpse ahead at the week that's going to be.

Summertime, and the feeling is scattered. The rhythm of the season is both relaxed and jagged, irregular, prone to long gaps and sudden leaps. Quick: a day in the mountains, a weekend at the beach, a backyard barbecue before the weather turns and the kids head back to school.

Screen Shot 2016-08-23 at 1.55.34 PMIn the past week or so I’ve spied a lovely giant wood-carved Bigfoot lurking by the side of the road on the way to Timberline Lodge, which whetted my appetite for funky folk art; and a swayback, smudged-white horse grazing idly beneath a giant Trump for President sign on a farm north of Ellensburg in central Washington, which whetted my appetite for oddball juxtapositions. Both are peculiarities that seem congruent with an August day.

Down in Salem the Oregon State Fair opens on Friday (“Here Comes the Fun!” the promos shout) and I doubt I’ll make it this year, but if I do I’m also pretty sure I’ll find some blissful oddities to contemplate. I note, for instance, that one of the ongoing features is something called Machine Mania, in which “Pistons Rule!” Plus, this year there’ll be a blue ribbon for marijuana crops. The mind boggles.

 


 

AUGUST ARTS EVENTS are often quick-and-dirty affairs, too, here and gone again almost before you can blink. A couple of short-term things coming up this week, plus a longer-running show to get on your calendar before it disappears:

"The Reimagining of French Gray by the Displaced Woman." Photo: Chain Reaction Theatre.

“The Reimagining of French Gray by the Displaced Woman.” Photo: Chain Reaction Theatre.

The Re-Imagining of French Gray by the Displaced Woman. The world premiere of Elizabeth Huffman’s reimagining of a 1967 Josef Bush play will run Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at Milagro Theatre. A co-production of Huffman’s Chain Reaction Theatre and Cygnet Productions, it’s directed by Cygnet’s Louanne Moldovan and stars Huffman in the dual roles of a wealthy Austrian queen caught in the aftermath of the French Revolution in 1793 and a wealthy Syrian bon vivant caught in an Arab uprising in 2016.

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Strange Fruit: Arvie Smith’s seductive provocations at PAM

The Portland artist's bold paintings about race in the museum's APEX series rub together attraction and repulsion as they play with stereotypes

When Billie Holiday sang Strange Fruit, Abel Meeropol’s mercilessly beautiful song about a lynching, at Café Society in Greenwich Village in 1939 and into the ’40s, it became something of a benediction: she would close her show with it, the waiters would stop serving, the room would darken, no encore followed. It was if the audience had entered a place at once blasphemous and holy, a hollow where time stopped in the presence of the unutterable, and the thing itself was dirty but the memorization of it, the acknowledgement of its awful reality, was somehow purifying: we have seen evil, and felt its power, and by facing it we have somehow made it lesser and ourselves more.

Arvie Smith, "Strange Fruit," 1992, oil on canvas, 92 x 70 inches, collection of the artist.

Arvie Smith, “Strange Fruit,” 1992, oil on canvas, 92 x 70 inches, collection of the artist.

Arvie Smith’s 1992 painting of the same title and theme performs some of the same functions in his current APEX Northwest artists series show at the Portland Art Museum, and it also acts as an oversize calling card for the other nine paintings in the exhibition. Grandly scaled at 92 x 70 inches, it overwhelms viewers with the hyperreality of an American scene: the lynching of a nearly naked black man by a gang of white men whose muscles ripple beneath the white robes and hoods of the Ku Klux Klan. Like an American Jesus on a Southern cross, the black man lets his head slump sideward in defeat; the rope slung over the tree limb and tied around his neck seems almost as thick as his arm. The two men stringing him up seem almost to strut with pride. Near the bottom right corner, at the level where a dog might look out, two malevolent red-rimmed eyes stare from slits in a Klan hood. Beneath the robe of one of the Klansmen, a pair of very contemporary, everyday casual athletic shoes sticks out, catapulting the time frame on beyond Michael Jordan. 

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